The supply chain and logistics fields are among the fastest growing career fields. There are hundreds of different positions and career paths open to qualified candidates. It can be thrilling to work towards becoming a part of a fast-paced industry that is experiencing rapid growth, but you also need to be prepared with education and experience.
It’s important to know how to prepare yourself for entering this specific sector. If you don’t prepare well and thoroughly, it will be nearly impossible to gain a worthwhile position. Not to mention preparation can provide you with invaluable learning education and experience that can help you maintain your footing once you are a working professional.
Assess Your Situation
It’s possible to get an entry-level job without a degree, but an undergrad diploma with a major in business, economics, or logistics can lay the groundwork for landing a solid entry job.
However, for those who aspire to management positions, it’s most efficient to focus on earning an MBA in SCM (supply chain management) as the first step in creating a career in logistics-related industries. The first thing for aspiring professionals to do is to assess their prior experience, education, and skills.
List all classes or seminars you’ve taken in the subject area as well as any paid or unpaid jobs. Keep in mind that internships are often just as valuable as paid tasks, so list all positions on your resume.
Assuming you already hold an undergrad degree, regardless of the subject or general area of study, the next step should be to locate a reputable grad program in logistics and SCM. Focus on institutions that offer MBAs with concentrations in SCM or closely-related subjects to build your education and experience.
Getting and Financing an MBA
Of all the steps involved in building a career in the SCM field, none is more integral than the right degree. Undergraduate studies can be in virtually any area, including liberal arts, engineering, mathematics, business, or any number of subject areas. However, when pursuing post-college studies, focus on a master’s program in business administration.
The MBA has long been the entry pass into upper levels of commercial organizations. There are two distinct phases in this step. The first is to gain acceptance into an accredited institution. The second is securing financing to cover all the expenses associated with the coursework.
Paying the Bills
Total education bills at this stage of a career can be substantial. Few individuals have enough savings to pay for an MBA. Fortunately, it’s easy to apply for a student loan to deal with the financial requirements of paying for school. In fact, private student loans are the top choice among new college grads and mid-career job changers who decide to enter a master’s program.
Choose schools carefully. Check online reviews, college rankings as published in reputable magazines, and official institution websites to gain information about fees, the number of students, courses offered, and available specialties. Note that not all schools offer logistics concentrations, so check the brochure’s fine print carefully before adding an institution to your shortlist.
Narrow the field down to three programs that offer the specialty you want, are within your cost parameters, and have good reputations. Consider consulting a professional career counselor to gather data about how to identify the schools most suited to your particular career goals.
There are two basic ways to prepare yourself to gain acceptance to a grad program and excel once you’re in it. Some candidates believe it pays to major in a subject like management, computer science, or finance. All three are excellent preparation and will help you in the long run.
However, if you plan to attend graduate school anyway, you can always aim wider during college and study subjects like mathematics, marketing, and general business subjects that are only tangentially related to SCM. The main goal during college is to get good grades and participate in at least one extracurricular activity.
Another aspect of this preparatory phase in education and experience is work. As noted in the next section, experience and education are the two fundamental parts of your resume, but unpaid work, or internships, fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Ideally, you would apply for supply chain-related internships and entry-level jobs during your second year of college and work during the summers. If you can afford to live on no income for a few months between academic years, you’ll get the chance to add some powerful lines to your resume.
Acquire the Right Skills
It’s imperative to know the specific positions for which you’ll be applying as your entry into the diverse field of logistics. At first, however, you need to understand that SC managers most typically have at least a year on the job in basic positions before they move on to managerial levels. This is true regardless of the educational background they have.
For those who hold a master’s degree and have three or more years of relevant experience, it’s much easier to find multiple opportunities. Likewise, any military service looks great on a resume, particularly if it’s related to in-service duties in inventory management or dispatching.
Specific skills, as well as job titles, are also a key part of the long-term career puzzle. It’s wise to acquire as many of the following as possible to build up your resume and chances of obtaining worthwhile employment:
- Understanding of technical terminology
- Management of various kinds of projects
- Solving different kinds of problems and doing general troubleshooting
- Skills in finance and cost accounting
- Financial statement literacy
- A well-rounded knowledge of procurement and e-commerce
- At least one formal course in business and managerial ethics
- A general knowledge of international issues and cultural differences
Explore Jobs Within the Niche
Few people outside the industry realize how wide-ranging supply chain duties are and how many different titles there are within the field. From accounting and finance to engineering and computer programming, there’s something for every talented, hard-working person no matter what their area of expertise.
