So tell me about secretarying.

They call 'em “administrative assistants” now, apparently. Secretary’s a type of desk. But either word you use, it’s something I seem to be qualified to do. There’s a minor abundance of such jobs available in my hometown, where I am returning to live with my parents and work for a year to save up money so I can move to Texas and continue my college education. The information in the ads say that the requirements are:

  • high school diploma or GED (check! I have a state honors diploma from my high school)
  • experience with MS Office tools (check again! I took office computing classes in that high school)
  • typing ability (another check! 99% accuracy at 100 wpm, no exaggeration)
  • 1 year experience in secretarial work (hmmm… I’ve never actually been a secretary as my primary job description, but I’ve done secretarial work if you accept “secretarial” as simply an adjective… filing paperwork for my job in high school and running off copies and collating on a volunteer basis for my mom’s job as the church secretary)
    And the pay seems very good - low of $9 an hour, high of $12, overwhelming majority $10.

So let’s assume I get one of these jobs and work at it until next summer. What will I probably actually be doing on a daily basis? What’s it like to be a secrematary?

You will be doing any and probably most of the following:

[li]Typing letters (lots of them)[/li][li]Filing[/li][li]Photocopying[/li][li]Answering/screening your boss’s phone calls[/li][li]Expense reports[/li][/ul]

The last two are the worst, IMHO.

It isn’t too bad being a secretary provided your boss is a decent human being… and it really, really helps if they answer their own phone. The worst thing about it is just being at someone’s beck and call, which can be really frustrating if you’re an independent minded person. You wouldn’t want to spend a lifetime doing it, but it’s not so bad doing it for a while.

I’ve been a secretary since I graduated from high school. My opinion? It can be the best job in the world, or it can be an incredibly sucky job!!! And it all has to do with your boss & the people you work for.

I’m currently working at a university where I make almost half as much money as I made secretary-ing at GTE. However, I work with great people, have a flexible schedule, a lot more vacation/holiday time, have the opportunity to attend classes full-time (which I’m doing in an effort to not have to secretary anymore) . . .

Find a place where people treat you like you’re a human being, and don’t automatically assume that because you’re a secretary you’re a brain dead moron.

My two cents’ worth . . .

Thanks for your input, ruadh and crazy4chaucer.

I think the “it depends on your boss and who you work for” is applicable to almost any job situation. :slight_smile:

I could probably handle answering calls (heck, I’ve basically my roommate’s personal answering service for the past nine months :rolleyes: ) as long as I don’t have to make many.

Well, definitely try to avoid someone who makes you dial the phone for them and then let them know when there’s a live person on the other end of the line. Yes, some bosses actually do that. It boggles my mind too.

My dad does that. 'Tis annoying. And it does indeed boggle the mind.

Well, where I work, I’m the high-priced help. It’s much more cost-effective to have one of the clerical workers spend the time running down the number and getting thru voice-mail hell, while I review patient charts, make treatment plans, write orders, etc.

I back up the fact that who your boss is makes all the difference.

I try to make sure my #1 assistant (wherever I am) is an up and comer, i.e. someone who’s organized and trying to get into his or her career. I hope they stay for two years in which they’re pretty much my servants. In return for that I train them in all things relating to the business so they can move on to better things.

There are others who believe in getting someone who’ll be content with being an assistant forever so they’re not constantly retraining. But I’ve always found that the more ambitious my assistants are the more imaginatively they approach the job. I really like having someone working for me who’s willing to say, “I don’t have enough work. Give me some other project.”

Oh, and I bring in chocolate every week for all of my staff. And wine after really hard weeks.

If you must, Qadgop, I hope you at least instruct them to say “This is Doctor Qadgop’s office calling” and make sure the party you wish to speak to is available, and not simply say “Can you hold for a call please?” and then immediately put the person on the other end on hold. This is unspeakably rude.

You might also be doing someone’s calendar, as in setting up appointments and making sure the boss has the materials he needs.

This is what I did in an average day when I was a secretary:

Answer phone calls, take messages, direct calls.

Make calls for boss – for example, calling all department heads and saying “Ms. Boss would like to remind you to bring your equipment requests to the next monthly meeting.”

Prepare memos, notes, reports, etc for boss. Sometimes, this means taking your boss’s handwritten notes or email drafts and making them into a formal memo. Some ofices use a dictaphone, and I personally would like to bludgeon whoever it was who invented this horrible piece of torture. Other times, the boss says “write a memo to Joe Smith telling him blah blah blah” so you have to do more of the actual writing yourself.

Open mail, read mail, direct mail to appropriate person.

Keep mail log database – when each letter is received, and what happens next (do you file it, reply to it, send it to Joe in Accounting, etc). Make copies as appropriate.

Make appointments for boss, confirm appointments for boss, keep track of any materials needed for particular meetings.

Keep track of photocopier and other equipment. Call repair person when needed. Chat up repair person so that the next time it breaks, you don’t have to wait two weeks for the repair person.

Order office supplies (before you actually run out)

Prepare coffee and snacks for meetings, depending on what is appropriate at your office, whether it is making coffee yourself, or ordering coffee from the deli, or keeping the coffee supplies well stocked so that everyone can make their own.

