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What Is an Administrative Assistant?

An administrative assistant runs errands, manages an office, files, types and handles a range of other tasks for his or her boss.
An administrative assistant may keep her supervisor's schedule.
Administrative assistants may put in orders with vendors for new office supplies.
Legal assistants work closely with attorneys and paralegals.
Familiarity with common office machines, like a copier, is a necessary skill for an administrative assistant.
An administrative assistant must be able to multitask.
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  • Originally Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Revised By: Cindy Quarters
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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An administrative assistant has many of the same duties as a secretary, including typing, filing, answering phones and taking notes at meetings. In addition to this, he or she may also oversee the logistics of an office, collaborate with supervisors on important projects and oversee secretaries. Though there is little formal education required to work in this position, executive assistants or those working in specialist fields may need additional training.

Duties

The duties of an administrative assistant frequently go far beyond secretarial tasks, and include handling logistical things for the office, like ordering supplies, handling mail and paperwork that goes in and out of the business, and coordinating people's' schedules. In many cases, he or she is a source of information with the public, and as such, sometimes acts as the company's "face." Some senior assistants also oversee junior assistants or secretaries, in which case they may need to make periodic performance reports or presentations. Many people in this position also help with training new staff, particularly if they will be doing adminstrative tasks. An administrative assistant also needs some practical knowledge, such as how to work with a variety of office equipment.

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Skill Set

People working in this position need to be extremely good with details and able to handle many tasks simultaneously, since they are often responsible for multiple people's schedules, and may oversee the progress of several projects at once. They should also be good with people, since the job requires a lot of interaction with people in the office as well as clients. Being able to make judgement calls and work independently is an important part of the job as well, since the administrative assistant is the person who's likely to know which documents are important and which can be discarded, which e-mails can be handled at the office level and which need to be forwarded to upper management, and how to work up the chain of command to get things done. On top of all this, administrative assistants need to be articulate, good at writing, and good with technology, as they're often required to answer mail, proofread documents, and work with databases.

Specialties

Administrative assistants can specialize in a specific department in an organization, like human resources or IT, though this is more common in larger organizations. Executive administrative assistants only work with upper management in a company. They may be responsible for a pool of people, or may only work with one. In either case, the assistant is responsible for controlling access to the executives, making travel and conference arrangements, and interacting with vendors, executives from other companies, and board members, in addition to the regular administrative duties. Generally speaking, the higher up the executive, the more skills and experience the assistant needs.

Additionally, administrative assistants can specialize in certain fields, like medicine or law. In addition to the normal duties associated with this position, he or she also performs tasks specifically related to that field. For instance, a legal assistant may also research legal precedents and help prepare briefings, while a medical assistant usually needs to know about insurance billing or lab procedures. Some people also do this job from home over the phone and Internet, in which case they are called virtual administrative assistants.

Training

In many cases, a person can start working in this job with a high school degree and some training in business and computer skills. For specialized positions, such as in a medical or legal office, she must know the vocabulary specific to that position. A certificate from a training program, an associate’s degree, or certification through a recognized organization can all help when it comes to getting hired or promoted.

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anon359875
Post 29

This is the worst job in the world. You'll be constantly belittled by people who think they're better than you. I'd rather be a janitor. At least someone wouldn't tell you "oh, you did such an amazing job cleaning that toilet! We really appreciate how hard you scrubbed it!" and think they paid you a huge compliment.

My new company has a different idea of what an executive assistant is from what I knew it to be. I guess it means to sit there and look pretty all day. I want projects to manage, problems to solve, money to save the company, etc. Any time I pitch something, they basically ignore me then announce my solution as a ground breaking project three months later headed up (and apparently thought up) by someone else. They'll call you "girl" and compliment your hair, and ask if you have time to copy something. Uh, yeah, that and revamp your procurement practices.

Please, for the love of God, do something else! If you ever have admin assist (or any variation thereof) on your resume, you will never get that off your face. Treat it like you spent time in an insane asylum and try not to mention it. That being said, they pay me way too much for what they let me do. Too bad I'm not one to online shop or web surf all day. It would probably keep me awake.

anon341865
Post 27

I hope I get this job with a CPA firm. I filled out all the information needed and am hoping I will get it. I used to work as a general files clerk and then changed to be an administrative assistant. I loved working for that company and love my supervisors from the HR Department. I miss them but I am hoping that I get this job here. Crossing fingers...

anon341345
Post 26

You can find excellent resources and information for starting your own administrative support business at the Administrative Consultants Association.

anon305441
Post 25

The job is a "monkey position". Don't make it sound glamorous. It is a glorified secretary's position. In other words, if our admin assistant walked out, we could find a replacement from a young high school grad within the day.

