Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Secretaries and Administrative Assistants Do[About this section] [To Top]

Secretaries and administrative assistants perform routine clerical and administrative duties. They organize files, prepare documents, schedule appointments, and support other staff.

Duties of Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Secretaries and administrative assistants typically do the following:

  • Answer telephones and take messages or transfer calls
  • Schedule appointments and update event calendars
  • Arrange staff meetings
  • Handle incoming and outgoing mail and faxes
  • Prepare memos, invoices, or other reports
  • Edit documents
  • Maintain databases and filing systems, whether electronic or paper
  • Perform basic bookkeeping

Secretaries and administrative assistants perform a variety of clerical and administrative duties that are necessary to run an organization efficiently. They use computer software to create spreadsheets; manage databases; and prepare presentations, reports, and documents. They also may negotiate with vendors, buy supplies, and manage stockrooms or corporate libraries. Secretaries and administrative assistants also use videoconferencing, fax, and other office equipment. Specific job duties vary by experience, job title, and specialty.

Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants provide high-level administrative support for an office and for top executives of an organization. They often handle more complex responsibilities, such as reviewing incoming documents, conducting research, and preparing reports. Some also supervise clerical staff.

Legal secretaries perform work requiring knowledge of legal terminology and procedures. They prepare legal documents, such as summonses, complaints, motions, and subpoenas under the supervision of an attorney or a paralegal. They also review legal journals and help with legal research—for example, by verifying quotes and citations in legal briefs.

Medical secretaries transcribe dictation and prepare reports or articles for physicians or medical scientists. They also take simple medical histories of patients, arrange for patients to be hospitalized, or process insurance payments. Medical secretaries need to be familiar with medical terminology and codes, medical records, and hospital or laboratory procedures.

Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive is the largest subcategory of secretaries and administrative assistants. They handle an office’s administrative activities in almost every sector of the economy, including schools, government, and private corporations. For example, secretaries in schools are often responsible for handling most of the communications among parents, students, the community, teachers, and school administrators. They schedule appointments, receive visitors, and keep track of students’ records.

Work Environment for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants[About this section] [To Top]

Secretaries and administrative assistants held about 4 million jobs in 2014 and worked in nearly every industry.

Many secretaries and administrative assistants work in schools, hospitals, governments, and legal and medical offices.

Employment in the detailed occupations of the secretaries and administrative assistants group in 2014 was distributed as follows:

Secretaries and administrative assistants, except
legal, medical, and executive
2,457,000
Executive secretaries and executive
administrative assistants
776,600
Medical secretaries 527,600
Legal secretaries 215,500

Most secretaries and administrative assistants work in an office setting. Some administrative assistants, who are also known as virtual assistants, typically work out of their own homes.

Secretary and Administrative Assistant Work Schedules

Most secretaries and administrative assistants work full time.

How to Become a Secretary or Administrativ Assistants[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants near you!

High school graduates who have experience using computer software applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, usually qualify for entry-level positions. Although most secretaries learn their job in several weeks, many legal and medical secretaries require additional training to learn industry-specific terminology. Executive secretaries usually need several years of related work experience.

Secretary and Administrative Assistant Education

High school graduates can take courses in word processing and office procedures at technical schools or community colleges. Some temporary placement agencies also provide training in word processing, spreadsheet, and database software.

Some medical and legal secretaries learn industry-specific terminology and practices by attending courses offered at community colleges or technical schools. For executive secretary positions, employers increasingly prefer to hire those who have taken some college courses or have a bachelor’s degree.

Secretary and Administrative Assistant Training

Secretaries and administrative assistants typically learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training, usually lasting a few weeks. During this time they learn about administrative procedures, including how to prepare documents. Medical and legal secretaries’ training may last several months as they learn industry-specific terminology and practices.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Executive secretaries can gain experience by working in administrative positions that have less challenging responsibilities. Many secretaries and administrative assistants advance to higher level administrative positions.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not required, certification can demonstrate competency to employers.

The International Association of Administrative Professionals offers the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification. Candidates must have a minimum of 2 to 4 years of administrative work experience, depending on their level of education, and pass an examination.

Legal secretaries have several certification options. For example, those with 1 year of general office experience, or who have completed an approved training course, can acquire the Accredited Legal Professional (ALP) certification through a testing process administered by NALS (previously known as National Association of Legal Secretaries). NALS also offers the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) certification, considered to be an advanced certification for legal support professionals.

The Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) certification is conferred by Legal Secretaries International in areas such as intellectual property, criminal law, civil litigation, probate, and business law. Candidates typically need to have 5 years of legal experience and pass an examination to become certified.

Advancement for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Secretaries and administrative assistants generally advance to other administrative positions with more responsibilities, such as office supervisor, office manager, or executive secretary.

With additional training, many legal secretaries become paralegals or legal assistants.

Important Qualities for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Integrity. Many secretaries and administrative assistants are trusted to handle sensitive information. For example, medical secretaries collect patient data that is required, by law, to be kept confidential in order to protect patient privacy.

Interpersonal skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants interact with clients, customers, or staff. They should communicate effectively and be courteous when interacting with others to create a positive work environment and client experience.

Organizational skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants keep files, folders, and schedules in proper order so an office can run efficiently.

Writing skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants write memos and emails when communicating with managers, employees, and customers. Therefore, they must have good grammar, ensure accuracy, and maintain a professional tone.


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Secretary and Administrative Assistant Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for secretaries and administrative assistants was $36,500 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,390, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $60,640.

Median annual wages for secretaries and administrative assistants in May 2015 were as follows:

Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants $53,370
Legal secretaries 43,200
Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive 33,910
Medical secretaries 33,040

Most secretaries and administrative assistants work full time.

Job Outlook for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of secretaries and administrative assistants is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations.

Employment of secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive, the largest occupation in this profile by far, is projected to grow 3 percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. In some organizations, technology is expected to substitute some functions that secretaries used to do and enable other staff to prepare their own documents without the assistance of secretaries.

Employment of medical secretaries is projected to grow 21 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of medical secretaries will depend on growth of the healthcare industry. The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. In addition, aging baby boomers will demand more medical services as they become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. As a result of these effects, medical secretaries will be needed to handle administrative tasks related to billing and insurance processing.

Employment of executive secretaries and administrative assistants is projected to decline 6 percent from 2014 to 2024. This is largely because many executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants can support more than one manager in an organization. In addition, many managers now perform work that was previously done by their executive secretaries. For example, they often type their own correspondence or schedule their own travel and meetings.

Employment of legal secretaries, the smallest occupation in this profile, is projected to decline 4 percent from 2014 to 2024. In legal firms, paralegals and legal assistants use technology that enable them to perform work previously done by legal secretaries, such as preparing and filing documents.

Secretaries and Administrative Assistants Job Prospects

Many job openings are expected to come from the need to replace secretaries and administrative assistants who leave the occupation.

Those with a combination of related work experience and experience using computer software applications to perform word processing and create spreadsheets should have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Secretaries and administrative assistants 3,976,800 4,095,600 3 118,800
  Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants 776,600 732,000 -6 -44,600
  Legal secretaries 215,500 206,700 -4 -8,900
  Medical secretaries 527,600 635,800 21 108,200
  Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive 2,457,000 2,521,100 3 64,000


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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