Growth Trends for Related Jobs
In the past, a secretary was often considered among the lowest on the company totem pole. Times have changed, though, and the role of secretary has become the administrative assistant, the person who is often the lynchpin to the functioning of an entire organization. Whether they work for a single executive, multiple managers or the entire organization, an assistant’s handling of administrative duties allows everyone else to spend more time on strategic priorities and growing the business, secure in the knowledge that the details are under control.
Administrative Duties Overview
In the most general sense, administrative duties are the tasks and activities that are part of the daily operations of a business. They include answering calls, taking messages, managing correspondence, ordering supplies, and keeping the shared office areas organized and functional. Duties also may include creating reports, inputting and managing data, managing files, basic bookkeeping and other financial tasks. Many of these duties are managed by administrative assistants, whose job it is to help an individual or team by taking on some or all of their clerical tasks, but many entry and midlevel positions also include a fair amount of administrative work. For example, administrative assistants may be responsible for updating their own work in a project management system or responding to emails. The bulk of most administrative duties is clerical and often boils down to managing and distributing information.
Knowing how to technology is one of the most important aspects of administrative duties. This includes using tools such as computers, fax machines, copiers, scanners, telephones and other office equipment. Using common computer software programs including word processing, spreadsheet, database and desktop publishing software is generally required for most administrative work. The ability to troubleshoot problems with shared equipment is also part of many administrative job descriptions. It’s not unusual, for example, for administrative professionals to be called upon to clear paper jams or change the toner in printers and photocopiers.
In some businesses, administrative assistants are also expected to know how to use scheduling and project management software. Those who work directly for executives are usually called upon to manage their boss’s calendar, and department administrative assistants are called upon to schedule meetings, keep track of vacation and sick days, and generally know where people are and what they are doing.
Another important administrative duty involves communication. Administrative assistants are often called upon to communicate, both in writing and verbally. They may be asked to write memos, correspond with colleagues or customers using email, update company handbooks or websites or edit and proofread others’ work. Assistants are also usually responsible for answering the phone, making calls on behalf of their boss and interacting with visitors. Therefore, a successful administrative assistant should have excellent communication skills and be able to write and speak clearly and professionally. A solid grasp of spelling, grammar and the standards of professional written communication is important because an assistant represents his or her boss.
Bookkeeping and Purchasing
Keeping track of expenses is important in any business, and that task often falls to an administrative assistant, who might be called upon to enter expenses into a spreadsheet or bookkeeping program, collect and verify expense reports from employees, and manage reimbursements. In a small business, an administrative assistant might also handle accounts receivable, sending out bills and processing payments, and handling deposits for the company. Administrative professionals are also sometimes in charge of petty cash, keeping track of expenses and adding funds when necessary. Other duties in this realm might include analyzing expenses, assisting with budgeting and handling vendor disputes.
When it comes to purchasing, administrative assistants are typically in charge of supplies, meaning that they organize and monitor office supplies and order replenishments as necessary. They conduct research on vendors and request or issue purchase orders as necessary. In some cases, administrative assistants may also be in charge of tracking and managing licensing for software or subscriptions, ensuring that they are paid promptly and used properly.
Research and Planning
Many administrative professionals are called upon to manage research projects and compile information. It might be as simple as looking for a phone number or address, or a more complex project might involve looking up customer information, cross-referencing details, and creating elaborate spreadsheets or reports. These projects typically require working within tight deadlines and presenting information.
In many cases, administrative duties also include planning. From weekly staff meetings to major events, administrative assistants are called upon to take care of details. You might be responsible for booking a conference room for a meeting or managing room reservations for the entire building or floor, ordering refreshments, and making sure that all tech equipment is ready and working when the meeting starts. Travel planning is another big responsibility. If the company doesn’t have a travel department, the administrative assistant may be the person who researches and books flights and hotels, makes dining reservations and takes care of other details, such as conference registrations.
In specific industries, administrative professionals are called upon to handle tasks that require specialized knowledge or skills. For example, the legal and medical administrative assistants often need to complete tasks that require an understanding of industry terminology and procedures. Legal secretaries may be called upon to complete and file paperwork for legal documents, such as subpoenas, appeals or claims, which requires a basic level of legal knowledge and understanding. An understanding of the court system and procedures is also important for these administrative assistants, as is knowing how to conduct legal research.
