Inside Supply Management Magazine

5 Things to Consider When Paving Your Career Path

November 12, 2018

By Nicholas Ammaturo

Everyone’s heard the saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” It can be a common misconception when first starting out in supply management that your employer will help form your career trajectory. The truth is, we are each responsible for guiding our own careers, right from the start.

From my own experiences, I’ve come to consider myself my own company. There is a lot of advice out there about personal branding, and this is similar to that mindset: As my own company, I provide my services to whichever company employs me. I also fall into the millennial generation, and at times our age group is generalized with negative connotations. Contrary to stereotypes, I do not think millennials are entitled or need special attention to succeed. My peers work hard, take responsibility seriously and are continuously learning the more time they spend in the driver’s seat of their careers.

This segues nicely to an experience I had recently renovating my driveway. I discovered some parallels between paving a driveway and the work required to successfully pave one’s career path. The key lessons I learned in the art of driveway repair are the same things I’ve experienced in shaping my career path: you’ll learn more as you go, and no two paths are alike. In all of this, a solid foundation is key, and you need a plan of attack to get the work done.

Here are five areas millennials and young professionals may find beneficial when paving a long-term supply management career path.

1) Experience

Let’s face it: When it comes to hard labor, we often want to find someone else to handle it. But the best way to learn is to do the work yourself. Experience is truly the strongest teacher.

In my first supply management position, I was fortunate to work for a world-class procurement organization. This was critical for me because I was able to build a skills foundation.

One lesson I’ll never forget was to “learn the business cold.” This means learning the business inside and out, ask questions and try to experience as many different aspects of the supply management function as possible. From category management to working with finance, if you know a little about what the whole team does, it will help you perform your own job responsibilities with clarity and purpose. It helps to know where all the individual parts fit into the whole procurement puzzle.

Also, try to gain exposure to other parts of the business because it helps you see the big picture and understand supply management’s role within the organization. While I don’t plan to leave the supply management profession, I still go out of my way to understand how other functions operate in each company I work for. If you work in an industry involved in manufacturing, visit a plant. If you work in retail, go to a store and do a walk-through with the store manager.

The message here is to get away from your desk and learn firsthand how supply management impacts and is influenced by the rest of company. Nothing can replace hands-on knowledge, and I approach new challenges with this same mindset. The bottom line is that you need to get out there and do the work.

Once you get that solid experience, you need to then figure out the next step — like how to know what comes next.

2) Trajectory

Here is where things get complicated. You love your job, you’re learning every day and feel challenged, but soon you begin to wonder where this experience will lead you next. I recommend finding out exactly what the path of advancement looks like in your company.

You might see peers being promoted or making lateral moves, and it can be tempting to draw some correlations, but try not to base your career on the experiences of others. Rather, if you want to figure out your trajectory, you need to have a conversation with your manager so you both know each other’s expectations and intentions. But don’t wait to talk about this at your mid-year or year-end review. These conversations are important and need to take place sooner than later.

Some advice: Always know your value. I have done extensive research regarding supply management salaries, experience, results and how our profession operates in various industries to understand what my value is. You don’t need to go this in-depth, but it’s a good idea to see what comparable companies are doing. You can do this by looking at job postings to see how you measure up, read industry publications and talk with peers to broaden your viewpoint. In some cases, finding out comparable values will give you a reality check and help you set realistic, achievable goals and help you figure out your own career motivations.

3) Motivation

Even if you love your day-to-day work, know what’s motivating you to continue working along your chosen career path. Is it more money? Is it reaching a particular job title? Do you want to live in a specific location? The reasons are endless and often change, which is normal. Our priorities shift throughout our lives, so we need to revisit this topic frequently.

It’s especially important to reconsider your motivations if you find you’re not happy going to work every day or feel trapped in a job because of your age or financial obligations outside of work. It’s always worth investigating your options and resetting your course if you need to, because life is too short to be unhappy or feel unmotivated on a regular basis.

Once you know what you’re working toward, you need to keep that carrot dangled in front of you, with help from your manager. As mentioned previously, talking to your manager can help match your intentions with definable actions. Even if a manager is less than helpful, look to mentors inside the company and leaders in industry to fill in the gaps. After all, you might not be at a particular position for a very long time if it does not suit your long-term career path goals, so seeking out someone other than your current manager can be a good idea.

