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Welcome to NAEP President's Corner

A monthly feature highlighting the Purchasing Link column from NAEP President Lisa Deal, C.P.M., University of Florida   

Are you curious? A life-long learner? Why am I asking?

If you possess any of these traits, that may explain why you work in procurement and are successful in your position. When looking for new staff or working to transition an existing compliance-based purchasing unit to one that focuses on adding value, consider looking for something different in the candidates—not just someone with purchasing experience. Too often, we post the same, old, tired, position description that sounds like a gate-keeping number-cruncher who requests quotes and tracks infractions to rules. When you think about it, everyone— not just purchasing folks—knows how to buy stuff, because everyone does. Sure, purchasing professionals have specific knowledge about terms and conditions, but is that what makes us great at our jobs? Is that what meets the growing demands in higher education? According to NAEP’s 2014 Innovators Forum Report on Talent Management, we need to recruit folks with the “right attributes... we are looking for people with non-traditional skill-sets. They should have a significant degree of curiosity and the capacity and desire to learn.”

A few years ago, while recruiting staff, I had an “aha moment,” when I realized that curiosity was a key quality for a new hire. Now when hiring, we ask “What was the most interesting project you have worked on—or thing you have purchased, and why was it interesting?” What we have learned is that not everyone gets engaged enough in their work to be able to tell you what was interesting about what they were working on and why. We ask questions about how the candidate has solved problems and the best and worst decisions they ever made. We ask about their future goals and what they expect to learn from the job. The answers to these questions really help identify folks who can think outside the box—who are ready for the challenges of working on a campus with really smart people who have challenging resource constraints and limited time for complex business processes. We’ve learned that looking solely within the buying community for buyers can be a real mistake. We’ve recruited retail and professional sales staff who are interested in changing sides, who come with really specific commodity knowledge. There are campuses fortunate enough to recruit from their own student body.  If you hire folks with nontraditional purchasing skills, you can teach them the traditional stuff, because buying things makes sense. Finding folks who are curious enough to understand the root cause of an issue—and who dig in to resolve problems over and over again—is how we build procurement organizations that really add value to our campuses.

If that sounds daunting, remember that NAEP has tools to help. In the Members-only portion of the NAEP website, under Resources/White Papers, check out the NAEP 2014 Innovators Forum Report on Talent Management, the Competency Wheel and under Resources/Talent Management, a list of interview questions for new buyers.

Good luck recruiting and, when your position descriptions are updated and are successful in enticing curious life-long learners to join your team, share the position description with the NAEP position-description library.


Column originally published in the June issue of NAEP Purchasing Link


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