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Purchasing Agent


Description

Purchasing agents, also called buyers, buy goods, materials, commodities, supplies and services and ensure that they are of the quantity, quality, price and availability required by their organization. They are sometimes thought of as professional shoppers seeking out the highest quality merchandise at the lowest possible price for their organization.

Their work follows a general process; it begins with a purchase assessment (determining which commodities are best), then a search for a good product, finding a supplier, negotiating with vendors on a reasonable low price and awarding a contract that outlines all details and stipulations. In order to carry out their jobs successfully, they must examine sales records and inventory levels of the company's current supply, pinpoint suppliers and keep knowledegable about changes affecting both the supply and demand for products.

Purchasing agents must keep up-to-date on tax laws, importing and exporting laws and insurance policies. Since some of the purchases are from foreign countries, it is important for a purchaser to know how to fill out specific duty documents and also what one can and cannot import and export. Purchasing agents also have to know how the goods are going to be transported from the supplier. Purchasers must use the Internet and research catalogs, network with other purchasers, inspect samples from suppliers, attend trade shows and conventions and do a lot of negotiating in order to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and to make informed decisions.

In large organizations, purchasing agents often specialize in a specific product or group of related commodities, such as steel, wheat, lumber, cotton or oil. Purchasing agents also follow market trends, changing prices and market futures in order to determine which purchases to make. This aspect of their career is closely linked to a retail analyst.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$23,270
 
Median Salary:
$40,780
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$76,070

  Interests and Skills  
Purchasing agents must possess good communication, organization and negotiation skills because when dealing with potential vendors and companies, they must be able to get a good price for their product. They should be able to work with many kinds of people but also have the ability to work alone. Agents know how to analyze their options and make important purchasing decisions involving large sums of money, which will ultimately have an effect on the company.

Successful purchasing agents enjoy taking a methodical approach to compiling information, being responsible for projects and the work of others, and negotiating with people. Also, they must be assertive and aggressive in order to get economically sound purchasing done.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with other departments in the organization to determine what goods and materials are needed
  • Develop strategic purchasing programs which facilitate employee access to supplies
  • Oversee the process of issuing requests for information and proposals and tendering contracts to ensure that the process is fair, competitive and legal
  • Purchase the right quality and quantity, at the right time and price, from the best possible source,
  • Assess requirements of an establishment and develop specifications for equipment, materials and supplies to be purchased
  • Determine contract terms and conditions, award contracts or recommend contract awards
  • Establish delivery schedules, monitor progress and contact clients and suppliers to resolve problems
  • Analyze commodity vendor data and forecast trends
  • Trace shipments, follow-up undelivered goods and resolve problems and disputes
  • Arrange the payment of duty and freight charges
  • May hire, train or supervise purchasing clerks
  • Purchasing agents work in an office environment. They spend a majority of their days on computers, purchasing goods and compiling statistical information on their database. Purchasing agents often work more than a standard workweek, with longer hours occasionally required in order to complete a project or attend a trade show. Those working in retail trade will often work longer hours during peak seasons, such as Christmas or Valentine's Day, when more people are out shopping. Many purchasing agents travel visiting suppliers, searching for items and attending conferences.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Purchasing agents are employed by any organization where large sums of money are spent for equipment, supplies and services, including government agencies, construction and manufacturing companies, retail companies, school boards, hospitals, universities, and large business firms.

  Long Term Career Potential  
An experienced purchasing agent may advance to senior management positions or move into related areas such as materials management, inventory management, traffic or transportation, quality control or finance. Continuing one's education through correspondence or updating skills is a great idea for advancement. Purchasing agents can also change careers and become marketing managers, financial analysts and consultants.
 

  Educational Paths  
Most purchasing agents have a bachelor's degree or college diploma in business administration, commerce or a related field at the minimum. Business related courses would teach potential purchasing agents how to calculate cost analysis, study legal issues and contract administration. Agents who purchase specialized materials may also require a related university degree or college diploma. For example, a bachelor's degree or college diploma in environmental studies may be required for purchasers of environmental products. Many purchasing agents also have master's degrees and even doctorates.

Recent graduates usually start in entry-level positions such as purchasing clerk, expediter or junior buyer and then work their way up the company ladder. Many companies provide on-the-job training for newly hired purchasing agents.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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