4) Career Versus Job

When you accept a new position, ask yourself: Are you working toward a career, or will this be just a job? This question ties into what’s motivating you. I look at each job/role as the little bricks that make the larger pathway that will represent my entire career. Whether you want a defined career or just a long path of jobs, it’s up to you.

Going back to the driveway-project analogy, I had to decide how the bricks were chosen and positioned to achieve a cohesive, clear and useful pathway. I didn’t want a random collection of bricks in the vague shape of a driveway. I knew what I wanted the end goal to look like.

This is how I’ve approached my supply management career. I’ve gained some experience, I know where I want to go and I know what my motivations are. Now, each new job I have must play a role in helping me build and expand my experience and development.

In my case, many of these jobs (bricks) have different company logos on them, but that doesn’t mean a person can’t pave a path with bricks from the same company. Some people are very happy and successful staying with one company — or even one role and function — for a long time. They become experts in their field and leverage that to their advantage.

Personally, I prefer a range of experiences that challenge what I thought I knew. Thanks to the different categories and industries I’ve worked in, I have a diverse view of supply management and a wide range of experiences to call on in new situations.

All of my job experiences pave the way toward my chosen lifelong career: procurement. As such, I never think of any current position as “just a job” — they’re all part of a larger design.

5) Network

Speaking of being part of a larger design, it’s important to consider your extended professional network as you build your career. We’ve all heard companies say their most valuable assets are their people, and I think that’s true for almost all parts of our lives. None of us can go very far if we are always alone. I have been fortunate to have met many individuals along my career path, and each one has helped me to build a strong foundation. The best part: I’ll continue to meet new people and build my network as the years go by, so it’s only getting stronger over time.

I find immense value in my network. They are a diverse mix of colleagues, prior managers, friends, family and even suppliers that I have developed relationships with and even confided in during my career path.

I describe my network as diverse, and that means I have the benefit of learning from perspectives outside of my own. I have relationships with people in different generations, job levels, industries and more. It’s so important to have a rich and vibrant network, as these people can play any number of roles and teach you specific skills as you work side by side. They can help you see fresh and different points of view. As you grow close to some of them, they could play the role of devil’s advocate and challenge you or give you the confidence you need to make a decision. I feel strongly about this and urge everyone to focus on building their relationships.

Relationships and networks are like a wheel’s hub and spoke. The people I consider my “spokes” are a little more distant, and the relationship is typically one-way — a single spoke can only connect one point on the wheel’s hub to one other point on the rim. In other words, in “spoke” relationships, it’s more one-dimensional. You might always be providing something to them or they may always be providing something to you, but it’s never 100 percent well-rounded, or even mutually balanced. And you do need these types of relationships, as they can potentially turn into a “hub.” The hubs are essential and allow the entire wheel to move. In life, our hubs are the deeper relationships, the ones you focus on and invest time and energy to maintain. These are relationships that are mutual, and both parties benefit from it.

One important thing not to overlook: appreciation. Once you have a network, say thank you and give back, often. Let them know how they have helped you and reach out in the spirit of reciprocity to keep the relationships alive. The people you know can take you places you never knew about.

In the Driver’s Seat

Going forward, I know I still have a lot to learn. I’m like everyone else in that I don’t know what will happen next, and I’m sure I’ll have a range of experiences as I travel down my career path. But I am excited to see where it will go.

Regardless of where my career eventually takes me, I will have driven it and made my own decisions along the way. And it’s a formula anyone can follow: Work hard and earn as much experience as you can. Know your value and put yourself in places where you can make steps forward, rather than staying in one place too long. Figure out your true motivations and learn to recognize when a job is “just a job” or a strategic career move.

Through all of it, having a supportive network will be the thing that keeps it all together. I know that I may take a few more turns here and there, but the driveway is solid and the bricks strong.

Nicholas Ammaturo is senior director, global procurement, corporate services, transportation and logistics at Tapestry Inc. — Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman brands in New York.