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Secretary Career, Job Description and Employment Information

Secretary Career and Job Highlights

  • The growth of general employment of secretaries and administrative assistants will slow due to increasing office automation and organizational restructuring.
  • Workers leave this huge occupation each year; and as a result, several job openings will rise.
  • Individuals with extensive knowledge about software programs will have superior job opportunities.

Secretary Career Overview

The position of the office professional has greatly developed as technology continues to be relied upon in most offices throughout the country. A wide range of duties that were once given to managerial and professional staff are now delegated to secretaries and administrative assistants due to office automation and organizational restructuring. Currently several secretaries and administrative assistants train and inform new staff, perform Internet research, and use and troubleshoot the latest technology in offices. In spite of these recent changes, their usual and fundamental responsibilities have stayed constant—conducting and organizing an office’s administrative duties and events, as well as receiving and handling information for distribution to staff and clients.

Secretaries’ and administrative assistants’ responsibilities include various administrative and clerical duties needed to run a company efficiently and smoothly. Some duties include: serving as an office information manager, arranging and scheduling meetings or appointments, organizing and preserving paper and computer files, managing projects, handling travel arrangements, performing research, and distributing information through the use of telephones, mail, and e-mail.

Many machines—facsimile machines, photocopiers, and telephone systems—are used by secretaries and administrative assistants to aid them in these tasks. Additionally, secretaries and administrative assistants work on personal computers to develop spreadsheets; write correspondence; supervise databases; and produce presentations, reports, and documents as they use desktop publishing software and computer graphics. All of these tasks were previously performed by managers and professionals. Concurrently, these other office workers have taken the responsibility for several tasks traditionally left to secretaries and administrative assistants, such as typing and answering phones. Secretaries and administrative assistants have the time to help out members of the executive staff, now that they aren't usually required to dictate and type. In numerous companies, secretaries and administrative assistants work cooperatively with each other in order to work be flexible and helpful to one another.

Different levels of experience and job titles will carry different responsibilities. For example, Executive secretaries and administrative assistants maintain a small amount of clerical tasks as opposed to other positions. Their tasks include basic organizing of conference calls and scheduling of meetings as well as more complex responsibilities such as performing research, planning statistical reports, teaching employees, and directing other clerical staff. A few secretaries and administrative assistants—such as legal and medical secretaries—must have substantial knowledge of technical terminology and procedures in order to carry out highly specialized work. Under the direction of an attorney or paralegal, for instance, legal secretaries organize correspondence and official documents such as summonses, complaints, motions, responses, and subpoenas. Additionally, they may assess legal journals and aid with legal research, such as confirming quotes and credentials in legal briefs. Medical secretaries record dictation, get correspondence ready, and aid physicians or medical scientists with reports, lectures, articles, and seminar proceedings. Medical secretaries may also keep track of basic medical histories, set up patients to be hospitalized, and order materials. The majority of medical secretaries must have good knowledge regarding insurance regulations, billing practices, and hospital or laboratory measures. Other technical secretaries helping engineers or scientists might organize correspondence, keep up the technical library, and search and edit resources used for scientific papers.

In 2002, secretaries and administrative assistants occupied about 4.1 million jobs, standing as one of the biggest jobs in the U.S. workforce. The following table shows the distribution of employment for different secretarial positions.

  • Secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive – $1,975,000
  • Executive secretaries and administrative assistants – $1,526,000
  • Medical secretaries – $339,000
  • Legal secretaries – $264,000

Secretaries and administrative assistants work in all kinds of businesses and organizations. About 90% of secretaries and administrative assistants work in industries providing services, varying from education and healthcare to retail and government. The majority of remaining secretaries are employed by firms associated with manufacturing or construction.

Secretary Training and Job Qualifications

Entry-level positions may only require high school graduates with adequate office skills to fill them. Nevertheless, there is an increase of employers who also require knowledge of computer programs dealing with spreadsheets, word processing, and database management. Secretaries and assistants are expected to be highly capable of typing, and especially proficient in spelling, punctuation, and other English skills. Those looking to hire secretaries notice their good costumer service and interpersonal skills because secretaries and administrative assistants must have tact as they interact with the public. For advanced positions, additional qualities are needed including good judgment, managerial or organizing abilities, inventiveness, and the capability to work independently.

Continuing education and training remain essential to secretaries as office automation persists to develop. Secretaries and administrative assistants who are adaptable and flexible are necessary for changing offices. These positions might be required to enroll in courses or online programs so they may keep up with the ever-evolving office technologies, such as programs that store information, scanners, the Web, or novel up-to-date software packages. They could additionally aid in the maintenance and acquiring of new equipment.

Secretaries and administrative assistants learn office skills through a variety of ways. One may receive training through a high school vocational promoting fundamental office skills and typing or, more specifically, through business schools, vocational-technical institutes, and community colleges who offer 1- and 2-year programs in office administration. Formal training in office and computer skills may also be obtained by temp agencies. Nevertheless, several needed skills are usually taught on the job or through computer support or vendors. For individuals preparing to become medical or legal secretaries or administrative technology specialists, focused training programs are available. As business progresses worldwide, bachelor’s degrees and professional certifications are becoming more and more critical.

