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How to Hire the Perfect Buyer: 5 Essential Interview Topics

November 11, 2014 by Hillary Ohlmann

Procurement Hiring

Finding excellent buyers for your procurement department can be a tricky process. A good buyer has a wide variety of skills, many of which are soft skills, and you may not be able to observe each and every one of these skills during the standard hiring process.

In order to make the most of your time and narrow down your choice to the best possible candidates, make sure you cover the following five topics during the interview.

1. Communication Skills

You should already have an idea about a candidate’s communication skills before he or she steps foot in your office. Is his or her CV well written and concise? Are his or her emails professional and easy to understand? In the interview, look for the body language of a good communicator: a relaxed, yet confident posture, consistent eye contact, and appropriate hand gestures. Ask candidates how they might communicate with suppliers and other stakeholders in a variety of situations - do they know when to pick up the phone and schedule a face-to-face meeting or do they hide behind emails? While buyers need good analytical skills to review proposals and track costs, they also need to be able to communicate their department’s progress to management, negotiate with suppliers and share information with colleagues. This means communication skills are essential to any potential buyer’s skillset.

2. Ethics

A good buyer should have impeccable ethics and place a high value on integrity. When dealing with suppliers, it can be tempting for buyers to cut corners, especially if they’re feeling stressed out or overworked. You want a buyer who won’t compromise his or her own personal reputation and especially not the company’s reputation to save time or resolve an issue more quickly. While specific policies may differ by company, ask candidates a couple general “What if” questions. By getting them to talk through a possible sticky situation on the spot, you’ll be able to see what their instincts tell them. Then ask yourself the following question: does their answer align with your company’s ethics?

3. Willingness to Learn

Let’s say the perfect CV lands on your desk - MBA with 7 years of experience in procurement. While it may be tempting to perform a perfunctory interview and send out an offer right away, step back and look again. This “perfect” candidate may jump ship as soon as a better offer comes along, especially if he or she is looking to move up. If your company is able to offer a competitive salary or if there are multiple opportunities for advancement, this may be your candidate. But if you’re hiring for an entry-level buyer position, you may be better off hiring someone whose qualifications and expectations are more inline with what you can offer. Hiring a new employee requires an investment of both time and money. Ask potential candidates what they hope to get out of this position - do they want to learn new skills or break into a new market? If they are eager to learn and you can teach, they’ll be more likely to stick with your company in the long run.

4. Areas of Expertise

A strong buyer needs to know the market and current market trends. Although some of this can be learned and perfected on the job, good candidates will already have experience or familiarity with the market within which your company functions. This knowledge is essential to making informed decisions when it comes to analyzing proposals, negotiating contracts and finding new suppliers. Look into a candidate’s prior experience. Ask him or her what types of goods and services he or she helped to procure. It may seem obvious, but the more relevant experience within your market, the better.

5. Hypothetical Situations

There’s only so much you can learn about a person from one interview. Get the most out of the interview by giving candidates hypothetical situations. Give them a common scenario, preferably one that actually happens in your company, and have them walk through the steps they would take to solve the problem. By asking candidates to think out loud, you get insight to their thought processes. While there may not be a right or wrong answer to your scenario, you can decide who answers the question in a way that is compatible to your company’s established procurement procedures.

Where do you find good candidates?

Now that you know what to look for, you need to find the best possible candidates to actual schedule for an interview. Look within your company first. Hiring from within the company can be a win-win situation; you already know the candidate fits in with the company’s culture and has knowledge of the current market. This means less time spent on training and onboarding.

If you have to look outside the company, leverage you and your colleagues’ professional networks. You may find possible candidates through LinkedIn connections or professional organizations. Spread the word far and wide through both standard networking opportunities and social networks.


Download the Strategic Sourcing Guide

Hillary Ohlmann

Written by Hillary Ohlmann

Hillary is DeltaBid's resident writer, copy editor, researcher, and all-around procurement enthusiast. She holds a degree in Journalism and Spanish from UW-Madison.


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