Do your research, make a plan, and get the development you need to succeed says Brandi Britton
The administrative field does not stand still, which means neither should you. Every year sees new computer apps, different workplace trends and, as a result, novel job responsibilities. The way to stay on top of your ever-evolving role is with continual job training and personal development. Those who don’t could see their career — and salary — stagnate or even fall behind.
If you have questions about professional development, I have some answers and advice:
1. Are there administrative certification programs? If so, why should I pursue one?
When you think of credentials, the ones that come to mind are typically for accountants, financial advisors and IT specialists. But there are several certifications that administrative professionals can work toward that would give holders a deeper knowledge base, an advantage during a job search and even a bigger paycheck.
Two solid choices are the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) designation and the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS). Administered by the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), the CAP covers the domains of organizational communication, business writing, information technology, records management, event planning/project management and more.
MOS certifications, on the other hand, are far more specific. They focus on the individual Microsoft Office applications of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook. Having an MOS designation can definitely help you stand out from the competition when applying for administrative jobs.
There are also specific certifications for niche administrative roles. For example, medical coders with a CPC (Certified Professional Coder) credential can earn more than those without one. Skills such as proofreading and project management also have their own certifications.
2. Should I go back to school?
Ninety-five percent of jobs created after the Great Recession have gone to people with some college education. A high school diploma plus completion of a secretarial course is enough for some administrative positions, but more and more employers want at least an associate’s degree. The more senior the position, the more likely a bachelor’s degree will be a required qualification.
So, if you’ve been considering college, now is a good time. Job postings don’t typically specify a particular degree that’s desired, but good disciplines to study include communication, English, accounting/finance, business administration/management, psychology and hospitality.
3. How do I pay for further education?
As part of your research into attaining a certification or college degree, check with human resources to see if your employer offers any perks such as tuition reimbursement or financial aid. If so, you could be on your way to a credential or B.A. with little money out of your own pocket.
Be sure to ask about the program’s limitations. For example, some companies approve only courses they determine are relevant to your current position. Other programs require the degree holder to remain with the employer for a certain number of years, or else pay back a percentage of the tuition.
4. What other professional development options are out there for administrative professionals?
There’s no shortage of learning opportunities. Which routes you take will depend on your career goals and areas of weakness that could be barriers to achieving them. For example, if you’re currently a file clerk but would love to become the office manager one day, you may need to develop proficiency in business writing, budgeting, invoicing, office technology, human resources and conflict resolution.
Short-term professional development opportunities range from on-demand webinars at your desk to multi-day national conferences in major cities. Attending in-person seminars can also help you expand your network and even lead to your next job.
You may have options in-house, too. Whenever your employer offers lunchtime seminars, take them up on the offer for free learning. Also ask about job shadowing, cross-training and being mentored by a senior-level professional.
You’ll notice a common thread in all the career advice above: You’re the one who has to take the first step to advance in your field. Others can help you along the way, but you’re the sole driver. Do your research, make a plan and get the training and professional development you need to succeed.
There is another administrative certification option for administrative professionals in Canada: the Qualified Administrative Assistant (QAA) certificate and designation (soon to be the Canadian Certified Administrative Professional [CCAP] certificate) offered by the Association of Administrative Professionals (formerly the Association of Administrative Assistants). It covers organizational behaviour, business communications, project management, information technology, management/supervision, and many other elective options. Visit https://aaa.ca/qaa-designation/overview/ for more information.