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Contract Negotiator Career Guide

Are you an excellent negotiator? Do you have the business acumen and legal know-how to navigate local, state, and federal law while fighting for a fair deal for your company or client? If this sounds like you, a job as a contract negotiator might be perfect for you.

Contract negotiators use their expertise in labor and business deals to administer and uphold fair contracts between parties. They review the many state and federal laws and statutes necessary for compliance, oversee and arbitrate acquisitions, partnerships, and general employment standards. 

A contract negotiator’s work is done mostly behind the scenes. They may advise and set methods for fair labor agreements, contracts, and the framework for handling discipline and grievances. The position can also be more hands-on, however, with an active investigation into complaints, participating in mediation, and active interpretation of contracts when necessary.

Contract negotiators create a safe and successful workplace by fostering an agreeable relationship between the negotiating parties. They must possess excellent people skills, be it written, verbal, or non-verbal. As with all negotiators, being able to understand the person or people you’re working with is instrumental in thriving in this career.

Sample job description

We bring together the best and brightest minds in the country, and we want to make sure they reach their full potential! That’s why we’re currently searching for a candidate that strives to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly. We have an opening for a contract negotiator on our team. The ideal candidate will be well-versed in state and federal laws and have an adept understanding of contract terms. This individual will interpret contract requirements, anticipate changes required, and help administrate implementation. We’re looking for amazing negotiators to make sure all parties are meeting legal obligations. If you have a desire to administer fairness and foster trust within our organization, and you’ve got excellent negotiation skills, we’d love to hear from you!

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Reviewing and interpreting all contract requirements
  • Forecasting and anticipating changes from contract terms
  • Understand and articulate contract terms to all relevant parties
  • Participate in proposal preparation, contract negotiation, administration, and fulfillment in accordance with all company policy, and local, state, and federal laws
  • Advise and provide consultation for all parties and collaborative departments
  • Provide mediation for discussions and remedial actions
  • Ability to develop solutions for a wide variety of problems ranging from mundane to highly complex

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in business administration, business management, or a related field
  • 2 years experience in contract development, management, or administration, human resources, or related field

Required skills and qualifications

  • Excellent verbal and written communication
  • Knowledge of policies, processes, general practices, and laws as they pertain to government contracts
  • Demonstrable negotiating skills
  • Ability to develop consensus and influence resolution
  • Extensive knowledge of negotiations as they regard to contracting and subcontracting
  • Work well independently and in a team environment
  • Experience with the Microsoft Suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
  • Ability to communicate issues to a wide range of audiences

Preferred qualifications

  • 5 years experience in a negotiations position

Typical work environment

Contract negotiators will generally work in an office as part of a team. They will consult with other departments to uphold all legal obligations and company policy. 

They’ll typically be working at a desk and may be responsible for presenting or participating in meetings and discussions. Some travel should be expected, and long periods of standing and speaking or sitting at a computer are typical for this position. Given the nature of the work, remote positions may be possible as well.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a contract negotiator in an office setting are 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. The nature of the work will not typically require extra hours at the office. However, in unusual cases where deadlines are approaching or meeting participation at off-hours may change this. Additionally, freelance and agency negotiators have more flexible working hours.

Available certifications

As a government contract negotiator works in a variety of industries, there are many institutions that offer certifications, including:

  • Negotiation Experts. This online and classroom training offers training ranging from foundational to advanced negotiation skills. Be it sales, procurement, project management, or advanced negotiations, this certification comes with assessments, videos, simulations, and more. You’ll walk away with the key values you need to better understand the negotiation landscape.
  • Kellogg’s High-Performance Negotiation Skills. Northwestern University offers this interactive program based on the science of negotiation. You’ll develop and implement effective strategies and better identify strengths and weaknesses and receive personalized feedback to better improve your skills. You’ll have the opportunity to learn solo or as a team, and work in a variety of environments with dynamic situations and problems. After obtaining this certification you’ll be better suited to efficient preparation and application regardless of your circumstances.
  • Harvard Negotiation Workshop. The Harvard Negotiation Institute offers negotiation and mediation courses that focus on training negotiators in a business setting. This is designed for trainees to find value in joint gain and create lasting, positive relationships. You’ll walk away with a thorough understanding of mutual gain, and the structural components that make a deal. You’ll analyze your strengths and weaknesses and coordinate behind-the-scenes negotiation prep.

Career path

The journey to becoming a contract negotiator starts with getting a Bachelor’s degree. You’ll typically want to have a degree in a related field, meaning a business degree of some kind will cover the bases. If you’re trying to get into a specific type of position, you may be able to substitute your field or experience in lieu of this. For government-specific contract negotiators, you may be best graduating in government, politics, or something similar. 

After obtaining your education, moving into a junior position as part of a team of negotiators and gathering experience is vital. After spending some time in this position, you will have familiarized yourself with the job and become a more competitive candidate.

While gathering this experience, you may additionally obtain certifications to further your understanding of your own negotiation style, and how to better prepare and conduct yourself as a negotiator in any environment. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-1022

2020 Employment6,900
Projected Employment in 20307,600
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 10% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift700 increase

Companies recognize the importance of adhering to regulation and compliance in the workplace – and for obvious reasons. Aside from expensive and resource-heavy litigation and fines, wise companies see the value in having employees that whom they have a positive relationship with.

Fostering a sense of trust and fairness goes a long way in creating a healthy work environment that produces value and innovation. Retaining happy, healthy employees is worth the extra time and effort it may take to understand contractual obligations, and is certainly more cost-effective than being challenged with lawsuits.

For this reason, you’ll continue to see a need for negotiators as we move into the next decade.