What is a secretary?
A secretary is a professional responsible for providing administrative and organizational support within an office environment. They serve as a critical link between various departments, executives, clients, and other stakeholders, helping to ensure that the organization’s operations run smoothly.
Their role is multifaceted, involving a combination of interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and adaptability. They often act as the first point of contact for visitors and callers, reflecting the image and values of the organization. Their work is essential in managing schedules, maintaining records, handling communications, and providing general administrative assistance.
In many organizations, their role extends beyond mere clerical tasks. They may coordinate meetings, support decision-making processes, and even contribute to projects and initiatives. By providing timely and efficient support, they enable other members of the organization to focus on their core responsibilities, contributing to overall productivity and success.
Duties and responsibilities
The duties and responsibilities of a secretary vary depending on the organization and the specific needs of the executives or departments they support. Typical tasks include answering and directing phone calls, managing appointments and schedules, and preparing documents such as letters, reports, and memos.
They may also be responsible for maintaining filing systems, managing databases, handling incoming and outgoing mail, and ordering office supplies. In some settings, they organize and coordinate meetings, take minutes, and assist in preparing presentations. The role often requires the ability to multitask and prioritize various activities, ensuring that deadlines are met and information flows effectively within the organization.
Secretaries typically work in an office setting, although remote work opportunities have become more common. They may be found in various sectors, including corporate businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, legal firms, healthcare facilities, and nonprofit organizations.
The work environment is often fast-paced, requiring the ability to manage multiple tasks simultaneously. Collaboration with other administrative staff, executives, and professionals across the organization is common, emphasizing the importance of communication and teamwork.
Typical work hours
The typical work hours for a secretary are usually full-time, aligned with standard business hours. However, variations may occur based on the nature of the organization and specific demands. Part-time and temporary positions are also relatively common in this field.
Some roles may require occasional overtime or flexibility in work hours, especially during busy periods or when supporting high-level executives with demanding schedules.
How to become a secretary
This career guide section outlines how to become a secretary. The vital stages include obtaining appropriate education, honing key skills, and gaining relevant office experience.
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma
A high school diploma or equivalent is a central requirement for aspiring secretaries. This initial step allows you to develop foundational reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. Additionally, business applications, computer science, and office management coursework can provide useful groundwork for this career.
Step 2: Gain computer and typing skills
In the modern workplace, these professionals must possess strong computer and typing skills. Mastery of word processing software, spreadsheet applications, and email platforms is essential. Earning certification in specific software applications might be beneficial to emphasize these abilities to potential employers.
Step 3: Consider postsecondary education
While not mandatory for all positions, obtaining postsecondary education, such as an associate’s degree or a certificate in administrative assistance or office management, can increase employability. These programs often include coursework in business communication, office administration, and computer applications.
Step 4: Gain relevant experience
Many secretaries start their careers in entry-level administrative roles to gain practical experience. Internships or part-time jobs in offices can provide hands-on experience in a professional setting, including familiarity with office operations and administrative tasks.
Step 5: Polish communication skills
Excelling in this role requires top-notch written and verbal communication skills. These can be honed through practice, self-study, classes, or communication-intensive activities such as public speaking or debating.
Step 6: Maintain professional development
To keep up with the ever-evolving demands of modern offices, it’s pivotal to continue learning and growing professionally. For instance, this could involve participation in seminars, webinars, courses, or workshops related to technology, communication, or management.
Step 7: Consider professional certification
Certifications like the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) or the Organizational Management (OM) credential can be earned to distinguish your skills and knowledge. Though not always required, these certifications could boost your marketability and potential for career advancement.
How much do secretaries make?
Secretary salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Apart from these, their level of technical skills, such as proficiency in certain software or tools, could heavily influence compensation.
Highest paying industries
- Postal Service – $53,860
- Software Publishers – $48,860
- Motion Picture and Video Industries – $47,350
- Scientific Research and Development Services – $46,870
- Natural Gas Distribution – $46,220
Highest paying states
- District of Columbia – $49,290
- Connecticut – $48,870
- Massachusetts – $48,560
- California – $47,830
- Washington – $47,770
Types of secretaries
This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for secretaries. Below, we explore the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.
These professionals are typically found in healthcare establishments like hospitals, clinics, and private practices. A medical secretary’s work goes beyond traditional administrative tasks to include understanding medical terminology, patient scheduling, and handling sensitive health records with utmost propriety to maintain patient confidentiality.