It is a non-skilled labor position just like a garbage collector. Nothing more. Even a fry cook's job involves time management. You guys have no idea what real work is. Go to school.

anon275846
Post 23

@anon52244: I nearly cried from laughing at your 'college graduates not having enough sense to come in out of the rain' comment.

anon274894
Post 22

If there is any class of workers that should be unionized, it is the office worker. Management goes to lunch, but the secretaries sit at their desks and eat a sandwich, overwhelmed by their workload and too scared to complain. The abuse, the low pay, the intimidation, you name it.

anon251035
Post 20

"Management may flatter itself that the company couldn’t get along without it, but fire the administrative assistant, and watch how quickly the business falls apart."

I had to laugh at this. My former company appears to be merging with another and let me, the *only* clerical worker in the entire office, be laid off. They also cut the marketing assistant, admittedly a corporate-centered department, so this one didn't surprise me.

Guess the new VP doesn't care about efficiency. They certainly don't care about helping customers. I recently read a book called "Your Company Sucks," and recognized many traits of my former workplace.

Oh well. On to bigger and better things!

anon204050
Post 19

Great article. By the way, is it just here in Pennsylvania, or are today’s executives becoming ridiculously picky about hiring clerical help? How did we get from “Wanted: experienced girl Friday” to needing a degree in Engineering just to operate the company switchboard?

Since when does it take a BA to open mail, file paperwork, book a conference room, take meeting minutes or fetch mocha lattes from the local Starbucks?

Incidentally, who’s the genius who decided Executive Admins ought to have Masters Degrees? Give me a break! I was playing au-pair to the jet-setters before it was ‘cool’; and let me tell you, honey: whether it’s a 40-year old with a golf fetish or the snotty-nosed kid next door, babysitting is babysitting.

You can slap whatever title you want on it: Receptionist, Office Manager, Executive Assistant, Secretary. These days, it all means the same thing.

Take it from Nana: The world may be a-changing, but manning the front desk, screening calls, typing memos, crunching numbers and booking a flight on Expedia twice a month doesn't equate to rocket science. Sure, it's a lot of work, but it's not 'hard'.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. Being an admin requires superior organizational skills, business acumen, tact, decorum and a whole heap of common sense.

But why is a 22-year veteran having such a difficult time landing your basic, run-of-the-mill secretarial assignment? I feel as though the world has gone mad.

I've been doing administrative work for as long as I can remember. And I've worked in just about every industry you can conceive of, from pharmaceuticals to logistics to cold storage to waste management.

I’m not asking for the moon on a Popsicle stick. All I need, is a good, old-fashioned J-O-B.

anon109594
Post 18

Very good description. I am "old school" secretary/clerk in a government office without a college degree.

I have found that in many circumstances under qualifications, the job requirements are either a two-year degree or five years experience. I think most of us who have been in this profession do immensely enjoy their work.

I did experience a "poor you" attitude from individuals who asked what I did for a living when I began working in the early 70's. I have never felt that way. You are either cut out for this type of work or you're not.

Do your job well, don't expect many thank yous and be prepared to be blamed for whatever goes wrong within an office. Have big shoulders and a good sense of humor. If you are cut out for this position, you won't dread going to work.

Yes, the pay is not what it should be, but in this economy, I'm thankful to be working.

anon103195
Post 17

what exactly is the purpose of the position of "Assistant Admin Officer." Please tell me in a professional language. Please help me in this. thanks a lot.

There is a lot of difference of work between the secretaries and assistant admin officer in the company where i work. Secretaries must make appointments, draft letters and attend calls, while an admin assistant arranges escort for the expats, logistics, travelling, air tickets, arranges work visas, security clearance for the expats, supervises drivers, office boys, receptionists, their schedules, building management, verification of invoices and the list goes on and on.

So there is a hell of a difference between the work of secretaries and assistant admin officer.

anon95561
Post 16

Wow! Surprising salary range. I've been an administrative assistant in an HR department for 12 years but still my salary was $2,000 a month and my actual duties and responsibilities are more than that.

