Steps to Become a CPO
Becoming a Certified Professional Organizer
Are you curious about certification?
Getting certified as a professional organizer is a great way for you to set yourself apart from other organizers. It represents your level of education and experience and signifies your commitment to ongoing education in organizing. In addition, certification ensures potential clients that you abide by the highest ethical standards in the industry.
The professional organizing industry is far-reaching and quickly evolving. In such a diverse industry, it’s important to standardize best practices. Certification does just that for general organizers as well as those with a specific niche.
The certification program is overseen by the Board of Certified Professional Organizers (BCPO). The educational requirements are stringent, but apply to every facet of professional organizing. In addition, certified professional organizers must prove professional experience and pass an exam.
Professional organizers must meet three prerequisites prior to taking the certification exam.
- You must have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a GED.
- You must sign an agreement to abide by the BCPO’s Code of Ethics for Certified Professional Organizers.
- You must provide documentation showing you have 1,500 hours of paid work experience over the three years prior to sitting for the exam.
Paid work experience may include virtual or on-site organizing, coaching, consulting, training, speaking engagements or interactive workshops. Your work experience must transfer, teach or demonstrate your organizing skills through client collaboration.
Out of your total work requirement, 250 hours can include substitution hours such as college and continuing education related to professional organizing. You may also substitute hours for publishing books and authoring articles. Visit the BCPO website for more information.
Candidates aren’t required to submit proof of paid work experience prior to taking the exam, but there is a post-exam audit process to confirm your professional experience and maintain the integrity of the CPO® credential. A randomly selected percentage of candidates will be audited and will be required to submit verification of their regular and substitute hours. It’s a good idea to gather your proof of qualifications prior to taking the certification exam.
Taking the Test
The exam is computer-based and multiple choice. It is given in three annual testing windows. The standard testing fee is $550, but members of certain organizations receive a discount. Members of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD), Professional Organizers in Canada (POC), the Australasian Association of Professional Organizers (AAPO), and the Nederlandse Beroepsevereniging van Professional Organizers (NBPO) enjoy a reduced fee of $375.
There are six weighted areas of information on the exam, all of which a professional organizer pursuing certification should be familiar. Basic foundations of organizing cover 25 percent of the material. Preliminary assessments, action plan development and implementation makes up 20 percent of the exam. Project and plan management comprises another 20 percent each. Post-implementation evaluation, follow-up and maintenance covers 10 percent of the exam. The last five percent tests the candidate on legal and ethical considerations.
If you are interested in preparing for the exam, the BCPO provides a detailed step-by-step delineation of every possible sub-topic the exam may cover, as well as a suggested reading list to help candidates study.
Each term of certification for a CPO® is only three years, during which time she or he will continue their education in professional organizing. After three years, each CPO® will be able to apply for renewal of their certification.
To renew your certification, you must submit an application, promise to adhere to the code of ethics and pay an annual maintenance fee. Along with your application, you must either submit documentation of 45 hours of continuing education over the past three years or retake the certification exam. Attending annual professional organizing conferences is a great way to stay on track with your continuing education hours.
The CPO® designation qualifies all professional organizers—generalists and specialists. If you are a member of NAPO as well as the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), you may pursue a higher level of specialized education and certification.
The NSGCD oversees a program for professional organizers to become a certified professional organizer in chronic disorganization, or CPO-CD®.
There are five levels of certification:
- Basic Certificates of Study (Level 1)
- Specialist Certificates (Level 2)
- Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization (Level 3)
- Training Program Coach (Level 4)
- Master Trainer (Level 5)
At the first level, there is a basic foundation certificate as well as nine specialty certificates. These certifications cover general chronic disorganization and special populations such as students, the elderly and persons with ADD.
At the second level of certification, a professional organizer may choose to become a specialist in chronic disorganization, ADD and/or hoarding.
Once a professional organizer has achieved the first two levels of certification, he or she may begin work toward the CPO-CD® designation.
At the third level, an organizer must be an NSGCD member and currently working with at least one chronically disorganized client. He or she must also have achieved a specialist certificate within the past two years and meet specific class deadlines. The candidate must complete an application, pay the program fee of $2,400 and sign a confidentiality agreement with his or her assigned training program coach.
The time commitment estimated by the NSGCD is more than 150 hours over approximately 18 months. To become a CPO-CD® you must complete the following:
- An initial hour-long orientation as well as 17 hours of telephone sessions with an assigned coach. Four hours must be completed in the first month of participation.
- Completion of the NSGCD’s Certified Professional Required Reading list, a commitment of 30 or more hours.
- Program assignments and written projects including book analyses, case studies and assessments will take about 80 hours to complete.
- Completion of three certificates of study requires 12 or more hours.
- At least 10 hours of volunteer service to the NSGCD.
- About six hours of statistical program and survey paperwork.
- Another three hours of direct service to the CD community.
- A one-hour peer panel review, which requires a fee and an additional application. Each panel includes three to five NSGCD members, of whom at least two are CPO-CDs®.
For more information on the CPO-CD recertification process visit the NSGCD website.
Becoming a certified professional organizer signifies your dedication and passion for the industry. I encourage you to visit the New Professional Organizer’s section where you’ll find resources, products and all the information you need to become a successful professional organizer.
Have you already become certified? Are you currently pursuing certification? I invite you to leave your comments below.