Gwen Dickerson, CPS, decided to strengthen her resume by earning Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifications in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
"I wouldn't say the vast majority of employers are requiring or asking for MOS certification, but it is a way to validate that you have a good working knowledge of office software used by approximately 95 to 98 percent of the world's business community," says Dickerson, administrative assistant to the plant manager at Greenwood, South Carolina-based Eaton Electrical.
MOS is by far the best-known computer skills certification for admins. More than one million people around the world have earned MOS certifications, according to Microsoft.
MOS exams are offered at two levels -- Core and Expert -- and in five Microsoft Office Programs (2000 and XP) -- Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access -- as well as Microsoft Project 2000 and 2002. Additional tests qualify a user for an MOS Master certification, which demonstrates the highest skill level in multiple programs.
Some other software makers, such as Adobe, offer certifications, but they are not as recognized, says Gerri Wicklund, business technology instructor at Madison Area Technical College (MATC). You can also earn other software and IT certifications at Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW).
Software certifications might also help you obtain a degree. For example at MATC, admins with MOS certifications receive up to nine class credits toward the total 69 needed to graduate with an associate of applied arts degree in administrative assistance, Wicklund says.
MATC doesn't waive classes if an admin has taken employer-based software courses, because these typically aren't rigorous enough to substitute for the required 24-hour class with 24 hours of homework, according to Wicklund. However, the International Association of Administrative Professionals' Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) and Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certifications can knock off up to 30 credits at MATC.
It is imperative, especially in a slow economy, to meet or exceed employers' expectations. Even though Janice Forte, a senior recruiter for The KPM Group in Southfield, Michigan, who works with all levels of administrative assistants, doesn't have clients asking specifically for admins with MOS or any other computer skills certification, she deems such certifications an excellent way for admins to demonstrate their skill levels.
"A certification will show a client that you are willing to go over and above the call of duty in educating yourself in your field," Forte says.
If job interviewers haven't heard of MOS, don't be afraid to educate them, advises Susan Fenner, PhD, Monster's Admin/Support Advisor, and manager of education and professional development for the IAAP. "Tell them it is an international certification, indicate how many people are certified and what the different levels of certification mean," she says. "Get a brochure, and leave it with the employer."
For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.