What Secretaries and Administrative Assistants Do
Secretaries and administrative assistants perform routine clerical and administrative duties. They organize files, prepare documents, schedule appointments, and support other staff.
Secretaries and administrative assistants typically do the following:
- Answer telephones and take messages or transfer calls
- Schedule appointments and update event calendars
- Arrange staff meetings
- Handle incoming and outgoing mail and faxes
- Prepare memos, invoices, or other reports
- Edit documents
- Maintain databases and filing systems, whether electronic or paper
- Perform basic bookkeeping
Secretaries and administrative assistants perform a variety of clerical and administrative duties that are necessary to run an organization efficiently. They use computer software to create spreadsheets; manage databases; and prepare presentations, reports, and documents. They also may negotiate with vendors, buy supplies, and manage stockrooms or corporate libraries. Secretaries and administrative assistants also use videoconferencing, fax, and other office equipment. Specific job duties vary by experience, job title, and specialty.
The following are examples of types of secretaries and administrative assistants:
Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants provide high-level administrative support for an office and for top executives of an organization. They often handle more complex responsibilities, such as reviewing incoming documents, conducting research, and preparing reports. Some also supervise clerical staff.
Legal secretaries perform work requiring knowledge of legal terminology and procedures. They prepare legal documents, such as summonses, complaints, motions, and subpoenas under the supervision of an attorney or a paralegal. They also review legal journals and help with legal research—for example, by verifying quotes and citations in legal briefs.
Medical secretaries transcribe dictation and prepare reports or articles for physicians or medical scientists. They also take simple medical histories of patients, arrange for patients to be hospitalized, or process insurance payments. Medical secretaries need to be familiar with medical terminology and codes, medical records, and hospital or laboratory procedures.
Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive form the largest subcategory of secretaries and administrative assistants. They handle an office’s administrative activities in almost every sector of the economy, including schools, government, and private corporations. For example, secretaries in schools are often responsible for handling most of the communications among parents, students, the community, teachers, and school administrators. They schedule appointments, receive visitors, and keep track of students’ records.
Administrative Career Outlook
Overall employment of secretaries and administrative assistants is projected to decline 5 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Employment of secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive—the largest occupation in this profile—is projected to decline 7 percent from 2016 to 2026. In some organizations, technology is expected to enable other staff to prepare their own documents without the assistance of secretaries.
Employment of medical secretaries is projected to grow 22 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of medical secretaries will depend on growth of the healthcare industry. Aging baby boomers, for example, will require more medical services as they become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. As a result of these effects, medical secretaries will be needed to handle administrative tasks related to billing and insurance processing.
Employment of executive secretaries and administrative assistants is projected to decline 17 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is largely because many executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants can support more than one manager in an organization. In addition, many managers now perform work that was previously done by their executive secretaries. For example, they often type their own correspondence or schedule their own travel and meetings.
Employment of legal secretaries, the smallest occupation in this profile, is projected to decline 19 percent from 2016 to 2026. In legal firms, paralegals and legal assistants use technology that enables them to perform work previously done by legal secretaries, such as preparing and filing documents.
Most job openings are expected to come from the need to replace secretaries and administrative assistants who leave the occupation.
The median annual wage for secretaries and administrative assistants was $38,880 in May 2018. 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 percent earned less than $24,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $64,230.
Median annual wages for secretaries and administrative assistants in May 2018 were as follows:
|Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants||$59,340|
|Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive||36,630|
In May 2018, the median annual wages for secretaries and administrative assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||43,500|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||39,610|
|Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations||39,300|
|Healthcare and social assistance||36,330|
Most secretaries and administrative assistants work full time.
How to Become a Secretary or Administrative Assistant
High school graduates who have experience using computer software applications, such as word processing and spreadsheet programs, usually qualify for entry-level positions. Although most secretaries learn their job in several weeks, many legal and medical secretaries require additional training to learn industry-specific terminology. Executive secretaries usually need several years of related work experience.
High school graduates can take courses in word processing and office procedures at technical schools or community colleges. Some temporary placement agencies also provide training in word processing, spreadsheet, and database software.
Some medical and legal secretaries learn industry-specific terminology and practices by attending courses offered at community colleges or technical schools. For executive secretary positions, employers increasingly prefer to hire those who have taken some college courses or have a bachelor’s degree.
Secretaries and administrative assistants typically learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks. During this time they learn about administrative procedures, including how to prepare documents. Medical and legal secretaries’ training may last several months as they learn industry-specific terminology and practices.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Executive secretaries can gain experience by working in administrative positions that have less challenging responsibilities, such as secretaries and general office clerks.
Decisionmaking skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants often prioritize tasks and make decisions on their employers’ behalf, so good judgment is essential.
Interpersonal skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants interact with clients, customers, or staff. They should communicate effectively and be courteous when interacting with others to create a positive work environment and client experience.
Organizational skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants keep files, folders, and schedules in proper order so an office can run efficiently.
Writing skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants write memos and emails when communicating with managers, employees, and customers. Therefore, they must have good grammar, ensure accuracy, and maintain a professional tone.
Data sources from Bureau of Labor and Statistics