|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||2,085,680|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||1.9%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||39,100|
- Many choose to enroll in administrative assistant certificate or associate degree programs at community colleges or continuing-education facilities to help attract the attention of prospective employers.
- Although often not required to have a degree, administrative assistants do need to be comfortable with computer programs like Excel, Word and Outlook.
- They also need to have excellent typing, transcribing and interpersonal communication skills.
- Certificate programs can help develop these skills.
- Many employers have begun to subject all of their administrative assistant applicants to rigorous tests of these skills.
It's important to note that administrative assistants who work in the legal and medical fields must perform many specialized tasks that aren't required of typical administrative assistants. Accordingly, they may need to obtain special educational certificates or degrees and undergo extensive, specialized training programs. As a result, legal and medical administrative assistants technically belong to a separate occupational category.
What you study:
Those who wish to become administrative assistants should be proficient in the following subjects:
- Written and verbal communication
- Microsoft Office programs
- Basic accounting
- Industry-specific terminology
This brief video introduces the role of an administrative assistant, or secretary. Created for the US Department of Labor.
A Day in the Life
When you chose to become an administrative assistant, you knew that you'd be able to work in the industry of your choosing. After all, large and small employers from across the public and private sectors require office managers, assistants, secretaries, and other members of the administrative assistant profession to perform clerical tasks and ensure that the proverbial trains run on time.
Since the legal and medical industries seemed to have different expectations for their administrative assistants, you didn't look for work in those fields. Instead, you took a job with the government agency that oversees your state's public housing program. Since you grew up in your state's capital, this was a natural fit that didn't require you to relocate.
The housing agency for which you work employs several hundred professionals. Accordingly, its staff of office managers and administrative assistants is extensive. Your official title is "assistant office manager," but you wear plenty of hats around the workplace.
Although most of the agency's employees arrive at around 9 a.m., you're expected to come in early to get extra work done. The upshot of this requirement is that you're often permitted to leave the office before 5 p.m. Today, you come in at 8 a.m. and greet the various members of the agency's support team. Without wasting any time, you sit down at the computer and check your email. Although your cubicle is within shouting distance of the office manager's, you generally communicate with other members of the team via email. Sure enough, your inbox is already filled with directives.
Once you've developed a plan of attack for the day, you log into your agency's dedicated email address and check its messages. Although you share responsibility for this inbox with the office manager, you're generally the one who's tasked with maintaining it. You begin by deleting inappropriate messages that have crept past the spam filter and begin reading substantive messages from the agency's clients. Many of these are couched as complaints about processing delays, misfiled applications, unlawful evictions and other troublesome issues. It's your responsibility to forward these messages to the appropriate specialists. Needless to say, your contacts list is extensive.
Once you've whittled down the messages that have come in overnight, you turn your attention to the agency's snail-mail inbox. As a housing agency, your employer receives a large number of cumbersome packages from every corner of the state. These might be prospective renters' applications for subsidized housing, land developers' applications for agency grants, and small business owners' applications for tax offsets. Since your agency's work is maddeningly complex and involves many different aspects of the law and economy, it's your responsibility to pass these applications to the proper authorities. This has required you to develop a keen understanding of the laws that govern your agency's activities.
By the time you finish processing these applications, it's time for you to break for lunch. You're grateful that you're given a full hour to eat and relax. You're well aware that many private-sector administrative assistants don't enjoy this luxury.
After lunch, you're given a stack of documents to fax to your state's revenue service. This is one of your more tedious and time-consuming job duties. Although you're not a huge fan of standing by the fax machine and waiting for documents to go through, you understand that the other workers in your office are busy. After all, it would take nearly as long to scan each document and attach it to an email.
Your last task of the day involves a late-afternoon conference between your agency's senior staffers. As the assistant office manager, you're responsible for setting up the conference room's audiovisual equipment and printing out a sufficient number of copies of the status report that each participant is supposed to receive.
Fortunately, you've performed such duties before. Thanks to your seamless behind-the-scenes work, the conference goes off without a hitch. In fact, you hear the participants talking about how productive and inspiring the meeting had been. Although you're not lavished with praise for your performance, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you orchestrated a successful event. Satisfied, you head home and prepare for another exciting day at the office.
Certifications and Licensing
There are no formal licensing requirements for "generalist" administrative assistants. However, there are a number of optional certifications that may increase prospective assistants' chances of landing a quality job. For instance, the International Association of Administrative Professionals offers the Certified Administrative Professional Exam. Individuals who wish to pursue careers as administrative assistants may be required to obtain this credential in order to attain management-level positions.
It's important to note that these certifications don't apply to medical, legal or executive secretaries. Each of these sub-fields maintains its own credentialing framework.
Full-time versus part-time and work location:
Due to the hands-on, labor-intensive nature of their work, most administrative assistants work full-time in office settings. This is especially true for assistants who work for large companies or agencies. However, assistants who work for smaller firms may only be required to work on a part-time or half-time basis. Additionally, virtual assistants who aren't required to perform physical filing or support tasks are often able to work from home offices that feature high-speed Internet connections. In fact, "virtual assisting" has become increasingly common in recent years. Finally, many entry-level administrative assistants find their first jobs through temp agencies that may offer renewable short-term contracts.
The following websites may contain useful information for aspiring administrative assistants:
- Association of Administrative and Executive Professionals -- The Association of Administrative and Executive Professionals is a far-reaching trade organization that works to advance the interests of administrative assistants who work in a wide variety of fields. Its website offers career-related information like salary ranges, job-growth outlooks and professional development resources. It also offers connections to other administrative assistant associations and links to industry-specific job listings.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics -- The U.S. Labor Department's administrative assistant fact sheet is a one-stop source for information about the job duties, salary expectations, target industries and educational requirements of the typical administrative assistant. While it doesn't have a dedicated jobs board, the BLS offers external links to professional associations that do have such resources.
- Independent Virtual Assistants Association -- This organization focuses exclusively on the professional needs of virtual administrative assistants. Its website offers detailed information about job growth and salary expectations for workers in this fast-growing sub-sector of the administrative assistant field. It also offers an extensive networking facility for aspiring virtual assistants who wish to find employment.
- International Association of Administrative Professionals -- This full-service professional organization for aspiring administrative assistants offers educational resources, certification materials, job listings and general career-related information. It also administers the Certified Administrative Professional exam and provides an extensive array of test-prep materials.
- American Society of Administrative Professionals -- This organization provides professional development and continuing education resources for current and prospective administrative assistants. In addition to informative articles and white papers that offer crucial insight into the fast-evolving industry, it also sponsors seminars, conferences and other confidence-building events.