- Managers oversee the work of others and typically have several years of experience as well as an advanced degree
- Freight agents are entry-level workers
- Warehouse logistics managers are mid-level operatives who direct and control the flow of goods into and out of major storage locations
- Procurement professionals acquire goods for their company
- Client service reps interact with customers to make sure their needs are met
- Transportation analysts do routing and planning for goods that are in transit
- Logistics engineers perform high-level duties that involve planning and designing systems for moving items through the supply chain
- Inventory managers perform dozens of chores related to storage, security, and maintaining records of goods on hand
Candidates should strive to get accurate position descriptions from prospective employers because there’s no set terminology when it comes to titles. What a particular company calls an inventory expert might not match up with how other corporations in the industry use the term. Likewise, when you do online searches for employment, be careful to rely on written descriptions of duties instead of titles, which are often misleading.
As is the case with many other professions, there are numerous certification areas within the SCM field. Some are more difficult to obtain than others. However, whether you’ve finished your MBA studies or not, consider making a plan to obtain at least one of the following certificates.
- CSCP: Certified SC Professional
- CPCM: Certified Professional Contract Manager
- CPL: Certified Professional Logistician
- CPSM: Certified Professional in Supply Management
- SCOR: SC Operations Reference
Each of the certificates requires different experience levels and educational backgrounds. Don’t expect to study a workbook and sit for one of the exams within a few weeks. Most call for a few years of on-the-job training, intensive coursework, and at least six weeks of full-time study.
However, the payoff is that earning just one certificate will enhance your long-term prospects considerably. Professionals who hold one or more certifications earn about 25 percent more than their colleagues who don’t hold any.
Perfect Your Resume
Don’t wait to work on your resume until last, even though it’s the final point in this listing. In a perfect world, you should be constructing it from the first day of college, planning courses that pertain to your long-term goals, and striving to gain relevant skills during the summers between school years. There are three things to remember about resumes for SCM jobseekers.
First, the documents are not designed to get you a position. Their real purpose is to get you into an interview. In today’s competitive employment marketplace, a top-notch document can go a long way toward setting you apart from hundreds of other potential candidates.
Second, don’t be afraid to spend money hiring a qualified, experienced resume writer who knows the SCM field. Avoid generalists who spend most of their time crafting resumes for first-time job seekers. You want to hire someone who specializes in focused searches and has created dozens of logistics-related resumes already.
Finally, don’t skimp on acquiring face-to-face interview skills. Many of the best writers also hold certificates in vocational development and job-search coaching. When you shop for an expert, look for one who is certified not only to write resumes but also to coach candidates about how to behave in formal employment interviews. What kinds of things should you expect to learn?
At a bare minimum, an interview coach will teach you how to field oddball questions that hiring managers often toss out just to test interviewees. Plus, they’ll show you how to respond fully to any questions that come your way.
A skilled coach will conduct a mock interview that lasts for approximately 45 minutes to help you run through all the key elements of the meeting and prep you for common and uncommon questions. Once you sit through a training session with a certified coach, you’ll have the confidence to face any interview situation, question, or challenge.
Don’t Forget Computer Skills
Somewhere along the line, either in your schooling, internships, or formal work training, you should have acquired a solid background in computer skills. Unfortunately, too many candidates attempt to enter the CSM field without the requisite digital experience.
In light of the top technologies revolutionizing the shipping industry alone you need to be well versed since the rest of the supply chain and logistics industries won’t be far behind. Expect to be asked in detail about your IT skillsets when interviewing. What should you be ready to say?
At the least, entry-level and mid-level workers in logistics should possess average to above-average computer acumen. If you feel you are lacking in this area, consider taking online courses to bring your knowledge level up to par. Take one course in word-based systems and another in which you can learn how to use and construct financial spreadsheets.
Additionally, learn basic coding so you’ll have the ability to fix basic programming bugs when necessary. It’s not essential to become a programmer or expert-level user. However, it is vital that you are not only computer literate but can work with all the most common apps and systems in the discipline that will become your life’s work.
Inventory management and cost accounting apps are worthwhile to learn, as are customer service management software products, even if you don’t plan to work in that particular area. Consider taking a class or two in IT security and another in programming languages.
Strive to acquire a broad set of IT and general computer skills so that you can add advanced coursework later on when you narrow down your employment choices. Luckily, there are dozens of excellent online boot-camp courses you can take that don’t cost a fortune and can impart most of the IT-related knowledge you need to succeed on your chosen path.
Get your resume in order and speak with an employment agent in order to perform a thorough search for the kinds of positions that are most suited for your background, education and experience, and personal preferences. Don’t fall into the trap of accepting the first offer that comes along. With an MBA under your belt and the right credentials, you’ll eventually secure a promising position.