Contract Specialist Career Info and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a contract specialist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and salary expectations to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Contract specialists, also known as purchasing managers or agents, work for government agencies or many types of private-sector organizations. Their primary duty is to ensure that both parties to the contract comply with its terms and with legal regulations.

These professionals generally hold a bachelor's degree or higher, though some employers hire candidates with just some postsecondary coursework in marketing, economics, law, business or management. Senior positions may call for a graduate degree. There are several certification programs that can help contract specialists advance in the field.

Required EducationBachelor's degree in business management or a related field is most common, but some employers will hire candidates with a year of college business courses
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 4% for purchasing managers, buyers and purchasing agents
Mean Salary (2013)* $109,640 for purchasing managers

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

Contract Specialist Career Information

Contract specialists review a transaction's terms and conditions to ensure that both parties, the vendor and customer, are complying with the specialist's organizational guidelines and government laws. This review can include negotiating prices, managing delivery terms and interpreting documents. For example, contract specialists may be required to analyze product specifications, find alternatives to goods or services that can't be delivered or issue purchase orders. Other duties include processing paperwork, which may range from insurance documents to pay requests.

Entry-level contract specialists usually work with previously arranged or company-standard contracts. Career advancement often puts contract specialists in charge of negotiating, evaluating and administering new or specialized contracts that may expose the organization to more risk.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of purchasing managers, buyers and agents, including contract specialists, is expected to increase by 4 percent between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). The bureau also noted that those with bachelor's degrees or higher should have the best employment opportunities. The average annual salary for a purchasing manager was $109,640 as of May 2013.

Contract Specialist Education Requirements

Contract specialists with the federal government must either hold a bachelor's degree or have completed approximately one academic year of college-level business coursework. Private sector employers generally request at least a bachelor's degree in a business management field, and they may also request some legal or paralegal training. Coursework in negotiations and contract administration, in which students are trained in legal and contract analysis, may be beneficial.

Graduate Studies

Senior-level contract specialists may need to complete some graduate education. Universities offer graduate certificates and master's degree programs in contract management. Topics typically cover negotiation, ethics and contract law. Advanced courses may delve into legal and business decision-making.

Professional Certification

Contract specialists looking to advance may consider completing the voluntary 3-level Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) certification program offered through the U.S. government's Federal Acquisition Institute. Additionally, the National Contract Management Association offers three industry-accepted certifications options for federal government, commercial or combined contract management.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics