6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Supply Chain Management Career

Supply Chain Management Career

You’ve scoured Google for supply chain management jobs numerous times, read up on job descriptions and researched all that goes into a supply chain management career.  With all that digging, you must know everything there is to know about a job in supply chain management (SCM), right? Let’s pump the brakes a little—there’s a lot that can missed.

Job descriptions written by employers and recruiters are only going to show you one side of the job. They hit all the basics but may neglect to tell you what the industry is really like. Before starting any career, you need to know all the facts from both sides to feel secure in your decision. 

We enlisted a handful of supply chain management professionals to help shed some light on the topic. If you’re interested in earning money by helping organizations save money, read on to learn some of the important things experts wish they knew before starting a supply chain management career.

6 things you should know about supply chain management careers

1. Understanding the industry is essential

At its basic level, SCM professionals oversee materials, information and finances as they make their way from supplier to manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer to consumer. But the responsibilities can vary depending on the industry and organization in which you’re working. Before pursuing any SCM career, it’s important you understand exactly what it entails to determine whether that aligns with your passions and goals.

“A supply chain career can run the gamut from a basic purchasing function, to operating the end-to-end supply stream for a large corporation,” says Steve Lykken, senior vice president of supply chain management for Jennie-O Turkey Store. He explains that every company has a slightly different definition of what a supply chain management role entails, which means the day-to-day work can vary substantially between employers.

2. Supply chain management is data driven

One of the common threads found throughout all supply chain management careers is that it’s largely focused on quantifiable figures. This field is very data and process driven, according to Kathleen Ivanca, strategic account executive for Vizient, a health care organization.

Systems tracking supply and demand have become more sophisticated to meet the increasingly complex demands of customers, says Brad Barry of St. Onge Company, which specializes in supply chain strategy. He goes on to say that a supply chain management professional with the ability to use the available tools to interpret the data is invaluable to his or her organization. 

3. Supply chain management is competitive

“SCM is competitive,” says Mike Wolfe, director of operations at Delgado Stone Distributors. “A mistake or missed deadline can cost a company a few hundred thousand dollars and open the door to a competitor.”

Logistics is a fast-paced, demanding and competitive industry. With so many other companies vying for the same business, it’s important to come to work and give it your all.

Wolfe adds that you should always be asking yourself what’s next and how you can take your company to the next step. Being passionate about what you do is essential; if you are, then you will grow and learn exponentially.

Don’t let this scare you off, though. When starting off in logistics, you will learn the basics and have a supportive team to help you as you grow into your role and the company.

4. The job is never boring

Perhaps you’ve had jobs before where you felt that every day dragged on, and you couldn’t wait to clock out at the end of your shift. With a career in supply chain management, you can expect every day to be unpredictable—for better or for worse. Wolfe explains that supply chain is all about working together as a team, and when a team member is out or busy, you may find yourself stepping up to complete a task you’ve never done before.

“No one wants to let the team or customer down. In some cases, it means taking on a role you’re not accustomed to. I have operated a machine myself to keep the process moving,” Wolfe says. “You can’t always prepare for the unexpected, and when we have a deadline to meet, we make sure we meet it. Never a dull moment.”

5. Networking should be a priority

“Someone I work with once told me, ‘What you know is important; who you know is the key,’” says Melissa Patel, CPSM, sourcing & account manager team leader at Field Fastener. “My advice to people moving into this career is that it is all about relationships.” She explains that taking time to meet and listen with suppliers can go a long way; when you need a favor or guidance, you will have those relationships to fall back on.

Patel also recommends finding a mentor, especially when you are just beginning your career. This can be your manager, someone you work with or someone you encounter as you work in the industry. Mentors can be invaluable sources of knowledge and can help you develop more expertise than you would if you were on your own.

“The key is to watch and listen. Ask questions,” Patel says. “Let others who have navigated this career path successfully help you along the paved path.”

6. There are a variety of career opportunities

Supply chain management is an umbrella term that includes many different positions. Patel says a typical path includes beginning as an expeditor, then advancing to become a buyer and moving upward from there. Other job titles include operations analyst, loading operator, sales, production manager and logistician.

In addition to all the advancement potential in the industry, the earning potential is also looking bright. Logisticians made an average of $74,170 a year in 2016, with the highest ten percent earning more than $117,310.* You’d probably consider a salary of that proportion a personal success, but you’ll also be working to help your company reach organizational success.

Take the next step

You know now some of the more between-the-lines information of a career in supply chain management. While these experts have been in their field for years, your experience and success in SCM is determined by you and you alone.

Contribute to your future by learning how a Supply Chain Management degree can help you acquire the knowledge and skills you need to join this fascinating industry.


*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in February 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017. Insights from Lykken and Ivanca remain from the original article.


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Anna is a Content Marketing Writer at Collegis Education who researches and writes student-focused content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes the power of the written word can help educate and assist students on their way to a rewarding education.

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