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Certification, Licensing and Wages in Secretarial Career

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Both the Professional Secretaries International and the National Association of Legal Secretaries sponsor examinations to certify secretaries. The purpose of each of these organizations will be explained later.

A secretary who earns certification is usually a highly motivated person who has superior skills and knowledge. This is viewed by other professionals and employers as a level of achievement that warrants recognition. For secretaries, certification is equal in importance to the CPA designation for accountants. Therefore, if you want to reach the highest level in the secretarial profession, then you should work toward this achievement.

Certified Professional Secretary (CPS)

The CPS is the registered service mark of the Certified Professional Secretary and is the international standard of measurement used to denote secretarial proficiency. Applicants for this rating must pass a one-day, three-part examination that is administered twice a year, in May and November, by the Institute for Certification, a department of the Professional Secretaries International. To date, more than fifty-four thousand secretaries have attained this certification. Candidates must meet minimum requirements in education and secretarial employment experience. To be eligible to take the CPS examination, a secretary must have from two to four years of full-time experience.

The July 9, 1998, PSI Home Page Association News discussed guide-lines for eligibility to take the examination:
  • Four-year College graduate with a bachelor's degree, two years of verified secretarial experience.
  • Two-year College graduate with an associate degree, three years of verified secretarial experience.
  • High-school diploma, four years of verified secretarial experience.
Students in two- and four-year colleges may take the examination during their last year; however, they will not be certified until they have acquired the secretarial experience.

The examination is based on an analysis of secretarial activities and is administered in centers located in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. The three parts of the examination and the focus of questions in each section are described as follows:

Part 1: Finance and Business Law (120 questions; 2 hours 30 minutes)
  • Measures the secretary's knowledge of principles of business law as they may operate in daily work.
  • Measures knowledge of the elements of the accounting cycle; ability to analyze financial accounts, to perform arithmetical operations associated with accounting; computing interest and discounts; and summarizing and interpreting financial data.
  • Measure an understanding of economics and the basic concepts underlying business operations.
Part 2: Office Systems and Administration (150 questions; 2 hours)
  • Measures proficiency in subject matters related to office administration.
  • Measures skills in written business communications (editing, abstracting, and preparing communications in final format).
  • Tests secretary's knowledge and responsibilities associated with office technology: office systems, applications, communications media, and records management.
Part 3: Management (150 questions; 2 hours)
  • In Behavioral Science in Business and Human Resources, it measures the candidate's understanding of principles of human relations and of self, peers, subordinates, and superiors; it focuses on the fundamentals of one's own needs and motivations, nature of conflict, problem-solving techniques, leadership styles, and under-standing of the informal organization.
  • In Management, organizations and principles of management are the focus.
Many employers have recognized the professionalism, broad range of knowledge, and upgraded skills achieved by certified secretaries. The comment below demonstrates the reasons many executives are interested in certified professional secretaries.

Dave Pylipow, Director of Employee Relations, Hallmark Cards, Incorporated, states: "In today's competitive environment, it's important to have employees who are well educated, can adapt to change, and can initiate change. To earn the CPS rating, secretaries have to study a wide variety of material and gain a broader education. This equips them to effectively handle a bigger array of problems, to initiate change, and to develop innovative ideas."

Many firms encourage secretaries to enroll in the CPS program by offering company reimbursement programs for tuition fees, textbooks, preparatory courses, and examination charges; others offer a monetary bonus and awards. Some give priority for managerial positions to certify secretaries and others give a salary increase or a one-grade promotion. CPS holders earn an average of $2,228 per year more than office professionals without it, according to the 1997 PSI Membership Profile.

Because of the difficulty of the examination, secretaries who prepare for it devote many hours or even years to preparation. Some colleges give credit for passing this examination and encourage CPSs to complete their formal education. Each college establishes its own criteria for awarding degree credit.

Information on the CPS examination, application, and study materials can be ordered from the Institute for Certifying Secretaries, Department of Professional Secretaries International, 10502 NW Ambassador Drive, P.O. Box 20404, Kansas City, Missouri 64195-0404.

