21st-Century Administrative Assistants: Highly Trained and Highly Valued
In old black-and-white movies, executive secretaries typed, filed, scheduled appointments, and--too often--got coffee for the boss.
Those days are long gone. Contemporary administrative assistants (also still known as executive secretaries) are highly trained and educated professionals. They work closely with executives, at the very heart of the business enterprise or government agency, to manage the office's high-level technology and communication.
As an administrative assistant, you might be assigned the following management responsibilities:
- Managing the office's information and communication networks, including computers, telephones, and video conferencing. Administrative assistants are often asked to research, select, and purchase new technology and equipment
- Managing projects, which could include conducting research, holding meetings, overseeing the project, and creating executive presentations and reports, often using desktop publishing software
- Managing paper and electronic files, which could include creating and maintaining complex electronic spreadsheets and databases
Technology and Communication Training are Musts for Administrative Assistants
Because administrative assistants' written and spoken communication represents not only the executive but also the entire enterprise, you'll need strong language skills in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You'll also need to be able to speak confidently and effectively to groups of all types. Coupled with these communication skills, however, landing a top job will require an extensive knowledge of computer programs and software applications. You can train in these skills by enrolling in a 1- or 2-year office administration program offered at any of the hundreds of vocational and technical schools and community colleges across the country.
In addition, the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) offers testing and certification. Through IAAP, you can earn the Certified Professional Secretary designation or the more advanced Certified Administrative Professional designation. The best part is that your certification can earn you college credit.
Many Employers Require a Bachelor's Degree
Put those college credits (from becoming certified) to work by earning a bachelor's degree. It's the best way to position yourself for the best administrative assistant jobs--in fact, many employers are beginning to require a bachelor's degree. It makes perfect sense: the administrative assistant is the executive's right hand and should be able to communicate comfortably about business-related issues. A degree in business, business administration, business communication, marketing, accounting, or a field related to the one in which you seek employment will help set you above your competition.
Strong Employment and Salary Outlook for Administrative Assistants
Administrative assistants and executive secretaries are among the largest U.S. occupations, employing more than 1.6 million people in 2006. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects this figure to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Between 2006 and 2016, BLS forecasts 239,000 new administrative assistant jobs, a 15 percent increase. In 2008, the median annual earnings of administrative assistants were $42,340.
As an administrative assistant, you'll perform critical functions for one or more business or government executives. You'll need to speak business fluently, communicate in ways that enhance the executive's reputation, and be the go-to person regarding office technology. With the right training, certification, and a college degree, you'll be well-prepared to outshine the competition and land an exciting, fast-growing, lucrative administrative assistant job.