I've developed an information system that will help not only my organization, but also the whole country as well. but since I've seen this salary range its a wake up call. I think I need to look for a new company that will pay me like this. Thanks you very much for the info.

anon89727
Post 15

Wow! This is all awesome information. When I asked my boss to change my title from receptionist to administrative assistant, he/she did not concur with it. And from what you are describing, all the duties -- it fits all that I do now and then some.

Jack of All Trades, you agree, right? You know where I'm coming from.

We deserve more money than $11 an hour for these positions. Because you are right. The office falls apart without us! --anon61110

anon86992
Post 14

From the author.

@Anon86981: The article clearly states: An administrative assistant is served best by a college degree, *but a sharp high school graduate who is technologically savvy and has good writing skills could also do the job.*

You're right. A college degree doesn't guarantee placement at any job, but the sad fact is many businesses looking for anyone in such a position won't even consider an applicant who doesn't have a degree. So Anon52244, when you were hired 30 years ago, a college degree wasn't such a necessity. Times have changed, however.

The executive secretary at our company does not have a college degree and does a terrific job. But she's been here for 20 years. However, I can guarantee you, for any kind of similar position nowadays, the company I work for wants at least a couple of years at a junior college, even if the applicant didn't earn a degree.

And as for bosses being male or female, of course this is true, but it gets terribly awkward using the "he/she," "his/her" transition in every case. Most readers realize these are generalities and should be applied to their individual situations, changing genders as necessary.

And as for how I got the information about administrative assistants, it's simple: I am one. It's my day job. I've been an assistant at a newspaper for going on 18 years. I edit and proof copy as part of my daily job, and I can assure you my degree in English comes in handy every day.

anon86981
Post 12

i have reviewed what you said concerning administrative assistants and i agree to disagree. I went to college and didn't have a degree but still worked and had employment with my school as an assistant. i worked with the Director and did a professional job. It's not always a degree and bosses are male or female. Having a degree will not even put you at the perfect job anyway.

anon85743
Post 11

I enjoyed the information that you placed on your site, but to be fair there was a section that you said, "If the administrative assistant is the boss’s primary assistant, she will probably type and compose part of her supervisor’s correspondence, take many of his calls and keep his appointments up to date."

Not all administrative assistants are female, and their boss is not always a male. I rather like when you said "he or she."

anon80753
Post 10

I have an interview tomorrow and would be grateful if someone could give some advice on what they are looking for? The job is for an assistant admin in an insurance broker's office.

anon58970
Post 9

so i'm in college right now and don't know what major to do and this sounds like something I'm interested in but still need to know more about it.

anon52244
Post 8

I agree all you said except that an administrative assistant should have a college degree. I have worked my tail off in this business for over 30 years and I resent that! I never had the opportunity to go to college, but I'm damn good at what I do. Just another example of the overemphasis on the college degree.

By the way, I worked with quite a few college graduates that don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain.

anon45160
Post 7

What website did you come across that has a wealth of info for admin professionals?

anon35991
Post 5

Wow!!! It's good to know someone has an idea of how important the admins role is! It is so true the company would fall apart without it. who else knows how to do the expense report, and who to call when the toilet breaks, or which airline the company uses for corporate liaisons!! Our jobs are worth a lot more than the "recognition" it gets!! I think I will incorporate the ideas of this article in my proposal for an annual raise!!! Thanks for the pat on the back!

anon20571
Post 4

what are the daily tasks which admin assistant implement to meet the need of company? How can he help the manager?

anon17338
Post 3

I totally agree with the ending statement, "get rid of the admin. assnt and see how the quickly falls apart." i used to be a receptionist and did everything and loved it! when i changed positions it was hard for my replacement to do half the things i did...the manager had to take some of those responsibilities away since the girl became overwhelmed...i am currently looking for a change back to the position though who knows if i get it, that they will make it admin. assnt instead of just receptionist.

any advice on how i should present that if i get the job back - feel free to respond back...

anon15870
Post 2

It's great to see the administrative assist's work defined. It seems like admins get no glory, yet are responsible for so many functions within a business. I came across a website that is specifically for administrative professionals and really seems to have a wealth of information on how to become a better professional.

anon12824
Post 1

what an excellent piece! i am happy you took the time to explain to the world what secretaries or admin assts should be doing for organizations. it is as though the ignorant ones think they should be used to type letters and help make calls. your explanation should serve as an eye opener to those who get over burdened with work while their assts wile away time just because they aren't aware how useful they can be.

so you couldn't be far from wrong when you say "But any administrative assistant worth his or her salt will ........."

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