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The Hitchhikers Guide to the CAE: Part 1

Christina w Cert

Get in your time machine and go back two years. Imagine you’re at a dinner with ten peers and an accomplished C-Suite Exec. The food is delicious and the conversation is stimulating. Then someone mentions that they are pursuing their CAE. There is a grand pause. EVERYONE around the table nods their heads in agreement and admiration. For the first-time this evening you feel like an outsider. You have no idea what “CAE” is, but you nod your head too, not wanting appear misinformed, praying no one calls you out. Before long you learn that several others have obtained their CAE, including the C-Suite Exec. Words like “domains,” “LERP,” and “SPIE” spill out in conversation . . . Geez, more acronyms! Curious, you go home that night and look it up: The Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential through the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Hmmm, sounds intimating.

This is how I first learned about the CAE, maybe you have a similar story? What I did next was most important. Three things stand out as I look back and map out my journey.

1. Ask around
The CAE was foreign to me. I asked a lot of my peers and mentors what it was all about, and why it was worth pursuing. What were their journeys like? At what stage in their career did they take the exam? Did they study? I got mixed responses, but one thing resounded clear: everyone’s journey was unique and personal. Mine was too.

2. Meeting the requirements
I spent a lot of time on ASAE’s CAE webpage. I had already met some CAE eligibility requirements, but did I have enough qualifying professional development activities to meet the 100 hours? To find out, I began meticulously cataloguing my hours in a spreadsheet. I found eligible hours in a variety of places: I looked through my ASAE profile (Login>My Account>Education History). I scanned through my work calendar from the past three years. I searched through my email for “CAE.” And I contacted both ASAE and the organizations that hosted programs to confirm those that were applicable. Sounds like a lot of work, and I’ll admit it was.

I was surprised to find out I had already accumulated 80 hours. Getting the final 20 was fairly easy: I signed up for free webinars.* It’s amazing how many free webinars are out there once you start looking. It doesn’t have to explicitly offer CAE credits to be applicable, programs that touch on any of the nine knowledge domains could count too. You can even count up to 10 CAE hours through mentoring and coaching, like I did.

3. Committing to take the exam
Next biggest decision: to take the exam in December or May? It’s only offered twice a year, and through my chats with peers, everyone encouraged me to take it when the content was fresh in my mind. Since my plan was to include three months of rigorous studying pre-exam, the decision on which month to take it was crucial. What three months were best for me to invest studying time? Were there any conflicts with the exam dates (maybe a work conference or board meeting already scheduled?).

Fast forward and it’s now six months out from the time I would take the exam. Now it’s November, and I was pregnant with my second and due New Year’s Eve. For me I was either committing to taking the exam the following May (studying during maternity leave and a potential job transition) or choosing to wait until the following December (several months down the road, when I’d have two young kids running around). Yeah, I chose May. The nail in the coffin was when a wise woman told me that she studied while going through a massive renovation on her home. Literally, no running water. If she was successful at that time, then I could be too.

If you take anything from this article, know that the CAE is only as daunting as you allow it to be. Smart time invested in learning about the process and other’s experiences can be time well spent. Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, in which I share my study plan and exam prep process.

Congrats to those who have decided to pursue their CAE, and good luck as you begin the adventure!

*Free webinars can be found at ASAE’s upcoming events page, the Wild Apricot blog with a listing of monthly free webinars, Collaborate events page, and the CAE Candidate community.

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