Companies in just about every industry rely on some kind of supply chain, whether it’s to secure raw materials they use to make components and products or to coordinate the distribution of a product to customers. The variety of roles in this sector can make it tricky to know which skills and experience to emphasize when you’re applying for a role.
After the disruptions of the pandemic, many companies are particularly focused on expanding and improving their supply chain processes. The sector’s growth translates to more opportunities for supply chain professionals. You’ll still need to give a solid interview to land the job, however, and preparing your answers for common interview questions can help you to do so.
Interview questions for entry-level supply chain roles
Just like the broader supply chain industry, there’s a lot of variety in entry level supply chain roles. Many of these positions are within supply chain operations, like warehouse operators, packing associates, and transportation technicians. Others are involved in planning and strategy, like production schedulers and logistics coordinators, or help resolve problems and answer questions for end users as a customer support representative.
The questions you’re likely to be asked in an interview will vary somewhat depending on the role and company where you’re applying. That said, there are commonalities between these roles, and many interviewers will be looking for similar answers. Here are some of the most common questions across employers for entry-level supply chain roles.
What is supply chain management and why is it important?
This kind of general question aims to gauge your understanding of your industry. Don’t overcomplicate your answer. A straightforward definition is the clearest way to prove your knowledge. A good concise definition of supply chain management is the planning and coordination of supplies and products between the various organizations involved in its production, transportation, and distribution.
Why are you interested in this position?
There are two sides to this question. The interview wants to find out about your qualifications and career goals, as well as whether you’ve researched the company. A strong answer will address both of these points, and even better if you can link them together. For example, if your career aspiration is to become a supply chain manager and you know the organization often promotes from within, telling the interviewer the company seems an ideal place to build your career shows that you want to stay with them for the long-term. The most important thing is that your answer shows, not just why you want any role with this job title, but why you want to work for their company specifically.
How do you see this role interacting with others along the supply chain?
No supply chain role exists in a vacuum. Understanding how different areas of the supply chain interact is crucial for success in any role in the industry, and interviewers ask this question to ensure candidates understand that. Your research on the company will help with this answer, too. Knowing the suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors the business works with allows you to more accurately assess how the role you’re applying for will interact with them.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
This is a question you’d likely be asked in any role across industries, but that doesn’t mean you want to give a generic answer. When choosing your strengths, focus on skills that are directly applicable to the role in question, ideally ones that you can back up with lived experience and workplace accomplishments that verify your capability. When discussing weaknesses, your answer should both identify the weakness and explain what steps you’re taking to improve in that area.
What is the difference between upstream and downstream production processes, and what experience do you have with each?
Upstream refers to the process of gathering materials that are needed to make a product. The downstream supply chain is what happens after a product is finished to get it to the end user. If you don’t have experience in either or both areas, you can instead speak in a general way about the practical differences between upstream and downstream processes, which other individuals you’d likely interact with in each area, and how that relates to the role you’re applying for.
Supply chain management interview questions
Supply chain managers need to have even deeper knowledge about the forecasting, manufacturing, and inventory management processes used by a company. They’re often the ones who make personnel decisions, and may also be responsible for choosing vendors, suppliers, and other services. Many interview questions specific to leadership roles in the supply chain aim to identify their effectiveness in this area. Here are some of the common questions you may be asked.
What are the main challenges in collaborating with overseas or international suppliers?
If you have experience managing a global supply chain, you can draw on that for your answer. If not, do some research into the international markets the company interacts with, the most common issues that come up in those supply chains, and what strategy or process you’d implement to overcome them. That last part is crucial. Companies want to hire managers who aren’t just aware of common problems but have the problem-solving skills to resolve them (or, ideally, prevent them before they happen).
What are the key factors to consider when developing an inventory management strategy?
Each business has unique supply chain needs, and unique challenges to overcome in order to meet them. You can’t just plug in a system developed in a past role and expect it to function equally well in your new company, even if the two businesses are in the same general industry or niche. Hiring managers want to see that candidates are able to develop and improve strategies to meet changing customer demands, increase profits, reduce costs, and address any weaknesses in the current supply chain management. The best answer focuses on analysis and big-picture processes rather than specific tools, though you can certainly reference ways you use tools or software as part of your broader planning approach.
If hired, what is the first change or improvement you would make to our current supply chain processes?
This question serves two purposes. First, it assesses the candidate’s knowledge of supply chain best practices and how they apply that knowledge in a real-world context. Second, it shows the interviewer how well you understand the role and company based on the research you did before the interview. If you haven’t been able to pinpoint a likely area that needs improvement during your research, you can start your answer by explaining how you’ll analyze the current processes to identify its lacks or weaknesses, then explain the steps you’d take to fix that issue.
How do you prepare for a busy holiday season or other anticipated business peaks?
This question aims to assess a candidate’s ability to plan production to meet demand. Your answer should touch on a few key points in that process. Briefly outline what data and tools you’d use to forecast changes in demand and how you would use that information to ensure you have the capacity to meet it. You should also address how you’ll communicate these increased needs to the team and adjust your shipment and delivery strategies to maximize their efficiency.
How do you evaluate suppliers and identify the best supplier for a given product?
