by Kriss Sweeney
Being a notary is a very interesting profession. I get questions about my job everyday. One of the most unique aspects of being a notary is that you can perform notarizations with little to no training. In most states you can become a notary and are not required to take a test or otherwise show that you know a single thing about notarizing.
This is scary and I don’t advise going this route. I find that most notaries tend to be a diligent and knowledge seeking group, so they want to learn. Plus, no one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing in front of clients.
So what should you do? Should you become a notary and learn later or as-you-go, or should you take some of the many courses available before even dipping your toe in the water? Like with most things, my best answer is, “it’s a bit of both”.
Get commissioned as a notary first
My recommendation to anyone becoming a notary is to get commissioned before doing any training. This way you are a notary and have all that paperwork and sometimes long wait periods out of the way. Some training courses actually require you to show that you are a notary before you can enroll, so it’s best to just have that part done.
Just because you are a notary doesn’t mean you need to be notarizing from the onset. All states have some form of resource for notaries through their Secretary of State (where notary commissions are issued and managed). This can range from a detailed handbook, to a couple pages of information published on their website. Regardless of what your state offers, you should be very familiar with this information and state laws as they apply to notarizing. Some states have classes, handbooks, and tests (California) and other states just require a simple application (Virginia). Every state is different, but the bottom line is that you want to take full advantage of everything they offer from the start.
Understand notary basics
Before putting your notary skills into practice, you must have a base knowledge. You must know what is an acceptable form of ID in your state. You must also know how to perform basic notarizations such as an acknowledgement or jurat. These are basic things, and you owe it to yourself and the public to know what you’re doing before providing a notary service.
Seek outside notary training
So now you’re a commissioned notary in your state and you have a base knowledge of performing simple notarial acts. If you feel like you don’t have this basic information locked down, you should seek outside sources. A good place to start is the NNA (National Notary Association). They have training courses and helpful materials when you are first getting started. Of course, with any profession, studying can only give you so much knowledge. There will come a time when you need to put that knowledge into practical application to see how you perform. Before working with real life documents (and real life clients), do some practice sessions. This is what family and friends are for! Use them and do mock signings from start to finish until you feel confident.
Learn from experience
Once you start performing actual notarizations, you will quickly realize that nothing beats experience. The skills you acquired while studying the legal and technical aspects of notarial acts must be put into practice. This real-life experience will show you very quickly where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Are you excellent with clients, but forget to fill out your journal properly? Do you make the same mistake over and over?
Take this time to understand where you need improvement and work on it. With time, you will improve on your weaknesses, and also find your greatest strengths. Personally, my strengths are efficiency and client relatability. Over time, I have been able to find a system that makes the signing process as smooth as possible without having my clients feel rushed. A simple and brief explanation of documents is usually all that will be required (if that), and people will appreciate getting through their signing quickly. Besides verifying the identity of the signer, a notary’s job really focuses on customer service. Being able to use your skills and adapt to the client’s needs is SO important.
Keep in mind that not every client wants a quick signing, some are meticulous and want to be very thorough with their documents. You must be patient and respectful of whatever your client requires. You are there for them after all. This is a key factor of what separates successful notaries from those who fail.
Never stop learning
When it comes down to it, I have found that the best way to become a knowledgeable and successful notary is to use a combination of learning and real-life application. As you go down this path and evolve as a successful notary, always make sure to keep current with new laws, regulations, and the latest technology. Never stop learning and remain open to continuing education throughout your career. Being a notary is so much more than the simple stamp we give. Being a notary comes with great responsibility.
P.S. For future Notary Signing Agents
Please note that this is in reference to basic notary work. If you wish to become a Notary Signing Agent who handles loan and mortgage documents, you will absolutely need to seek training. Again, the NNA is an excellent resource. And there are many courses out there specifically for those who wish to handle these types of documents. One course I have received positive feedback on is called “Sign & Thrive” by Notary Coach. If you want to make a living as a notary, it will be challenging if you only do basic notary work, so becoming an NSA is expected.