If you're resilient, good with numbers and enjoy negotiating and communicating, a career as a purchasing manager could be for you

Purchasing managers are responsible for buying the best quality equipment, goods and services at the most competitive prices to enable a company or organisation to operate. You can work in a range of sectors for many different types of organisation.

You could be directly involved in the buying of:

  • components to make a product that a company sells
  • products to be sold by a company (for example in a shop)
  • goods and services for use by the company
  • marketing and advertising services to promote a company.

Through effective negotiation, networking and dealing with numbers, purchasing managers can help a business or organisation save money and increase profits. They may also deal with other factors such as sustainability, risk management and ethical issues.

Responsibilities

As a purchasing manager, you'll need to:

  • forecast levels of demand for services and products
  • conduct research to ascertain the best products and suppliers in terms of best value, delivery schedules and quality
  • liaise between suppliers, manufacturers, relevant internal departments and customers
  • build and maintain good relationships with new and existing suppliers
  • negotiate and agree contracts, monitoring the quality of service provided
  • process payments and invoices
  • keep contract files and use them as reference for the future
  • develop strategies to make sure that cost savings and supplier performance targets are met - or exceeded
  • undertake value for money reviews of existing contracts and arrangements
  • forecast price trends and their impact on future activities
  • keep a constant check on stock levels
  • give presentations about market analysis and possible growth
  • develop a purchasing strategy
  • produce reports and statistics on spending and saving
  • evaluate bids and make recommendations, based on commercial and technical factors
  • ensure suppliers are aware of business objectives
  • attend meetings and trade conferences
  • train and supervise the work of other members of staff.

Salary

  • Entry-level salaries, for example at purchasing assistant/assistant buyer level, start at around £20,000. Graduate trainee/buyer salaries are around £25,000.
  • Those who perform well can expect a fast promotion. Salaries for purchasing officers can be around £28,000, rising to £46,000 for purchasing managers.
  • Senior professionals and directors can expect to earn between £50,000 and £100,000, especially in large organisations.

A salary survey by the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) reports that the average wage of a procurement professional is £46,422. It also states that salaries are highest in the private sector and in London and the South East (although there have been large salary increases in the Midlands and North West).

Professionals with full member status (MCIPS) earn more than those without accreditation. There is a pay disparity between men and women, particularly at advanced professional level.

Salary data from the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide and Insights 2018.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are fairly standard, although you'll be required to work extra hours if needed.

If you're working for an international company, you may have to arrive at the office early or stay late to make calls to countries in different time zones.

What to expect

  • Jobs are available in most towns and cities, particularly if there is a strong manufacturing and retailing base. However, purchasing managers tend to be based at head offices, many of which are located in London or the South East. Since commercial buying is a global activity, you may find opportunities to work abroad.
  • As this is a high-profile role in the corporate sector, a smart, business-like appearance is essential.
  • There is a high level of responsibility, which can be challenging.
  • Some local and regional travel is expected. Long journeys may involve staying away from home for short periods.
  • You may need to travel abroad to attend trade shows or set up business agreements with new contacts.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, the following degree subjects may improve your chances:

  • business studies
  • engineering
  • management
  • marketing
  • operations management
  • purchasing and logistics
  • purchasing and supply
  • retail management
  • supply chain management.

Entry requirements vary depending on the type and size of the employing organisation. For example, large retail stores and wholesale distribution centres tend to prefer applicants who have completed a degree with a business emphasis. Some employers, particularly in manufacturing, engineering or construction firms, like you to have qualifications and knowledge relevant to the field.

Some large organisations offer graduate trainee schemes in purchasing or procurement. You'll typically need a 2:1 in any degree discipline.

When applying for jobs, some employers will prefer you to have MCIPS status or to be working towards becoming one. One way to do this is to take a CIPS-accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree. For more information, see CIPS - Accredited Degrees and Programmes.

Alternatively, you can study for CIPS qualifications to become a full member. For both routes, you'll need three years' experience to apply for MCIPS.

Entry without a degree is possible by starting in a lower level role and gaining promotion through experience and by working through the CIPS qualifications. You can also undertake a procurement apprenticeship.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent listening, verbal and written communication skills
  • commercial awareness
  • strong analytical ability to adapt to different client needs and to develop and maintain successful working relationships
  • numeracy skills in order to analyse facts and figures
  • the ability to lead and motivate a team
  • a flair for negotiation and networking
  • tact and diplomacy
  • the ability to make important decisions and cope with the pressure of demanding targets and tight deadlines
  • strong project management skills
  • time management skills and the ability to deliver to deadlines
  • resilience.

Work experience

Competition for roles is keen and previous business experience, especially gained in buying and selling, is important. Try to find relevant work experience, for example as a purchasing assistant or junior buyer, complete a sandwich placement in purchasing as part of your degree course or ask if you can work shadow a purchasing manager.

Some larger organisations run summer vacation schemes or offer internships in purchasing.

Employers

Purchasing and procurement are increasingly recognised as an essential part to any business. Employers can be national or multinational corporate companies, public sector organisations, charities or small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in a whole range of sectors.

Typical employers include:

  • the armed forces
  • energy and water
  • engineering and construction industries
  • information and communication technology companies
  • local authorities
  • manufacturing and service companies
  • the NHS
  • professional services industries
  • public services industries
  • retailing and mail order companies
  • wholesalers.

When working for an SME you may be responsible for the full purchasing, procurement and supply chain functions.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also check the websites of national/international companies and organisations for opportunities.

Professional development

Graduate training schemes typically last 18 months to three years. You'll usually complete a number of placements under the supervision of a mentor. You'll be assessed throughout the training and may have the opportunity to work towards professional membership of CIPS.

If you don't have a place on a graduate scheme, you may start as a junior or assistant buyer or a purchasing assistant. As a new employee, you'll be expected to learn the specifics of your employer's business. You'll be given practical on-the-job training and will learn by working closely with more experienced members of staff. With further training and qualifications, you can progress to purchasing manager roles.

CIPS offers a number of qualifications that can be studied while working or via distance learning. These provide a structured path of training that leads to full CIPS membership (MCIPS). Search the full list of CIPS qualifications.

Once you've achieved MCIPS status, have an Ethical Procurement and Supply certificate and have recorded 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) over the previous 12 months, you can apply for Chartered Procurement and Supply Professional status.

Once chartered, you'll have to complete 30 hours of CPD each year. CIPS offers a range of short training courses, as well as workshops, seminars and events, and you can also get involved in branch or special interest groups.

Career prospects

Career prospects are good for people with the right combination of skills, experience and training.

Your options for career development will depend on the organisation you work for. In larger companies, purchasing and procurement activities are carried out by a number of people working in teams, possibly at different locations. You can progress by moving on to manage a team and then a group of teams. However, in a smaller company, you may be responsible for all the work, so you're more likely to move company to progress your career.

Experienced managers may also move to a department that manages a larger volume of goods, products or services. Job titles at a higher level include:

  • purchasing director
  • senior buyer
  • group procurement director
  • chief procurement officer/head of procurement.

It's also possible to specialise in a specific area such as IT, facilities management or travel.

You may have to travel overseas to assess the suitability of goods or products, and there may also be opportunities to work abroad with large multinational organisations. The digital revolution means supply chains are becoming increasingly global.