Secretaries Career Information
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Significant Points· Increasing office automation and organizational restructuring will
lead to slow growth in overall employment of secretaries and administrative
· Job openings will stem primarily from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave this very large occupation for other reasons each year. Opportunities should be best for skilled and experienced secretaries.
Nature of the WorkAs technology continues to expand in offices
across the Nation, the role of the office professional has greatly evolved.
Office automation and organizational restructuring have led secretaries and
administrative assistants to assume a wider range of new responsibilities once
reserved for managerial and professional staff. Many secretaries and administrative
assistants now provide training and orientation for new staff, conduct research
on the Internet, and operate and troubleshoot new office technologies. In the
midst of these changes, however, their core responsibilities have remained much
the same, although changed from manual to electronic—performing and coordinating
an office's administrative activities, storing retrieving, and integrating information
for dissemination to staff and clients.
Secretaries and administrative assistants are responsible for a variety of administrative and clerical duties necessary to run an organization efficiently. They serve as an information manager for an office, schedule meetings and appointments, organize and maintain paper and electronic files, manage projects, conduct research, and provide information via the telephone, postal mail, and e-mail. They also may prepare correspondence and handle travel arrangements.
Secretaries and administrative assistants are aided in these tasks by a variety of office equipment, such as facsimile machines, photocopiers, and telephone systems. In addition, secretaries and administrative assistants increasingly use personal computers to create spreadsheets, compose correspondence, manage databases, and create reports and documents via desktop publishing, and using digital graphics—all tasks previously handled by managers and other professionals. At the same time, these other office workers have assumed many tasks traditionally assigned to secretaries and administrative assistants, such as word processing and answering the telephone. Because secretaries and administrative assistants are often relieved from dictation and typing, they can support more members of the executive staff. In a number of organizations, secretaries and administrative assistants work in teams in order to work flexibly and share their expertise.
Specific job duties vary with experience and titles. Executive secretaries and administrative assistants, for example, perform fewer clerical tasks than other secretaries. In addition to arranging conference calls, and scheduling meetings, they may handle more complex responsibilities such as conducting research, preparing statistical reports, training employees, and supervising other clerical staff.
Some secretaries and administrative assistants, such as legal and medical secretaries, perform highly specialized work requiring knowledge of technical terminology and procedures. For instance, legal secretaries prepare correspondence and legal papers such as summonses, complaints, motions, responses, and subpoenas under the supervision of an attorney or paralegal. They also may review legal journals and assist in other ways with legal research, such as verifying quotes and citations in legal briefs. Medical secretaries transcribe dictation, prepare correspondence, and assist physicians or medical scientists with reports, speeches, articles, and conference proceedings. They also record simple medical histories, arrange for patients to be hospitalized, and order supplies. Most medical secretaries need to be familiar with insurance rules, billing practices, and hospital or laboratory procedures. Other technical secretaries who assist engineers or scientists may prepare correspondence, maintain the technical library, and gather and edit materials for scientific papers.
Working ConditionsSecretaries and administrative assistants
usually work in offices with other professionals in schools, hospitals, corporate
settings, or in legal and medical offices. Their jobs often involve sitting for long periods.
If they spend a lot of time typing, particularly at a video display terminal,
they may encounter problems of eyestrain, stress, and repetitive motion, such
as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Office work can lend itself to alternative or flexible working arrangements, such as part time work or telecommuting(especially if their jobs requires extensive computer use. More than 1 secretary in 7 works part time and many others work in temporary positions. A few participate in job sharing arrangements in which two people divide responsibility for a single job. The majority of secretaries, however, are full-time employees who work a standard 40-hour week.
Secretaries and administrative assistants held about 4.1 million jobs in 2009, ranking among the largest occupations in the U.S. economy. The following tabulation shows the distribution of employment by secretarial specialty:
|Secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive||1,934,000|
|Executive secretaries and administrative assistants||1,547,000|
Secretaries and administrative assistants are employed in organizations of every type. Around 9 out of 10 secretaries and administrative assistants are employed in service providing industries, ranging from education and health care to government and retail trade. Most of the rest work for firms engaged in manufacturing or construction.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.High school graduates who have basic office
skills may qualify for entry-level secretarial positions. However, employers
increasingly require extensive knowledge of software applications, such as word
processing, spreadsheets, and database management. Secretaries and administrative
assistants should be proficient in keyboarding and good at spelling, punctuation,
grammar, and oral communication.
Because secretaries and administrative assistants must be tactful in their dealings
with people, employers also look for good interpersonal skills. Discretion,
good judgment, organizational or management ability, initiative, and the ability
to work independently are especially important for higher-level administrative
As office automation continues to evolve, retraining and continuing education will remain an integral part of secretarial jobs. Changes in the office environment have increased the demand for secretaries and administrative assistants who are adaptable and versatile. Secretaries and administrative assistants may have to attend classes to learn how to operate new office technologies, such as information storage systems, scanners, the Internet, or new updated software packages, or utilize online education.
Secretaries and administrative assistants acquire skills in various ways. Training ranges from high school vocational education programs that teach office skills and keyboarding to 1- and 2-year programs in office administration offered by business schools, vocational-technical institutes, and community colleges. Many temporary placement agencies also provide formal training in computer and office skills. Many skills are often acquired, however, through on-the-job instruction by other employees or by equipment and software vendors. Specialized training programs are available for students planning to become medical or legal secretaries or administrative technology specialists. Bachelor's degrees and professional certifications are becoming increasingly important as business continues to become more global.