Duties in a human resources department focus on employment issues and may include scheduling interviews, processing background checks and performing the initial review of applications to ensure they are complete. Someone in this capacity will most likely be required to have an understanding of and experience in human resources and employment law. Essentially, the specific field and department that an administrative assistant works in will be the determining factor in the specific duties, with some fields requiring more experience and knowledge than others.
Administrative Assistant Qualifications
While most jobs include at least some administrative duties, most are handled by administrative assistants. There are opportunities in almost every industry, and most entry-level positions are open to individuals with a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some employers prefer to hire administrative assistants or secretaries with a bachelor’s degree or experience in the field. Certain fields, like law and medicine, typically require assistants to have additional education relevant to the field.
Regardless of the level of education, most employers look for administrative assistants who have experience and skills in clerical work, including word processing, spreadsheets and database management. Typically, employers require assistants to have skills in Microsoft Office products. Some community colleges, temporary agencies, and adult education programs offer certificate programs in office management, which can give you an advantage when you are looking for a job. Most employers also provide on-the-job training to help assistants come up to speed and be familiar with their specific tasks.
Beyond clerical skills, employers want to hire individuals who have excellent communication skills (both written and verbal), organizational skills, decision-making and problem-solving abilities, and interpersonal skills. Professionalism is also a must, as is the ability to multitask and prioritize. Because so many employers deal with sensitive information and are often bound by federal regulations, discretion and the ability to maintain confidentiality are also important qualities.
Pay and Employment Outlook
The average pay for an administrative assistant varies considerably, with entry-level assistants at the lower end of the spectrum earning salaries in the low-to-mid $20s, and the highest paid executive assistants earning close to six figures. PayScale.com reports that administrative assistants earn a median salary of $38,736, a figure that is closely mirrored by Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, which puts the median salary at $37,870, the point at which half of administrative assistants earn more, and half earn less. The BLS reports that the highest paid assistants earn more than $62,000 per year, and that amount jumps to $85,000 for executive secretaries. Pay increases with years of experience, with those who have the most experience earning the most.
Unfortunately, the BLS also projects that demand for administrative assistants is likely to decline by 5 percent by 2026, as most positions won’t be new but rather replacements of employees who leave. The development of technology and the shifting of many administrative duties to other employees account for much of the decline. Also, as many organizations streamline operations, assistants are being assigned to more than one manager or department and taking on more responsibilities.
How to Succeed in Your Administrative Duties
Often, amazing administrative assistants are at the top of the list for promotions, especially when they have a college degree and an in-depth understanding of the industry and the business. Taking your job seriously can lead to bigger and better things, so it’s in your best interests to find ways to become indispensable to your boss and co-workers.
One of the best ways to do this is to learn about your boss’s goals and priorities and anticipate his or her needs. Look ahead and have the foresight to prepare for requests or needs before your boss even realizes them. For instance, if your boss attends a certain meeting every week or month, read the minutes from the meeting ahead of time and prepare any documents or reports that your boss is expected to present at the meeting well in advance. If you see that your supervisor is going to be in meetings all day without much of a break, order lunch to be delivered and keep the coffee pot fresh. Remember that it’s your job to make the boss look good, so do what you have to do to present the most professional and competent image.
Keeping up with your industry can also help you be a rock star assistant. Learn the terminology and keep up with trends. This way, you can contribute to conversations and be more accurate in your work. Details matter, so understanding what everyone is talking about will help you avoid costly mistakes. Great assistants are also resourceful and know when to take action and exactly what to do. You cannot run to your boss with every question or issue; your boss expects you to take care of things, which goes back to learning. If you know your organization inside and out, where to find information and the company policies and procedures, you can be more resourceful and solve problems.
Finally, being a great assistant requires exceptional organizational skills. You may be called upon to answer questions, provide status updates, or solve other problems at any given moment, and if you aren’t organized, you can’t do this. The most important administrative duty is to keep all of the plates spinning and being organized is the foundation of that skill.
- Study.com: Duties of an Administrative Assistant
- Study.com: Legal Administrative Assistant: Job Duties and Requirements
- Clearfit: Job Description for an Admin Assistant Position
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
- PayScale.com: Executive Administrative Assistant Salary
- PayScale.com: Administrative Assistant Salary
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.