Organizations such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals; NALS, Inc.; and Legal Secretaries International, Inc. offer analysis and certification for aptitude in entry-level office skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants can earn numerous varying designations as they gain experience. After a certain amount of experience and/or education requirements are achieved and an examination is passed, secretaries and administrative assistants can reach prominent designations which include the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) or the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) designations. Likewise, those who want to be certified as a legal support and have 1 year of experience in the legal field or have finished an accepted training course can attain the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) designation through an evaluation process administered by NALS. NALS also offers two additional designations. One is an examination given in order to grant the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) designation and is thought of as a superior certification for legal support professionals. The other is a paralegal examination and designation testing expertise as a paralegal. Legal Secretaries International awards the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation in sections such as intellectual property, criminal law, civil litigation, probate, and business law, to individuals with at least five years of experience in legality and who pass an exam. Some exceptions may be made for certain requirements.

Secretaries usually progress as they are promoted to positions associated with more responsibilities. Knowledgeable secretaries with a vast understanding of office operations who are qualified and desire to enhance skills may advance to other positions such as senior or executive secretary, clerical supervisor, or office manager. Keyboarding or data entry experience can advance secretaries to word processing or data entry positions, such as trainers, supervisors, or managers within their own work environment or in a secretarial, word processing, or data entry service bureau. Secretaries with experience can also find employment as an instructor or sales representative for software or computer-equipment manufacturers. Several legal secretaries become paralegals with further training.

Secretary Job and Employment Opportunities

Over the 2002-12 period, secretaries' and administrative assistants' general employment is anticipated to grow slightly slower than average for all occupations. Several jobs will open due to the need to replace workers who relocate to differing occupations or leave this huge occupation for other reasons each year, on top of openings resulting from growth. Candidates with extensive knowledge in computer software programs and who are also experienced secretaries should have the best opportunities.

Expected employment of secretaries differs according to specialty. Increasing employment in health care and social assistance and legal services industries is anticipated to guide growth for medical and legal secretaries to average. For all occupations, work of executive secretaries and administrative assistants is estimated to rise slightly slower than the average. Industries that are growing quickly; which includes administrative and support services, health care and social assistance, educational services (private), and professional, scientific, and technical services; will persist to produce opportunities that are new. Apart from legal, medical, or executive secretaries, a decline is anticipated for all other kinds of secretaries. They represent nearly 50 percent of all secretaries and administrative assistants.

Secretaries and administrative assistants will become progressively productive in coming years as office automation and organizational restructuring increases. The efficiency of personal computers, e-mail, scanners, and voice message systems will permit secretaries to get more tasks done in the same amount of time. Since the use of automated equipment is changing the division of work in numerous offices, traditional secretarial duties (keyboarding, filing, photocopying, and bookkeeping) are currently delegated to others in varying departments or units. Instead of submitting their work to others such as secretaries, professionals and managers are more and more performing their own typing and data entry, and managing much of their own correspondence. Additionally, paralegals and medical assistants, in a few law and medical offices, are taking on some responsibilities previously done by secretaries. A trend remains for professionals and managers to “share” secretaries and administrative assistants as workers assume more tasks. Secretaries and administrative assistants increasingly support systems, departments, or units; as opposed to the usual arrangement of one secretary per manager. Besides the fact that this new arrangement decreases the opportunities for secretaries and administrative assistants, this approach can benefit secretaries and administrative assistants as they assume added responsibilities and are seen as valuable members of a team.

Advances in office technology will certainly persist, resulting in further modifications in the roles of secretaries and administrative assistants. Nevertheless, several secretarial and administrative tasks are personalized and interactive; for that reason, they cannot be automated. Communications skills and class are required for tasks such as preparing conferences, working with clients, and coaching staff. Secretaries and administrative assistants will keep playing an essential role in the majority of organizations because technical inventions cannot replace these personal skills.

Historical Earnings Information

In 2002, middle annual salaries of executive secretaries and administrative assistants were $33,410 in 2002. The middle 50 percent brought in between $26,980 and $41,350. The lowest 10 percent brought in lower than $22,270, while the highest 10 percent brought in higher than $50,420. In 2002, average yearly salaries in the businesses employing the leading numbers of executive secretaries and administrative assistants were:

  • Management of companies and enterprises – $36,770
  • Local government – $34,600
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools – $32,210
  • State government – $31,220
  • Employment services – $29,700

In 2002, legal secretaries' median yearly salaries were $35,020. The middle 50 percent brought in between $27,540 and $44,720. The lowest 10 percent brought in lower than $21,990, while the highest 10 percent brought in more than $54,810. Medical secretaries' average yearly income was $25,430 in 2002. The middle 50 percent brought in between $21,090 and $31,070. The lowest 10 percent brought in lower than $18,310, while the highest 10 percent brought in higher than $37,550. Except for legal, medical, and executive secretaries, average yearly incomes of secretaries were about $25,290 in 2002.

Salaries may differ to a big extent depending on levels of skill, experience, and differences in responsibility. Additionally, salaries will differ in various parts of the nation with earnings at the lowest for southern cities, and at the maximum for northern and western cities. A higher salary may be given to those who are certified.