Professional Legal Secretary (PLS)

Certification as a Professional Legal Secretary also can be attained after having worked in this capacity for at least five years and having passed a high-level two-day, seven-part examination that is given in colleges and universities throughout the United States. This examination is administered by the PLS Certifying Board of the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), (NALS), which consists of two attorneys who are members of the American Bar Association, two educators, and four members of NALS who are PLSs. This examination covers all phases of legal work, and the contents measure the skills, knowledge, and techniques needed to work in a law office. Candidates are examined in the following areas:

  1. Written communication skills and knowledge. Tests language abilities (grammar, word usage, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, composition, and word division).
  2. Ethics. Evaluates ability to handle problem situations involving contacts with employer, clients, the public, and coworkers. Ethical considerations are included.
  3. Office procedures. Measures general administrative ability of secretary in handling the mail and telephone; selecting office supplies and equipment; using sources of information; applying computer technology; and understanding of word processing equipment.
  4. Accounting. Measures knowledge of general banking and financial activities as well as accounting theory and terminology.
  5. Legal knowledge and procedures. Focuses on legal terms, legal procedures, legal bibliography, and basic information about preparation of legal documents.
  6. Exercise of judgment. Evaluates examinee's decision-making ability.
  7. Legal secretarial skills. Tests skill in following instructions and in taking and preparing legal documents.

If you are interested in legal secretarial employment, then pursue certification, for the PLS is a testimony of competence in your profession. It is the key that opens doors. For further information about the Professional Secretarial Programs, write to the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), 314 East Third Street, Suite 210, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74120 (918-582-5188).

Accredited Professional Legal Secretary (ALS)

NALS developed this program for individuals at the apprentice level. To become accredited as a legal secretary, you must pass a one-day, six-hour, three-part examination that is offered four times a year, in March, June, September, and December. The three parts of the examination are the following:

Part 1: Written Communication, Comprehension, and Application Part 2: Office Administration, Legal Terminology, and Accounting Part 3:   Ethics, Human Relations, and Applied Office Procedures

Passing the examination successfully will demonstrate the various skills that are required in a legal environment: perform business communication tasks, maintain office records and calendars, prioritize multiple tasks, understand office equipment and procedures, know legal terminology and document preparation, solve accounting problems, and follow law office protocol as prescribed by ethical codes. The examination is scored under the direction of the NALS Legal Secretary Certifying Board that is composed of four members, four non-NALS members who are lawyers and educators, and the NALS president. Successful candidates earn a certificate that is valid for five years, and certification may be extended one year for every twenty hours of continuing legal education up to a maximum of three years.
Board Certified Civil Trial Legal Secretary

In specialized areas such as litigation and probate, NALS administers an examination that confers the designation Board Certified Civil Trial Legal Secretary. The applicant must have five years of law-related experience and pass the examination.

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

The medical secretary can strive to achieve the Certified Medical Assistant designation that certifies professional competence of individuals. The American Association of Medical Assistants, in cooperation with the National Board of Medical Examiners, which serves as educational test consultant, sponsors this examination. It is given twice yearly at many test centers nationwide. In addition to this general certification, specialty certification in administrative (CMA-A) can be achieved. The examination tests general, medical, administrative, and clinical knowledge. For information on these programs, write to The American Association of Medical Assistants, Inc., 20 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1575, Chicago, Illinois 60606.

Professional Secretarial Organizations

International Association of Administrative Professionals

The International Association of Administrative Professionals (as of August 1, 1998) formerly the Professional Secretaries International (PSI), is the world's leading organization for secretaries and has seven hundred chapters and more than forty thousand members on five continents and in more than sixty-four countries. This organization sponsors seminars and workshops at the local, state, and national levels that are organized to develop the personal and professional expertise of secretaries. The organization sponsors a Future Secretaries Association Program, mostly at the high school level, to inform students about the secretarial profession and to interest them in entering the field. Since 1986, the Collegiate Secretaries International has become a student association of PSI under the directorship of the Institute for Educating Secretaries. As you read previously in the chapter, the Certified Professional Secretaries (CPS) program is one of its major activities. The Research and Educational Foundation provides funds for projects that benefit secretaries, management, and the educational field. In addition, the organization publishes nine issues per year of The Secretary, which is mailed to all members.

