Commercial and contract management is a business function that a lot of people find by accident. Typically, it’s not well advertised at graduate careers events. Even if you know a commercial professional, the role is so nuanced that it can be difficult to understand the true nature of the job, particularly when compared to more mainstream roles with some similarities (and many differences) like law, finance and procurement.  So, as experts in Commercial Contracts Recruitment, Arguile Search have put this guide together.

Perhaps you joined a blue-chip graduate program and found yourself on the commercial and contracts stream, or you might have started a career in finance, law or procurement and found yourself drawn into commercial because you took responsibility for contracts and contractual relationships because no one else was doing it.

I’m pleased to say that more and more people are discovering careers in commercial and contract management much earlier. The IACCM have done a fine job of giving the discipline a focal point along with providing a training and certification program that is gaining increasing recognition across the industry. Social media has made it far easier for specialist recruiters like Arguile Search to reach people and promote the industry. Still, my guess is that most people reading this won’t have chosen their A-levels or degree subject with a career in commercial in mind.

So, you’ve had the good luck to move into a commercial role; how do you make it to the top?
I’ve outlined some ideas below that are the result of my experience running the UK’s largest specialist commercial and contracts recruitment business. It’s not an exhaustive list, some are obvious and it doesn’t cover technical skills development – others will be better placed to advise you on that than me. The list covers the qualities, experience and traits that my clients look for time and again, and are evident in the backgrounds of the UK’s leading commercial professionals.

Never forget the basics
At every level clients ask us for good drafting skills and excellent technical grounding. This is the foundation stone for your commercial career. Never stop learning.

Know the numbers
There is no question that legal skills underpin your contractual skill set but good Commercial Directors always have a good grasp of the numbers. For some the numbers come naturally, others have to work at it, but it’s important to know how pricing impacts terms.

Always ‘do’
One of the great things about a career in Commercial is you can get to a very senior level without having to manage a team. Typically when you manage people you spend less time doing what many regard as the fun bit – sitting across the table from the customer and negotiating. Management is a useful skill to gain, but don’t rush it. It is best to hone your customer-facing skills in the early part of your career. When people management responsibility does come, fight tooth and nail to maintain your customer-facing time. You’ve worked hard to develop those skills.

Pre and Post
Do you prefer the cut and thrust of pre-signature work or the longer-term multi-stakeholder relationships that go with contract management? If you can, get experience of both. The market has changed and deals aren’t as big as they once were. In the vast majority of senior appointments, clients want a mix of both.

Be a deal maker
Be the glue that holds the deal together. The contractual terms, the schedule and spec and the pricing structure are all interdependent. You must know the pinch points in each and know how they fit together better than anyone else.

Be a simplifier 
You need to be able to explain complex issues in simple, understandable language. It’s much easier to make simple things hard to understand than difficult things easy to understand.

Demonstrate you can be effective in a variety of sectors and a variety of industries. You will develop a broader skillset and demonstrate your adaptability. If you look at the backgrounds of commercial leaders, they tend to move jobs every 4-6 years. You might expect me to say this in my line of work but the evidence bears it out.

More than DEFCONs
Defence is probably the best place to learn the founding commercial principles but by virtue of working with the MOD you will work on contracts that are DEFCON led. Rightly or wrongly, the market perception is that this is a process that doesn’t leave much room for creative flair when negotiating. While working in the defence industry ensure you gain experience of working with export and/or civil customers. When it’s time to move on, IT, technology and telecoms are sectors that people with a background in defence tend to thrive in.

Get in the room on your own
As soon as you feel ready to lead negotiations push for it.

Be patient and build your CV
You don’t just become a Senior Commercial professional by serving time or because you think you are entitled to be, you have to build a CV and skill set. Take a long term view as you might need to take the occasional sideway move to get there but keep the long term goal in mind.

Non-negotiable – Excellent Interpersonal skills
All great Commercial Contracts Managers have great interpersonal skills. You have to. Like anything else, this is something that can be practised and perfected.

If like many your first step into Commercial was chance hopefully there are a few ideas here to make sure your route to the top is anything but.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when trying to develop your career in commercial contracts? What could the industry do to attract more people to the commercial career path?

Commercial Directors….What path did you take to a senior commercial leadership role? What advice would you have for the commercial leaders of the future to ensure success? Please comment below.

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