Interview Questions for Supply Chain Candidates

How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

According to a blog posting at Business Insider, this is one of the questions Google asks prospective employees during the interview process. Other questions include:

  • How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?
  • How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?
  • You’re the captain of a pirate ship and your crew gets to vote on how the gold is divided up. If fewer than half of the pirates agree with you, you die. How do you recommend apportioning the gold in such a way that you get a good share of the booty, but still survive?

(The pirate question is my favorite because it resembles the situation shippers and 3PLs face all the time. And because they usually take a “I win, you lose” approach, each party ends up with less booty than if they had taken a vested outsourcing—aka performance-based outsourcing—approach).

This Business Insider posting made me think: What questions should hiring managers ask prospective supply chain and logistics employee candidates?

Of course, the answer depends on answering a different question first: What skills and attributes will define the next generation of supply chain and logistics leaders? Here is my short list:

  • Analytical Skills: Companies are starting to view the information they collect about their customers and supply chains as a corporate asset they can leverage to create more efficient, flexible and impactful business processes (see “Making Smarter Decisions Faster”). This is what’s fueling the growth in business intelligence and analytics solutions. Therefore, tomorrow’s supply chain and logistics leaders must possess strong analytical skills—i.e., enjoy working with numbers and math to identify trends, evaluate the potential impact of different decisions, and develop differentiated business processes.
  • Business Acumen: But being a math geek is not enough. Numbers only tell you so much about what is happening in the market. There are always other factors at play—e.g., financial, relationships with suppliers and customers, not sacrificing long term objectives for short term gains. Sometimes going against what the numbers suggest is the best decision. Therefore, in addition to having a calculator in their shirt pocket, tomorrow’s supply chain and logistics leaders will always need to put on their business hat when making decisions.
  • Global Perspective: Simply stated, as supply chains have become more fragmented and global, supply chain and logistics leaders have to work with suppliers, customers, and business partners from around the world. The cultural and business norms in Asia differ greatly from the norms in the US, which differ greatly from the norms in the Middle East, which differ greatly from the norms in Latin America, and so on. If a candidate has never left their home country (or state!), has never had to work (even in a school setting) with people from different countries, they are less prepared to face the global realities of supply chains than candidates that have studied abroad or have other multi-cultural experiences.
  • Relationship-Building: This point is related to the one above (and the one below too). Companies are no longer masters of their own destiny; their success is dependent on the success of their business partners. Look no further than the automotive industry to see what happens when relationships are managed with an iron fist instead of built on partnership and trust. Tomorrow’s supply chain and logistics leaders will embrace the concepts of vested outsourcing, which are grounded in game theory, to develop true win-win partnerships.
  • Communication Skills: This one shouldn’t even be on the list. Having strong communication skills should be a given. But sadly, many people enter the workforce with poor writing and speaking skills. And while I’m a big fan of social media in general, I think its use has further degraded people’s writing and communication skills, especially face-to-face communication. Simply put, if you can’t communicate your ideas clearly and concisely to fellow employees and business partners, you will never be an effective leader.

What other skills or attributes would you add to the list? What questions would you ask prospective employees to gauge how well they align with your desired skills? Post a comment and share your experience and viewpoint on this topic!