Administrative, Secretarial and PA Jobs and Careers
Less than two decades ago, the suggestion was commonly made that office technology would soon make secretaries, administrators and PAs more or less redundant. It was thought that everyone would be able to do their own PC-based writing and that the greater efficiency would see the need for less administrative staff.
The prediction was inaccurate, however - the presence of the PC in the workplace has certainly increased efficiency, but the range of tasks of most offices has also increased. As a result, these office jobs are increasing, with a greater number of subdivisions than at any previous time.
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Secretaries work under a variety of titles, including clerk, assistant, personal assistant, executive secretary and receptionist. Most positions are permanent, but in cities there's the potential to earn a respectable living by working as a temporary secretary.
- Preparing and issuing correspondence (letters and emails), reports and documents.
- Handling incoming mail; organising and co-ordinating meetings.
- Typing and distributing minutes of meetings.
- Making travel arrangements and organising conference attendance.
- Looking after office systems.
- Setting up and maintaining filing systems.
- Updating databases.
- Managing schedules, diaries and calendars, and making appointments.
- Responding to queries.
- Operating office equipment, and more.
Secretary Skills and Attributes
The essence of being a successful secretary is having the ability to multi-task, be flexible in your work and be a great organiser.
Beyond this, the upper layer of skills include measurable keyboard skills, knowledge of computers and software programs, good written language skills, an understanding of customer service (even if those customers are fellow employees) and the ability to get along with a wide range of people, particularly when talking on the phone. Motivation and a professional approach are also important. Willingness to take instruction and, at times, do the jobs that others don't want to do - such as making coffee - helps as well.
Technical skills include being able to work on different types of computer, or just one (Mac, or PC with Windows), work on particular functions of different office programs (creating spreadsheets, databases, presentations, Esc) and use different kinds of office equipment.
The rewards are constantly available employment and the chance to progress to the higher paid positions. This is a respectable career with positions that frequently offer generous benefits packages.
Secretaries can make great money, and they go by several career titles. They can also be called a clerk, an assistant, a personal assistant, an executive secretary, a receptionist, a typist, or an office temp. In the UK, starting salaries are in the range £13,500-18,000 a year.
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Office administrators work in larger offices where they normally head a secretarial and office team. Their key responsibility is to keep the administrative office running smoothly, supporting the organisation in achieving its goals.
Depending on the size and nature of the organisation, duties include:
- Supervising administrative staff, including secretaries, on a daily basis.
- Delegating work and ensuring its timely completion.
- Conducting interviews for office staff and inducting new employees.
- Assisting office staff in maintaining files and databases.
- Preparing reports and presentations.
- Scheduling and taking minutes for meetings and appointments.
- Managing office supply inventory for the organisation, etc.
Administrative Skills and Attributes
The office administrator has a great deal to organise, so this ability is central to the role. They are responsible for supervising the office's staff, organising and delegating the workloads and ensuring that tasks are completed on time.
You need to demonstrate great verbal and written communication skills and strong interpersonal skills. Time management and organisational aptitudes are vital, along with good leadership skills. You need to be a self-starter, able to make decisions with confidence and initiative. Problem-solving skills are a bonus, as is project management. Of course, IT skills are essential. Awareness of legal requirements around storing data and similar issues is also valuable.
You'll need to have prior experience of working in an office. Most administrators have taken some additional training after leaving school or college - many have degrees. Keyboard skills and a good knowledge of a range of different computer platforms, software programs and office equipment are essential. Despite the need for additional training, many office administrators have worked their way up from other office roles, having undertaken in-house training as well as on-the-job education.
Administrator positions are not increasing in number as rapidly as secretarial jobs, so the best opportunities will remain with candidates who have a higher level of education and strong work experience. Starting salaries are in the range £17,000-£30,000, varying according to organisation and sector.
Personal Assistant (PA) Jobs
Personal assistants (PAs) perform secretarial and administrative tasks for a company director or higher executive level manager in an organisation. Their remit is to assist with a range of duties in order to reduce that manager's workload.
Depending on the organisation and individual manager, duties can include:
- Being the main point of contact for the manager.
- Screening and handling telephone calls.
- Receiving and responding to enquiries.
- Handling communications by post, email and fax.
- Organising the manager's diary.
- Organising travel plans and bookings.
- Preparing documentation for meetings.
- Taking notes and / or minutes at meetings.
- Producing outgoing correspondence.
- Undertaking other administrative duties as required.
PA Skills and Attributes
To make a good PA, you need to have solid secretarial skills combined with organisational abilities. As you will be working alone much of the time, you need to have good self-motivation and timekeeping aptitudes. Efficiency and the ability to meet deadlines are important. Diplomacy and discretion are frequently required, as is the ability to remain calm under pressure.
Self confidence and good communication skills are important, with good interpersonal skills. As with all admin or secretarial roles, the ability to multitask also comes high on the list. Above all, you must be able to show initiative and use good judgement when there is nobody else available to advise you. Good personal presentation is advantageous.
Starting salaries are in the region of £17,000 - £25,000 a year, rising as high as £30,000 to £40,000 at the top end of the scale.
Training for the Jobs
Secretary: NVQ training is available at many further education and tertiary colleges, awarded by a number of bodies.
Administrator: After completing an associate degree or Bachelors degree, it is worth adding a qualification (or qualifications) awarded by Pitman Training, Reed, City & Guilds or The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA). Also consider National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
Personal Assistant: At least 5 GCSE passes are necessary, including English and Maths at grade C or above. As well as IT proficiency, short hand and audio typing are useful skills. Qualifications include: NVQ 2 or 3 in Business and Administration, OCR Higher Diploma in Administrative Procedures, City & Guilds Advanced Diploma, Higher Professional Diploma in Business Administration.
Modern Apprenticeships are available in all of these areas. You can do a Level 2 (Apprenticeship) as a Junior Secretary, Administration Assistant or Clerical Assistant. Level 3 (Advanced Apprenticeship) is available for PA / Secretary, Office Administrator and Administration Clerk.
Job Sites for Administrative and Secretarial Jobs
- Clearly Secretarial is a specialist recruitment website offering a huge range of office based jobs all over the UK.
- Top Jobs has a large range of jobs available. Typing in your key words for specific job titles will reveal hundreds of jobs.
- Office Angels allows you to search for secretarial jobs by county or city locations in the UK or by job category.