What is an Administrative Assistant?

Administrative assistants (sometimes also referred to as secretaries) perform routine clerical and organizational tasks. They organize files, draft messages, schedule appointments, and support other staff. Although administrative assistants work in nearly every industry, many are concentrated in schools, hospitals, government agencies, and legal and medical offices.

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What does an Administrative Assistant do?

The work of an administrative assistant typically involves the following:

  • Maintain paper and electronic filing systems for records and messages
  • Route and distribute incoming mail and email
  • Answer routine letters and email
  • Reply and attach files to incoming messages
  • Correct spelling and grammar to ensure accuracy
  • Operate fax machines, videoconferencing and phone systems, and other office equipment
  • Use computers for spreadsheet, word processing, database management, and other applications
  • Complete forms in accordance with company procedures.

Administrative assistants use computer software to create spreadsheets, compose messages, manage databases, and produce presentations, reports, and documents. They also may negotiate with vendors, buy supplies, manage stockrooms or corporate libraries, and get data from various sources. Specific job duties vary by experience, job title, and specialty.

What does it take to be an Administrative Assistant?

High school graduates can get basic office, computer, and English grammar skills in various ways: through high school vocational education programs, vocational–technical schools, or community colleges. Many temporary placement agencies also provide formal training in computer and office skills.

Employers of more specialized positions, including medical and legal secretaries, often require applicants to have some knowledge of industry-specific terminology and practices. Community colleges and vocational-technical schools usually offer instruction in these areas. Though not required, certification can demonstrate competency to employers. Legal secretaries have a few certification options. Legal Secretaries International confers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation in areas such as intellectual property, criminal law, civil litigation, probate, and business law to those who have five years of legal experience and pass an examination. In some instances, certain requirements may be waived.

What is the workplace of an Administrative Assistant like?

Although administrative assistants work in nearly every industry, many are concentrated in schools, hospitals, government agencies, and legal and medical offices. Most work full time in comfortable office settings. Virtual assistants typically work from a home office.

How much does an Administrative Assistant earn?

The median annual wage for administrative assistants was $34,660 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $21,730, and the top 10% earned more than $55,960.

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