The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting cooler, summer might already feel like a distant memory, and students from kindergarten to PhD candidates are back to school. If you’re an office manager or administrative professional, you might think your school days are behind you, but with technology and the workplace constantly changing, it’s never a bad idea to consider sharpening your skills. Taking a class after work, enrolling in an online course, earning a certification, or another form of continuing education might just give you the edge you need when applying to your next position. If you plan to stay at your current company for awhile, professional development can be an additional way to demonstrate you’re an invaluable part of the team. Here's how continuing education can benefit you as an office professional.
Gain new skills or make sure the ones you have are up-to-date
Erica Ravich worked as an Account Executive and Marketing Manager at Clarity Staffing in New York City, where she placed hundreds of candidates in administrative, human resources, accounting, finance, and marketing roles. While she stressed that having strong work experience and a “no task is too small” attitude are the most important factors when seeking an administrative support position, she spoke about how coursework in Microsoft Office or QuickBooks can be advantageous for certain roles.
“If you’re going to pull from anything, I would say Microsoft Office (Excel, PowerPoint),” said Erica. “Those are the skills that are probably most important, because there are companies that will test for those things. If they can see that you’re a power user, that’s great.”
As for QuickBooks, a growing number of office managers take on accounting tasks, whether it’s tracking vendor invoices or preparing payroll. If strong knowledge of QuickBooks isn’t already a requirement of the job, making sure you’re already familiar with the software will shorten your learning curve.
In most areas around the country, you can enroll in Microsoft Office and QuickBooks courses at your local college or community center. Of course, online courses are also popular, allowing students to learn from anywhere and on their own schedule. Microsoft offers their own online training videos and certifications, as do online education companies like Lynda and Udemy.
If you’ve mastered Microsoft Office and QuickBooks, Barbara Weathers, Certification Manager at the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), an organization that offers its own training and certification programs, recommended taking courses in cloud computing services and business writing.
“Good business writing always comes up as one of the skills that is in the highest demand,” Barbara said. “Good proofreading, editing, and strong business communication skills are extremely important.”
Prove your relevancy to your employer and continue to make yourself invaluable
As with most positions, it’s important for any office manager or administrator to stay relevant and not become complacent about their career. Keeping up with the newest technology is a way you can make yourself invaluable to your current employer and, when you’re applying for your next job, certification in the latest software could be the line that makes you stand out from another candidate who has a similar resume. It also signals to prospective companies that you’re not coasting at your current position, which can be especially beneficial to communicate if you’ve been at the same company for five, ten, or even twenty years.
Kemetia Foley, who works as a coordinator for one of the American Staffing Association’s research teams, credits her certification with the IAAP for helping to keep her competitive in the workforce. In addition to obtaining certified professional administrative status through the IAAP, she pursued an additional designation in organizational management, which had an extensive exam process. IAAP also requires members to keep up with taking courses for their certification to remain active.
“Certifications are popular because not only does a certification assess your knowledge and skill at a certain point in time, but it shows you’re going to stay up-to-date, because of the maintenance requirements,” said Barbara. “Certifications are different than other credentials, whether professional or academic, because they require you to continue with professional development activities to maintain that credential.”
Another benefit of continuing education is that many employers will cover some or all of the costs if they see it as a mutually beneficial opportunity for both the employee and the company. When Jenni Klauder worked as a community manager at SquareFoot, she took on smaller graphic design jobs that weren’t high priority for the design team, but still needed to be done, such as infographics for social media and an email newsletter. The company needed someone to fill that gap, and Jenni knew that she could do a better job with some actual graphic design training.
Jenni’s company sponsored her Photoshop training and she had helpful suggestions for office professionals approaching their companies about doing something similar. She said, “My advice would be to lay out exactly how you are dipping your toes into whatever the new area is (graphic design, digital marketing, etc.) and show that while you have the desire and the interest, there are certain aspects that are lacking and that you can't just teach yourself. Also, research the various options classes and prices, and present them at the same time. I gave my company a range of options.”
SquareFoot and Jenni ultimately decided on a one-day, 8-hour crash course bootcamp-style with General Assembly. She found that the class was exactly what she needed to springboard her graphic design skills and demystify the software. It taught her enough of the basics and fundamentals so that she could continue to learn and teach herself. And crucially, this newfound expertise was also beneficial to her company. She could take some of the work off the design team, but now that work was of a high quality and with a faster delivery time. When SquareFoot’s UX/UI team rebranded their website, Jenni was able to significantly assist by updating the smaller, less significant infographics, emails, and collateral that still had the old branding.
Networking and personal opportunities
University alumni networks exist so that graduates from the same alma mater can assist each other with job placement and career guidance. Continuing education is no different. Someone you meet in your next class or conference might become your friend, recommend the next great course for you to enroll in, refer you for a new job, or be the resource that saves you next time you’re scrambling to find the perfect vendor. And in the digital age, it’s much more likely you’ll stay in touch with these class connections, or the class might already have an established online network for you to join after the actual course is over.
“I always tell my peers, we’re only as strong and as valuable as our resource network. That’s the thing that’s going to save us the most time. We pitch in for each other all the time, it’s kind of like a little underground community,” said Kemetia.
Juanita Hunter brings up another benefit of continuing education. Learning and education is not only a line on a resume, or a certification to impress your employer, but an investment in your own personal development. She took a certification exam with the IAAP while she was doing administrative work at a pediatric hospital. Her colleagues knew that she was enrolled and noticed a change in her leadership abilities.
“My superiors and peers recognized the fact that I had a newfound confidence and that I was willing to volunteer more to handle special projects,” Juanita said.
When the pediatric hospital decided to transfer their software from GroupWise over to Microsoft Office, her supervisor asked Juanita to coordinate training. She trained 125 of her fellow administrative professionals in the hospital, and she credits being part of the IAAP as the reason she was both entrusted and up for the task.
Office managers and administrators spend the majority of their day juggling the jobs of three people at once and catering to everyone in the office’s needs. Allowing yourself to do something for your own benefit might be the strongest argument for professional development. Investing the time and often money (either yours, or your employer’s) to take a class in the software you’ve always wanted to learn, or to attend a conference with your peers across the country, are ways you can commit to nurturing your own career ambitions and to practice a kind of vocational self-care.
Photography by Melissa Morgan Walbridge