A lot of young professionals and even graduate students are interested in pursuing a career path as a supply chain consultant. I receive many queries through Email/LinkedIn asking for advice on supply chain career development. However, the most common query that I receive is: “I want to build a career / shift my career in Supply Chain Consulting, how should I go about doing so?”.
So, in order to answer these queries, I thought it’s best to create a comprehensive guide on careers in supply chain consulting. And for this important topic, I had to bring in help from some of the best experts in supply chain industry. So, 4 foremost experts from the industry will share their wisdom and guide you on various aspects of pursuing a career as a supply chain consultant. (Click on the links below to go directly to the experts.)
Supply Chain Consulting is an attractive career option…
So, what is about consulting that so many professionals are attracted to it? There are several reasons as noted below, some of which you may already know:
Supply chain consulting or for that matter any consulting role requires you to work on new and different projects all the time and as such you will never be short of challenges.
Supply chain consultants don’t manage day to day operations and deal more at the strategic and sometimes tactical level, which offers them a very unique perspective of the functioning of various supply chains.
The learning curve for supply chain consultants is steep and you get to interact a lot with the client which adds a new dimension to your skill sets.
Consulting provides opportunity to work with top leaders in the industry.
Supply chain consulting is one of the most rewarding career options.
As someone who has been working as a consultant for almost 5 years now, I can certainly tell you that these are valid reasons to consider this path. But before getting into it, you need to understand what supply chain consulting is all about and what it takes to become a supply chain consultant.
Supply chain consulting is focused on three broad areas…
Consulting companies offer various supply chain services and these services can be broadly categorized into three areas:
Supply Chain Strategy & Planning includes consulting and advisory on Network Design, Inventory Optimization, Transportation Planning, Total Cost Optimization etc. This involves use of advanced analytical tools like Supply Chain Guru to create optimal plans and strategies for improving supply chain performance.
Supply Chain Process Consulting involves analyzing broader supply chain processes, identifying any gaps and further creating a roadmap for process improvement. Supply chain process consultants help align different processes in the supply chain organization with the overall goals of the business.
Supply Chain Implementation Consulting involves implementation of supply chain systems like SAP, Oracle, JDA, Warehouse Management Systems etc. This requires consultants to have a deep understanding of these systems and they facilitate implementation and integration of these systems in the larger supply chain organization.
Lisa Anderson is the President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc. Lisa is ranked 16 in SAP‘s Supply Chain Influencers and recognized as one of the top 1% of consultants worldwide.
“Supply chain consulting is exciting and engaging on a daily basis – being able to partner with clients to help them make – and keep – bold customer promises while achieving win-win profits is exhilarating. However, it shouldn’t be the first step on the career ladder for a young supply chain professional.
In essence, there are two uniquely different paths in supply chain consulting – one of analysis and research, and one with a direct impact on the client’s processes and performance. If you are interested in becoming a guru in analysis and research, the large consulting firms is a great choice.
However, if you are interested in working directly with clients to impact performance, you must gain experience in the workplace first. No executive is going to respect the advice of someone who has never “been there or done that”. The ideal path could include a stint in research and analysis (as those skills can come in handy) but must include a career progression within the supply chain to be a successful supply chain consultant.”
Now, there are some companies which offer services in all three categories while others specialize in a specific category. As somebody who is considering a career in supply chain consulting, you need to be very clear where your interest lies and which career path you want to choose.
These are some of the must have skills for supply chain consultants…
The skills required for becoming a successful supply chain consultant can be broadly categorized into:
- Supply Chain Skills
- Consulting SkillsUnlike management consulting roles, supply chain consulting requires professionals to have expertise in supply chain management as well as possess consulting skills.
The technical skill required depends on the career path one is interested in. For example, if you are planning to be a supply chain planning consultant, you need to have a deep understanding of supply chain management and you would further require to know how to use various advanced analytics tools like Supply Chain Guru and techniques to optimize supply chain performance. If you are say more interested on supply chain implementation side, you would require have in-depth understanding of supply chain systems like SAP, Oracle etc.
The second type of skills that you need to have is consulting skills which include excellent interpersonal skills, analytical and quantitative skills and presentation skills. Moreover, you need to develop a structured approach to identify issues and solve problems.
Jim TompkinsJim Tompkins is the CEO of Tompkins International and is an international authority on supply chain strategy and operations.
“Two pieces of advice, one about consulting and one about supply chain:
It is best for a young consultant to have 3-5 years of experience before joining a consulting firm. To be a good consultant you must be really good in a technical area and be learning the profession of consulting. To try to learn at the same time technical areas and consulting at the same time is nearly impossible. So, get 3-5 years of experience first to get a head start on the technical area(s) of supply chain before you begin to learn the consulting aspects.
