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Secretary Job Description, Career as a Secretary, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Secretaries perform several office tasks within one job. They do word processing and data entry. They may take shorthand. Secretaries also file papers, answer telephones, schedule appointments, and handle mail for their employers. Secretaries are employed by business, professional, government, and nonprofit organizations.

The exact nature of the work varies widely from job to job. Secretaries in small firms may spend most of their time dealing with the mail and answering the phone. In a very small organization, one secretary may be responsible for all office functions.

In the past, every middle manager in a large corporation would have a secretary working for him or her. Office automation has eliminated many secretarial jobs. Managers now use e-mail to send and receive correspondences, and they get their phone messages through voice mail. There is less paper to file because so much information is stored on computers.

In most modern, automated offices, one secretary provides services for several managers. Those who work for only one or two managers are usually given additional responsibilities. They may be given tasks that formerly were done by administrators. The tasks vary with the type of office and the special skills of the secretary. A secretary to a human resources director might administer and score tests or check applicants' references. A secretary to an advertising manager might check copy for printing errors and layout. In some offices experienced secretaries are given the same responsibilities as administrative assistants.

Large organizations may have five or more levels of secretaries. Those at the top level are usually called executive secretaries. Those at the middle level may be called senior secretaries or administrative secretaries, but the titles vary from one organization to another. Secretary is sometimes an entry-level title. Inexperienced secretaries may start out by working in a group. Middle- or senior-level secretaries often teach newcomers how to use the company's computer equipment and programs. If the equipment changes, they may help to retrain other office workers.

In any office, experienced secretaries may be given a great deal of responsibility. They may order supplies, schedule meetings, handle petty cash, and make travel arrangements. Some secretaries perform supervisory duties or act as office managers.

Many secretaries specialize in one type of office work. For instance, legal secretaries are familiar with the terms and procedures used by lawyers. Medical secretaries work in doctors' offices, hospitals, and other places where a knowledge of medical terms is essential. Bilingual secretaries work for the government and for other organizations that maintain contact and exchange letters with offices abroad.

A secretary's duties can range from answering phones to supervising personnel and managing office operations. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.)

Education and Training Requirements

Secretaries generally must have a high school education. Many employers prefer to hire graduates of administrative support schools. Business executives may prefer applicants with a liberal arts degree and secretarial training. Typing or word processing skills of at least sixty-five words per minute are often required for jobs in big cities. Shorthand skills are no longer needed for many secretarial jobs. A basic knowledge of computers is increasingly required. Employers usually provide training for their particular equipment and programs. Communication skills are also valuable on the job.

Getting the Job

A high school or business school placement office may help a graduating student to find a secretarial job. Interested individuals can contact companies directly or check the classified ads in their local newspapers. They can also check for jobs on the Internet. If candidates are interested in a government job, they should arrange to take the necessary civil service exam. State and private employment agencies may find suitable openings for prospective secretaries.

Another approach is to register with an agency supplying temporary secretaries to local companies. A person could gain experience that might lead to a permanent job.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

A secretary in a small firm may advance to office manager or transfer to a more responsible job in a larger organization. In large firms good secretaries may be given more administrative responsibility. They may become administrative assistants. Some take college courses in administration and progress to entry-level management positions. Secretaries who work in government may train to qualify for higher civil service jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.6 million secretaries were employed in the United States in 2004. The number of secretaries employed was expected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Employment opportunities for legal and medical secretaries were expected to be much better than those for general secretaries. Many general secretary jobs will be lost as offices continue to update their technology and more and more secretarial duties become automated.

Working Conditions

Secretaries work in many types of offices. An executive secretary may work in a roomy office in a large office building. Entry-level secretaries may work in a large room as part of a group. Medical secretaries may work in busy doctors' offices. Most secretaries meet and work with a variety of people. All secretaries are subject to pressures at least some of the time. Most secretaries work thirty-five to forty hours per week. Some offices permit secretaries to work flexible schedules.

Where to Go for More Information

International Association of Administrative Professionals
10502 NW Ambassador Dr.
PO Box 20404
Kansas City, MO 64195
(816) 891-6600

Office and Professional Employees International Union
265 W. 14th St., 6th Fl.
New York, NY 10011
(800) 346-7348

Earnings and Benefits

Secretaries' salaries vary a great deal. Skills, experience, and the type and location of the job affect earnings. In their November 2004 Occupational Employment Statistics survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median yearly salary for general secretaries was $27,520. Medical secretaries made $28,250, and legal secretaries brought in $38,870. Full-time employees usually receive paid holidays and vacations, health and life insurance, and fringe benefits.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesBusiness