Imagine a job that pays you to buy things.
That is the essence of a purchasing agent’s job. Companies need things – from coffee stirrers to high-tech equipment. A purchasing agent makes sure the firm gets their money’s worth.
Purchasing agents evaluate suppliers and negotiate agreements. Potential vendors must be ranked by more than just dollars, and contracts can be complicated.
What Purchasing Agents Do
A purchasing agent’s work can depend on the industry.
- Purchasing agents working for an automaker buy parts to make vehicles.
- Retail buyers may work out a deal with a manufacturer or supplier to purchase merchandise that will be resold in their stores.
- A purchasing agent at a hospital may work with medical equipment suppliers to buy an X-ray machine.
- In many industries, purchasing agents may need to procure IT services, such as cloud storage, productivity software and internet access.
On any given day, purchasing agents may spend time on the following:
- Evaluating suppliers based on price and quality of their goods or services
- Visiting potential suppliers
- Analyzing proposals to determine which ones provide the best value to company
- Negotiating contracts
- Finding ways to make sure vendors and suppliers live up to their contracts
In May 2017, the average annual salary for all purchasing agents nationwide was $66,690, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Education, experience and market conditions may have a bearing on potential salary and employment opportunities. Prospective students are encouraged to conduct independent research to determine actual earning potential.
How to Become a Purchasing Agent
Earning a bachelor’s degree may be required to start in the field, depending on the employer, according to the BLS. An education in finance, business and supply chain management can prepare graduates for work as purchasing agents. Successful ones usually have strong math, analytical, decision-making and negotiation skills.
Some companies may want people with a professional certification such as the Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP) credential from the American Purchasing Society. Other organizations offering certification include APICS and the Institute for Supply Management.
Those who’d like to move into a management role may need a few years of experience as an agent. They also will learn the details of the industry in which they work, preparing them for leadership roles as purchasing managers.