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People with skills in buying, purchasing and supply management at every level of expertise are recognised as critical both to the efficient everyday operations of an organisation and to the achievement of long-term strategic goals.

The buying, purchasing and supply management profession is expanding rapidly. The opportunity to excel on the basis of individual performance and merit makes a buying graduate career an attractive choice to more and more graduates. Employers are now finding that the number of talented purchasing and supply staff is no match for the intense demand, so there are great opportunities out there for bright graduates.

Buying is often seen as one of the most glamorous roles in retail however the reality is a lot of hard work that demands long hours and total dedication. Buyers are the people who keep the stores stocked with the goods that will sell the most, thus increasing company profits and keeping the store trading efficiently by matching the needs of the customers.

Buyers must also liaise regularly with suppliers and visit trade shows as it is a buyer’s responsibility to keep abreast of market developments, often forecasting customers’ buying trends, generating ideas for new product ranges as well as ensuring existing offerings are of the highest quality. They will operate across the whole spectrum of retailing and wholesaling and are generally required to travel quite frequently in order to visit stores and meet the suppliers.

Average Buying Graduate Salary

Buying Graduate Career Path

Most major retail outlets as well as some manufacturing firms, financial services companies and central government departments will run graduate buying and purchasing schemes. The criteria they use to select graduates will vary. Competition for places on these training programmes is growing due to the amount of kudos given to gaining a job within this sector, therefore early applications are always advised. Other companies may have vacancies for buyers or supply chain trainees that arise on an individual basis. These types of jobs will be mainly operational or administrative, focusing on transactional tasks, often during the early stages of project development.

A company's supply or value chain stretches from sourcing its raw materials via the supply market into the organisation, then out through customers to the end user. Purchasing and supply management is the link in that chain that manages the interface between the supply market and the organisation. Its importance lies in the fact that a company can spend more than two-thirds of its revenue buying in goods and services so even a modest percentage reduction in purchasing costs can have a significant effect on profits.

Essentially, purchasing and supply management involves identifying the requirements of the company's internal customers - which is not always straightforward - and then obtaining the necessary products and services by negotiation and agreement with suppliers. The primary objective is to obtain value for money. This does not always mean achieving the very lowest price - sometimes other commercial considerations are more important. For example, the flexibility and speed of response of the supplier might be the deciding factor, or the need to minimise risk by choosing a vendor with a good business record.

Another important aspect of the job is to present the most attractive picture of the company to the supply market, because many suppliers can choose their clients and do not necessarily want the business. Much of this is commercial common sense, such as consolidating the requirements of a number of internal customers in order to place a large order, which then makes the company more attractive to the supplier.

The main role of a buyer is to successfully purchase attractive merchandise, the price, quality and availability of which meet customer needs. By fully understanding the customers' wants and needs buyers are able to maximise profits and provide a commercially viable range of merchandise at competitive prices. The role of the buyer is demanding yet rewarding. Although support is provided, it does involve considerable responsibility and autonomy. The ability to multi-task, prioritise work and meet strict deadlines are key requirements of a role that requires competency in a wide range of other skills such as analytical, motivational and leadership. The duties of the buyer vary depending upon the season. Out of season they will spend the majority of their time in the workplace - in the office and on the shop floor. In the buying season the buyer may spend a significant amount of time away from work assembling a new collection of merchandise.

Within this sector graduates must be flexible about their working arrangements. No two weeks are the same and regular meetings are commonplace. Many buyers and purchasers begin in other areas of retail or manufacturing management and chose to progress into this role as they move within the company. Also, if you work for a larger organisation working abroad may be a possibility.

After a year or two, you will be looking to broaden your experience and knowledge-base by taking another role with your existing employer or by moving jobs. The roles that you choose make up the fabric of your buying graduate career as your experience becomes more extensive, reflecting employment in different organisations or industry sectors and also your life in general.

You may choose to specialise in terms of business sector or role undertaken: this often happens within larger companies where specialism leads to economies of scale. You may prefer to work for a smaller company in an all-encompassing purchasing or buying position where you have input into all aspects of supply chain management.

Qualifications and Skills Needed

What proportion of candidates as a percent we place into Buying graduate careers and the typical qualities graduate employers look for.

GRB Placements for Buying and Purchasing by Degree

Typical Candidate Attributes

There are no minimum qualifications but graduates with a buying, supply chain or a numerical degree may have an advantage over others. As a general rule employers will recruit graduates from all disciplines who show good judgement, mathematical ability or interest. You will need to be aware of current and future trends in industry and possess excellent negotiation skills. Also you must be able to demonstrate a confident, outgoing personality and be seen as a person who can successfully negotiate in order to get the best outcome. Any relevant experience obtained will also be of interest to employers as it will show a desire to continue working in the industry.

You will need to convince an interviewer of:

  • Your ability to accept responsibility
  • Your high level of motivation
  • Your ability to make a positive impact on the organisation

Most importantly of all, you will need to demonstrate any theoretical knowledge you gained during your degree, an understanding of the industry itself and show skills in key areas:

  • Professional 
  • Organisational
  • Strategic
  • Interpersonal
  • Technical
  • Adaptability
  • Commercial

Remember that employers may have different priority ranking for these key areas and that the mix of these key elements may change as your career develops.

Sources for Further Information

Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply
Institute of Grocery Distribution