The first step to giving a great answer to this question is to hone in on what makes a supplier a good fit for this company. Common factors you’ll consider include material cost, material quality, reliability and speed of delivery, supply capacity or minimum order size, and the frequency and method of communication. Which of these factors is the highest priority will depend on the company, so this is one place you’ll want to draw on your research to deliver the best answer.
Let’s say your warehouse is low on inventory and your next shipment is unexpectedly delayed. How would you handle this situation?
In supply chain management, there will often be situations where things go awry that are out of your control. An effective manager knows how to resolve this situation to minimize the impact on the company and its customers. Explain the steps you’d take to reach out to the supplier for delivery updates, assess your buffer inventory, and seek out alternate suppliers or delivery options if necessary. The most important thing is that your answer presents an actionable plan to meet customer demand without significantly increasing the business’ costs.
How do you stay current with changes and trends in the supply chain industry?
No company is an island when it comes to the supply chain. A process or approach that worked in the past may no longer be as effective if the broader supply chain evolves and changes, and it’s the responsibility of managers to stay abreast of these changes and make the necessary adjustments to maintain the organization’s productivity and efficiency. In your answer, briefly outline your top sources for industry insights, as well as how you evaluate and use that knowledge in areas like inventory planning, personnel management, or the adoption of new software, tools, and technology.
Soft skill interview questions for supply chain professionals
Also called transferable skills, soft skills are abilities that individuals need to excel in a role but that aren’t specific to that industry or position. These include things like people management, teamwork, time management, flexibility, and communication skills. Since professionals at all levels need these skills to some extent, you may be asked questions about them in any supply chain interview. Here are some common ones you’re likely to encounter.
Describe a time you had a conflict in the workplace and how you resolved that situation.
This question assesses a candidate’s interpersonal skills, including communication, empathy, and collaboration. One mistake people often make in their answer is focusing too much on the conflict itself. You don’t want to sound like you’re complaining about past or current colleagues. Instead, keep your explanation of the conflict brief, and devote the bulk of your answer to the steps you took to find a resolution and what you learned through that process.
How do you prioritize tasks when you have multiple projects or responsibilities competing for your attention?
Supply chain professionals are responsible for coordinating multiple areas of the business, and this can mean they have multiple high-priority tasks on their plate at any given time. In your answer, explain the factors you consider when assigning priority and the process you go through to decide which tasks to tackle first and make sure all responsibilities are met without sacrificing your work quality. If you have previous supply chain experience, referencing a time you successfully did this, or lessons learned from a past mistake in this area, can add more value to your answer.
How do you deal with problems you’ve never encountered before, or that have no obvious solution?
There are a lot of moving parts in any supply chain, and that means a lot of places and ways that things can go wrong. This question looks for you to explain your problem-solving process and how you assess potential solutions to determine the right course of action. Some things you may want to include in this answer are your analysis process for finding the ultimate root of an issue, when you’d tackle a problem yourself versus taking it to the team or leadership, and how you monitor a developing or ongoing situation to assess the effectiveness of your solution.
Questions to ask the interviewer
A job interview isn’t just a chance for hiring managers to assess candidates. It’s also the job seeker’s best opportunity to decide if the role is a good fit for them and their career. The questions you ask at the end of the interview can help you get the information you need to make this decision.
Asking the right questions also conveys to the interviewer that you’re truly interested in that role, and shows that you’re thinking ahead to how well you’d perform if hired. This is why you want to ask at least 2-3 questions, and you can ask more if you have the time.
One tip to keep in mind: you don’t want to ask questions that make it seem like you haven’t done any research. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any questions whose answer can be found on the company’s website.
You also want to avoid questions that could make the interviewer question your motivations or commitment. For example, while you may be curious about their PTO policy, you want to phrase questions about it carefully. Asking something like “How soon after I’m hired can I take a vacation?” can be a turn-off, making it seem like you’re already eager to be away from the workplace before you’ve even started. Similarly, while it’s a positive to show you plan to build a career with the company, you don’t want to imply you see the role in question as just a stepping stone. When asking about advancement opportunities, it’s best to keep the questions time-general.
So what questions should you ask? Here are some options:
- If this is a new role, why was it created? If it’s an existing role, why is it vacant?
- What compensation and benefits do you anticipate offering for this role?
- What is the training process like for this position?
- Who does this role report to, and what’s their management style?
- What has been your main challenge with this role in the past, and how would your ideal candidate overcome them?
- How is success evaluated in this role?
- How often do your employees get feedback on their performance, and using what typical format or methods?
- How do you see the company or this role changing over the next 5 years?
- What advancement opportunities are there for this role? When was the last time someone from this role was promoted?
- What is your favorite part of working for this company?
- How would you describe the culture and work environment in this company?
Preparing for a supply chain interview
It’s one thing to know the answer to supply chain interview questions, but giving the right answers in the moment can be another challenge. Practicing before your interview can help calm your nerves. If it’s a virtual interview, you can even keep some brief notes up on your screen or in a notebook beside it, highlighting some key points you want to be sure you make with your answers. The bottom line is, the more you know about the company, the role, and why you’re a great fit for them, the more confident you’ll be going into the interview and the better your odds are of landing the job.