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.

Should I Become 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.

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.

Career 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 Professional (ALP) certification, among others
Key Skills Communication and keyboarding skills; familiarity with database management, word processing, email, spreadsheet and desktop publishing software; ability to use office technology, including phone systems, copiers, fax machines and scanners
Salary (2014) $38,750 per year (average salary for all secretaries and administrative assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), Job postings by employers (September 2012)

Step 1: Complete Postsecondary Education

Many employers prefer that administrative professionals have some post-secondary 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 to place 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 of 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 Assistants Association's (IVAA) Certified Virtual Assistant credential. Legal Secretaries International, Inc. and NALS (a national association for legal professionals) offer certifications for legal administrative professionals. The National Healthcareer Association offers the CMAA credential. Certification requirements vary by organization and certification type, but most include the appropriate combination of education and experience as well as passing exam scores.

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 re-certification qualifications. In contrast, the CMAA certification lasts two years and only requires a minimum of 10 continuing education credits for renewal.

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