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Successful Strategies from AEM®/CEM® Candidates, Part 1

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By Brian V. Bovyn, CEM, Emergency Services Supervisor, Manchester, New Hampshire Police Department

As a result of a recent IAEM survey, a number of responders wanted to see feedback and strategies from candidates who have successfully navigated the CEM process and achieved their CEM. In the first part of a two-part series on success strategies, we hear from Marcia Nickle, CEM, of the University of Delaware. The story below is Marcia’s strategy for success in pursuing her CEM.

Marcia’s Strategy in Her Own Words

I read about the CEM process in IAEM’s CEM Corner portion of their website and was, understandably, overwhelmed by the process. That is why I can relate to all of you if you are equally as overwhelmed. I am going to share my formula for a successful CEM application with you.

Tackle the Process in Steps

The way I tackled the process was in four basic steps.

  • Step 1: Study and Take the Exam. When colleagues ask me what it was like to take the exam, I tell them it was pretty straightforward, because it is. If you have worked in emergency management for any length of time, most likely you can pass the exam. I found the sample exam within the CEM Study Guide to be very helpful.
  • Step 2: Gather Training Information and Professional Contributions. Once you have passed the exam, you have one year to submit your package. It seems like a long time, but you might need it to put together your credentials. I chose to dig into the training and professional contributions first, since I figured it would take the most time. I called previous training agencies and vendors and requested agendas, syllabi and other proof of training content. Be prepared to contact people more than once. This information is vital to your completed application.
    • If you have more than 25 hours in one area and cannot complete the 100 hours, look to take some online courses, see what courses your employer is offering, or contact your state emergency management office.
    • Professional contributions to the field can take the longest to compile. If you don’t have six right off the bat, don’t be afraid to reach out to local non-profits to see if you can volunteer, take on a leadership role or plan an event. Attending a conference, writing a letter to an elected official and speaking engagements are, for most emergency managers, the easiest ones to complete in a short period of time.
  • Step 3: Gather Relevant Work Information, References and Transcripts. Requesting a college transcript is important, and should be the easiest of these three items. Relevant work information, including participation in an actual disaster response or a full-scale exercise, is crucial. You must have at least three years experience in emergency management. This can be over the course of multiple positions or multiple employers, but it must be three years. When writing up the disaster or exercise event, include information from the actual event, such as sign-in sheets, articles, after action reports or attendee lists. When choosing your references, as the old saying goes, choose wisely. You must pick your current supervisor as one of the choices. I chose to pick a former supervisor as well as a colleague that I had worked with on numerous disaster responses, figuring that they could really give the CEM Commission a true, comprehensive picture of me as an emergency manager.
  • Step 4: Write the Essay. I have to admit, this was the hardest step for me. I left the essay until last, because I wanted all the other information I was gathering to inspire me. My first attempt, while witty and interesting, proved to be less than adequate. I was asked to rewrite my essay and resubmit it. After I revised my essay, I was successful. Here are a few tips:
    • Don’t be focused on a “theme” with your essay. The Commissioners just want to see that you have the necessary information in the body of work.
    • Use subtitles and underlining to delineate the areas of the essay that you are capturing. This helps the Commissioners make sure you are capturing all the information that was asked of you.
    • Be concise and to the point.
    • Read and re-read your essay before you hand it in. No spelling, punctuation errors or run-on sentences should be present. It should flow nicely and have a clear introduction, middle and conclusion.

What If You’re Asked to Submit Additional Information?

It is okay if you are asked to submit additional information or, like me, asked to rewrite your essay. Remember, you only have to send in the information requested by the CEM Commission in your resubmission. If asked to resubmit, you have 90 days to do so. If you have questions about your resubmission, email or call the CEM Commissioner who sent your letter. Include any and all written communication with that Commissioner in your packet (emails, letters, etc.).

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to others who have completed their CEM. Have them read your essay and give you feedback. Ask them questions. Use them as resources. We have all been in your shoes and want to help your experience be as rewarding as possible.

IAEM Bulletin, November 2010

AEM® and CEM® are registered trademarks of the International Association of Emergency Managers.

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