It's not all that hard to figure out what a contract negotiator does for a living. They negotiate contracts, and these contracts may involve businesses and their employees or businesses and government entities, to name just two examples. You might imagine that the job involves mediating between contentious parties. The reality, however, is a bit more tame.
While it's true that contract negotiators can act as the calm, collected middleman between two sides who can't agree, another big part of their job is actually preparing contracts. Contract negotiators help to develop the language around contracts and ensure that it's legally binding. They also develop the schedules for contracts to be delivered and payment schedules; prepare status reports; and manage the files related to the contracts. If it sounds like a lot of paperwork, it is.
Contract negotiators may come from a legal or human resources background, where sound judgment, good communication skills and a highly organized work habits are essential. Contract negotiators must have strong technical and computer skills and be detail-oriented. When things between two parties get heated, strong conflict-resolution skills are essential. If they work in a specific industry, such as telecommunications or transportation, a working knowledge of the industry is also key.
The education you'll need for this profession may depend on the industry in which you work. For example, someone who has worked in the transportation industry for a long time has a strong knowledge of the industry and can be a strong advocate for employees or management. In this case, prior experience may be enough to get a foot in the door for a contract negotiator job. In other cases, a background in law, business or human resources can help you launch your career. Some colleges offer four-year degrees in conflict resolution.
Salary and Advancement
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who work as arbitrators, mediators or conciliators earned a median income of $60,450 a year as of May 2013. According to BLS data, job growth for the profession is expected to remain about the same from 2012 through 2022 -- meaning the prospects are not overly strong. If you want to advance in this field, a law degree could help you gain more high-paying jobs or to move from negotiating roles to more managerial ones.