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Working as an administrative assistant - an excellent choice for generalists

CareerBuilder | December 22, 2021

administrative

Administrative assistants handle a wide range of duties, a great challenge for workers with general backgrounds.

Administrative assistants perform clerical duties and administrative tasks to support various types of organizations. They are employed in offices in almost every business sector. Most entry-level positions are available to those with a high school diploma and good communication and computer skills, but some administrative assistants may need specialized knowledge related to the industry they're working in.

What can you expect from an administrative assistant job?

Responsibilities

In an administrative role, you'll be responsible for a variety of organizational tasks that keep your employer's business running in an efficient way. Your duties will depend on your industry and the company you work for, but may include:

  • Answering telephone, email, and social media inquiries and directing them to other employees when appropriate
  • Typing workplace documents, including letters and reports
  • Processing incoming and outgoing mail
  • Creating and maintaining computer records
  • Maintaining paper files
  • Monitoring office equipment and stock levels; ordering supplies as needed
  • Performing basic bookkeeping duties
  • Scheduling meetings, seminars, conferences and other events
  • Taking minutes during business meetings
  • Coordinating appointments for executives and managers


Work environment

Administrative assistants work in office settings all over the place, including law firms, medical offices, government agencies, schools, hospitals and private enterprises.

Many administrative assistants share offices with other administrative professionals, while others work independently in their own office spaces, usually located close to an executive they assist. Administrative assistants typically have their own computer. Rarely, they rarely share their workstations with other company employees.

The offices where admin assistants work are usually quiet environments, but they can become stressful when deadlines loom or business operations ramp up.


Schedule

Administrative assistants usually work full-time hours, typically between 35 to 40 hours per week during regular business hours. Some businesses also employ part-time administrative assistants or offer flexible hours. Administrative assistants in some industries may have to work overtime occasionally.

Some organizations that operate outside traditional business hours, such as hospitals, may require their administrative assistants to work on weekends, public holidays and late at night. Administrative assistants working these unusual hours often have time off during the traditional business day to balance things out. Working as an administrative assistant for one of these companies suits people who prefer working nights and flexible schedules.

What qualifications are required to be an administrative assistant?

If your career path is leading you toward an administrative assistant role, you'll need to focus on the following qualifications:


Education

Most entry-level administrative assistant roles require a high school education, GED, or the equivalent. But administrative assistants can give themselves a competitive edge by gaining an associate's degree or certificate that shows proven experience in:

  • Database management
  • Office administration
  • Basic computer literacy, including competence with word processing and spreadsheet software


You might also consider enrolling in a Certified Administrative Professional program, which will help you build skills that will serve you throughout your career, even if it takes you beyond the administrative field. After all, administrative skills can help you land a job in a variety of industries.

Administrative assistants aspiring to roles in the legal and medical fields may also complete industry-specific courses that teach more about the sector's particular terminology and procedures.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's becoming more common for employers to look for executive-level administrative assistants with a college education.


Skills

Administrative assistants require a variety of skills to successfully perform their duties. If you want to be in high demand as an administrative employee, you should practice these hard and soft skills that hiring managers look for:

  • Basic computer literacy – Administrative assistants spend much of their time on computers, especially using word processing, database and spreadsheet software, and the internet. Familiarity with Microsoft Office is particularly important.
  • Organization – Administrative assistants rely on organization and time management skills to keep schedules straight and multitask on a variety of administrative duties.
  • Written and oral communication – Administrative assistants speak to top executives, staff members and visitors to the business. They also compose letters, emails, and social media posts using an appropriate, professional tone and correct grammar and spelling. Communication skills are indispensable in this role.
  • Interpersonal skills – As the point of contact for many staff members and visitors to the business, administrative assistants need to have highly developed people skills.
  • Attention to detail – It's vital for administrative assistants to complete their tasks at a high standard, without errors. You'll call on this skill when proofreading drafts of reports and letters.
  • Team player – Administrative assistants play a vital part in the operations of any organization, so it's important for them to work well with other people in the business.
  • Self-starter – Administrative assistants often need to use their own initiative to anticipate work issues and stay ahead.
  • Strong numeracy skills – This is especially important for administrative assistants responsible for bookkeeping.
  • Problem-solving abilities – Administrative assistants call on these skills when clients need to cancel meetings, appointments need juggling, supplies don't arrive on time, and other workplace emergencies arise.
  • Flexibility – An administrative assistant's duties can vary significantly from day to day. They rely on their flexibility to adapt to the demands each day brings and excel in whatever task that's required.
  • Strong work ethic – The work administrative assistants do is essential for their organizations' operations. It takes a strong work ethic to complete all the administrative activities that might pop up over the course of a business day.

Administrative assistant salary expectations

How much do administrative assistants make? Currently, the national average salary for administrative assistants is $53,000 per year. Salaries vary based on industry, location, and work experience. Use our Salary Search tool to find salary information for administrative assistants in your area.

Career trajectory

The administrative assistant career path can lead you in many different directions. As assistants gain experience, they may advance to more senior roles with greater responsibility. For example, an entry-level administrative assistant may become an executive administrative assistant or an office manager. If you would like to advance as an administrative assistant, you should apply yourself to learn more about your company's operations and enhance your skill set with certifications or degrees.

In some cases, motivated administrative assistants may move to other departments within their organization, such as accounting or information technology. Gaining formal qualifications and training in one of these areas will improve an administrative assistant's chances of transitioning to a new job.

Working as an administrative assistant is an excellent choice for people who'd prefer to enter the workforce rather than continue study after high school. The broad range of responsibilities and industry sectors employing administrative assistants ensures that this position will remain interesting and challenging.

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