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Achieving the CAE: Covid-19 Edition

Author: Kailah Schmitz, CAE

Kailah Schmitz, Certified Association Executive.

Those three words following my name have been a goal of mine since the very start of my career in association management and I knew exactly what the accomplishment stood for. The Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential is the marker of a committed association professional who has demonstrated the wide range of knowledge essential to manage an association in today’s challenging environment.

Since my start in association management just over five years ago, I have been groomed, prepped and forewarned of what passing the CAE exam would take. Hearing things from my colleagues like, “choose the best, right answer” and “hardest test they’ve ever taken” muttered at each work anniversary propelled me closer to fulfilling the requirements to apply.

Speaking of requirements, to apply for the examination to become Certified Association Executive (CAE), one must have:

  • Five years of experience as an employee at the staff level or one year employed as a chief staff executive or C-suite-level executive at a qualifying organization
  • A bachelor's degree or higher
  • Complete 100 hours of broad-based, association management-related professional development
  • Commit to upholding the ASAE Standards of Conduct

These are all things that I had known and prepared for. In January 2020, I took the leap and applied to take the exam in May, just five months later.

My application was quickly approved, and I joined a local CAE study group, all things going according to plan, until Covid-19 hit. My once carefully planned career achievement blew up in front of my face. I went from structured study time at the office to working from home with two toddlers.

Here are a few things I took away from studying for the CAE during Covid-19:

  1. Join a study group – this is a must. For accountability, for comradery, shared experience and sanity.
  2. Utilize practice tests – What I found to be one of the most useful tools in preparing the exam was learning what kind of questions would be asked. As my colleagues had forewarned, ASAE is looking for the best, right answer. Meaning that many, if not all of the answers were right to some degree, but there was one that was the was most right. This type of study not only tested my skills in process of elimination, but to find the answer that ASAE was looking for, not one necessarily based on experience. A wise piece of advice that was shared with me is to frame your answer as if you are the CSE of a large national association.
  3. Scan, plan, implement, evaluate – At the beginning of the reading of the ASAE Handbook of Professional Practices of Association Management there is mention of these four terms. There are several questions on the test that will ask the appropriate process of handling a situation that you could face as a CSE. Use these terms as a guide. When in doubt, always survey the members.
  4. Go easy on yourself – This is not an easy process, especially during this uncertain time. This journey is your own and therefore needs to fit your life and workload. If your life is anything like mine, trying to follow reading assignments and study guides to a set schedule only set me up for failure. Go easy on yourself and create your own path.
  5. The test is now online – This may seem like a small change but prepare yourself to alter test taking from a Scranton sheet to a computer screen.
  6. The wait for results – Even with the test moving to online, the wait of 6-8 weeks remains. I received my results by mail exactly eight weeks (56 very long days) after my exam date.
  7. Celebrate – Make sure that you celebrate your achievement! Taking the test is an achievement of its own. I have found that those who have gone through this process themselves understand the most. Whether it is virtual or in-person, you’ve earned a celebration of your achievement.

As association management professionals we pride ourselves on our ability to change and handle unexpected situations. Covid-19 has tested our ability to handle crisis and alter our norm to face new challenges, the CAE exam included.

Achieving the CAE: Covid-19 Edition