Secretaries and administrative assistants perform routine clerical and administrative duties.
What they do
Secretaries and administrative assistants organize files, prepare documents, schedule appointments, and support other staff.
They 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.
Secretaries and administrative assistants work in nearly every industry. Most secretaries and administrative assistants work in an office setting. Some administrative assistants may work out of their own homes as virtual assistants.
How to become a Secretary and/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.
The median annual wage for secretaries and administrative assistants was $39,850 in May 2019. 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 $25,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,510.
Overall employment of secretaries and administrative assistants is projected to decline 9 percent from 2019 to 2029.
Technology enables staff in many organizations to prepare their own documents without the help of secretaries. Additionally, many executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants support more than one manager in an organization, and many managers now do tasks that were previously done by these workers. In legal firms, paralegals and legal assistants use technology that enables them to perform tasks, such as preparing and filing documents, that were previously done by legal secretaries.
Similar Job Titles
Administrative Assistant (Admin Assistant), Administrative Clerk, Administrative Secretary (Admin Secretary), Administrative Specialist (Admin Specialist), Administrative Support Assistant (ASA), Administrative Technician, Department Secretary, Office Assistant, Secretary, Staff Assistant
Library Assistant-Clerical, Receptionist and Information Clerk, Executive Secretary and Executive Administrative Assistant, Insurance Policy Processing Clerk, Office Clerk-General
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
- International Association of Administrative Professionals
- National Association of Educational Office Professionals
- National Association of Professional Women
- National Education Association
- National Notary Association
- Society for Human Resource Management
Magazines and Publications
Well-organized… resourceful… persistent and detail oriented… with a strong drive to make things work. Secretaries and administrative assistants need a combination of all these qualities. They handle administrative activities in most organizations, including schools, healthcare facilities, government offices, and private companies. Secretaries perform a wide variety of tasks. They prepare documents and spreadsheets, organize files, schedule appointments, and support other staff. They may also buy supplies, plan events, and manage stockrooms. Most answer phone calls and direct them appropriately. In schools, they handle communications among parents, students, and school administration. Some duties are particular to a type of secretary: Executive secretaries work for top executives to handle complex responsibilities, including research and writing reports. Confidentiality and integrity are essential. They may also manage clerical staff. Legal secretaries prepare legal documents and help with legal research under the supervision of an attorney or a paralegal. Medical secretaries transcribe dictation and prepare reports or articles for doctors or medical scientists. They may handle communications with patients and process insurance payments. Most secretaries and administrative assistants work full time in offices; some work for administrative service companies out of their own homes. Jobs typically require a high school education and basic office, computer, and English grammar skills. Legal and medical secretaries need additional training to learn industry terminology. Most community colleges offer programs or courses to obtain these skills. Executive secretaries require several years’ related work experience.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org