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Essential skills for success at every level as a secretary

CareerBuilder | September 21, 2020

Discover the skills you'll need to succeed as entry-level, mid-level and senior-level secretaries in this fast-paced position.

As a secretary, you're in charge of keeping an office running smoothly in a professional environment. Depending on your industry, this could include anything from supporting colleagues to assisting clients to performing other administrative tasks.

Entry-Level Skills

When you start out as a secretary, you're most likely to land an entry-level administrative assistant role. In this position, you'll generally take on tasks related to correspondence, scheduling, and basic office support.

Many administrative assistant tasks are easy to tackle, but your grasp of the essential skills for the job will help you stand out among your peers. Develop these basic secretary skills to succeed in an entry-level position.

1. Clear Communication

As any administrative assistant can tell you, clear communication is this position's most essential component. After all, almost every task you'll do relates to written or verbal correspondence.

: If your communication skills could use some work, try taking a writing or literature class to hone your ability to communicate thoughts clearly on paper or on the computer screen. Improvisational acting classes can also help you express thoughts verbally and think on your feet.

2. Technological Competence

Decades ago, most secretaries used pen and paper or typewriters for memos and correspondence. Times have changed, however, and today's administrative assistants must demonstrate technological competence. You'll need to be able to use desktop computers, laptops, and smart devices to manage daily tasks.

: That isn't all, though. You'll also need to master basic word processing programs, email applications, and scheduling platforms. While you'll learn proprietary software on the job, you should already have a basic grasp of the essential technology needed for your position. Don't hesitate to read manuals or attend webinars to learn the basics.

3. Sense of Professionalism

All entry-level secretaries should also have basic customer service skills, which start with a sense of professionalism. Remember that no matter where your desk is located, as an administrative assistant, you're the face of the company. That means politeness and respect are essential qualities, whether you're dealing with clients or talking with colleagues.

Mid-Level Secretary Skills

Once you've mastered your entry-level job, you might have an opportunity to take on an administrative secretary job or another mid-level secretary role. Before you start applying for jobs, make sure you have these essential mid-level secretary skills.

4. Organization Skills

Most mid-level secretaries are responsible for handling a mind-boggling amount of information. Depending on your office culture, this information might include paper files, electronic databases, or even verbal meetings.

Because your colleagues will depend on you to retrieve data efficiently, you'll need strong organizational skills. If you don't already have a preferred way of keeping things organized, educate yourself about desk accessories, software programs, and even workflow concepts that can help you keep everything under control.

5. Time Management

As you take on more responsibilities in your mid-level secretarial position, time management becomes critical. Whether you report to a single supervisor or several superiors assign work to you on a daily basis, you need to juggle tasks effectively.

Advice: For most administrative secretaries, this means learning how to work smarter. Track how long it takes you to complete tasks, and learn what schedule optimizes your productivity. You'll quickly learn how to make the most of each workday.

6. Problem Solving

When you achieve a mid-level secretarial role, you'll no longer be able to rely on superiors to make decisions for you. Instead, you'll have to problem-solve on your own. As a secretary, common problems could include anything from fixing scheduling issues to communicating with challenging clients.

Advice: Your office might have policies in place to guide your efforts, but you'll also have to hone your own problem-solving skills to get things done. To solve problems effectively, take the time to understand your company's goals and know what you can do to achieve them.

Senior-Level Secretary Skills

If you excel in this support-based industry, you might have what it takes to land a senior-level secretary job, such as an administrative supervisor. While these professionals certainly draw on essential secretary skills and tasks, they must also go above and beyond in almost every aspect of the job. Take your secretarial career to the next level by nurturing the skills for one of these senior administrative positions.

7. Planning Abilities

For an administrative supervisor, planning ahead couldn't be more important. In this role, you'll have more tasks to juggle, and you'll have a small staff to manage, too. That means you'll need to have a solid sense of your company's objectives and an understanding of what resources you have at your disposal.

Advice: If your planning abilities need work, try taking a course in project management. You'll learn how to juggle resources, allot time, and manage staff to complete both daily tasks and major projects on schedule.

8. Proactive Approach

As an administrative supervisor, you'll quickly learn that you don't get ahead by waiting around for things to happen. Instead, you'll need to take a proactive approach to everything on your to-do list.

Many senior-level secretaries find that creating proactive systems early on helps them succeed in this career. To develop this kind of workflow, anticipate problems that could arise and take the opportunity to address those issues head on. Doing this might require more time up front, but you'll save loads of time when you execute projects flawlessly.

9. Sense of Discretion

Senior-level secretaries tend to deal with sensitive information, such as confidential records and private communications. To handle this kind of information effectively, you'll need a keen sense of discretion and the ability to maintain confidentiality. Pride yourself on your impeccable ability to keep a secret, and you might even land the opportunity to take on higher-paying opportunities that demand discretion.

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