Today's Administrative Assistant Has More Responsibility The Buzz


Today's administrative assistant is a new breed of worker. He or she now shoulders much responsibility in today's fast-paced, technology-driven era.

"Gone are the hats, white gloves and the extra pair of nylons in the drawer -- as well as the runs for coffee," says Marie Brunell. She is the past president of the Massachusetts chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). "Today, the administrative professional is part of the team."

Brunell says these professionals should be able to work independently and do many tasks. "Today's assistants create and maintain spreadsheets, as well as databases. They create graphic presentations," she says.

"They serve as information coordinators. [They] conduct information searches on the web, arrange travel via the web and also order supplies online."

Today's administrative assistant is also very technology-savvy. "We are the ones who are often given new software and learn how to use it. Then [we] train others in the department," Brunell says.

"The Internet has changed how we all do business today," she adds.

"More people [within this profession] will be virtual assistants. The traditional secretary role will be there for a few years. But the administrative professionals of tomorrow will have to work to keep up with technological changes. Lifelong learning will be the key to our success."

This type of job probably has as many titles as tasks. "Titles vary widely based on the company," Brunell says.

"Some still have the traditional secretary or executive secretary title. You can [also] be an office manager, a supervisor, a conference coordinator, virtual assistant, information coordinator. The title possibilities are limitless."

Corinne Haack is an executive assistant for a trust company. "Basic duties across the board are: filing, answering the phone, speaking with clients, letter writing, developing reports, answering e-mail, opening and distributing mail and faxes, and basic accounting," she says.

Haack adds that more specific duties can include:

  • Making travel and accommodation arrangements
  • Taking minutes at meetings
  • Coordinating registrations and enrollments to various meetings and seminars
  • Coordinating and planning various corporate charity events
  • Assisting in the organization of various meetings
  • Assisting in the preparation of presentations on PowerPoint
  • Proofing various reports and documents
  • Acting as a backup or expert for solving computer software problems
  • Preparing agendas and schedules of events for meetings
  • Assisting with special projects
  • Arranging coffee and lunches for meetings

One of the bonuses of this field is the wide range of businesses and industries you can work within, says Carleen Eve Fischer Hoffman. She has worked for a small plastics company, a major restaurant chain, a life insurer, a law firm and a workers' compensation company.

"In these positions, you learn the different languages and jargon," she says. "For all of those positions, I didn't have that specific type of background. I just had the general background of an administrative assistant. And I made it through just fine."

Fischer Hoffman says it is helpful to have a college education to work as an administrative assistant. Getting an associate's degree in executive office administration is one route you can take, she says. Strong math skills are also necessary, she adds.

Advances in technology are happening every day and the administrative professional needs to keep current and adapt quickly, adds Cheryl MacNeil, the president of the Springfield chapter of the IAAP.

"Strong technical skills are [a must]. And strong communication skills will also be necessary," she says.

"Even in the 'wireless information age,' administrative professionals are still going to be dealing with new clients, investors or vendors. They will be handling customer service issues. [They] are the hub of all communication within the company or department."

Supervisory skills are also necessary. "Many administrative professionals are stepping into management roles," says MacNeil. "Team-building, organizational and time management skills are also necessary in this field."

This field has many opportunities. "Millions more work in businesses all over the world," says Haack.

MacNeil is a legal administrative assistant in Connecticut. She says this field is expected to grow a lot in the coming years.

MacNeil describes her job as her calling. "I have been very fortunate to work with people who value my profession," she says. "My immediate supervisors have always treated me as their equal. I have always felt I worked with them and not for them.

"However," she adds, "although our profession has come a long way, there are so few who actually pursue entering this field. The old-fashioned 'secretary' image is still out there.

"Many employers still don't realize what a valuable resource they have right outside their office," MacNeil says. "We need to speak up for ourselves -- vocalize our abilities and accomplishments. [We must] never be ashamed to say we are administrative professionals. Successful businesses cannot operate without us!"

Links

International Virtual Assistants Association
Explains the role of the virtual assistant and provides membership information

Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals
Learn more about the profession