What Does an Administrative Assistant Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Businessman and his assistant in modern office
••• Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images

Administrative assistants, including secretaries, are the backbone of office functionality. They type and prepare documents, schedule appointments, and maintain files. They answer phones and direct calls and assist with staff meetings. In some offices, they might handle fundamental bookkeeping tasks, and they might accept payment from clients and customers.

Approximately 4 million administrative assistants and secretaries were working in the U.S. in 2016.

Administrative Assistant Duties & Responsibilities

Administrative assistants' responsibilities can vary depending on the type of office in which they work, but some common duties include:

  • Generate documents.
  • Put together slide presentations
  • Create spreadsheets.
  • Manage databases.
  • Create and/or maintain websites.
  • Act as office manager, planning staff events such as awards dinners and fundraising events, scheduling client meetings, and arranging schedules for coworkers.

Administrative Assistant Salary

Salary can depend on the nature of the business where an administrative assistant is employed, as well as the scope of duties. Those serving executives receive the top pay.

  • Median annual income: $38,880 ($18.69/hour)
  • Top 10% annual income: More than $64,230 ($30.88/hour)
  • Bottom 10% annual income: Less than $24,690 ($11.87/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

This occupation doesn't require any particular advanced education, but it can be helpful.

  • Education: You'll need a high school diploma or the equivalent, and you can get an edge in the field by enrolling in an associate degree program or attending a secretarial training program after high school. Secretaries now possess bachelor's degrees or earn specialty-focused certifications like the Accredited Legal Secretary or the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant in a growing number of sectors. Executive assistants and secretaries should have some college credits at a minimum, if not a bachelor's degree.
  • Training: Consider starting out with a temporary employment agency. These sometimes offer training to new recruits. Otherwise, if you have some basic secretarial skills, on-the-job training might be provided as you learn the ropes of a particular business or field.

Administrative Assistant Skills & Competencies

You'll need several essential qualities to succeed at becoming an administrative assistant.

  • Computer and software skills: You should be comfortable using Microsoft Office, email, and the internet. You might need to be familiar with QuickBooks or other accounting software programs if you work for a small business.
  • Multitasking skills: This can be especially important if you also act as manager. You should be able to juggle several demands at once. 
  • Verbal and written communication skills: These are essential. You should have a solid command of the English language and possess good proofreading skills.
  • Interpersonal skills: You'll be working with others, including clients and other office personnel. Good manners and a calm demeanor can be very important.
  • Organizational skills: You must be detail-oriented and organized, able to locate a document or recall protocol at a moment's notice.
  • Decision-making skills: You'll often find yourself handling several tasks almost simultaneously, particularly in busy offices, so you should be able to prioritize and make time-effective decisions. A client might want an appointment right away, but does he really have an emergency or can it wait a few days?

    Job Outlook

    Unfortunately, this position doesn't have an encouraging job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics projects that technological advancements will begin to take over many administrative assistants' duties from 2016 through 2026, resulting in a 5% decline in job growth.

    Work Environment

    This position is required by just about every industry. You might find yourself working in a medical office, a law office, a government office, or for a small, neighborhood contractor. In any case, you'll likely find yourself in an office setting.

    Virtual assistants are becoming more and more in demand, so it's possible that you might be able to work from home.

    Work Schedule

    This is almost invariably a full-time job during normal business hours, but the nature of the business might demand some weekend work, such as if you're employed by a medical clinic. Additionally, those in the legal profession might find that they're expected to put in long hours in advance of trials and deadlines.

    How to Get the Job

    GET GLOWING RECOMMENDATIONS

    Employers hiring a secretary or an administrative assistant are looking for an individual they can work with comfortably, who will blend well with other staff, and who can be trusted with confidential information. Strong letters of recommendation can demonstrate these qualities.

    USE YOUR NETWORKS

    Tap into your networks to get leads on job openings. Reach out to Facebook and LinkedIn contacts, family friends, neighbors, and former employers. Let them know you would appreciate introductions to anyone who might be hiring.

    TRACK DOWN OPENINGS

    Do a Google search for job openings with keywords like administrative assistant, marketing assistant, editorial assistant, medical secretary, legal secretary, and office assistant to generate job listings. Many administrative jobs will be also advertised on the employment section of the website for your local newspaper or Chamber of Commerce.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: