As businesses continue to recognize the growing importance of accurate demand forecast planning, so does their need for quality Demand Planners. But how does one go about gaining the knowledge and experience required to be a Demand Planner, and be attractive to employers? As a Supply Chain professional looking to move into Demand Planning myself, here’s my advice.

Get A Foot In The Door

While the job description may be the same, the paths taken to get there can be very different. People enter at a variety of ages and with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Within large companies it can be difficult to know which positions to apply for and what attributes are needed for each. The first step is getting in the door with an entry level Supply Chain related role, or a role in a department that has exposure to the S&OP process like Sales and Marketing. Whether you are fresh out of college or changing careers, securing an entry level position is not always as easy as it sounds, even if you are sufficiently qualified. What’s more, some large companies do not hire entry level positions directly, so you may need to find out which staffing agencies have contracts with your company and begin applying.

Be Selective In The Jobs You Apply For

Be relatively selective in the positions you apply for, as applying for every open positon can appear desperate or unfocused –  you don’t want the hiring manager to think you don’t value the position they are trying to fill. More than likely, the first position you are able to land isn’t exactly the dream job you have always wanted but it can be the that all-important stepping stone. Remember, you have time – this profession pays well and the rewards are there, even it may take a while to get there [Ed: See average Demand Planning starting salaries.]

Know The Right People,  And Know Your Stuff

So, you’ve got your foot in the door in a Supply Chain related role. What do you do, now that you are a part of the company? As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. That is very true – to a point, but what you know is what will get you the job. In that regard, keeping abreast of developments in forecasting and business analytics, and having a solid grounding in the fundamentals of Demand Planning, is important. Read up, consider certification, (I am studying for IBF’s Certified Professional Forecaster Certification) and exchange ideas, so that when interview time comes, you have a grasp of the basics and can demonstrate a passion for the discipline – you’ll have worked hard to get to this point, so make sure the hiring manager knows it.

Network, Network, Network

Networking within your company is extremely important for many reasons and if used correctly can open doors that you never knew existed. Many large companies have volunteer networks within the organization that are always in need of new members. Even things as small as participating in the office secret Santa during the holidays is a way build a reputation as someone people like to work with. You already have a skill set, and networking allows people to realize that.

Talk To Demand Planners And Understand Required Competencies

One thing that I have found very helpful in keeping focused on my goal of becoming a Demand Planner is setting a career path. Go and talk to Demand Planners within your company and find out what their background is and what competencies are key to performing the job at a high level. Make sure to follow up after these meetings for feedback and to continue to stay in touch, as current Demand Planners may be the ones hiring for those positions in the future.

Remember that there are many pathways into Demand Planning so stay flexible with the plan you set for yourself. For example, I started in the Logistics department of my company working with our accounts payable team. This gave me a good foundation in seeing how my company’s products get from our production facilities to our customers and the costs involved in doing so. I now work in Raw Material Scheduling, which provides further contextual knowledge that helps understand Demand Planning, and that will help me once I get there. No matter what position you currently have, there will always be something you can take away from it that will help you down the line.

Get A Demand Planner Mentor

Get a mentor. Find someone who has the Demand Planning position you want and ask them to be your mentor. This may only mean one or two meetings a month for a half an hour but it will allow you to stay plugged into the successes and challenges currently faced by the Demand Planners in your company. It also shows that you are serious about pursuing a career in Demand Planning, and that will be noticed.

Job Shadow A Demand Planner

One problem I come across in applying for my first scheduler/planner position was that I didn’t have any actual experience in the positon except for mock scenarios I had worked through during my undergraduate studies. While these scenarios gave me a general idea of what needed to be done and how the role functioned, I wasn’t able to relate my knowledge to my company’s specific process in dealing with different constraints. How do you gain that experience? The answer is job shadow. Take the time to spend an hour here and there watching someone do the job you are looking to apply for. Ask good questions about their process and ask to sit in on planning discussion meetings even if it is just a conference call and take notes. Find out the biggest hurdles as it relates to Production and Logistics within your company and ask different planners and schedulers how they deal with them. These are the types of answers you can then give in an interview even if you have never actually held the position you are applying for.

Consider A Position in Sales If Demand Planning Isn’t An Option Right Now

What if a planner/scheduler positon isn’t available right now? In speaking to current demand forecasters within my company, all have recommended spending some time in Sales. Learning how market trends are identified through a sales position can give you a well-rounded background for when you become a Demand Planner. While there may be a Sales and Marketing representative in the S&OP meeting, it is good to know how they are coming up with the data they are contributing. Another area would be Logistics. While it is ideal to have an asset producing at 100% capacity 24/7, if the goods are unable to consistently move then that will factor in greatly when producing a demand forecast. Learning the constraints of the shipping methods available will provide areas for improvement as well as better accuracy in the planning. For example, in my company the availability of railcars for shipping and storage is constantly changing production schedules. These logistical concerns affect the demand planning and forecasting of our business.

Finally, stay up to date with the latest trends within demand planning and forecasting. Read the latest news from the IBF and discuss them with your mentor or other planners within your company. Study the capabilities of new analytical tools emerging for forecasters to improve accuracy. Subscribe to blogs and newsletters that are at the forefront of change within the industry of Demand Planning and Forecasting. Doing those things will keep you current and engaged with what those hiring managers are looking for, and before you know it, the job of Demand Planner could be yours.

Visit IBF’s jobs board for the latest vacancies in Demand Planning, Forecasting, Analytics and S&OP. For further information about the role of Demand Planner, Demand Planner salaries, career progression and access routes, visit IBF’s Employability page.