A purchasing agent is a professional who is charged with the responsibility of maintaining adequate amounts of essential materials on hand for the operation of a business. In addition to being concerned with making sure the business has what it needs to produce goods and services, the agent is often actively involved in the task of negotiating prices for those materials. A purchasing agent may function alone in a small company or be part of a purchasing team for a larger corporation.
A basic job description for this position will provide data on the specific range of tasks assigned to the position. Depending on the culture and structure of the company involved, the agent may be responsible for managing the inventory for everything from office supplies to raw materials used in manufacturing goods. Within the scope of making purchases for the inventory, the agent may be granted the authority to enter into contracts with vendors on behalf of the employer. In other instances, the purchasing agent may be actively involved in negotiations to secure the best unit pricing on the goods ordered, ultimately referring the matter to an executive for approval before actually placing the first order.
With most purchasing agent positions, it is necessary to constantly compare pricing for different goods and services in order to save the company money. This is especially true when the business operates multiple plants at various locations. In this scenario, each plant will normally have a supply clerk who manages materials inventories at that level, but coordinates purchases through a purchasing agent. Typically, the clerk submits a requisition for goods to the agent, who then evaluates the request. If it is approved, the agent determines where to get the best deal on those goods and matches the requisition to a purchase order. At that point, the order is placed with the approved vendor and the goods can be shipped directly to the plant where the request originated.
In order to be a successful purchasing agent, it is necessary to have strong organizational skills, understand the industry involved, and be able to research and qualify vendors with a great deal of efficiency. Since an agent typically must interact with others within the company as well as vendors and suppliers, the ability to communicate clearly is also extremely important. Since purchasing work in a large company can be somewhat stressful, a purchasing agent must also be able to deal with difficult deadlines and often manage more than one project at a time in order to fulfill his or her responsibilities.