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My Top Government Contract Career Advice – Get Your Certifications!

NCMA Certifications
Image Courtesy NCMA

I have many friends and colleagues in the Federal Government and the industry that supports it.  Just like in any field, they’re always thinking about how to make the most of their career.  When I was asked to be a panelist at the Government Contract Management Conference (GCMC) Career Fair, I thought about what would be the single most important piece of advice I should give for those wanting to take the next step.  My answer: Commercial Certifications.  I believe they’re the key to increased opportunities and better pay. 

Acquiring products and services for the Federal Government is a very complex undertaking requiring years of experience and formal training to become a successful practitioner.  For those employed as Civil Servants, this formal training takes place at either Defense Acquisition University (DAU) under the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) for DoD personnel or through the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) for employees of civilian agencies.  Acquisition personnel are awarded Level I, II or III certification depending on years of experience and successful completion of mandatory training.

Distance Yourself from the Crowd

As a former Air Force Contract Specialist, I was able to achieve DAWIA Contracting Level III certification 10 years into my career and then asked the question what’s next?  Fortunately, I had a great mentor who guided me towards obtaining commercial professional certifications in order to help me advance within the career field.  My commercial certifications have served me well; allowing me to maintain a successful career as a civil servant for 10 years and the past 6 years as a support contractor.  With budget uncertainties, many of the people I know in government are asking themselves how they can stand out from the rest and be more marketable.  My advice based on what I’ve seen in both government and the private sector: Earn the certifications that are most in demand.  Here’s what I think they are and why you should get them. The National Contract Management Association (NCMA) offers the following formal certifications that are pertinent to the contracting career field.

A Certified Federal Contracts Manager (CFCM) certification validates your education, training, experience and your knowledge of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.  CFCM is particularly suitable for federal government personnel or contractors supporting federal clients as it focuses strictly on Federal contracts.  I chose this certification as my first to pursue due to the FAR knowledge I had obtained achieving DAWIA certification and through good old on-the-job experience working with the FAR.  The CFCM certification indicates to your agency or employer that you are a go getter who is serious about professional development!  In addition, for federal contractors it demonstrates to your clients that you have the requisite qualifications, knowledge and desire that distinguish you from other potential competitors.

A Certified Commercial Contracts Manager (CCCM) certification validates your education, training, experience and your knowledge of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).  As Federal contracting managers, the CCCM is less applicable to your day to day job which is almost exclusively FAR oriented.  However, the CCCM provides an avenue to become fundamentally sound in UCC standards which prevail in instances where the FAR is silent!  Once I achieved CCCM status, I began studying for the top NCMA certification – the Certified Professional Contracts Manager (CPCM).

A CPCM certification demonstrates that you have met NCMA’s highest standards for education, training, and experience, and have demonstrated your knowledge of the contract management competencies in the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK).  In order to pass the CPCM exam, you must demonstrate mastery of both FAR and UCC in addition to the NCMA CMBOK.

In addition to the three long standing certifications discussed above, NCMA has just added two very relevant certifications to its line-up!  Industry Certification in Contract Management—Defense (ICCM-D) and the Industry Certification in Contract Management—Federal (ICCM-F) will mirror the requirements for the DAWIA and FAC-C certifications respectively. NCMA will certify non-federal contracting professionals using the same standards federal agencies employ in certifying their GS 1102s at Levels I, II, and III.  These new certifications will allow contractor support personnel to achieve the same certification levels as their government counterparts!

If all of the above is not enough to motivate you to pursue commercial certification through NCMA, consider the fact that NCMA-certified contract professionals earn an average of $10,000 to $25,000 more per year than their uncertified colleagues (based on NCMA’s Annual Salary Survey).  Now that’s what I call a real competitive advantage!  So at this point you may be asking yourself what’s my next step?  Check out NCMA’s online certification requirements.  Then, I suggest you talk to your supervisor or a mentor about your desire to achieve a certification.  Their support can be pivotal to your success.  Good luck in your quest for increased contract knowledge and professional development!