How to Become a Certified Contract Manager

Learn how to become a certified contract manager. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in contract management.

Do I Want to Be a Certified Contract Manager?

The National Contract Management Association (NCMA) issues contract management certification. The organization notes that entry-level contract professionals usually perform clerical tasks, prepare responses for contract modification, assist upper-management and analyze contract requirements and terms to make sure that the contract complies with laws and regulations. Mid-level contract managers have increased exposure to creating and reviewing contracts, negotiating contractual issues, developing contract policies, reviewing solicitations and supervising entry-level contract professionals. Senior contract managers typically manage a department of contract professionals and work with other department directors and senior management.

A contract manager is a type of administrative services manager, and they typically work in a climate-controlled office environment. Due to their specialization in contracts, these managers may have to deal with the stress of negotiations and deadlines in addition to supervising personnel. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Services, all administrative services managers earned a median annual salary of over $81,000 in May 2012, which is well over the national average; however, the number of job opportunities for this group is only expected to increase at an average rate of 12% between 2012 and 2022.

Job Requirements

Becoming certified demonstrates professional expertise in contract management. To be eligible to take the certification test, an individual must have a bachelor's degree and some prior professional experience. The following table lists the core requirements for certified contract managers:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree*
Degree Field Business, contract management or related fields*
Experience 1-5 years of experience*
Certification Various optional certification options are available*
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills, analytical skills, leadership abilities*; strong organizational skills, ability to multitask and meet deadlines**
Technical Skills Knowledge of corporate procedures and policies, knowledge of international contract law, ability to draft contracts according to guidelines and templates*

Sources: *National Contract Management Association, **Online job postings (December 2012).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

NCMA requires candidates to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree to be eligible for certification. Additionally, most employers prefer hiring entry-level candidates with a 4-year degree. Although there is no single degree field for contract management professionals, a degree in business or contract management may be the best option to prepare aspiring contract managers for the tasks and duties associated with the career. Bachelor's degree programs in business or contract managements typically include classes such as project management, contract law, contract administration, business communication and negotiation, as well as courses in general business, social sciences, computers, English and mathematics.

Step 2: Gain Experience

After graduating from an accredited bachelor's degree program, individuals can get an entry-level job in contract administration or in a related position in the business field to gain the experience needed to move into a contracts management position. According to the NCMA, entry-level contract management positions typically require a bachelor's degree and 2-5 years of experience. Entry-level contract management positions include reviewing contract solicitations, drafting and negotiating simple contracts, preparing and organizing documentation and assisting mid-level to management-level contract professionals.

Step 3: Choose a Certification

Several types of contract management certifications are issued by the NCMA, including the Certified Professional Contracts Manager (CPCM), Certified Federal Contracts Manager (CFCM) and Certified Commercial Contracts Manager (CCCM) designations. The CFCM certification is for contract professionals who work with federal contracts, while commercial contract professionals may apply for CCCM certification. Advanced contract professionals who have mastered all of the competencies in the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK) are eligible for CPCM certification. Other certification options are available, such as the Industry Certification in Contract Management-Defense (ICCM-D) credential, which is comparable to the certifications used by the Department of Defense and the federal government.

Step 4: Apply to Take the Test

The application for the certification exam is available on the NCMA website. Applicants must complete the forms and submit college transcripts. In addition to having a degree, each certification requires prior work experience. CCCM and CFCM certifications require candidates to have a year of experience, while the CPCM certification requires applicants to have five years of experience. Additionally, applicants must have completed continuing education hours before submitting the application. CPCM candidates must complete 120 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) to qualify for the certification. Candidates for the CCCM or CFCM certification have to complete 80 CPE hours.

Step 5: Prepare and Take the Test

NCMA offers an online preparatory course, study group guide and practice exams to help prepare candidates for the test. After the NCMA reviews and approves the application, they email the candidate with instructions for registering for the exam. The CPCM exam has 180 questions, while the CCCM and CFCM exams have 150 questions. The test is administered at Kryterion Learning Centers and at local NCMA chapters. Results are available right after the test is completed. After passing the test, candidates are awarded the certification.

Success Tip:

  • Renew the certification. To maintain certification with NCMA, the individual must pay the renewal fee, follow the NCMA's code of ethics and complete a minimum of 60 CPE hours every five years.

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