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Getting ahead in buying


You probably already know the importance of a great CV, some basic tips for performing well in an interview and the kind of things you can expect from a psychometric test. But the best advice is always going to be specific to your role and for that you need a specialist. We asked Henrietta Griffiths from specialist recruitment firm Fashion & Retail Personnel to give us some expert advice for buyers looking for their next role.

Buying is one of the most competitive industries, so climbing the career ladder can be tough. But with the right attitude, knowledge and preparation your next great position can be just around the corner. Whether you are looking to get that assistant buyer title or progress to buying manager, it is worth taking time to think about what you are looking for and how you can get it.

Which companies should I look at?

It is a good idea to gain experience in a variety of companies as you progress in your buying career. This allows you to work with different buying teams and experience different processes, building up a black book of contacts that you can take with you. Don’t move roles too often though, as future employers will see this as job hopping.

There are many retailers and brands out there so do your research and don’t dismiss the less obvious choices. You may be keen on fast fashion womenswear, but why not also consider roles within menswear or childrenswear?

What other positions can I look at with my experience?

It is important to remember that it is hard to move between product areas or between buying branded and own-bought product when you have established your career. Make those changes early or consider looking at slightly less drastic leaps. For example, move to a role with a mixture of branded and own-bought buying; then you can develop the skills you need. Or, move from furniture to soft furnishings and get that extra fabric knowledge.

Don’t try to apply for roles before you are ready, though. Remember it takes time to get the skills needed to progress within buying so don’t rush your career. For example, if you are a BAA looking for an AB role but aren’t having any success, then consider senior BAA roles with businesses that offer great training to get you to the next level.

Am I restricted to working in London?

Not at all – in fact, if you are able to re-locate throughout the UK then this could open up your options. If you are struggling to get to the next level then have a look at retailers or brands that wouldn’t necessarily be accessible from your current location. It’s also worth considering international roles.

What are employers expecting to see on my CV?

Make sure you outline each of your roles clearly and add not only the year but the months into the dates. Highlight any contract roles and make clear notes for any breaks in employment; include your education, especially if you have a fashion-related degree.

Definitely add in if you have been on any buying trips, factory visits or inspirational trips. If you have attended trade shows, then outline which ones. Have you bought your own range? It could be just a few options or a multi-million pound department that you manage, so make sure you cover this. Also make sure it is clear how long you have managed each area.

Related content: The 7 deadly CV sins. How many are on your CV?

What else should I include?

Anyone looking to recruit a buyer will need to know that they are not only creative but commercial. Make sure you add your current department turnover and SKU/option count. You can also add in any additional figures, such as your margin or OTB.

It’s also really important to talk about your team management skills. Add a point saying how many people you manage and if you are involved with coaching the team to achieve promotions. If you haven’t had the opportunity to directly manage anyone then consider if you have overseen interns or trained other members of the team and talk about this.

Remember to talk about what you have done that can really set you apart from other candidates. Your key achievements could include introducing a new line or range

that has done really well or changing the supply base to increase margin. These are the points that will highlight your unique ability and demonstrate your skills as a successful buyer.

Interview preparation

Now that your perfect CV has landed you an interview for your dream job, there is still work to do before the big day. It is essential that you visit the company’s stores and research the company website. Act as if you were doing a comp shop and remember to take lots of notes about price points, styles and what you think is missing from the ranges.

If you have been asked to prepare a presentation make sure you do this to the best of your ability and that you fully understand the brief. This is your chance to show off your creative flair as a buyer and show that you understand the direction of the business and the customer base — so make the most of it. Even if you haven’t been asked to complete any formal preparation, it’s a good idea to complete a SWOT analysis. This will help you to really get thinking about the retailer or brand with which you are interviewing.

During the interview it is very likely you will be asked to talk through your CV. Make sure you know your career path inside out and be ready to elaborate on all those great achievements.

The Interview

On the day of the interview, make sure you know who you are meeting. Is it someone from the HR function or the director of buying? (Sometimes during the interview other members of the team may also be invited in to meet with you, so don’t let that put you off.) Make sure you dress to reflect the brand or retailer. You don’t have to be head-to-toe in the current range but a nod to their style can show your passion for their business.

Remember all those key achievements you have outlined on your CV and be prepared to elaborate on them. It’s very important that you remember that the interview is also your chance to find out more about the role and the company. Think back to the most important elements you were looking for from a new role and ask questions relating to them.

So, you have done a great job and really impressed the interviewer, but remember, for most buying positions you may be required to go in for a second and even third or fourth stage before a decision is made.

Related content: What (really) not to do in interviews

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