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How to Become an International Trade Specialist: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an international trade specialist. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in international trade.

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Do I Want to Be an International Trade Specialist?

International trade specialists may work in a variety of industries, including financial organizations, manufacturing companies, or government. Specialists are usually responsible for analyzing foreign trade information, evaluating market and economic factors that may impact trade and participating in developmental programs.

International trade specialists, similar to world economists, work full-time, although irregular hours may be required because of time changes around the globe. They usually work by themselves in an office setting; depending on the project, some collaboration with other specialists in related fields may be necessary. Few physical demands and risks are associated with this career.

Job Requirements

Most employers prefer applicants with at least a bachelor's degree. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management recommends pursuing postsecondary education, which is particularly important for aspiring specialists who want to work in a government job. The following table contains the core requirements for becoming an international trade specialist:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree is preferred*
Degree Field Related field, such as international business, global public policy, political science, international trade, business administration, economics or marketing**
Certification Voluntary certification is available***
Experience 3-5 years of international trade experience****
Key Skills Strong problem-solving skills, excellent written and verbal communications, ability to prioritize and multitask, attention to detail, organizational skills, customer-service skills****
Technical Skills Familiarity with foreign trade programs and regulations, knowledge of international trade issues****; knowledge of tariff structures, familiarity with foreign market research and import/export laws**
Additional Requirements Ability to obtain U.S. security clearance****

Sources: *Job listings from employers (February 2013), **U.S. Office of Personnel Management, ***International Trade Certification Authority, Inc., ****Society for Human Resource Management.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

A variety of business-oriented degree programs can prepare aspiring trade specialists, including business administration, international relations, international finance or global business management, among others. The ideal degree program gives aspiring international trade specialists the skills and knowledge needed for the rigors of this career.

While any business-related degree can give students a strong foundation, a program focused on global or international business may offer the best preparation since they often combine standard business courses such as ethics, accounting and management as well as a foreign language, business courses focused on international business issues and practices.

Step 2: Gain Entry-Level Business Experience

After graduating from a bachelor's degree program, aspiring international trade specialists are eligible to gain entry-level employment, preferably in a field that is related to international business. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, international trade specialists typically need to have 3-5 years of international trade experience before being eligible for the job. Entry-level workers typically work under the supervision of a senior staff member. The individual's responsibilities typically increase with experience.

Success Tip:

  • Earn a master's degree. Graduate programs are available in a variety of fields, such as global economy, international development and international commerce. Most master's degree programs combine classroom knowledge with real-world experience to help students develop international business acumen and knowledge of relevant practices and cultural issues.

Step 3: Become Certified

Certification is not mandatory to work as an international trade specialist, although it might increase the specialist's job opportunities since it builds professional credentials, differentiates the individual from the competition and demonstrates professional expertise. One example of an available certification is the Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) credential, which measures the specialist's knowledge of international marketing, finance, documentation and logistics. Although the requirements for becoming certified vary, most organizations require candidates to apply, pay a fee and pass a certification examination.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain the certification. Most organizations that issue certification require individuals to renew the certification periodically. Renewal guidelines typically include completing an application, paying a fee and completing a specified amount of continuing education units (CEUs).
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