My Career in Business Administration

This is a true story as told to  Read on to see the ups and downs you can expect in the position as a contracted employee, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more.


I’m a contract administrator for a major nuclear power plant that’s under the U.S. Department of Energy, but I’m not a direct employee. I work for a staffing company that the power plant employs. The staffing company hired me for the plant’s expansion project. I’ve been a contract employee for various projects throughout the U.S. since 2003. From 1977 to 2003, I worked as a buyer, contract administrator and purchasing manager for large manufacturing companies.

Many people have the misconception that purchasing always means buying widgets. I’ve bought millions of widgets in my career, but in this job, I buy construction services. I negotiate with construction subcontractors to get the best price and terms. Then I write an ironclad contract and make sure that the subcontractors follow through as promised.

On a scale of one to 10, I would rate my job satisfaction as a six. There are three primary reasons that it’s not higher. First is my unique situation as a contract employee and the lack of job security that goes with it. Although I’ve had no serious employment gaps, at the end of each contract, I must shop for another job. Second, this assignment isn’t close to my wife and children. Since it’s a temporary position, it wouldn’t make sense for us to move here. Third, my present position doesn’t involve strategic sourcing. This job involves the tactical, operations side of supply management rather than strategic process improvement.

My current job doesn’t particularly move my heart, although I’m extremely proud of this plant’s strong focus on safety. A previous contract position involved negotiating contracts on the travel trailers that housed survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and that did move my heart. As far as a true calling, I’ve always wanted to start my own business, but there’s no way I could quit my day job with young children at home.

I got started in procurement a few years after I graduated from college with a business administration degree. After graduation, I had trouble finding a job in my field, so I worked as a machinist at a major aircraft manufacturer. When a position as a buyer opened up, I got the job. The main thing I would do differently is to start my own business when I was young and could live cheaply.

I’ve learned quite a few things the hard way, but the main thing I’ve learned as a contract employee is to make sure I know my boundaries on each job because it varies from place to place. One of the main boundaries is the dollar amount that I can spend without getting authorization from my boss. In previous jobs, the amount has been in the millions, but that’s not the case here. One day, I was particularly stressed, thinking about something else, and I exceeded my limit. I found out the hard way that the manager has a zero-tolerance policy on this, so he fired me. Fortunately, one of the other managers had really liked my work, thought the firing was an overreaction and hired me to work for her. That episode also qualifies as the strangest thing that’s ever happened to me here. One day, I was in a panic over being fired, and a week later, I was walking back into the same building.

When thinking about what motivates me to get up every morning and go to work, two things come to mind. The most obvious is that my family couldn’t survive without my income. I also have an internal drive to the do the best job I can. On this job, my manager has said several things that have made me proud and backed them up with actions. In December, the majority of the contract employees on this project got laid off now that construction is almost complete. My boss selected me as one of the few to remain for the closeout process.

The main thing that makes me want to tear my hair out is when too many people are let go during a layoff. Since December, I’ve been doing the work of about three people. Even before December, my job was fairly stressful, and I was working at least 10 hours a day. It’s been fairly difficult on this job to maintain a good balance between work and leisure time.

My salary is $100,000 per year, but I’ve made as much as $140,000 per year as a contract employee. Since the nuclear plant is in the government sector, I’m reimbursed dollar-for-dollar for my living expenses. When I had a contract position with a large construction company in private industry, I was given a lump sum to spend however I saw fit. I got two roommates and a cheap apartment, so my income ended up being $140,000 during that project. Some singles who don’t maintain a separate household are able to save a fantastic amount of money. The tradeoff is that there’s no vacation.

A bachelor’s degree in business administration is usually required to work in this field, and now there are even degrees in supply chain management. I’ve recommended working as a contract employee to several of my friends who have been having trouble finding permanent employment. The hiring has been very strong, even through this recession.