If you're good with numbers and enjoy negotiating and communicating, this could be the job 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. They work in a range of sectors for many different organisations, often overseeing supply chain management and procurement, sometimes on a worldwide scale.

Through effective negotiation, networking and dealing with numbers, purchasing managers can help a business or organisation save money and increase profits. They 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;
  • keep a constant check on stock levels;
  • 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;
  • forecast price trends and their impact on future activities;
  • give presentations about market analysis and possible growth;
  • develop a purchasing strategy;
  • produce reports and statistics using computer software;
  • 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

  • Graduate entry-level salaries (possibly at purchasing assistant/junior buyer level with no prior purchasing experience) may start at around £20,000. If you have some relevant experience you may start on a salary of £25,000.
  • Those who perform well can expect a fast promotion and salaries at a higher level or with further experience can range from £30,000 to £45,000.
  • Senior managers and purchasing 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 £42,000. It also states that salaries are highest in the private sector and in London and the South East. Professionals with MCIPS earn on average 22% more than those without accreditation.

There is a considerable pay disparity between men and women in this sector, with women earning around £10,000 less than their male counterparts.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are fairly standard although there may be an expectation for purchasing managers to work longer hours when the need arises. If the company is international, it may occasionally be necessary to arrive at the office early or to stay late to make calls to countries in different time zones.

Part-time opportunities are unlikely because of the heavy workload and fast pace of business, although job-share opportunities may be possible.

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, there may be opportunities for working 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 may bring considerable stress.
  • Some local and regional travel is expected. Long journeys may involve staying away from home for short periods.
  • The amount of overseas travel involved will depend on the company. The purpose will usually be to attend trade shows or set up business agreements with new contacts.

Qualifications

Entry requirements vary depending on the type and size of the employing organisation. 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 candidates to have qualifications and knowledge relevant to the field.

So, 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.

Most employers will expect their purchasing managers to be (or be working towards becoming) a full CIPS member (MCIPS). One way to do this is to take a CIPS accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

Alternatively, you can take the CIPS Graduate Diploma (a level 6 qualification) to become a full member. Details of accredited degrees and CIPS qualifications are available on the CIPS website.

While most advertised positions are for graduates only, it is still possible to enter at a lower level (with no entry requirements) and gain promotion with experience and by working through the CIPS qualifications. There may also be a small number of openings for HND holders, particularly for those with specialist technical training.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • good oral and written communication skills;
  • strong analytical skills;
  • commercial awareness;
  • the ability to adapt to different client needs and to develop and maintain successful working relationships;
  • an excellent standard of numeracy in order to analyse facts and figures;
  • a flair for negotiation and networking;
  • the ability to make important decisions and cope with the pressure of demanding targets and tight deadlines;
  • a confident and mature approach;
  • tact and diplomacy.

Work experience

Previous business experience, especially gained in buying and selling, would be advantageous.

You can improve your chances of selection by first gaining some relevant work experience, or by work shadowing or completing a sandwich placement. Competition is keen but not as severe as for related areas such as marketing. Some organisations run summer vacation schemes.

Employers

Purchasing and procurement are increasingly recognised as an essential part to any business. Typical employers amongst others include:

  • the armed forces;
  • engineering and construction industries;
  • information and communication technology companies;
  • local authorities;
  • manufacturing and service companies;
  • the National Health Service (NHS);
  • public services industries;
  • retailing and mail order companies;
  • wholesalers.

E-procurement or managing multiple suppliers through the use of technology is growing in the public sector as well as in some industries such as information and communication technology and construction. This use of e-business to boost supply chain activities is likely to increase.

Look for job vacancies at:

With experience and a proven track record of success you could opt to become a self-employed consultant or freelance contract worker.

Professional development

Graduates may begin as trainees, junior buyers or assistant buyers. As a new employee, you will be expected to learn the specifics of your employer's business and this usually forms part of the induction or initial training programme. After which point, you will progress to higher roles with further training and qualifications.

The CIPS, offers a number of qualifications, which can be studied while working or via distance learning. These provide a structured path of training and most companies will sponsor you to gain the qualifications.

In addition to formal qualifications, you will be given a lot of practical on-the-job training and will learn by working closely with more experienced members of staff.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important in purchasing and supply management and you will be expected to keep your knowledge and skills up to date. CIPS offers a CPD service which helps to record and track learning. They also have a range of short training courses, often lasting one day, as well as workshops, seminars and various events, which are each worth a certain amount of CPD hours.

Career prospects

Your options for career development will depend on the company you work for. In larger companies, all the buying and procurement activities are carried out by a number of people working in teams, possibly at different locations, so you may progress by managing one of the teams or a group of teams across locations.

However, in a smaller company, one person may be responsible for all the work, so career progression may require a change of location.

Experienced project 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.

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

Gaining the CIPS qualifications will enhance your promotion prospects, as does being geographically mobile. 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.

Self-employment for buyers with experience has become a recent possibility.