My name is Stephen McSweeney, and I’m proud to be a Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Certified Master. I’ve worked here at Certiport in various capacities since 2005, and am currently the Vice President of Strategic Accounts. I have long considered myself a digital literacy expert; my background is in educational IT, having taught related courses at university level in my native Ireland, as well as worked in the assessment and certification industry for almost 15 years now. So, other than hanging something on my wall, what possible value could I expect from taking an Office certification? I used to think the answer was “none”, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
I have a lot of experience with Microsoft products, all the way back to Windows 3.1 and Office 4. This experience was one of many factors that influenced me to join the team at Certiport, and I quickly moved into roles where developing these exams became my responsibility.
In a similar manner to that classic tourism conundrum where many of us never go to visit our local tourist attractions, in my first few years at Certiport, I never actually formally took the certification exams for MOS. My reasons were manifold; I managed the team that developed the exams, I was too busy, I couldn’t see the value, I was scared I might fail, etc. However, given my position and my increasing role in promoting the products as an executive, I eventually began to feel more and more pressure to actually take an exam.
When I eventually did so, it was a true revelation. I took the Excel certification first, which was the one I expected to pass with the least trouble. Thankfully I avoided the ridicule of my team by posting a decent score and gaining my certification without any real trouble, but I learned something fascinating about myself and my skills. Firstly, while there was much I clearly did know about Excel, in the 50 minutes it took to complete the exam I learned of several features I never even knew existed. Some of these features I use extensively today, and this experience has been the same with other certifications too. In Outlook I learned about advanced task management, much to the chagrin of my team and their deadlines. In Word, I learned about advanced reviewing and collaboration techniques, and so on. These additional skills have made me significantly more productive at work, and I would likely never have uncovered them had I not taken the certification exam, even though I was already quite the expert. The point here is this: modern productivity applications such as Office are so complex and feature rich that nobody can reasonably expect to know everything about them. However, the process of creating a certification exam is designed specifically to highlight and test the more important and useful features.
Nowadays, when I interview people looking for a job here as part of the Certiport team, I always ask them to rate their competency in Word and Excel on a scale of one to ten, and after the interview I have them take the certification exams. Almost invariably, the ones that rate themselves the highest fail the exam.
When Microsoft releases a new version of Office, I am now always first in line to take the related certifications – it allows me to learn what’s new, and to keep my skills current with what the industry as a whole considers to be the benchmark for excellence. These are skills that you truly can benefit from in almost all job roles these days. So I challenge you: unleash your potential, get certified today.