How to Become a Certified Administrative Professional

Research the requirements to become a certified administrative professional. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in office administration.

Do I Want to Be a Certified Administrative Professional?

Administrative professionals, or secretaries, provide office support to organizations by performing a variety of tasks, like answering phones, greeting visitors, making copies, preparing and filing documents, taking notes and managing correspondence. A great portion of the work day may be spent sitting at a desk.

Job Requirements

These professionals are not always required to become certified, but those who do follow that route can seek general certification or specific certification in the field in which they work, such as law or medicine. Although entry-level administrative assistant positions are available for high school graduates, in order to become certified, one needs experience or a combination of experience and education. General requirements for a job as a certified administrative professional are listed within the table below.

Common Requirements
Degree Level None required, most employers prefer some postsecondary education *
Degree Fields Administrative assistant, business office technology, legal secretary, medical office administration**
Experience Entry-level; advancement to higher level positions with certificate or associate's degree*
Certification Certification is optional but employers may prefer the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP), Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA), or Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) certification, among others**
Key Skills Writing, reading, organizational and interpersonal skills, technical skills for working with computer software programs*
Computer Skills Keyboarding (~45 wpm), database management, word processing, email, spreadsheets, desktop publishing; ability to use office technology, including phone systems, copiers, fax machines, scanners**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Job postings by employers (September 2012).

Step 1: Complete Postsecondary Education

Many employers prefer that administrative professionals have some postsecondary education. This can be a certificate or associate's degree from a technical or vocational school or community college. Certificate programs generally take one year or less to complete and may include classes geared toward specific job skills, such as keyboarding, word processing and business communications. Some colleges offer an Associate of Applied Science in Office Administration, which includes general education courses that may be transferable to a bachelor's degree program. Students learn records management procedures, desktop publishing skills, accounting and transcription.

Success Tips:

  • Complete a college internship. Many community colleges work with local businesses in placing students in internship programs. In an internship, students have the opportunity to acquire additional training, which may enhance job prospects after graduation.
  • Take coursework related to your area of interest. Candidates interested in pursuing a position in a law office or in a medical office may pursue related coursework in preparation for entering that field. For example, an aspiring legal secretary can take courses in law office administration or legal keyboarding to help prepare for the job.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Many administrative professionals begin their careers working under direct supervision by a mid-level manager, an executive or an experienced staffer. Depending on the candidate's demonstrated skills, job duties may include computer data entry, filing, copying, business correspondence, report and document preparation, appointment setting, customer service and multi-line telephone answering. As candidates acquire more experience and develop skills, they may seek opportunities for advancement.

Step 3: Become Certified

General and industry-specific certifications are available for administrative professionals. General certifications include the International Association of Administrative Professionals' (IAAP) CAP credential and the International Virtual Assistant's Association's (IVAA) Certified Virtual Assistant credential. Legal Secretaries International, Inc. and the National Association of Legal Secretaries offer certifications for legal administrative professionals. The National Health Career Association offers the CMAA credential. Certification requirements vary by organization and certification type, but most require a combination of education and experience and passing an exam.

Success Tips:

  • Take advantage of certification exam study guides. Some certifying organizations offer study guides and even online study groups to help candidates study for exams. Since most organizations charge for certification exams, it is beneficial to pass the exam on the first try.

Step 4: Maintain Certification

Certifications must be renewed on a regular basis. Depending on the organization, continuing education may be needed to keep a certification active. Continuing education may involve taking classes, passing exams, or both. For example, the IAAP requires a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education every five years for CAP certification renewal. Leadership activities and other certifications can also count towards recertification qualifications. In contrast, the CMAA certification only requires a minimum of 10 continuing education credits every two years.

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