Law firms, corporate legal departments, and the courts employ secretaries specializing in the legal field. Beyond common secretarial duties, these individuals also manage legal documentation, assist with the preparation for court proceedings, and have knowledge of certain legal terminologies and procedures.
Top executives often hire secretaries with a specific skill set. In addition to general administrative tasks, an executive secretary often coordinates meetings, manages schedules, and may even conduct research or compile data to prepare executives for meetings. Advanced problem-solving and communication skills are key to this specialization.
In education, secretaries play a critical role in daily operations. They interact with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to keep everything running smoothly. Their typical tasks include scheduling appointments, making announcements, keeping track of student records, and managing the front office. These individuals are often the first point of contact in a school setting.
The unit secretary works in specific departments or units within large hospitals or healthcare facilities. Their responsibilities include coordinating patient care by scheduling tests and procedures and managing the flow of communication between patients, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. They are a unifying thread in a busy healthcare unit.
Top skills for secretaries
This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a secretary. It is important to note that they must be highly organized individuals with good communication skills and a knack for multitasking.
Secretaries are tasked with managing multiple responsibilities and tasks at a given time, and organization skills are, therefore, essential. They often manage schedules, keep records, and ensure that everything runs smoothly in the office environment. Involving prioritizing tasks and managing time effectively to meet deadlines.
Effective communication is a key part of their role, often serving as an organization’s first point of contact. They are tasked with speaking clearly, listening carefully, and responding appropriately, whether in person or via phone and email. These skills are important for relaying messages, sharing information, and efficiently dealing with queries.
With a wide array of duties, from answering phones to scheduling appointments, multitasking is another important skill. These professionals need to switch from one task to another without losing focus or diminishing the quality of their work. It’s a skill that’s honed with experience and directly impacts efficiency.
Technological proficiency is essential in this role due to the increasing reliance on automated systems and digital tools in office settings. Understanding how to use office equipment, including photocopiers and scanners, fax machines, and videoconferencing systems, is just as critical as being comfortable with software systems like word processors, databases, and spreadsheets.
Discretion and trustworthiness
Often, a secretary is privy to sensitive information. Whether it pertains to personnel, business operations, or client information, discretion and trustworthiness are of utmost significance. Additionally, this trait is valuable in building strong relationships with colleagues, superiors, and clients.
Secretary career path
After gaining substantial experience and demonstrating excellent organizational capabilities, a secretary has abundant opportunities for progress. They can advance by moving to larger organizations, assuming more complex responsibilities, or transitioning into executive secretary or administrative assistant roles. In these roles, they assist high-level executives and often supervise other clerical staff.
In other cases, they may take up further training or education to move into more specialized roles, like paralegals or legal secretaries in the law sector, where their skills can prove invaluable. With adequate training, they may also transition into human resources or public relations roles.
With a deep understanding of a company’s operations which they might gain from their role, another career path could be moving into operations management. They could also focus on specific sectors like health services or education, becoming occupational or medical secretaries. Such avenues offer not only increased responsibilities but also higher salaries.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for secretaries
In recent years, technology has drastically reshaped the secretary’s job role. These professionals have transitioned from traditional roles, like drafting correspondence and scheduling appointments, to utilizing sophisticated office management software and customer relationship management platforms. With this proliferation of technology, they have become more deeply involved in data management, internal and external communication processes, and digital organization tasks.
The demand for specialized skills has also increased within this job role. Fluency in multiple languages is becoming more important as businesses operate on a global scale. Those with knowledge of multiple languages are highly appreciated for their capacity to communicate with international clients or partners. Technical skills, such as knowledge of the latest digital tools and software, are also in high demand. Secretaries are now expected to handle tasks beyond their traditional scope, including simple IT troubleshooting or using advanced data analytics software.
Employment projections for secretaries
According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, secretarial occupations are expected to see an employment decline of 8% through 2031. The decline suggests that technological innovations are shifting secretarial roles to be more focused on specialized tasks and less on tasks that can be automated.
Secretary career tips
Build specialized knowledge
It’s important to acquire comprehensive knowledge of the industry in which you’re working. Since the job involves dealing with different aspects of the business, understanding the sector will allow you to perform your duties more effectively. This may include knowing the company’s products or services, industry regulations, and current trends. Most importantly, you must understand your company’s internal policies, procedures, and culture.
