Administrative professionals get certified for many reasons: to bolster their resumes as they start a job search, to meet a goal for their annual performance review or simply to show their expertise in certain areas of their job. If you don’t already have an administrative certification, you might be wondering if it’s right for you.
To help you make that decision, we’ve put together this snapshot of the two most popular designations: the International Association of Administrative Professionals’ (IAAP's) Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) and the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS). Read on for a look at the basics of each administrative certification, including pros and cons, exam format, test preparation resources and costs.
Certified Administrative Professional (CAP)
What is it?
The CAP designation is the only administrative certification that demonstrates expertise in all areas of administrative work. The exam includes questions and sections on oral and written communication, scheduling, meeting planning, report writing, document production, records management and financial functions. It also assesses an administrative professional’s technical skills, proficiency with office equipment and general human resources knowledge.
Are there any pre-requisites?
To sign up for the Certified Administrative Professional exam, you must have either four years of work experience as an administrative professional, an associate degree and three years of experience, or a bachelor’s degree and two years of experience. All experience must be within the past 10 years, and you must have 12 consecutive months with the same employer in the past five years.
What’s the process?
To earn this administrative certification, you first submit an application with the IAAP that lists your work experience and college degrees. Once the IAAP verifies the information, you sign up for the exam, which is given at testing centers across the country during two six-day periods each year, in March and September. (You can find application deadlines and testing center locations at the IAAP’s website.)
The test takes most people about three hours, and you receive your results within 30 days.
How should I prepare?
The IAAP offers several study guides for the Certified Administrative Professional exam. In addition, many local IAAP chapters have organized study groups that anyone can join.
Why should I get it?
Getting the Certified Administrative Professional designation proves your dedication to the profession. It’s an administrative certification that can help you obtain a promotion or negotiate a pay raise, and it can make you stand out as a job candidate.
Also, once you pass the CAP exam, you can test for a certification in organizational management, which can give your career an additional boost.
What's the cost?
Exam fees for this administrative certification are $375 for IAAP members and $560 for non-members.
There’s a significant time investment as well; most administrative professionals study for four months to a year. And there’s an ongoing commitment, as you must apply for recertification every five years. To maintain your Certified Administrative Professional designation, you can complete continuing education, obtain other certifications or take on leadership positions in IAAP.
Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS)
What is it?
A Microsoft Office Specialist designation is an administrative certification that demonstrates expertise with Microsoft Office products. You can take the test in whichever applications you work with most; exams are available for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, SharePoint, Outlook and OneNote for Office 2010, 2013 and 2016. You can also get an “Expert” designation in Word and Excel by taking additional, more advanced exams and an MOS “Master” certification by passing four MOS tests.
Are there any prerequisites?
No. To take any of the exams for this administrative certification, all you need to do is register through Certiport, which oversees the Microsoft Office Specialist tests.
What are the tests like?
Certiport administers the computer-based exams in testing centers across the world. They can contain several different types of questions, from simulations to short answer to multiple-choice. Exams take about 90 minutes, and you get your score immediately.
How should I prepare?
There are numerous study guides and practice tests available for purchase online.
Why should I get certified?
According to the OfficeTeam Salary Guide, having a Microsoft Office Specialist certification can translate to a higher starting salary at a new job. Studying for the exams (or any administrative certification exam, for that matter) can also help you hone your skills with Microsoft Office products and can make you more productive at work, which could put you in line for promotions and pay raises.
What's the cost?
The fee to take an exam in one subject is $96. When you add in study materials (Microsoft Office Specialist prep books and practice tests, for example), that cost can double.
The bottom line about getting an administrative certification
When you’re deciding whether or not to get an administrative certification, there’s no right or wrong answer. On the one hand, it could be the vote of confidence you need with your employer to get 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 a certification alone won’t guarantee career 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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