The right hand
Managers, executives, and virtually everyone in an office rely on administrative assistants to keep operations under control. Responsibilities of office assistants include scheduling appointments, acting as liaisons between executives or an entire company and clients, organizing and maintaining databases, and making social and travel arrangements. Administrative assistants also must handle clerical duties like faxing, copying, and answering phones, although depending on the size of the office, this may be left to a lower-level secretary. But while administrative assistants, also called executive assistants, perform clerical tasks, their essential function is to serve as an executive's "right hand"--a trusty employee ready to fill in and add value wherever necessary. This function often means conducting research, preparing reports, writing speeches, and answering correspondence.
Some administrative assistants do highly specialized work. Legal secretaries, for example, prepare legal papers such as summonses, complaints, motions, and subpoenas under the attorney's supervision. They may also review legal journals and write reports for the attorney's edification. Medical assistants assist physicians with reports, speeches, articles, and conference proceedings, as well as recording medical histories, making patient appointments, and ordering supplies. And virtually all office assistants must be proficient in office software such as Microsoft Word and Excel, database programs like ACT, and financial software like Quicken. Ever-evolving software applications require that administrative assistants be efficient, skilled and open to change.
Administrative careers lend themselves to flexible hours and special arrangements, such as telecommuting and part-time work. Job-sharing arrangements, in which two people divide responsibility for a single job, have also become more popular.
Not all administrative assistants are lifers--many view their positions as prime opportunities to learn a business or to advance to positions with more responsibility in a company, especially in hard-to-crack industries like publishing and high tech.
As office automation continues to evolve, retraining and continuing education remains an integral part of administrative jobs. Continuing changes in the office environment have increased the demand for administrative assistants who are adaptable and versatile. Testing and certification for entry-level office skills is available through the Office Proficiency Assessment and Certification program offered by Professional Secretaries International (PSI). Qualified administrators who broaden their knowledge of the company's operations and enhance their skills may be promoted to executive assistant or office manager. Administrators with word processing experience can advance to positions as word processing trainers, supervisors, or managers within their own firms. Their experience in administration can lead to jobs as software instructors or paralegals.
Breaking in to the profession is not difficult, although starting out as an administrative assistant is unlikely, as many of the skills required are gained only through experience. As offices consolidate responsibilities, administrative assistants find themselves acquiring skills that might lead to a better job outside of their current company, where they may be overlooked for a promotion.
Wide variety of career optionsPromotion potential
Bosses can be difficult;Sometimes uninspiring work
Average about 40 per week
Salary range for administrative assistants: $23,000 to $50,000;Average salary is $33,250;Average salary for office managers: $41,400;Top-level executive assistants can earn $100,000+
High school diploma;Typing;Proficiency with office software
One administrative assistant describes the position as "the boss's confidant, office manager, supply and equipment purchasing manager, 'jack of all trades', and master of office mysteries." While communication is "the most important tool in your portfolio" as an administrative assistant, you must at the same time maintain an "air of confidentiality" and, depending on whom you work for, you "may have to retain a great deal of information without speaking of it to anyone."
Many administrators enjoy the challenge of "being able to keep all the balls bouncing in the air and still get everything done at ground level." However, this position at the front lines of office activity means that assistants occasionally deal with the pressure of "being assigned something today and handing it yesterday." Also, our contacts say they are often expected to "know everything or at least know where to find the answers to everything." And the job can be thankless; assistants must be ready to correct problems without expecting "a pat on the back." Other downers include "problem people, cliques, gossips, and backstabbers," although most assistants go into the job with the knowledge that office politics can be brutal.
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