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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.

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Requirements for 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. The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) eliminated the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) credential as of November 2011. At that time, individuals holding the CPS designation were switched to the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) credential, which is now the basic credential IAAP awards to secretaries. Professional secretaries seeking certification need a combination of administrative experience and education to be eligible for the CAP designation. The table below shows the basic qualifications for becoming a certified professional secretary:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree is required, but some individuals earn an associate's or bachelor's degree*
Degree Field Secretarial science** or office administration***are typical
Certification Optional certification offered by the International Association of Administrative Professionals*
Experience Some employers require or prefer at least 1-2 years of experience****
Key Skills Capacity to work well with others*****, writing*****, oral communications******, organizational abilities*****
Computer Skills Microsoft Word, Outlook, Access and Excel******
Additional Requirements Proficiency using various types of office equipment******

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.

Step 1: Meet Basic Education and Skill Requirements

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

Step 2: Meet Certification Requirements

Some professional secretaries choose to seek the IAAP's CAP credential, which 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 have come from the last 15 years, and applicants must have worked at these positions for a minimum of two months. CAP eligibility requirements also state that applicants must have worked for one employer for at least a year within the last five years.

Success Tip:

  • Explore relevant postsecondary educational programs. IAAP does not recommend any particular college major for aspiring professional secretaries. Secretaries who decide to supplement their experience with education may choose to earn undergraduate degrees in secretarial science or office administration. Degree programs in these fields equip students with the clerical, administrative and computer skills needed for the occupation. Courses may include office applications, accounting, business communications and word processing as well as web design, business math, keyboarding and records management.

Step 3: Apply for the CAP Credential

Secretaries request to take IAAP's CAP exam by filling out an application form. They must provide statements from employers to verify their work experience. Applicants also must furnish proof that they've met the CAP education requirements.

Step 4: Pass the Certification Exam

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.

Step 5: Maintain 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.

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