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Import and Export Worker Job Description, Career as an Import and Export Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Bachelor's degree plus training; proficiency in a foreign language necessary

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Import and export workers handle business transactions that take place between companies in foreign nations and firms in the United States. Import workers deal with transactions that involve bringing raw materials or finished products into the United States. Export workers are involved in sending goods or raw materials from the United States to foreign markets. Some workers handle both import and export agreements.

Foreign trade is carried out under various conditions and terms. The duties of import and export workers vary depending on the situation. Many large companies have foreign trade divisions. Export managers in these firms are responsible for increasing the volume and efficiency of foreign trade. They must also make sure their company deals with dependable customers—legitimate companies from countries that have stable governments and sound economies. Export managers are assisted in this work by foreign representatives who live and work abroad, sometimes traveling from country to country to find new customers and maintain contact with established ones. Foreign representatives are also responsible for monitoring the economic and political situation in their territory. Orders from foreign customers are processed by export sales managers, who draw up contracts and arrange for shipments. Export credit managers review the economic situation of customers needing credit and arrange credit terms.

The import divisions of companies employ support managers to supervise the purchase of goods abroad. The selection of foreign merchandise is often in the hands of buyers who live abroad.

Companies that do not have their own export workers sometimes sell goods abroad through export brokers. These brokers receive commissions (a percentage of the selling price) from the sales they make. Export commission-house brokers are engaged in speculation. They buy domestic goods outright and then sell them in foreign countries. Some companies purchase imports from foreign import merchants for resale in the United States.

Manufacturing operations for U.S. companies in foreign countries are generally maintained by nationals, or natives of those countries. American technical personnel such as engineers and scientists are often sent abroad for short periods to

Import and export workers handle business transactions that take place between companies in foreign nations and firms in the United States. (© Peter Turnley/ Corbis.)

train nationals. Much of the paperwork involved in foreign trade requires the services of translators, bilingual secretaries, and correspondents.

Education and Training Requirements

Individuals interested in the import and export business need a college degree and knowledge of a foreign language to find a job. Although a liberal arts degree may be acceptable, many employers prefer applicants who have a college degree in law, engineering, or accounting. Some require an advanced degree in business administration.

Most jobs in foreign trade require workers to live in the United States. There is keen competition for positions in which workers live and work abroad. Generally the workers selected to work abroad have years of experience and special skills valued by their employers.

Employers train many of their import and export workers through a combination of classroom courses and on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced worker. Trainees learn U.S. law governing foreign trade as well as the practices of foreign countries.

Getting the Job

Candidates can apply directly to the companies for which they would like to work. Private employment agencies, newspaper want ads, and job banks on the Internet often carry listings for import and export workers.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Import and export workers advance in a variety of ways. Foreign representatives and buyers can be promoted to managerial and executive positions. They can also go into business for themselves as export brokers or import merchants. Experienced workers can advance to managerial and executive positions in their particular field of expertise. Further education is sometimes required for advancement.

Generally employment in the import and export industry fluctuates with the economy of the United States and the world. A sharp increase in the number of foreign-owned corporations, particularly in India and China, should create new positions for importers and exporters in the future. Workers will also be needed to replace those who leave the field.

Working Conditions

Workers who are employed in the United States work forty hours per week at the minimum. Many foreign representatives and buyers spend a good deal of time traveling. Import and export workers who are stationed overseas encounter a variety of conditions: they must become used to local climates, working habits, and living conditions. Working hours vary with the country. All import and export workers who deal with foreign nationals must be tactful and diplomatic, whether their communications are in person, by letter, or by telephone.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of Exporters and Importers
1050 17th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 857-8009

National Foreign Trade Council
1625 K St. NW, Ste. 200
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 887-0278

United States Chamber of Commerce
1615 H St. NW
Washington, DC 20062-2000
(202) 659-6000

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary with education and experience. According to Salary.com the median annual salary for import and export managers in 2006 was $80,024. Import and export clerks, who are typically in charge of checking and filling out paperwork, made a median annual wage of $36,113 in 2006. Some managers and clerks earned much more. Workers stationed overseas receive bonuses in the form of overseas incentive allowances. Benefits generally include paid vacations, health and life insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesTransportation & Logistics