Certified Professional Secretary Requirements and Career Info

Oct 20, 2021

A certified professional secretary possesses professional certification, adding a valuable credential when seeking employment as a secretary or administrative assistant. Certification requires taking a certification exam as well as having a certain amount of secretarial experience. A college education is not mandatory but does reduce the number of years of experience required for certification, and is increasingly required by employers for executive secretary positions.

Essential Information

Secretaries are administrative professionals responsible for tasks like filing data, writing reports and ordering office supplies. Those seeking a formal credential in the field may pursue a Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) title, which replaced the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) designation as of November 2011.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent
Other Requirements Office skills, typing speed, and computer software familiarity
Projected Job Decline (2019-2029)* 9% for all secretaries and administrative assistants
Median Annual Salary (May 2019)* $37,690 annually for secretaries and administrative assistants*; $60,890 for executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Certified Professional Secretary/Certified Administrative Professional Overview

The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) began offering the designation of Certified Professional Secretary in the 1950s. Qualified candidates could earn the designation by completing a 2-day, 6-part exam. In 2001, the IAAP began to offer the 4-part Certified Administrative Professional title in addition to the CPS. Both exams tested such areas as organization, records management, human resources and communication skills. Those wishing to upgrade from CPS to CAP only needed to complete the fourth part of the CAP exam.

However, May 2011 was the final month in which the CPS exam was available. After November 2011, all those who hold the CPS title were automatically upgraded to CAPs - without needing to complete any additional testing. Those who already held the CAP designation became CAP-OMs (with an organizational management specialty). The IAAP reports that further subspecialties will become available in the future (www.iaap-hq.org). The CAP exam will also transition and consolidate to become a half-day, 1-part exam covering eight areas - to streamline the overall certification process for secretaries.

Career and Certification Requirements

Certification is not necessary to work as a professional secretary or administrative assistant; however, the IAAP notes that employers tend to recognize credentialed candidates as those willing to go above and beyond in their field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), entry-level secretaries can find employment with a high school diploma or its equivalent (www.bls.gov). The same source also notes that employers of executive secretaries are increasingly seeking candidates with a college degree. The most important qualifications across the board are often familiarity with relevant computer software, typing ability and office aptitude.

To sit for the CAP exam, a combination of education and experience is necessary. Those with no formal education need at least four years of experience in the field. Those with an associate's degree need only three years of experience, while those with a bachelor's degree need only two years of experience. Specific majors are not delineated by the IAAP, but all potential candidates must send in an application and have their work experience verified.

Career Info for a Secretary or Administrative Professional

Secretaries coordinate and facilitate an office's administrative and clerical needs. This includes organizing, filing and retrieving documents, as well as collecting and distributing relevant information to the team members. They schedule meetings and appointments, make travel reservations and take care of guest or client arrangements. To complete these tasks, they use a variety of office equipment, such as computers, fax machines, telephone systems, scanners and photocopiers.

A secretary should demonstrate interpersonal skills while exhibiting professional behavior and attire. They typically need to be proficient in typing, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and they should have strong computer and communication skills. They should also be extremely organized and capable of taking initiative.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS projected that employment opportunities for secretaries and administrative assistants in general would fall 9% between 2019 and 2029. The BLS also reported that the median annual salary of secretaries and administrative assistants - except legal, medical, and executive secretaries - was $37,690 as of May 2019. At the same time, executive-level secretaries and administrative assistants earned a median yearly wage of $60,890.

A certified professional secretary needs to take an exam in order to be certified, but no additional training or education is required, although a certain number of years' experience working as a secretary may be required. Employers are increasingly requiring a bachelor's degree for executive secretary positions.

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