National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)

Legal secretaries are eligible for membership in the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), NALS, which has more than six thousand members nationwide. Its mission statement reads that it "is dedicated to enhancing the competencies and contributions of members in the legal services profession." It accomplishes its mission and supports the public interest through the following:
  • continuing legal education and resource materials
  • networking opportunities at the local, state, regional, and national levels
  • commitment to a Code of Ethics and professional standards
  • professional certification programs and designations
As you read previously in this chapter, the organization sponsors a professional examination and certifying program. You may be asking yourself how you will benefit from being a NALS member. Most important is to make friends and contacts in the profession with whom you may share ideas and experiences. You also receive a copy of the NALS Law Magazine four times a year. As a member, you may attend seminars and educational programs held locally and throughout the United States. The Continuing Legal Education Council plans programs on the national level.

U.S. and Canadian Organizations for Medical Secretaries

Medical assistants should become members of the American Association of Medical Assistants. It is an association of individuals including medical secretaries, receptionists, medical office managers, and other medical professionals who work in health care environments. The organization is dedicated to the professional advancement of its constituents.

The organization has more than four hundred chapters with a nation-wide membership over twelve thousand. As a member, you are entitled to participate in their continuing education services, usually seminars and workshops, for which you can earn Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credit. Another way to earn CEU credit is by successfully completing examinations that accompany the Guided Study Programs. These are home study courses that enable medical assistants to work independently at their own rate of speed. Three courses are now available: Law for the Medical Office, Human Relations, and Urinalysis Today.

An official bimonthly journal, The Professional Medical Assistant, and the AAMA Network, a quarterly newsletter, are other benefits of membership.

Because of the nature of the profession, the organization recognizes that members face ethical dilemmas daily; therefore, they developed the AAMA Code of Ethics, which is part of the organization's bylaws. The responsibilities enumerated within are service for the dignity of humanity, respect for confidentiality, maintenance of the high honor and principles of the profession, continued study to improve knowledge and skills of medical assistants, and participation in services to improve the community.

Another professional medical organization to join is the American Association of Medical Transcriptionists, who is usually employed in medical institutions.

In Ontario, Canada, medical secretaries are eligible for membership in the Ontario Medical Secretaries Association (O. M. S. A.). This is a provincial organization whose primary goal is to expand the knowledge base of its members and keep them abreast of rapidly changing office methods and equipment. The association sponsors a certification program for qualified applicants to achieve professional status as a Certified Medical Secretary (CMS).

National Association of Educational Office Personnel

Educational secretaries may belong to the National Association of Educational Office Personnel. This group works for increased recognition for educational office personnel. It sponsors a Professional Standards Program (PSP) to encourage members to grow professionally and to keep up to date in the profession and field of education. It also has an awards program in which it honors outstanding administrators and office professionals, individuals for distinguished service, and affiliated associations for outstanding newsletters and magazines. A benefit along with membership is The National Educational Secretary, which is published four times a year.

National Association of Secretarial Services (NASS)

The National Association of Secretarial Services (NASS) represents secretarial service owners and managers. It has twelve hundred members and forty state groups. Active membership is granted to businesses that are engaged in full-time services. The association publishes a newsletter that includes diverse articles pertaining to the membership's type of business. It also holds workshops and seminars and shares referrals and training. For information about this organization, you may write to 3637 Fourth Street North, Suite 330, St. Petersburg, Florida 33704-1336 (813-823-3646 or Fax: 813-894-4277).


The changing times, increasing office automation, and innovative business practices have affected the secretarial work environment, but it has not resulted in a lack of demand for qualified secretaries. Job openings should be plentiful for qualified, experienced secretaries, primarily due to replacement of those who transfer to other occupations or leave for other reasons. In the 1998 Occupational Outlook Quarterly, the statistics indicated that 25,000 more general secretaries will be employed by 2006, above the 1996 figure of 3,403,000 that were employed. Legal and medical secretaries will show a major growth rate.

