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CAE brochure

So, you’ve committed to taking the CAE. Congrats! [Reality: Insert state of panic here!] Now direct your attention to the CAE Exam Content Outline and this guide. Seven steps stand between you and the designation. Here I offer for you a deconstruction of these “simple seven,” presented in reality from my experience.

Step 1: Review each competency statement. [Reality: A foreshadowing of the content that will be on your mind and in your nightmare dreams until exam day.] 

The composition of the CAE exam is supported by research on job tasks and knowledge needed by association executives. You can learn about that research here. Fundamentally, the CAE exam content is organized into nine domains, which are further ordered into 159 essential association management competencies. Plan to set aside a good amount of time to read these [Reality: I spent 2 hours.] because . . .

Step 2: Rate your confidence on each competency as “high, medium, or low.” [Reality: “I know this and could teach it,” “I pretend to know this and hope no one calls me out,” and “No clue what this means, is it really on the test?!”]

Here’s where I plug the value of the CAE Study Guide, which has a nice worksheet of the domains and a rating area to identify your confidence in this self-assessment (see Section 1: Getting Started, pages 11-24). After reading each statement carefully, take your time to really think about what it means and mark an honest assessment of your current understanding. After going through this once, I went back a second time, adjusting several to a lower confidence level. Be careful about making overly generous assumptions about your on-the-job experience. It may serve you well to initially underestimate your expertise and then discover through your studies that you actually know more.

Step 3: Note related professional development you have completed in the past five years. [Reality: Wish you’d actually been tracking this over the past five years.]

Here’s a puzzle: How many people does it take to help you track and validate the 100 hours for your CAE application? Answer: 10 or more. One, your association friend who trick-encouraged you to apply in the first place, to seek advice on where to start. Two, your nerdy MS Excel colleague who shares their tracking spreadsheet with you. Three, your brilliant co-worker who suggests who you look through your calendar over the past five years to identify webinars and programs you attended. Four, your secretary who actually looks through your calendar and catalogues these for you [Reality: If you’re that fortunate]. Five, your contact at ASAE who shares that your member profile contains a historical listing of all education through ASAE (see www.asaecenter.org > Login > My Account > Education History > Mind blown). [Reality: Why didn’t I know this already existed?!] Six and beyond, the ASAE Approved Providers that will be inevitably re-sending you the “course completion certificates” to validate how many hours your coursework acquired [Reality: I took courses with 15 different providers.]

Step 4: Develop a plan to strengthen areas of lower confidence and complete professional development requirements. [Reality: Find a way to squeeze in 20 more hours before the deadline to ensure you meet the 100-hour minimum.]

So you’ve tracked your hours, and perhaps you are short a few, or courses you took are not actually applicable for credit (converse to what you initially thought). Don’t panic. Now’s a great time to sign up for a quick webinar, attend a one-day training program, or work with a mentor to meet the requirements. Also, I suggest you go back to Step 2 and review your weaknesses; these are the areas in which you’ll want to dedicate the majority of your study time.

Step 5: Complete all requirements before submitting an application. [Reality: By now you should be eligible, or know when you will become eligible.]

Find a list of the eligibility requirements here. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read through the several pages on ASAE regarding the CAE. So much valuable content here!

Step 6: Plan to submit an application three months before you sit for the exam. [Reality: Put “submit application” on calendar two weeks before deadline. Calendar notification arrives, you laugh at your ambitions. Eventually and frantically submit at the last minute; 5 p.m. on deadline.]

Here’s where you need to know that the application review period is lengthy, and you’ll need to allow time to be approved and allowed to sit for the exam. You’ll likely check your email every day periodically to see if you’ve been approved. Give it time, you’ll be notified.

Step 7: Mark your calendar. The CAE Exam is given on the first Friday in May and the first Friday in December. [Reality: Countdown until this day arrives and the exam is over.]

This will be a day of excitement, nerves, and most importantly, celebration! Because regardless of whether you pass the exam or not, you’ll enjoy that this is behind you, and you can return to your regularly scheduled life. Good luck!

Note: This is the second of a two-part blog on preparing for the CAE exam. Read the first one here.

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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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