How should a Buyer prepare for interview?

I recently caught up with a Head of Buying who I placed in her current role. We were discussing her disappointment that a lot of Buyers she had interviewed in the past hadn’t sold themselves to her. They didn’t talk about the results they had delivered for the business and if they did have the results / numbers they then weren’t prepared to explain how they had delivered them. This meant that she had to invest extra time and effort just to understand how good they were (or not). This is not the first time I have heard this from a client or indeed experienced it myself when interviewing. There is a variety of reasons this can happen: Short notice for interview means the candidate has a lack of time to prepare. Can you remember what you delivered 5 years ago off the top of your head and how you went about it? Can you talk confidently and credibly with those numbers in your head? It is rare to be able to do this without some level of preparation, particularly when nerves come into play. It can also happen when a candidate has been loyal to a business and has been there some time. When was the last time you had to remind people of what you have delivered and sell yourself? Probably in a performance review some time ago. Since then you have built a reputation internally so don’t need to revisit the numbers or the detail. This puts you at a disadvantage simply because you are out of practice at interviews and at selling yourself. I find it frustrating that really good candidates aren’t always successful in interviews for reasons like these. So, here is the advice I give my candidates about preparing for an interview…in short, Prepare! Obvious? You would be surprised. To thoroughly prepare for an interview, here are some considerations:
  1. Working in Retail gives you the significant advantage of being able to research your prospective employer by visiting a store (if it is a bricks and mortar retailer) or visiting their ecommerce site. Even if you did it a month ago by chance, do it again before the interview! Look at the range, the promotions, pricing, the store layout, what is good/ bad, how do you feel going in, and on leaving? You will be able to provide valuable insight for the business to consider and this demonstrates great commitment from you. This will really help the conversation if you are nervous as it gives some common ground to discuss.
  2. SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Even a one page of notes at first stage will be useful to show you have prepared, are keen and have some thoughts to bring to the conversation. This will also help you as a candidate to understand the business better and evaluate if this is a business you want to work for. It’s impressive to a client and can help you be the one they invite back. As the process progresses, you may be asked to prepare a SWOT on a product range specifically and this is your opportunity to demonstrate your creativity, commercial knowledge and insight into the market.
  3. Be prepared to discuss your Black Book. As a buyer, your industry contacts and supplier base form part of your professional ‘brand’ and any prospective employer will want to know what you will be bringing with you. This may need some discretion however it is worth thinking about this as part of your preparation.
  4. Highlight your key achievements for each of your roles separately from your CV, refresh yourself and do a STAR – Situation, Task, Action and Result or CAR. For further guidance on this, click here. These notes will be revision for you and give you confidence.
  5. If you have a JD, read it thoroughly and make notes where it highlights the key requirements and where you have that relevant experience. Combine this with your key achievements notes above, and it allows the interviewer to tick off what they are looking for. This is especially helpful if the first stage interviewer is a member of the HR or Recruitment team and is not the commercial line manager.
  6. Be passionate – show you want the job. Not any job - this job, with this
  7. Know the company - Look at the company website, look at the news on the business in industry publications, Retail Week, Drapers etc. Make sure you know what is going on right now and that you are able to list 3 reasons why you are interested in working there.
  8. Look at the company on LinkedIn. Have you worked with someone who now works there? If so, drop them an invite to ask them how they are getting on.
  I am sure there will be additional rituals you have in order to prepare - I tend to power dress and buy something new for the interview to give myself more confidence and ensure those first 30 seconds of impression count! The key is preparation and I can’t stress enough how important it is to allow enough time to prepare for any interview, after all, “retail is detail.” Good luck!  

Do merchandisers make the best buyers?

Do Merchandisers make the best Buyers? Buyers and Merchandisers are often seen as being totally different. The perception is that each role requires a completely different skillset, one more creative and one more analytical. Sometimes even requiring a different personality! It is true that people often take very different paths to reach these positions - a Buyer because of a love of design and product development, and a Merchandiser because of a love of numbers and analytics. However in my experience some of the best Buyers actually started their careers in merchandising before moving to the other side! I have been lucky enough to interview a lot of Buyers at different levels and have found that Buyers who started their career in merchandising, unsurprisingly, are highly commercial and very focused on the numbers. This in turn leads to several things - they are extremely results driven and highly successful at margin forecasting and developing commercial plans. Crucially, they also know how their counterparts in the Merchandising department think. They appreciate the fine balance of creating a range plan; of accurately forecasting trends and planning stock levels; getting the product to market first to hit margin targets with the caution of managing the OTB and having the right exit plan to minimise mark downs. Analysing the seasonal trends that need to be considered in order for product launches to hit peak hard can be challenging. Even Merchandisers who go on to be Buyers can’t predict the weather and this year is particularly prudent. An unprecedented long, warm summer required quick thinking, a flexible supply chain and strong relationships with suppliers to adapt in order to maximise and extend summer trading. Buyers that have a merchandising background often find it leads to a very positive working relationship with their merchandising colleagues - always advantageous when they need to work so closely together especially in unpredictable circumstances like dealing with the weather! A Buyer who focuses on product development, trend and the look and feel of product is balanced by a Merchandiser who looks at the WSSI to manage the OTB, ensuring stock is maintained and accurately planned to meet sales targets. A person who has the blend of both skills with be extremely successful but I see more merchandisers go into buying than the other way round. Merchandising is a relatively new department in some retailers and means that a lot of Buyers have had to do the financial modelling and range plans - B&Q and WH Smith’s are just two examples. These Buyers are highly sought after because of this balance between creativity and analytical skills (planning and forecasting a range) and the positive working relationship they can go on to have with a Merchandiser. Therefore I believe Merchandisers often make the best Buyers!   ps. as a Buyer, don’t underestimate the power of using a testimonial from a Merchandiser on your CV or on your LinkedIn profile. It’s incredibly powerful and says a huge amount about your ability as a Buyer and as a negotiator and influencer. This also works vice versa!