Making a major career change can feel confusing, risky and even flat out scary. Following the usual linear professional path is, of course, a safer and more straightforward approach. However, if you’re able to successfully navigate a career change and reinvent yourself in a new field, this can lead to a truly fulfilling and rewarding professional journey.
I recently had the opportunity to interview people who made the transition into supply chain. They shared personal stories about what spurred their career shifts, strategies they used along the way and numerous helpful suggestions for others who may be considering joining us in the exciting world of supply chain. Here’s their advice:
Do your research. Explore all the various supply chain roles and opportunities. “If you love change and doing something different every day, then this is the career for you,” says Mandy Gudger, assistant buyer at Great Western Products, who began her career in health care information management. “Supply chain offers so many paths; you could almost take your career in any direction.”
Reina Magpantay, CSCP, CPIM, senior manager of production and inventory planning at PROVEN Skincare, notes that supply chain teams require a diverse group of talent. She advises taking time to consider what your unique skill set encompasses, then researching potential supply chain roles that align with it. “Whatever your strengths may be, there’s a home for you in supply chain,” says Magpantay, who came from the merchandising space.
Don’t be afraid to apply. If a position opens in another department, which will expose you to supply chain management, express your interest in the opportunity. Magpantay describes this as taking a leap of faith: “It’s intimidating to think about, let alone actually apply for, any opportunity different from your current role — especially one that perhaps involves a different product category or requires a different set of skills. ... I took a leap of faith and applied for a temp-to-hire buyer/planner role [and] never looked back.”
Mario Latham, lead logistics analyst at AT&T, says he used all the resources available to him in this regard: "Get your foot in the door, then tailor any job experience that involves transferrable skills that are relevant to supply chain.” Latham, who previously worked in hospitality, says he focused on his proficiency in Excel, customer service and inventory management, in particular.
Accept help. Let people know that you’re excited about becoming a supply chain professional. Talk to colleagues who hold supply chain roles at your current employer, find a mentor, join supply chain organizations and local chapters, and participate actively in discussion forums. "I spent some time shadowing with a connection on LinkedIn,” Lathan says. “This connection became my mentor, and we found transferrable skills that I highlighted for each supply chain role I hoped to land.”
When Gudger made the move to materials management at the hospital where she was working, she made a point to state that she was continuing her education in supply chain management. As a result, the director took an interest in her. “He called me over to speak with me, and we discussed my education and career plans,” she recalls. “He was willing to teach me beyond my current responsibilities so I could get the additional experience needed to move forward. My role ended up more purchasing than anything else, and after two years, I was able to land a buyer role at a local manufacturing facility."
Network. “If you’re going to change career fields, networking is key,” says Keith Fitzpatrick, CSCP, CPIM, director of supply chain at OmniMax International. “If you just submit your resume for a supply chain job notice, it's unlikely you’ll get past the HR screener. You need an advocate at the company where you want to work to explain why you would be a good candidate, even though you don’t have any direct supply chain experience.”
Fitzpatrick transitioned from the military, so he found a fellow veteran who was working in supply chain and asked them to review his resume and help him effectively translate his military experience into terminology that a civilian hiring manager would relate to.
Become a student of supply chain. Absorb, learn and observe everything you can. Magpanty earned both the APICS Certified in Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) and Certified in Planning and Inventory Management (CPIM) designations through ASCM. "APICS education gives me even more knowledge to apply to my day-to-day role,” she says. “The knowledge I have acquired from the credentials has leveled me up and made me a stronger representative of my role.”
In the Army, Fitzpatrick served as a maintenance officer and an organizational designer within operations, but found there wasn’t much call for those specialties in the private sector. “One day, I was talking to some people in the logistics division about my impending retirement from the military, and one person mentioned that I should refocus on supply chain and get connected with ASCM. I took his advice on both points.”
He first joined the ASCM Atlanta chapter and started attending monthly professional development meetings. Then he signed up for Foundations of Supply Chain Management as a first step toward earning his CPIM designation. “What I learned in the CPIM program is that the Army and the private sector follow similar supply chain practices, but use different terminology. CPIM helped me translate my military experience into civilian terminology … Later, I earned the CSCP designation, which prepared me for higher-level roles. Understanding the concepts taught in ASCM certification programs made me successful at all of my roles, which led to success at my jobs and rapid promotions to positions of greater responsibility.”
Highlight your transferrable skills. One theme is clear from each professional’s account: Identifying supply chain roles that will enable you to optimize your transferrable skills is key. Latham says shadowing his mentor enabled him to discover that many supply chain job qualifications were actually skills he already possessed. And Gudger notes that showcasing her relevant experiences from health care played a big role in her shift to supply chain. For instance, knowing how to communicate with insurance companies, families and others transferred to being an effective communicator with planners, customer service representatives, salespeople and vendors.
She adds, “My health care role also involved time management, attention to detail and organization as some of my everyday job responsibilities. When I was making the move to supply chain, all of my transferrable skills were clearly outlined both on my resume and during interviews.”