Everyone knows how to use Word, Excel, or PowerPoint — why get certified?
Posted on
November 15, 2018

This feature first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

The cornerstones of Microsoft Office, programs like Word and Excel, are familiar to everyone. Who needs a certification to use them?

Have you ever wondered how to use some of the Microsoft Office command buttons, or even what their purpose is? You’re not alone. Most features of Microsoft Office are simple enough to use but not everyone takes the time or initiative to explore the product beyond their comfort zone. An average user, in fact, is only familiar with around 10 percent of its features!

It’s amazing what a person can accomplish using only that 10 percent. But what if you could do more? The ability to use Microsoft Office is important for both students and office workers. Hiring managers rank using Microsoft Office as their third-most sought-after skill when screening applicants.

There is a big difference, however, between using Microsoft Office they way that most people use it, and knowing how to dig down and really take full advantage of its many features. When I started my first office job, I didn’t really realize how much I didn’t know — and how that would impact my performance.

In-and-out training

One of my first professional assignments was to create a sales report with some analysis of growth and trends. It had been a few years since I had used Excel, but I felt like I was good with numbers, and in a few days finished the report.

When my boss reviewed the report, he called me into his office. He found the numbers to be correct, but couldn’t find the formula I had used. I responded that I didn’t know how to write the correct formula, so I had just used a calculator on each line. Thankfully, he smiled and took the time to show me how I could have finished the report in a few minutes, instead of a few days. I was embarrassed.

My boss told me I needed to become proficient with Excel, and enrolled me in a three-day course at a local training center. At the time, training seemed like the logical answer, but I needed something more. The center covered the objectives and, at the end of the training, our instructor handed us a certificate. It had our names on it, along with a few words of congratulations for completing the training.

I asked the instructor what the certificate was for. He said to give it to my boss so that my boss would know I had completed the course, and didn’t skip out. Oh. Well, OK. Then I said, “But how will he know I learned anything?” Or more to the point, how would I know?

Show me more

The cornerstones of Microsoft Office, programs like Word and Excel, are familiar to everyone. Who needs a certification to use them?

Training wasn’t enough for me. Because of the speed required to push through Excel in just three days, I left my three-day “drinking from the firehose” gauntlet lacking confidence. I didn’t feel that I had mastered enough of the course content to be effective and productive in my new job, and I was right.

It took several more months of asking questions of others around me, as well as doing my own trial-and-error fiddling with things, before I felt comfortable. Looking back at that experience, I can see that there were five key elements missing from my rushed training course that would have helped me be more successful:

  • More time
  • More practice
  • Remediation
  • Confidence-building
  • Testing to verify knowledge and skills

Without proving knowledge and skills, any type of skills-based training can be less effective. Schools rarely hand out participation certificates to students — every grade and degree is earned by completing assignments and passing exams.

When it comes to Microsoft Office, using the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification exams to demonstrate mastery of Office programs and tools is a perfect standard. Schools and businesses can both agree that these exams will verify whether someone has actually gained a working knowledge of Microsoft Office and is prepared to succeed in the workforce.

Does it work?

While it may be a good standard to prove skills, however, students may wonder if employers value the MOS certifications and whether those credentials will help them stand out over other candidates in getting a job. Employers may wonder whether there is any difference in the performance of employees with certifications compared to those who don’t have them.

And it’s fair for both employers and students/job candidates to wonder whether MOS certifications are worth the cost in time and dollars? Let’s run through some common questions:

1) Do employers value candidates who have MOS certifications?

2) Does having MOS certifications help job candidates get hired?

The simple answer is YES. One powerful argument can be found on Certiport’s Microsoft Office Specialist website, where it states that 91 percent of hiring managers consider certification as a criterion for hiring, while 81 percent feel that certified individuals perform better on the job. Certification alone doesn’t guarantee anyone a job, but it certainly helps attract attention — and it definitely demonstrates the level of dedication needed for any individual to both pursue and complete a goal.

3) Do employees who have MOS certifications perform better than those who don’t?

A study reported by Credentio found that 82 percent of MOScertified employees had more confidence in their abilities as a worker, as well as better use of the knowledge and skills gained through certification, often or all of the time.

The same study found that 88 percent of certified employees said the MOS certification made them more effective in their work. Knowing how to use Office features and tools effectively brings confidence to complete assignments and projects, and can save valuable time.

4) Are MOS certifications worth the cost, in time and dollars, of earning them?

Earning any certification requires an investment of time — an average person could spend 30 hours or more learning a single application. And the actual cost of taking the exams can vary. Schools receive a discount, and often include free retakes. Generally speaking, however, no one should pay more than $96 to take one of the exams.

The value of any certification ultimately rests with the learner, and learners have a lot of different reasons for becoming certified. For anyone who wants to stand out from peers, however, or be more productive using Microsoft Office, or be more effective using Microsoft Office, certification will more than likely be worth the investment.

The right training solution

The hard part may be finding and deciding on the right training solution. Putting cost aside for the moment, nearly all training solutions will cover the same skills — the big difference is how the training is put together. For example, how simple is it to use? Does it offer a variety of learning materials? Is there plenty of practice with detailed remediation and feedback?

Perhaps the most important question to consider when selecting a Microsoft Office training option is this: Will the learner enjoy using it?

Of the many possible options, one that works for schools, employers, and individual learners is Desktop Pro Plus from TestOut. Desktop Pro Plus is loaded with features and includes everything a student or an individual learner could ask for to both acquire knowledge of, and become proficient at using, Microsoft Office applications.

Desktop Pro Plus includes instructional videos, progressive training labs that build on one another, practice tests for the MOS certification exams, and even TestOut’s own Pro certification. Among the many bells and whistles that make Desktop Pro Plus unique, however, perhaps the most important feature is the challenge lab.

The lab helps you drill on knowledge and practice your skills. Content changes each time the lab is started, which keeps the learner from memorizing questions. The lab is timed, and tracks both accuracy and efficiency. As the learner attempts the lab over and over again, they should see their score, confidence, and long-term proficiency improve.

The cornerstones of Microsoft Office, programs like Word and Excel, are familiar to everyone. Who needs a certification to use them?

There are hints available throughout the lab, if you become befuddled. So if you get stuck in the middle, there are tools in place to help you fight through to the end. In order to pass the lab, you will need to complete all tasks correctly without using hints. That’s the essence of learning: You try things over again until they become second nature.

Honestly, this is exactly what I needed many years ago when I was learning Excel. It would have made a huge difference in the first several months of that first job. Is the MOS certification worth it? If a student or job candidate is looking to stand out, save time, be more productive and effective in their work, and be more confident in using Microsoft Office applications, then the answer is yes.

About the Author

Jeff Randall is a product manager at TestOut and has worked in the certification industry for several years.

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