Procurement professionals play an integral part of many projects, with key competencies required to ensure smooth contracts.
During the hiring process, those that aren’t involved day to day with this sector may find it hard to find the right questions to ask.
If you want to get to know your procurement candidates better to ensure you’re making the right choice, then you can explore the experience that they’re bringing to the table with these questions.
Can you tell me how you approach a negotiation with suppliers?
This is a great question which really shows the thought process that the candidate goes through. Do they start with preparing their figures or are they more likely to focus on the person they’re negotiating with?
This has to gel well with the impression that you want the professional to make and how you want your suppliers to be treated. Some companies emphasise the cost-cutting elements, whereas others want their suppliers to feel valued to get the best deal.
You can support this with a mock exercise to see their negotiation skills in action. This practical exercise can be more telling than the question alone, as you will be able to tell if they practice what they preach.
If you do plan to conduct a role play, ensure that you give all candidates a similar level of pushback to keep the process fair.
What formal training have you had?
Formal training can really take the procurement professional to the next level, as they learn key techniques to direct pricing conversations more fully. These modules cover the tools that the professional needs to manage the way that the negotiation is happening, through psychological and practical advice.
CIPS is the Chartered Institute for Procurement and Supply; their qualifications can set strong candidates above the rest. This can lead to a follow-on conversation about where they see this training taking them next and their goals within an organisation.
Some experienced procurement professionals won’t have any formal training, but this shouldn’t exclude them from the process. They may have a wealth of first-hand experience, which you could enhance with an apprenticeship or further qualification once they’re part of your organisation.
What do you know about our industry?
Procurement can often be contextual and goals vary widely from company to company. For this reason, bringing in a professional that has some experience with the industry can mean there’s less of a learning curve in the first few months.
This is also a good opportunity for the candidate to show what they know about the company and how they can assist in the mission of the organisation. This kind of wider understanding can be incredibly useful and hasten the onboarding process, saving the company money.
Probing this knowledge allows you to foray further into what the candidate has to offer. They may tell you something that would align with the role, that you may not otherwise have found out. Or, you may find that their knowledge of the industry isn’t quite as strong as they would have you believe.
Can you tell me about a time when you thought about the pros and cons of something in order to come to a decision?
This excellent question comes from Glassdoor, reportedly asked by Pfizer to assess procurement candidates. This question really gets to the heart of a successful procurement professional, how do they weigh up their options to make a decision?
This question can take you anywhere, from an amusing anecdote from their personal life to a serious professional discussion. These can both be very telling as to what kind of candidate they are and where they could fit in the company culture.
The communication skills that they use while answering this question should also come under scrutiny.
Think about how they communicate and whether this would be useful within your organisation. Even if their logic is sound, if they struggle to explain their decision making then this could cause issues.
Can you prepare a presentation for a hypothetical project?
This is a question that you can ask during the invitation to interview, with the intention of seeing the final product during the scheduled time. It’s important to give the candidate plenty of notice to prepare this and not ask for too much from them, as they’re less likely to complete large tasks that require a longer period of time.
A short 10-minute presentation should be more than enough to give you a view of the candidate’s presentation skills. This may also show a project or hobby that they’re passionate about, as they can use this as the basis for their presentation.
Make your expectations clear as to what you want to see during the presentation, as this makes the candidate feel more at ease and ready to show off their skills. Be reasonable with the amount that you’re asking them to do and how long they have to prepare.
How do you deal with rigid deadlines?
Much of the professional lives of those working in procurement is spent working to a deadline. While some of these can be flexible, you also need to assess how the candidate tackles a tight deadline that won’t change.
Through their timeline, they should build in time in the run-up to the deadline for any unexpected delays. This is also an opportunity for the candidate to elaborate on past experience that they have had, further helping you to decide if they’re a good fit for the company.
Do you believe that all opinions should be heard in team meetings, regardless of how well researched they are?
This can be a tricky one for candidates to answer, so you may want to ask it once they’ve had a chance to settle in and break the ice. This is a good litmus test to work out if the candidate can express a ‘grey’ opinion, rather than one that’s solely ‘black’ or ‘white’.
Ideally, the candidate should be able to come to some sort of verbal compromise, valuing well researched opinions while also being mindful of the feelings of those around them. As a person, you want them to think about the most efficient way to source a solution while also working well within a team.
If you have a candidate that shows a disregard for other co-workers or a reluctance to direct a conversation effectively, then you may want to consider how they will work within the organisation.
Do you tend to make decisions based on facts or emotion?
This is another grey area question that can be quite telling as to how the candidate thinks. There’s no real right answer here; instead you’re looking for a person that can give you a measured response, weighing up times in which each is appropriate.
Procurement professionals have to be ready to bring both of these sides of the coin to any decision that they make, where appropriate. Sometimes a gut feeling or emotive judgement on a situation will prove helpful, as long as it’s tempered with logical thought.
How do you assess the success of a negotiation?
CIPS tells us that a successful negotiation doesn’t always mean getting the lowest price, especially in the current economic climate:
“Consequently, the level of importance and dimension of negotiating have changed over the years: its scope has changed from predominantly price-oriented to focusing on economical, sustainable, relational and reputation aspects (Zartman, 2008).”
It’s essential that the successful candidate should understand this and be able to bring this to their role. Badgering or berating a supplier for a better price is short-sighted, something that could cost the company in the long term.
Sustainability and reputation are becoming ever more important for modern day businesses, with many companies opting to pay more for a CSR publicity windfall. A successful negotiation is much more than the bottom line these days!
Do you have any questions that you would like to ask me?
This is a common interview question, which can really give the candidate a chance to shine. They can take this question and really direct the conversation, in whichever way they choose.
They might take the opportunity to ask about the role, culture or your experience in the company. This can potentially show what they’re interested in and highlight any concerns they may have, which could lead them to turn down an offer if they’re not addressed.
This is a standard question, but it’s one that can prove very valuable for gathering additional information!
Getting to the heart of the procurement profession in an interview can prove to be no mean feat. With these ten questions to get you started, you’ll be on the way to finding the best candidate on no time.