In terms of pay, workers in larger establishments generally have a pay advantage over those working in smaller organizations. Earnings of administrative workers showed very little variation by establishment size, 3 percent of each other-from 1 percent below established categories with 1,000 workers to 2 percent above in establishments with 1,000 to 2,499 workers. Among the secretaries, one of the most populous clerical occupations, secretarial level III earnings were nearly identical in all establishment size categories, varying only by $3 from the mean of $547 per week.

Salaries for secretaries vary greatly, reflecting differences in level of skill, experience, and responsibility. In addition, salaries in different parts of the country vary depending on demand, current salary scales of industry, and availability of personnel. Generally, compensation in large cities is higher than in small towns, and the earnings on the East and West coasts are above the earnings in the Midwest or South. Those cities that offer the highest salaries are New York, Boston, and Los Angeles with Washington, DC and San Francisco close behind. Also, salaries of secretaries tend to be highest in transportation, legal services, and public utilities. Certification in the field is generally recognized by an increase in salary. It is significant that secretarial salaries reach a high point that exceeds those of all other clerical positions.

The figures in Table 13 that was researched and gathered throughout the United States by Office Team will give you some idea of 1998 annual salaries earned by secretaries compared to other office workers.

You will also be interested in glancing at the average weekly salaries in the different parts of the country, as illustrated in Table 14. This might be a factor to consider when you look for a job.

If you wish to relocate, notice the difference in salary between the East and the West coasts, particularly between New York City and Sacramento (see Table 15). Whereas the average weekly income for all secretaries in New York is $600, in Sacramento it is $505. Similarly, at the highest level, a secretary earns an average of $848 in the East; on the West Coast, it is slightly lower, $829. In service industries in the Northeast, you can earn as high as $848; in the West, $812.

You will also want to bear in mind that salary differentials may reflect the increased cost of living in a given area. Investigate the fixed expenses of rent, taxes, and other significant items that may be higher than the area in which you presently live before you consider a move. A list of the expenses where you presently live can be used as a starting point. You can request information from the chamber of commerce where you are thinking of moving, from friends, and from such organizations as church groups, civic organizations, schools, and banks.

Although fringe benefits are considered apart from salaries, nevertheless they have a substantial money value. Consider the cost of hospitalization, medical insurance, vacation benefits, life insurance, and retirement plans. The pre established benefits that were provided by the company are now being replaced in some companies by pick-and-choose plans or cafeteria plans, as they are frequently called. Other companies now require employees to pay for a portion of their health coverage. Plans will vary as they are adopted by employers. For example, a firm might give its employees a core of basic benefits, such as those mentioned above; then from another group of options, employees may select benefits up to a maximum amount.

Do not expect all kinds of fringe benefits. Companies are trying to find ways to cut the costs of providing fringe benefits. Be sure you know what your benefits will be when you accept a job.

The Wage Gap

In job evaluation studies of a job, the factors measured are the inherent skills of the job, effort needed to perform job, responsibility, and working conditions. Traditionally, clerical work has been performed by women. Although women have been fighting for equality and some progress has been made, a gap still exists between women's and men's: earnings. The good news is that women's pay and a percent of men's >ay have increased substantially. In 1976, women earned 69 percent of what men earned on an hourly basis. In 1996, women's earnings were 19 percent of men's, which is a 17 percent increase. The pay of American women working full-time year-round averages 72 cents for each dollar earned by men. If you experience problems with fair pay, contact the Women's Bureau Fair Pay Clearinghouse at (800) 347-3741.

Canadian earnings of men and women- In the office support occupations, more than 95 percent of the employees are women, with the exception of clerical occupations, general office skills, where 76 percent of the workers are women. After glancing at Table 17 on the average earnings of men and women in Canada, you will realize that the average salary for men is considerably higher. Statistics indicate that earnings are lower than le average level in practically all of the office occupations.
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