My CAE Journey

2016-3-15 My CAE Journey
Image Credit: Ian Schneider

Whitney Thweatt, CAE, account manager

Last summer, IMI president and owner Linda Owens shared the news that she had passed the CAE exam and earned her credentials. She strongly encouraged the IMI staff to consider pursuing the certification as well. I’ve never been one to turn down a challenge.

Given the high student success rate, I signed up for the Michigan Society of Association Executive’s CAE online preparation course. I purchased their recommended books, study materials and flash cards, and stocked up on new notepads and pens. I was excited; I hadn’t experienced “back to school” in years!

That excitement didn’t last long.

For several months, association management became my life. Each morning before work, I spent two hours reading, studying my notes, listening to podcasts and call recordings, and taking practice tests. I met with fellow students each week to review the course material and discuss scenarios. We talked about situations I had never even considered during my ten years in association management, much less encountered.

I had to relearn how to study. When attending continuing education sessions and webinars, I listened for new knowledge and ideas that are applicable to the association I work with, however you don’t have that luxury when studying for the CAE exam. You have to be knowledgeable about all aspects of association management, including those you aren’t responsible for in your position. When I ran across a new idea that could benefit my association, I jotted it down, then promptly forgot about it and returned to my reading.

I highly recommend participating in a formal study course. The reading list and weekly calls kept me accountable and discussion with peers helped me to internalize the information rather than just memorize.

On exam day, I was a nervous wreck, but at the same time I knew I was as prepared as possible.

The hardest part? Waiting to get the results. As the two month time frame approached, my anxiety started to build as I stalked the mail man. Opening that letter and seeing that I had passed gave me a complete sense of accomplishment.  All that time and effort (and a grey hair or two?) was worth it!

My journey towards earning the CAE designation has provided me a wealth of knowledge about association management and best practices. Earning the CAE has increased my confidence in my leadership skills and has enhanced the value that IMI Association Executives, Inc. provides to our clients.

I strongly encourage other association professionals to consider the CAE program. My only regret is not pursuing it earlier. Studying for the CAE made me realize there is still much to learn about the profession, even with ten+ years of experience.

Now that the exam is behind me, I can finally review my notes and all the ideas I generated during my reading.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

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