Today's administrative assistant is a new breed of worker. He or she
now shoulders much responsibility in today's fast-paced, technology-driven
"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
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
International Virtual Assistants Association
Explains the role of the virtual assistant and provides membership
Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals
Learn more about the profession