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How Do I Become a Certified Professional Secretary

Find out how to become a certified professional secretary. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in secretarial science. View article »

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  • 0:00 What Are Professional…
  • 0:50 Meeting Requirements
  • 2:21 CAP Credential
  • 3:15 Maintaining Certification

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Video Transcript

What Are Certified Professional Secretaries?

Secretaries are administrative professionals who manage office activities and perform various clerical duties. They assist staff members, set appointments, circulate mail, answer phones, and organize computerized and paper files. Many working hours may be spent seated at a desk on a daily basis. Secretaries need to have some key skills, such as the capacity to work well with others, excellent written and oral communication skills, competency with Microsoft programming, proficiency in utilizing office equipment, attention to detail, and the ability to ensure an organized workplace and schedule at all times. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for secretaries as of 2015 was $36,500.

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Meeting Requirements

Degree Level No degree is required; associate's or bachelor's degree recommended
Degree Field Secretarial science or office administration
Experience Certain employers require or prefer at least 1-2 years of experience
Certification Optional certification offered by the International Association of Administrative Professionals
Key Skills Capacity to work well with others, excellent written and oral communication skills, competency with Microsoft programming, proficiency in utilizing office equipment, attention to detail, ability to ensure an organized workplace and schedule at all times
Salary (2014) $29,984 (Median)

Sources: International Association of Administrative Professionals, The College Board, College websites, Job postings in October 2012, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, PayScale

Education and Skills

Individuals with a high school diploma and fundamental computer and office abilities are generally eligible for entry-level secretarial jobs. Options for obtaining these basic skills include community colleges, vocational schools, and job placement firms. Many secretaries complete on-the-job training to enhance their abilities.

Certification

Some professional secretaries choose to seek the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) CAP (Certified Administrative Professional) credential. The CAP credential requires administrative experience and education. CAP candidates who do not hold a college degree must have at least 48 months of administrative experience. Those with 36 months of administrative experience and an associate's degree or 24 months of experience and a bachelor's degree also qualify. Eligible administrative experience must be within ten years, and applicants are required to have been employed at one company for twelve consecutive months in the past five years in an administrative role.

Success Tip:

Explore relevant postsecondary educational programs. Secretaries who wish to supplement their experience with post-secondary education may choose to earn undergraduate degrees in secretarial science or office administration. Courses in these programs may include work in office applications, accounting, business communications, and word processing as well as web design, business math, keyboarding, and records management.

Completing the CAP Credential

Secretaries request to take IAAP's CAP exam by filling out an application form found on the IAAP website. Individuals must provide statements from employers to verify work experience, as well as copies of any degrees earned.

The CAP exam covers various administrative topics, including managing records, preparing documents, and communicating in the work place. The multiple-choice test includes questions assessing basic knowledge, theory, and practical skills. IAAP offers a review guide that details the exam's subject matter, shows sample questions, and lists a bibliography of recommended textbooks for studying.

Success Tip:

Allow ample time to prepare for the examination. IAAP suggests that candidates set aside 5-10 hours per week of study time for a period covering 4-6 months.

Maintaining Certification

The CAP credential expires after five years. To maintain the title, certified secretaries must earn 60 re-certification points within that 5-year period. These points can be obtained through continuing education on topics covered in the CAP exam. Individuals may also earn re-certification points by obtaining additional professional certifications or leadership positions held within an IAAP-approved committee or organization.


While secretaries are not required to have a degree, an associate's or bachelor's degree is recommended, generally in secretarial science or office administration. Optional certification is offered by the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

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