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What Are the Duties of Administrative Staff?

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Administrative staff never get the glory or fame, but without them, workplaces are doomed to inefficiency and stagnation. Quality administrators make the difference in how effectively others do their jobs. They provide support and confront the endless stream of behind-the-scenes tasks that make any company function.

What's an Administrative Assistant?

Administrative assistants fill a variety of roles in office settings. Their jobs can wade into the personal assistant category if they’re dedicated to one executive or they can be the key to a successful, buzzing small office where they alone handle calls, paperwork and other tasks in support of the whole workforce.

Most administrative assistant jobs entail handling email, fielding phone calls or placing calls to clients and other staff, wrangling paperwork and managing filing systems. Often, they’ll be involved in onboarding new employees. They may manage timelines for the office or senior executives, make appointments and keep on top of calendars. They'll often deal with regularly scheduled maintenance appointments, such as ensuring the water company comes to clean out the water cooler, and other routine chores.

The finite details of an administrative assistant depend on the company and the people they work for. If they’re working in an accounting office, they may need working knowledge of accounting procedures. If they’re in a television post-production company, they’ll need to know film and TV production lingo. For an advertising company, they’ll have to have basic knowledge of ad buys and dealing with creatives and clients.

Administrative assistant jobs can be a great way to get an overview of what a company does, and it’s possible to work one’s way up into other jobs or get a feel for what roles are best suited for them. On the other hand, there are career administrative assistants who love the varied offerings and quick pace the job brings to their days.

What Are Administrative Assistants' Tasks?

It’s possible to get a great administrative assistant job with just a high school degree, but some college helps, especially for jobs under executives. More important are job-specific skills, such as having good communication both in writing and while speaking since so much emailing and phone handling is involved. Often, admins have to have good tact and diplomacy, as they’ll need to deal with irate customers or be the neutral party between staff at their office. But all their communication skills will be moot if they're not good listeners with a head for details.

Computer skills are a must, including knowing how to use programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook. Data entry may be a required task, and being able to quickly master any programs the company uses, such as database management or team collaboration apps, will help an admin succeed in their role.

Understanding all aspects of mailing will usually be required and can entail knowing one’s way around USPS for handling day-to-day mail and working postage machines but also knowing courier systems like FedEx, UPS and even how to summon local bike couriers.

The less glorious administrative duties involve keeping the office well stocked with supplies. From paper to printer ink and pens, these things are the supply backbone of an office functioning well, and it’s the admin assistant’s domain. So too is handling the maintenance and upkeep of office equipment like copiers, computers and more. They won’t necessarily need to fix these things, but a little problem-solving goes far, and the rest of the time they can call the IT department or reach out to repair people.

What Qualities Does Administrative Staff Need?

Having a professional demeanor and appearance that meshes with the company’s image goes a long way in this job because administrative assistants are often the “front face” of a company or the first impression one gets of an executive as they’re working those desks.

Being organized is critical. Managing all those schedules, returning calls, issuing memos, updating spreadsheets, maintaining the filing system – these all require good organizational skills and the ability to stay on top of many things on an ongoing basis. Related, of course, are time management skills because deadlines are a constant, and if a contract is sent out too late or a call isn’t returned promptly, it can cause invaluable business deals to collapse.

Being great at teamwork is critical, as that’s what support staffing roles are all about, but so is working alone. Staying on top of projects and being a self-starter is essential, and doing so in a busy environment with constant interruptions is mandatory. Days are filled with calls, people needing help and pop-up tasks requiring immediate solutions, but there are still the ongoing projects that all need completion, too, and the admin staff needs to excel at both.

What Skill Sets are Valuable?

Beyond the standard day-to-day skills needed for a successful career in administrative support work, there are many other skills that can separate one from the pack and give them an edge on higher-paying, more-elusive admin jobs.

Being bilingual or multi-lingual is a fantastic skill to have. Knowing Spanish, German, Chinese, Indian or other languages common in national or international business can make an administrator extremely valuable, and these roles often pay higher too.

Some other potentially valuable skills include knowing social media, having basics in accounting, being skilled in writing reports and analyzing data and having some working understanding of legalities and contracts.

Ultimately, administrative assistants should seek jobs in career areas of interest to them. Someone who loves law should be working in a law office because they’ll need to learn a little about the profession to perform effectively there. Likewise, a person who dislikes medicine shouldn’t aspire to work in a doctor’s office. The more one knows about the business conducted at the workplace, the more valuable they become as an assistant and the higher their chances will be of being promoted.

What Do Administrative Assistants Earn?

Administrative assistant jobs vary tremendously and compensation increases depending on the scope of their job responsibilities, their experience and the seniority of those they assist. So, an admin assistant for a small office will earn less than one for a high-earning, fast-paced division of an advertising house, and they'll both earn less than an executive administrative staffer working exclusively for a CEO.

According to, when averaging out the wages offered in job listings for October 2018, entry-level admin assistants received $13.05 per hour or approximately $28,000 annually. On the other hand, reports that an experienced junior administrative assistant earns, on average, $40,588, as of September 2018. The same site reports the average salary for a CEO’s administrative assistant as $77,913, but top-range salaries including benefits packages went as high as $95,219.

The Future for Administrative Assistants

Technology is changing rapidly, making our lives more productive, organized and fast-paced than ever. One might think this threatens administrative assistant jobs of the future, but that’s not the case. In fact, in some ways, it’s giving them even more opportunities.

Today, “virtual assistants” are a rising career. The ability to work remotely and be in contact by phone and video with their employers makes it possible for assistants to work for people around the world. This is a growing career opportunity for those who want to work from home or abroad. Some VAs work for companies directly, some are employed by third parties and many are now self-employed and working part time for two or more employers a week. To be a successful VA requires even more self-starting and diligence because working remotely means needing to stay motived on one’s own.

In traditional offices, too, administrative assistants have nothing to fear – their jobs will continue to be key to any workplace’s success. What may change is the level of computer proficiency they’re expected to have as automation and digital reliance continue increasing, so those staying up on trends and technologies will have an advantage over their peers.


Steffani Cameron is a nomad, writer, photographer, from Vancouver, Canada, who is slow-travelling the world for five years. Her work has appeared in Washington Post, Vox Media, Kitchn, About, and more.

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