Successful administrative professionals don't stay on top by accident; they work at it by constantly improving their skills.
"You must take classes and continue training, because software programs and other things are constantly changing," says Cynthia Lively, past president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). Lively, who has 36 years of admin experience, is also the administrative assistant to the headmaster at the Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
Classes for Every Learning Style
Where do you find training programs? Start close to home.
"Community colleges are more attuned to what skills employers need in your area," says Lively. "The offerings are usually vast, from [Microsoft] Access classes to how to create Web pages." Community college courses can also be inexpensive, she notes.
Self-learners can follow Lively's lead. Two years ago, she took a six-week online advanced computer course offered through a community college. "I was busy. I wanted to do things at my own convenience and didn't want to have to go back out at night to attend a class," she says. Assignments that she received on Wednesdays and Fridays had to be finished by the following Wednesday. The assignment directions were 16 to 20 pages. "That may sound long, but compare reading those pages to sitting in a classroom for three hours a week, and it puts things into perspective," Lively says.
While Lively was comfortable taking an online course through a college, others are wary of what they may be paying for. To ease those worries, the American Society for Training and Development offers the E-learning Courseware Certification Program, which provides data on the quality of Web-based courses.
Other alternatives include computer-training companies and "soft study materials such as the Dummies [series of] books," says Rick Stroud, communications manager for the IAAP. And don't overlook the obvious: "Software packages you buy come with tutorials. That's great if you're more of a self-learner, because the tutorials can walk you right through the lessons," Stroud says.
Stroud also suggests that administrative workers check out Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) information. "Since some 98 percent of business offices use Microsoft Office products, we encourage MOS certification for administrative staff," he says.
Stick with reputable, well-known organizations or educational institutions. "Research, ask for references, talk to people who've taken courses at the company," Stroud says. "As a general rule, find someone who has been in business for a while." While prices for classes can jump all over the place, Stroud says to regard any money you spend on training as an investment. "The new skills will allow you to make a higher salary," he says,
The IAAP recognizes that there are many avenues to take when trying to obtain training. The IAAP suggests that admins:
- Attend community college classes, or classes offered at business, vocational or technical schools.
- Talk to HR directors to find out what training opportunities are offered through your company.
- Subscribe to professional publications and personal computer magazines.
- Find self-tutorial programs. As training vehicles, self-tutorials are extremely attractive, especially for learning software.
- Join professional organizations to network and share ideas with other professionals.
- Join continuing-education mailing lists from local schools. Also check your newspaper for computer and other classes offered locally.
For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.