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Purchasing Agent: Job Description & Career Info

Purchasing agents make their living shopping, and their responsibilities include evaluating the availability, price and quality of products for in-house use or resale. Read on for more information about education and job requirements, employment prospects and earnings for purchasing agents.

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Career Definition for a Purchasing Agent

Purchasing agents ensure that companies and organizations have the materials and services they need to function on a day-to-day basis. These may include farm or retail products, chemicals, manufacturing equipment or office supplies. Purchasing agents do extensive research to find the most cost-effective products and sources, which requires that they stay up-to-date on marketing and pricing trends. Additional responsibilities may include attending trade shows, meeting vendors, negotiating contracts and recordkeeping.

Education High school diploma for entry-level position; some employers may prefer bachelor's or master's degree in accounting, business, applied science, etc.
Job Skills Analytical, math skills, interpersonal, communication, computer literacy, fluency in a foreign language, and proficiency in word processing and spreadsheet programs
Median Salary (May 2015)* $62,220 (purchasing agents, except wholesale, retail and farm products)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2% (buyers and purchasing agents)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Education Required

A high school diploma is the minimum educational requirement for obtaining a job as an entry-level purchasing agent. However, distributors and large retail establishments may look for candidates with a bachelor's or master's degree in an applied science, accounting, business, economics or engineering. Optional certifications are available from several professional organizations, such as the American Purchasing Society or the Institute for Supply Management. New purchasing agents typically train on the job for a minimum of one year.

Skills Required

Purchasing agents should be accomplished and decisive negotiators and buyers with good analytical and math abilities. According to the Water Environment Federation, they should also have strong people and communication skills, which can be useful in developing relationships and solving problems (www.wef.org). Agents must be computer literate and proficient in the use of word processing and spreadsheet programs. The ability to speak a foreign language enables purchasing agents to search for products from around the globe.

Career and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nearly 25% of buyers and purchasing agents in 2014 worked in the manufacturing industry. According to the BLS, jobs for purchasing agents and buyers in general are expected to increase by 2% nationwide, or slower than average, between 2014 and 2024. Contributing factors include the decline of the manufacturing industry and federal government reductions, such as those associated with defense spending. In 2015, purchasing agents earned median annual wages of $62,220 (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Other similar occupations include the following:

Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks

Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks use computer software programs, such as those associated with databases and spreadsheets, to create and record financial statements and transactions. Entry-level requirements include a high school diploma, and most training takes place on the job, usually for a period of six months. Some clerks pursue a Certified Bookkeeper credential from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers. As reported by the BLS, employment opportunities for bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks are expected to decline 8% nationwide from 2014-2024. Those who were employed in these positions in May 2015 were paid median yearly salaries of $37,250 (www.bls.gov).

Financial Clerks

Financial clerks are responsible for a variety of tasks, such as calculating charges and payments, completing financial transactions, maintaining records and providing customers with assistance. Areas of specialization include billing, credit authorization, payroll and procurement. Entry-level education jobs require a high school diploma; clerks who work in brokerage houses may need to take courses or complete an associate or bachelor's degree program in business, economics or other related field. Nationwide, the BLS has projected a 6%, or average, growth in jobs for financial clerks through 2024. In May 2015, financial clerks in general earned median annual wages of $37,040, while brokerage and gaming cage clerks were paid $48,180 and $25,860 respectively (www.bls.gov).

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