Administrative assistants work to ensure that the offices they administrate run smoothly and efficiently. Depending on the level of experience or expertise required for the position, administrative assistant jobs may require you to simply answer phones and take messages or to perform a list of more complex or technical tasks.
Take a look at this list of duties that administrative assistants may be asked to perform on a given day:
- Serving as the first point of contact for clients and visitors on the phone and in person
- Scheduling appointments, arranging staff meetings and distributing necessary documents
- Handling incoming and outgoing email, paper mail and packages
- Maintaining databases and filing systems both digitally and on paper
- Preparing memos, invoices and other paperwork
Those with long tenure on the job and the right experience may also be trusted to take on some purchasing, receiving, inventory or IT responsibilities. Most administrative assistants work in standard office environments, although some find work in specialized offices like those of lawyers, physicians and other such practitioners.
Administrative assistant specializations
Most administrative assistant school programs cover a general set of administrative and clerical responsibilities, but certain industries and disciplines do require a more specialized training. If you're thinking about becoming a legal secretary or working on the administration side of the medical field as a health care administrator, make sure that the degree program you choose will prepare you effectively for the specific demands of the job you have in mind.
How to Become an Administrative Assistant
Becoming an administrative assistant typically requires the following steps:
- Complete a high school education. Most employers looking to fill administrative assistant positions require applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Earn college credit or a college degree. Most entry level jobs don't require a great deal of training at a college level, but candidates who have taken some relevant courses at a college or vocational school may have an advantage over those with just a high school education.
- Gain experience working in an office or administrative position. Applying to jobs as an administrative assistant might be easier if you've worked in an office setting before and are familiar with the basic needs an officeplace needs in order to run smoothly.
Here's a short list of the type of courses typically offered in administrative assistant training programs:
- Office administration
- Interpersonal communication
- Records and database management
- Workplace technology
- Computer literacy
- Specialized software applications
- Time management
A full bachelor's or associate degree is typically not necessary for administrative assistant positions. If you already have a degree in another discipline, you may have covered some of the main subjects of office administration programs during your previous college study.
Administrative assistant programs
Many administrative assistant school programs can be completed in a year or less and typically lead to a career diploma, a professional certificate or another type of non-degree award. Although some schools may use the terms interchangeably, others stay faithful to two different learning structures:
- Career diploma programs can consist of a sequence of individual subject lessons that each cover a few aspects of the field
- Certificate programs tend to be designed like college degree programs, with a schedule of courses that last a full term
There are also sometimes differences between plans offered on campus and those offered online. Campus-based diploma programs may be more likely to use the college course model in their curriculum, while online administrative assistant schools may find it easier to offer a series of subject lessons.
Online administrative assistant programs
Much of the knowledge that's passed on in administrative assistant school can be translated to the virtual classroom fairly easily. Hands-on training is not often necessary in office admin programs, and the 24-7 nature of lesson availability in asynchronous online courses can allow you to complete your assignments, readings and lectures on your own time.
If you choose to go to administrative assistant school online, remember to check and make sure that the college you're attending is regionally accredited. Although accreditation doesn't guarantee that you'll find work after graduation, it does certify that your school meets a baseline standard for quality education.
Administrative assistant certification programs
Once you've gotten your start as an administrative assistant, certification programs can help demonstrate your knowledge and skill to a current or prospective employer. The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) offers a Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) credential that verifies your expertise in six important areas of the profession:
- Business writing and document production
- Office and records management
- Organizational Communications
- Technology and information distribution
- Event and project management
- Operational functions
CAP certification is earned by taking a rigorous exam that tests you in the above knowledge categories. No special program or course is required before you can sit for the exam, but you will need anywhere from two to four years of experience on the job before you're eligible.
Career advancement options for administrative assistants
The main pathway to career advancement for administrative assistants involves developing a long tenure on the job and shifting into administrative positions of greater responsibility. Additional education can help as well -- business or IT training can often open new doors in an office environment.
Executive secretaries or executive administrative assistants are listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the highest paid members of the profession. Agencies of the federal government, such as the postal service and the executive branch, pay the highest average administrative assistant salaries by industry.
Skills and Abilities for Administrative Assistants
According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), administrative assistants with certain skills and abilities are likely to do especially well in their careers. Here are a few of the high-value skills that O*NET lists for professional office administrators:
- Active listening
- Reading comprehension
- Time management
- Problem sensitivity
- Social perceptiveness
- Decision making
Administrative Assistant Salary and Career Outlook
A variety of factors can affect an administrative assistant salary. The industry in which you work, for example, or the amount of experience you have on the job, can each have a significant effect on the salary range you can expect. Pay tends to vary from state to state, as well, and your level of education or participation in administrative assistant certification programs may also play a role.
Take a look at this table of national salary and job growth averages for administrative assistant careers:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Office and Administrative Support Workers, All Other||196,570||$37,480||9.2%|
|Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive||2,165,310||$38,030||-6.5%|
Professional Resources for Administrative Assistants
Joining a professional association can help you meet like-minded professionals, give a boost to your career and provide various other benefits like member discounts on selected services. Here's a short list of professional associations for administrative assistants in North America:
- International Association of Administrative Professionals
- The Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals
- Association of Administrative Professionals (Canada)
- American Society of Administrative Professionals
Each of these organizations has its own unique set of member benefits and membership requirements. Many professional associations also offer a variety of membership levels, so you can choose the one that best fits your life and goals.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 18-19, 2018: Administrative Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm; Administrative Assistants, Occupational Employment and Wages, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436014.htm;
- Administrative Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, accessed September 18-19, 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-6014.00
- School pages, accessed September 18-19, 2018: Core Curriculum, Online Administrative Assistant, Penn Foster Career School, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/administrative-assistant/administrative-assistant-career-diploma/program-details; Administrative Assistant Course Online Curriculum, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/administrative-assistant-training/curriculum/; Career Studies Certificate, Administrative Assistant, Academic Program Guides, Tidewater Community College, https://apollo.tcc.edu:4458/pls/apex/f?p=122:32:::::P32_CUR_GUIDE_ID:546; Office Administration Assistant Diploma, Bryant & Stratton College, https://www.bryantstratton.edu/degrees/diplomas/office-administrative-assistant-diploma;
- Professional Association Pages, accessed September 19, 2018: CAP Certification, International Association of Administrative Professionals, https://www.iaap-hq.org/page/certification; About IAAP, International Association of Administrative Professionals, https://www.iaap-hq.org/page/About; Our History, Association of Administrative Professionals, https://canadianadmin.ca/about/our-history/; Member Benefits, Association of Administrative Professionals, https://canadianadmin.ca/members/member-benefits/; Join ASAP, The American Society of Administrative Professionals, https://www.asaporg.com/join-asap/; Join the AEAP, The Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals, https://theaeap.com/Join.aspx;