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Career Management Tips for Suppliers

by Angela Forsyth

When Cameron Smith began recruiting vendors to Northwest Arkansas in the early '90s, the area had only 48 Walmart vendor teams. Today, there are 1,632 vendors here. Within a 20-mile radius of the home office, approximately 9,000 people are working in Walmart-related roles. The bottom line is that, although some smaller suppliers may still transition in and out, NWA has already peaked in terms of its number of new vendors.

Clearly, NWA's job market has changed in the last 25 years. Walmart employees have seen layoffs three years in a row, the latest round cutting nearly 1,000 corporate jobs in January 2017 in mainly human resources, information systems and finance. After each wave of layoffs, Smith has been greeted with a large influx of distressed people looking for work, many of them caught off guard. His take is that no one at this point should be completely blindsided by layoffs in Bentonville.

"These are our neighbors and friends," Smith notes. "I want them to take charge of their careers and be ready for anything that comes their way."

The following are some tips for managing your career:

Be Marketable

One of the main things that Smith warns against is letting yourself get pinned into a job that is so specific, you have no marketable skills to transfer over if you end up having to look for another job. For example, spending three years in a finance position at Walmart, overseeing one specific, small category of the business is risky. It would be difficult to find another job to suit your exact skillset. Most finance positions demand experience in preparing taxes, auditing and overseeing a broader spectrum of the company. Make sure your current job is setting you up to be marketable. Don't spend too much time in one role. Gain broader experience wherever you can and seek training for roles you want to transition into.

Protect Your Reputation

This one applies especially to vendors who find themselves in a tricky position. Smith has seen many individuals in his office who have been crushed by the pressure of maintaining the relationship between Walmart and their own company. "Suppliers are really in a no-win situation," he notes. "They're hired to represent the company, but the fact is that since they're here all the time, they end up representing Walmart back to their company." The vendor may be asked by his company to deliver a price increase to the Walmart buyer. The vendor goes in knowing there will be pushback, and inevitably there is. The buyer refuses the increase and the vendor now has to go back and deliver the bad news to his manager. "They become a ping-pong ball," Smith adds. "If you do not have a supportive company, your leadership at headquarters can harm your brand." It's important to preserve your reputation in these cases. You may have to look at the broader picture if your company is damaging your personal relationship with the buyer and do what is best for your career. If you go back on the market as a supplier, you don't want to be out there with a tarnished reputation.

Be Proactive

Smith avidly promotes career management. This doesn't necessarily mean actively looking for another job. It means maintaining an updated resume, understanding what your job is in other companies and comparing your salary to ensure you're being paid fairly. Be a student of the job market as it pertains to your area of expertise. Consider options for where you could go if you lost your job today. If you don't see a direction, get some training in those areas.

"Stay on top of your game so you're always marketable," Smith says. "Manage your career the same way you manage your business. You're the CEO of you before you're the CEO of anything else."

Be Financially Prepared

Most sources say to have six months of salary saved in case you lose your job. Smith believes this number should be 6-12 months if you want to stay in NWA. Some supporting roles in analytics or sales may only take two months to find, but the higher level positions such as team leaders, take closer to a year to attain. "The higher up you are, those jobs are still going to turn, just not as fast as the others," Smith says. "You have to be very patient. When I talk to team leaders who have six months saved up, I tell them, you have to stretch that to 12 months."

Angela Forsyth, free lance writer with Firefly Marketing, LLC

Angela Forsyth, Freelance writer with Firefly Marketing, LLC

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