Greet people who come into the office, direct them to the appropriate person or area.

File a lot of stuff. Retrive stuff from files.

Be responsible for petty cash. Process bills.

Make travel arrangements, including car service, train, air, and/or hotel.

Establish a good working relationship with other secretaries at the place of business. This is key. Help them out and they will help you out when you need it.

All sorts of weird little stuff – you might have to renew newspaper or magazine subscriptions annually, or if your boss as a company car, you might prepare and submit monthly milage reports. I used to keep track of the key box – if someone forgot their office key I would give them a loaner, and then had to make sure it was returned. There will be lots of these little tasks depending on the type of business where you work.

The hardest part of being a good secretary is the most abstract part. It requires an effort to get to know your boss so that you can predict what he/she needs. If you boss always loses things, get into the habit of making two copies and having the second copy ready to pull out of your desk, rather than calling another office and asking them to send another copy. Be very clear when you talk about assignments – if your boss asks how you are doing with a certain report, and you say “fine” he might think you mean “fine, it will be done in two minutes” when you actually mean “fine, it will be done in one hour.” If you get another assignment, speak up and ask whether assignment A or assignment B needs to be completed first. Write everything down so you can refer to instructions later – when you’re a smart person, it’s easy to think that you can remember all sorts of simple instructions, but it’s harder than it looks and has nothing to do with being smart.

That’s more than rude. That’s evil.

Delphica made an excellent checklist of the sorts of duties a secretary/administrative assistant does! I’ve been in the “administrative assistant” field for my entire working career (will be 25 years in June :)), and the only thing I can think to add would be to get to know the “moods” of your boss(es) and the other staff that you work with/for. LOL I know, it will take a while to be able to do that, but I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can tell by looking at one of my bosses when he comes in and knowing whether I’ll be dealing with Doctor Jeckyll or Mr. Hyde that day! :slight_smile: The only aspect of my job that I really dislike is making copies–they usually want something ASAP and it can be some large (100 pages plus) that they need 5 (or 10) copies of, meaning your going to be at the copier for a while and more importantly not at your desk (unless the copier is right by your desk, in which case YIKES because you’ll be expected to answer the phone -and- make copies … ;)). I think I dislike this the most because it’s hard for me to be on my feet like that for extended periods of time and our office copiers are not meant to be copying large jobs–unfortunately, it leads to jams from the drum being too hot, and trying to unjam copy paper from the hot drum area is the pits! I burnt my fingertips twice this past week because of this, unfortunately.

Good luck, Racinchikki! :slight_smile:


Thanks some more, everybody. I hope my boss and coworkers will be patient with me for the first few days - it seems like secretaries have a lot on their desks! I’m a little worried about dealing with the copy machine, but only because I’m unfamiliar with how they work (beyond the “push these buttons to make it go,” I mean - if it jammed, I’d be uncertain of what to do!)…

I’m not sure every copy machine is like this, but of the few I’ve worked with, there’s illustrated instructions inside the front cover that show what buttons to flip or push or turn when (It’s not an if, it’s a when) a paper jam occurs.

sigh I tried that too. Got me an actual secretarial job instead of just an assistant to a secretary. At least around here, an increasing number of entry-level secretarial positions are strongly suggesting (and a few are requiring) an Associates or, increasingly frequently, a Bachelors degree.

As for what secretaries do, delphica has named all the main things I’ve done in secretarial work. (With some variations, of course.)

Yes, which is why I hang up on those calls.

Hey, look, I completely understand the “find the number for the boss” deal - I’ve been a secretary many years now - but anyone who can’t make the call himself to a live human being is just arrogant and lazy. On the job I haven’t a choice when we get these calls (which are becoming more and more rare with each passing year), but in private…

Once had an acquaintance become very frustrated. Kept trying to having his secretary call me. As soon as I heard “Please hold while I get—” I’d hang up. Please. If you’re making a social call don’t treat me like a serf.

And I’ve gotten telemarketer calls that start with a recorded voice of “Please hold for an important call —” at which point I hung up. Only one time it turned out to be the bank that held my student loan. Finally, they had a real live human being write a letter to tell me there was something wrong with my phone. I called them and said there was nothing wrong with the phone, just that if a call was so damn important it would be a human being making it, explained about the telemarketers using the same tactic, and that there was no way to tell THEIR oh-so-precious call from someone selling aluminum siding.

The only person who should have a secretary that dials the phone and says “Please hold while I get…” is the President of the United States or equivalent national leader. And maybe not even then.

OK this is coming from a different direction, but with your typing skills I would recommend being a word-processor, not a secretary.

It’s way less of a pain in the butt, in my opinion. If you can find a larger organization with a pool of word processors, your job is simply typing documents all day, and hopefully somebody else deals with all administrative-type details. The pay is often better than a secretary’s pay too. The main requirement is superb typing skills, better than the average secretary’s 45 wpm or so. (in my experience.) Also emphasize spelling/proofing/grammar type skills when applying for WP jobs. You should do well.