There are approximately 503,900 purchasing agents and buyers currently working in the United States. They work for a wide variety of businesses, both wholesale and retail, as well as for government agencies. Employers range from small stores, where buying may be only one function of a manager's job, to multinational corporations, where a buyer may specialize in one type of item and buy in enormous quantity. Nearly every business that sells products requires someone to purchase the goods to be sold. These businesses are located nearly everywhere there is a community of people, from small towns to large cities. Of course, the larger the town or city, the more businesses and thus more buying positions. Larger cities provide the best opportunities for higher salaries and advancement.
Students without a college degree may be able to enter the field as clerical workers and then receive on-the-job training in purchasing. A college degree, though, is usually required for higher positions. College and university career services offices offer assistance to graduating students in locating jobs.
Entry into the purchasing department of a private business can be made by direct application to the company. Some purchasing agents start in another department, such as accounting, shipping, or receiving, and transfer to purchasing when an opportunity arises. Many large companies send newly hired agents through orientation programs, where they learn about goods and services, suppliers, and purchasing methods.
Another means of entering the field is through the military. Service in the Quartermaster Corps of the Army or the procurement divisions of the Navy or Air Force can provide excellent preparation either for a civilian job or a career position in the service.
In general, purchasing agents begin by becoming familiar with departmental procedures, such as keeping inventory records, filling out forms to initiate new purchases, checking purchase orders, and dealing with vendors. With more experience, they gain responsibility for selecting vendors and purchasing products. Agents may become junior buyers of standard catalog items, assistant buyers, or managers, perhaps with overall responsibility for purchasing, warehousing, traffic, and related functions. The top positions are head of purchasing, purchasing director, materials manager, and vice-president of purchasing. These positions include responsibilities concerning production, planning, and marketing.
Many agents advance by changing employers. Frequently an assistant purchasing agent for one firm will be hired as a purchasing agent or head of the purchasing department by another company.
Tips for Entry
Read Professional Purchasing (https://www.american-purchasing.com) and Inside Supply Management (https://www.ismworld.org/supply-management-news-and-reports/news-publications/inside-supply-management-magazine) to learn more about the field.
Check job listings on these Web sites:
Joining a professional association is a great way to learn more about purchasing and advance your career. Associations provide many benefits to their members. For example, members of the American Purchasing Society have access to continuing education classes, useful industry and salary publications, and many other resources. Other membership organizations include the Institute for Supply Management and NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement.