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How to Become a Contract Specialist in the US

Each year, various government agencies collectively spend billions of dollars to acquire the goods and services they need to keep their operations running. Contract specialists are the professionals who are tasked with ensuring public funds are spent wisely. They coordinate all the aspects involved in acquiring these items. If you have an academic background in business and possess a significant amount of relevant experience, you could go for this career.

What Do Contract Specialists Do?

Contract specialists typically work under the supervision of a program manager. Their duties include:

  • Advising the program manager on various contracting issues
  • Developing acquisition plans for the agency
  • Leading negotiations with potential contractors over the price and quality of the required goods
  • Ensuring contractors adhere to relevant regulations during the period of the contract
  • Recommending the termination of the contracts of suppliers who routinely violate the regulations
  • Resolving any conflicts that might arise between the agency and its contractors.

Although this position is common in the public sector, some contract specialists also work in the private sector. Construction contracts managers are a good example.

Work Environment

If you prefer jobs with a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday work schedule, that is yet another reason this career is right for you.

You will spend you day in an office environment, where you will use computer systems to create and review lots of documents, and hold meetings with contractors. Occasionally, you may travel to visit potential contractors and evaluate the quality of their products.

Salary

What is the annual average salary for contract specialists? Find out below:

Level of Seniority

 

Annual Salary

Beginning contract specialists

 

$40,000 - $48,000

Experienced contract specialists

 

$48,000 - $73,000

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Senior contract specialists

 

$73,000 - $89,000

Source: Payscale

Entry Requirements

Prospective contract specialists should have an in-depth knowledge of contract types, contract administration, cost analysis techniques and principles of acquisitions. You can gain this knowledge by earning a bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields:

  • Business administration
  • Law
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • Industrial management
  • Economics
  • Accounting

It, however, takes more than just having the right education to work as a government contract specialist. Experience is a key requirement. As such, you should use your degree to find a job in the private sector and gain vast experience.

You can then make applications to several government agencies. It is important to note that most government positions require holders to be American citizens with a clean criminal background. A security clearance may also be required.

Important Qualities

To be a successful contract specialist you should have:

  • Strong administrative skills
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Excellent technical skills in cost analysis
  • Good negotiation skills
  • Good speaking and writing skills
  • Good analytical and decision-making skills
  • Good planning and organizational skills
  • Good multitasking skills.

Training and Career Development

After getting hired, you will undergo a mandatory training program that will enhance your suitability to the job.

Government agencies have a well-defined career progression structures for their employees. Contract specialists who gain vast work experience and complete advanced courses, for example, can progress to become contract administrators and later on, program managers.

The career development options you should consider include:

  • Becoming a Certified Federal Contracts Managers or Certified Professional Contracts Manager – These credentials are offered by the National Contract Management Association (NCMA)
  • Earning a master’s degree in government contracts or acquisition and contract management
  • The NCMA also offers membership opportunities. The Global Contract Management Association is also an ideal professional organization to join.

Job Opportunities

As a qualified and experienced contract specialist, you can find jobs in government departments and agencies at the federal, state and local levels. The top employers are:

  • Defense agencies
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Health agencies
  • Energy agencies
  • Science agencies

In the private sector, contract specialists typically work for manufacturing companies and other large business entities.

Government agencies can only create a limited number of employment opportunities since each agency or department requires one or two contract specialists. The drive to serve the public and determination to gain the required experience are some of the essential tools you need enhance your chances of landing this job. In contrast, the private sector will continue to create more jobs for contract professionals.

So if you fail to make it to the public sector, the private sector will be waiting to take you back!

 

Image: The Evolllution

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