You don't necessarily have to know anything about the Microsoft Office suite to be a desktop or IT administrator, but for enterprises that want specialists versed in Excel or Word, Microsoft has certifications tailored to fit their needs.
The number of people holding the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification has grown by 200% since the company began offering it in 1997. There are currently 1.4 million certificate holders, up from 1 million last year.
IT professionals with this certification can earn about 12% more than uncertified individuals, according an informal survey by Accountemps, a division of Robert Half International that specializes in accounting and temporary staffing for the financial industry. Administrative support provided through Robert Half International's OfficeTeam division can earn about 10% more than uncertified employees, that study also found.
"This market is strong, and employers are looking for items that differentiate candidates," said Sally Hernandez, a branch manager at Robert Half's offices in Sacramento, Calif. "We offer it up [as information] to employers, because it makes our candidates more marketable."
Experts who follow Microsoft's certification program say the designation has value, particularly since Office is the de facto standard in productivity software. "It makes it easier to hire from a temp agency," said Ed Tittel, an independent consultant based in Austin, Texas.
Levels of Office expertise
Microsoft currently offers exams for each Office application that go deep into the features, said Beth Goza, a Microsoft program manager. There are several levels of competency. A user who passes an exam for one application is certified as a MOS expert. If multiple exams are passed, the user can gain a MOS master certification. There is also a MOS master instructor certification, Goza said.
Demand for exams related to a specific Office release usually becomes strong 12 to 18 months after that release, she said. The demand for Word and Excel exams tends to be greatest, so those are offered first.
The exam for the new Word is available now. It highlights Office 2003 features such as integrated collaboration and information and protection controls.
The Excel exam is in public beta and is expected to be available later this year. There should be a staggered rollout of other exams throughout the summer, she said.
Gaining popularity in the enterprise
Most customers who seek MOS certification are from the academic world, but Goza said that Microsoft is seeing increased popularity in the enterprise. Goza said that the Excel exam has had some traction in the financial industry, where a job hunter with Excel expertise can gain an edge over other candidates.
The tests cost $75 each, although students usually need to pay for training to get up to speed on the material before taking one of the tests. The price of that training varies depending on where a course is taught.
Goza said that the MOS certification is intended to provide end users with independent validation of their Office skills. "We're trying to do a better job communicating the value of the information worker," she said. "In IT, certification is a common expectation. In the information worker space, training is valuable."
Microsoft also has a Desktop System Certification, which is targeted at help desk employees and other IT professionals.
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