The field is broad and it is deep: Plan-Buy-Make-Move-Store-Sell are the mega-processes of supply chain. Each of the mega-processes has a major impact on how the overall supply chain performs and meets expectations. So, for example, it is good to be deep in transportation (move) but do you understand the implications of transportation on inventory levels (plan) and on sales. And on and on. So, the challenge for the young supply chain professional is in being deep and broad to understand how to improve a mega-process while not having a negative impact on other mega-processes.”
There are different types of businesses which offer supply chain consulting roles…
- Big Consulting Firms include the likes of Accenture, Deloitte etc. and offer supply chain services, generally to the large corporations. Apart from generalist consulting services, they also offer supply chain consulting services and are always looking for young, smart supply chain professionals.
- Boutique consulting firms are much smaller supply chain consulting firms. They generally have small teams and they are looking more for experienced supply chain professionals who have niche experience.
- Consulting divisions of product/service companies such as Llamasoft, Chainalytics etc. also provide supply chain consulting roles. The consulting roles offered by such companies revolve more around their product/service and thus provide less exposure compared to the big consulting firms.
- Internal Consulting Arms of Companies – A lot of companies have built their in-house supply chain consulting arms which focus on supply chain optimization and process improvement. These roles are focused on internal supply chain of the company and in many cases cater to the entire global operations.There are pros and cons of working with any particular type of a company but with all these companies, you get to work on a variety of projects spanning across different functions within supply chain.
Bob ForshayBob Forshay is Principal at Mastermind Group, LLC. Apart from being a supply chain consultant, Bob is a renowned author and public speaker.
Focus on how to get business done well, always with a desire to improve and grow to stay ahead of the competition and focusing on the best customers as examples of innovative requirements. This must be active, not passive, a priority designed to help your team(s) overcome complexity, variability and constant change. Gone are the days of one employer, one job for 40 years. New but seldom achieved is to become a leader of change.
Breaking into supply chain consulting…
Now that you have an understanding of what supply chain consulting is all about and what it requires to be one, you need to know how to land a proper opportunity. Here are some tips for you to break into supply chain consulting:
- Equip yourself with required technical and consulting skills
- Get a supply chain certification. This will enhance your credibility.
- If you are ready to transition into a consulting role now, start by developing a job search strategy
- If you want to transition at a later stage, start by preparing a career plan which should include your goals and how you plan to progress your career to achieve themRodney Apple from SCM Talent Group has some excellent advice to offer on supply chain consulting job search and I am confident that it will be really helpful for those looking out for consulting jobs.
Rodney AppleRodney AppleRodney Apple is the Founder & Managing Partner of SCM Talent Group and is also an APICS Career Coach. He has been in the supply chain recruitment industry since 2001.
“Whether you’re still in college or have already entered the workforce, it’s critical that you develop and maintain a job search strategy in writing. Consider this to be your “master plan of attack” that you’ll utilize to help land the right supply chain consulting job with the right consulting firm for you – based on your unique career goals and aspirations.
Your job search strategy will consist of career-oriented goals and corresponding action steps that you’ll strive achieve in efforts to land your dream supply chain consulting job. Action steps can include tasks such as attending a certain
amount of supply chain networking events per month or connecting with X amount of new contacts on LinkedIn per week. You’ll also want to conduct research on supply chain consulting firms and develop a target list of companies that you wish to pursue, ranked in order of preference.
Once you have your target company list in place, you’ll then conduct research on LinkedIn to identify and connect with employees and leaders (hiring managers) at each consulting company. I recommend connecting with supply chain recruiters, HR professionals, employees (peer-level) doing the same type of job you wish to do, and leaders at the firms such as Partners and Principals. For each connection that you make on LinkedIn, be sure to send the person a short, customized introductory note (5 sentences or less) that expresses your desire to work for the firm, why you feel you would make a good fit, etc.
You’ll want to include you resume as well but before sending it out, ensure that you have invested time into optimizing your resume. In addition, I recommend that you tailor/customize your resume for each job you apply to, making sure you are emphasizing the most relevant experience, skills and accomplishments up top and de-emphasizing non-relevant experience, skills and accomplishments.”
So, if you love solving complex problems and are passionate about supply chain management, supply chain consulting is just the right career path for you. You may want to transition into a consulting role either at this moment or later in future but in any case you need to start planning and building right skills sets from now.
Wishing you all the best for your career!
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