Improving technology skills
Technology plays a pivotal role in the secretary profession. Typical tasks may include organizing digital files, data entry, and managing correspondence. Regularly improving and updating your tech skills can help you perform tasks more efficiently. Some in-demand skills include knowledge of word processing software, database management, spreadsheet applications, and email systems.
You’ll often have access to sensitive information. Maintaining confidentiality and professionalism is crucial to building trust in the workplace. This includes protecting company secrets, respecting privacy when handling personal data, and exercising discretion in your communications.
The secretary profession is constantly evolving, and so should your skills. Participating in educational opportunities can help you stay up-to-date with changes in technology and industry trends. Consider pursuing:
- Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification
- Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification
- Online courses or webinars on relevant software updates and applications
Building a professional network
Networking can have a significant impact on your career growth. Not only does it provide opportunities for learning from others in your field, but it also opens doors for potential job opportunities. To expand your network, consider joining professional associations such as:
- International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
- National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)
- American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP)
- Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals (AEAP)
Where the secretary jobs are
- Apple Inc.
- General Motors
- Walmart Inc.
- New York
Top job sites
- Simply Hired
What skills and qualifications are typical for a secretary?
Secretaries must possess strong verbal and written communication skills, as they often act as a bridge between various departments. They should also possess excellent organizational capabilities to handle documents, schedule meetings, and manage workflows. Proficiency in computer software programs, such as Microsoft Office suite, and mastery of basic office equipment is also vital. Several qualification paths exist, but they typically need a high school diploma. Some positions might require further education in the form of a bachelor’s degree or certification in administrative support.
How important is discretion for a secretary?
Discretion is incredibly important for a secretary, as they often have access to sensitive information regarding the company, its employees, clients, and operations. They must maintain the confidentiality of this information and only disclose it to authorized personnel when necessary. This responsibility requires a high level of trustworthiness and maturity.
What is the role of a secretary in a team meeting?
Secretaries often play a central role in team meetings. Their responsibilities include organizing the meeting by coordinating schedules, preparing the meeting space, and sending out notifications. During the meeting, they may take minutes, noting down decisions, actions, and important discussion points. Following the meeting, they usually distributes the minutes and follows up on action items.
What kind of documents does a secretary handle?
Secretaries manage a wealth of documents on a daily basis. They may handle letters, memos, reports, minutes, and schedules. They sometimes have to manage confidential documents like contracts, proposals, project plans, or sensitive correspondence. Their responsibilities also often include maintaining these in a systematic, organized way, creating a traceable record of company operations.
Are there any specific software programs vital for a secretary to master?
Yes, a secretary must be proficient in several software programs commonly used in office environments. These include word processing software like Microsoft Word, spreadsheet software like Excel, and presentation software like PowerPoint. Additionally, experience with email software like Outlook, calendar scheduling software, and database management systems can be vital. Depending on the specific role, they may also need familiarity with industry-specific software.
How does a secretary contribute to maintaining good relationships with clients and partners?
As the first point of contact in many interactions, a secretary can significantly contribute to maintaining and fostering good relationships with clients and partners. Their courteous, professional attitude, prompt responses, and attention to client or partner needs reflects on the company’s overall ethos. This communication and interaction can greatly affect the client’s or partner’s views and experiences with the company, making their role key in building strong relationships.
How does a secretary ensure effective communication within an organization?
A secretary supports effective organizational communication by acting as a link between different departments, stakeholders, management, and employees. Tasks may include circulating memos, forwarding messages and emails, coordinating meetings, and taking minutes. By ensuring that information is accurately and promptly delivered to the right parties, they can help ensure smooth communication and operations in an organization.
What physical demands does a secretary’s job entail?
While the role of a secretary is largely passive, it can involve physical demands such as long periods of sitting, prolonged use of computer equipment, and handling office files and documents. Eye strain from computer work is also a common concern. Periodic mobility is often required, such as moving about the office, visiting other departments, and possibly lifting packages or office supplies.
What qualities make a secretary effective and successful in their role?
An effective secretary usually displays strong organizational skills, an ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, and excellent attention to detail. Strong interpersonal and communication skills are key as they interact with various people within and outside the organization. Maintaining professionalism and confidentiality at all times is also fundamental. Adaptability is another crucial quality, as the role often requires tackling unexpected issues and rapid changes in plans or schedules.