Is Getting an Administrative Certification Worth It?

By Robert Half on September 14, 2021 at 6:00am

If you put your career development on hold during the pandemic, you might feel like it’s time to get the ball rolling again. One option for administrative professionals is to get certified. It can bolster your resume as you start a job search, meet a goal for your annual performance review or simply show your expertise in certain areas of your job.

But is certification right for you? To help you decide, we’ve put together this snapshot of two popular accreditations: the International Association of Administrative Professionals’ certified administrative professional (CAP) and the Microsoft Office specialist (MOS). Read on for the details about each administrative certification, including the exam requirements, formats and costs.

Certified administrative professional

Back in 1951, when the IAAP established this program, administrative and office support professionals were referred to as secretaries. In 2012, the name of the credential was changed from certified professional secretary to certified administrative professional. It is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

By passing the CAP exam, you demonstrate competence in the following areas:

  • Organizational communication
  • Business writing and document production
  • Technology and information distribution
  • Records management
  • Event and project management
  • Human resources activities
  • Operational functions

Details on the CAP exam

Before you take the CAP exam, you must have either four years of work experience as an administrative professional, an associate degree and three years of relevant work experience, or a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience. All experience must be within the past 10 years in a paid position. Internships and work-study do not count toward eligibility.

The IAAP recommends that you spend at least three to six months preparing for the test and offers study courses and a practice exam at an additional cost. Your application should list your work experience and education, and once the information is verified, you can sign up for the exam.

The CAP exam is administered two times per year, each fall and spring. The three-hour, computer-based exam can be taken in person at testing centers worldwide or online using a virtual proctoring system, an innovation brought in during the pandemic. The exam consists of 200 to 225 multiple-choice questions. The fee is $375 for IAAP members and $575 for nonmembers.

Once you pass, you need to fulfill the recertification requirement every three years. You can also test for an IAAP certification in organizational management (OM), which can give your career an additional boost.

Certified administrative professional (in progress)

Also known as CAP (ip), this relatively new IAAP certification is for students who graduate from an office professional program with a two-year degree but don’t have the necessary years of professional experience. Getting the certification (usually through your school, with costs ranging from $179 to $379 per student) demonstrates both your competence and your desire to continue your development and eventually sit for the full CAP.

We can help you find your next administrative job.


Microsoft Office specialist

MOS certifications are for those looking to highlight their skills and demonstrate proficiencies in Microsoft Office 365 and Office programs, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

You will earn a certification for each exam you pass. Multiple certifications unlock more prestigious awards, as follows:

  • If you pass three Associate exams, each covering one of Office’s programs, you will be awarded the Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate certification
  • Pass two expert exams to receive the Microsoft Office Specialist: Expert certification.
  • Pass four expert exams to receive the Microsoft Office Specialist: Master certification

The certification program uses project-based testing for assessments of software-specific skills and knowledge. The projects test skills as they would in the real world and validate your abilities with the full features of each application.

Some of your abilities that are measured include the following:

  • Managing document options and settings, designing advanced documents, creating advanced references, and creating custom Word elements
  • Managing workbook options and settings, applying custom data formats and layouts, creating advanced formulas, and creating advanced charts and tables
  • Creating and managing presentations; inserting and formatting text, shapes and images; inserting tables, charts, SmartArt and media; applying transitions and animations; and managing multiple presentations
  • Managing document collaboration functions, such as adding, resolving and deleting comments.

Details on the MOS exams

There are no prerequisites for these administrative certifications, and numerous study guides and practice tests are available for purchase online. To take the exams, register through Certiport, which oversees the Microsoft Office specialist tests and has authorized testing centers throughout the country. You can also take the test online while being monitored by a virtual proctor.

You have your choice of multiple versions of the MOS exam: Microsoft Office 365 and Office 2019, Office 2016 or Office 2013.

The exams contain several different types of questions, from simulations to short-answer to multiple-choice. Exams take about 90 minutes, and the cost for each associate-level exam is typically $100.

The bottom line about administrative certifications

When you’re deciding whether to get an administrative certification, there’s no right or wrong answer. On the one hand, it could provide a competitive edge in your job search or be the vote of confidence you need with your employer to take on more advanced work — and maybe even receive a higher salary.

On the other hand, there’s the time, money and effort required — plus the chance that certification alone won’t lead to job advancement or a compensation boost.

Consider your own professional situation and decide whether the investment in time and money is worthwhile to you.

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