Testing and certification for entry-level office skills is available through the International Association of Administrative Professionals and NALS, the association for legal professionals. As secretaries and administrative assistants gain experience, they can earn the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) designation or the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) designation by meeting certain experience and/or educational requirements and passing an examination. Similarly, those with one year's experience in the legal field or who have concluded an approved training course and who want to be certified as a legal support professional can acquire the basic designation of Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) by a testing process administered by NALS. NALS also offers an examination to confer the designation of Professional Legal Secretary (PLS), an advanced certification for legal support professionals. Legal Secretaries International confers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation in specialized areas such as civil trial, real estate, probate, and business law, to those who have 5 years of law-related experience and pass an examination. In some instances, waivers of certain requirements may be available.
Secretaries generally advance by being promoted to other administrative positions with more responsibilities. Qualified secretaries who broaden their knowledge of a company's operations and enhance their skills may be promoted to other positions such as senior or executive secretary, clerical supervisor, or office manager. Secretaries with word processing or data entry experience can advance to jobs as word processing or data entry trainers, supervisors, or managers within their own firms or in a secretarial, word processing or data entry service bureau. Secretarial experience can also lead to jobs such as instructor or sales representative with manufacturers of software or computer equipment. With additional training, many legal secretaries become paralegals.
Job OutlookOverall, employment of secretaries and administrative assistants is expected to for all occupations over the 2000-10 period. In addition to openings due to growth, numerous job openings will result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave this very large occupation for other reasons each year. Opportunities should be best for well-qualified and experienced secretaries.
Projected employment of secretaries will vary by occupational specialty. Employment growth in the health and legal services industries should lead to average growth for medical and legal secretaries. Employment of executive secretaries and administrative assistants also is projected to for all occupations. Fast growing industries—such as personnel supply, computer and data processing services, health and legal services education, and engineering and management—will continue to generate most new job opportunities. A in employment is expected for all other secretaries except legal, medical, or executive. They account for almost half of all secretaries and administrative assistants.
Growing levels of office automation and organizational restructuring will continue to make secretaries and administrative assistants more productive in coming years. Personal computers, electronic mail, scanners, and voice message systems will allow secretaries to accomplish more in the same amount of time. The use of automated equipment is also changing the distribution of work in many offices. In some cases, such traditional secretarial duties as keyboarding, filing, photocopying, and bookkeeping are being assigned to workers in other units or departments. Professionals and managers increasingly do their own word processing and data entry; and handle much of their own correspondence rather than submit the work to secretaries and other support staff. Also, in some law offices and physicians' offices, paralegals and medical assistants are assuming some tasks formerly done by secretaries. As other workers assume more of these duties, there is a trend in many offices for professionals and managers to "share" secretaries and administrative assistants. The traditional arrangement of one secretary per manager is becoming less prevalent; instead, secretaries and administrative assistants increasingly support systems, departments, or units. This approach often means secretaries and administrative assistants assume added responsibilities and are seen as valuable members of a team, but it also contributes to the decline in employment projected for overall numbers of secretaries and administrative assistants.
Developments in office technology are certain to continue, and they will bring about further changes in the secretary's and administrative assistant's work environment. However, many secretarial and administrative duties are of a personal, interactive nature and, therefore, not easily automated. Responsibilities such as planning conferences, working with clients, and transmitting staff instructions require tact and communication skills. Because technology cannot substitute for these personal skills, secretaries and administrative assistants will continue to play a key role in most organizations.
Median annual earnings of executive secretaries and administrative assistants were $34,970 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $28,500 and $43,430. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $53,460. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of executive secretaries and administrative assistants in May 2009 were:
|Management of companies and enterprises||$38,950|
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools||34,280|
Median annual earnings of legal secretaries were $36,720 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,070 and $46,390. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,590. Medical secretaries earned a median annual salary of $26,540 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,980 and $32,690. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,140, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,140. Median annual earnings of secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive, were $26,110 in May 2009.
Salaries vary a great deal, however, reflecting differences in skill, experience, and level of responsibility. Certification in this field usually is rewarded by a higher salary.
Workers in a number of other occupations also type, record information, and process paperwork. Among them are bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks; receptionists and information clerks; communications equipment operators; court reporters; human resources assistants, except payroll and timekeeping; computer operators; data entry and information processing workers; paralegals and legal assistants; medical assistants; and medical records and health information technicians. A growing number of secretaries and administrative assistants share in managerial and human resource responsibilities. Occupations requiring these skills include office and administrative support worker supervisors and managers; computer and information systems managers; administrative services managers; and human resources, training, and labor relations managers and specialists.
State employment offices provide information about job openings for secretaries and administrative assistants. For information on the latest trends in the profession, career development advice, and the CPS or CAP designations, contact: Information on the CLSS designation can be obtained from: Information on the ALS, PLS, and paralegal certifications are available from:
Sources of Additional Information
State employment offices provide information about job openings for secretaries and administrative assistants.
For information on the latest trends in the profession, career development advice, and the CPS or CAP designations, contact:
Information on the CLSS designation can be obtained from:
Information on the ALS, PLS, and paralegal certifications are available from: