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Contract Specialist Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for contract specialists. Get the facts about education and license requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Does a Contract Specialist Do?

Contract specialists may have one of several different jobs; the duties of a contract specialist vary based on their specific job title. Purchasing agents are responsible for buying the materials and equipment that an organization needs to operate, such as chemicals for a pharmaceutical manufacturing company or office supplies for a human resources department. They keep track of inventory and make sure that the items they purchase fall within the budget. Another contract specialist position is that of a buyer. Buyers work for retail companies, so they purchase the products that will be sold to customers in the future. Their work can include attending trade shows or visiting vendors in order to identify the best products at the best prices. Finally, some contract specialists are purchasing managers. They oversee the activities of buyers or purchasing agents, and they also negotiate with suppliers and make sure that accurate records are kept on all purchases.

The table below outlines degree requirements, information on certification, key responsibilities, job outlook, and median salary for contract specialist.

Purchasing Agent Buyer Purchasing Manager
Degree Requirement Bachelor's degree (most jobs) Bachelor's degree (most jobs) Bachelor's degree at minimum; master's degree for some positions
Certification Recommended Recommended Recommended
Key Responsibilities Research suppliers,
monitor sale histories,
consider product quality
Purchase goods for resale,
select merchandise
Manage purchasing budget,
locate suppliers,
supervise purchasing agents
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* -7% -7% 4%
Median Salary (2018)* $62,750 $62,750 $118,940

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Contract Specialist?

A contract specialist negotiates, administers and terminates various contracts for an organization. They may also assess the organization's needs, determine how to fulfill them and plan the details of the contracts that will be used to satisfy those needs. They work in many different industries, including wholesale, farming, retail and national defense.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places the job title in the category of purchasing managers, buyers and purchasing agents (www.bls.gov). Because of this, a contract specialist may be referred to as any one of these other titles.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

There is no specific field of study or degree level required to work as a contract specialist. Depending on the industry, a degree in business or economics may be helpful. Many employers require applicants to have a college degree and some experience with the type of commodities used in the business.

Some contract specialists begin their careers as an assistant and receive on-the-job training. Many specialists need to learn about their employer's specific requirements for purchasing, such as price brackets, merchandise requirements and inventory quality. Because of this, an employer may require attendance at company training programs, which vary in length, ranging from a few months to several years.

Is Certification Required?

Certification is not required to work in the field, but may increase employment opportunities or the likelihood of advancement. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) offers the Certified Professional in Supply Management credential (www.ism.ws). The ISM states that this credential is one of the most recognized in the field and that it demonstrates expertise in supply management.

What About Job Outlook and Salary Potential?

Income and outlook in the field varies based on the industry, job title, and responsibilities. The BLS reports that purchasing agents, in 2018, earned a median yearly income of $62,750, and job opportunities are expected to decline by 7% from 2018 to 2028. During that same year, wholesale and retail buyers, except those in the farm products industry, earned a median salary of $62,750, with a predicted decrease of 7% in job openings. Purchasing managers earned a median salary of $118,940; a 4% increase in jobs is expected for 2018-2028.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as a buyer or purchasing agent, you could work on the other side of the negotiating table, as a representative for a wholesale or manufacturing company. They explain and demonstrate the benefits of their goods in order to sell them to businesses and organizations. If they sell non-scientific goods, they usually only need a high school diploma, but if they sell technical products, a bachelor's degree is usually required. Alternatively, if you are looking for a managerial position, you could consider a job as a sales manager. In this position, you would evaluate sales data and market trends, and then use the information to come up with sales strategies. From there, you would supervise the implementation of the campaign by the sales team. Sales managers need to have at least a bachelor's degree.