The Elusive Export Compliance Officer:  How to Hire Staff That Will Stay

The Elusive Export Compliance Officer: How to Hire Staff That Will Stay


Have an Export Compliance Officer opening?  You think you found the best candidate to handle your EAR, ITAR, and OFAC compliance issues.  Now you want (and need) them to stay and hit the ground running. We’ve seen many Export Compliance Officers come…and go…after just 1 or 2 years.  That can result in a significant set-back as new relationships need to be formed with the wide range of stakeholders across your organization.

Does your candidate have what it takes to stand the test of time?  Check how your candidate stacks up against 5 important skills.

SKILL #1:  Knows the Regulations for Your Industry or University

Look beyond just the years of experience and dive into where that experience was gained.  Someone with 10 plus years of experience in the defense industry doesn’t necessarily deeply understand the Fundamental Research Exclusion (FRE) and how to apply this concept in a university setting. Similarly, an Export Compliance Officer candidate with roots in research compliance in an open university environment may not fully comprehend the ITAR restrictions around accessing ITAR controlled technology and deemed export compliance needs.

SKILL #2:  Possesses a Risk-Tolerant Mindset

An organization can be crippled by attempts to eliminate all risk.  The practical nature of regulatory compliance is such that risk is reduced, but not eradicated, by systematic processes rooted in a culture of compliance.  That inherently demands that Export Compliance leaders are comfortable with some level of potential non-compliance. Determining the degree of “potential” risk requires an individual who can gage the risk-tolerance of the company or university – and design supporting export compliance processes.  The individual also needs to be personally comfortable with the risk-tolerance of the overall organization. Mismatch will often lead to a short-lived Export Compliance Officer.

SKILL #3:  Process-Oriented

Can the candidate account for regulatory requirements and best practices and incorporate them into simple, systematic procedures?  The ability to design new operational processes and modify existing ones is key to having sustainable procedures that your personnel will actually want to follow.  The individual must be able to break down complex requirements into easy steps, while aiming to integrate into existing business processes.

SKILL #4:  Strong Upwards and Lateral Communicator

Do you see examples of the candidate communicating well with both upper management and their peers?  An effective Export Compliance leader needs to be able to boil down the export control regulations into clean and direct messages to senior leaders, explaining why these regulations matter to the company at all.  Meanwhile, they also have to work closely with and effectively communicate with peers in lateral roles. In a university environment, this means interfacing with the Office of Sponsored Programs, Technology Transfer, General Counsel, and more.  In a corporate setting, this means potentially collaborating with IT, R&D, Manufacturing, Procurement, and beyond.

SKILL #5:  Influencing Skills

All of the cross-departmental interactions necessary to drive export compliance are grounded in the ability to influence others.  Excellent influencing skills is a critical element in the toolkit of any Export Compliance Officer. The ability to influence others in positions above, below, and in tandem with his or her role as an Export Compliance Officer will be key to success in the role.  Success in the role leads to satisfied employees who ultimately want to stay (longer than 2 years!) and grow with the organization.

Finding the Right Export Compliance Leader

There is an art and science to finding the right Export Compliance Leader for your organization.  While formal advanced educational programs in international trade compliance and research compliance are increasing, many excellent candidates today follow unique career paths that lead them to export controls compliance.  Investing the time to find the right person for your organization’s culture will lead to sustainable leaders and longer term success of your export compliance program.

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