Reliability is the name of the game when you're a secretary. Whether you are secretary to a single boss or to a team, you'll be indispensable to them as you help ease their workload by providing administrative support and helping them organise their time.
So, what will I actually be doing?
The type of tasks you'll be expected to help out with include:
- Managing diaries and making appointments
- Booking rooms and travel arrangements
- Preparing and distributing papers and documents for meetings
- Taking minutes
- Dealing with post
- Drafting letters and other documents, such as PowerPoint presentations
- Maintaining filing systems
- Answering the phone and answering queries
- Photocopying and printing
- Using various computer packages - Word, Excel, PowerPoint
Well-qualified secretaries, including graduates, may also do work like compiling accounts, controlling budgets, presenting reports and statistics and supervising more junior secretaries and admin staff.
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The nitty gritty
If you become a secretary you will enjoy a normal working week, 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. There will probably be the odd occasion though when you are asked to work flexi-hours or a few hours overtime.
Most of your day will be spent sitting at your desk but you might have to take minutes in meetings, attend conferences or run the odd errand for your boss(es).
Part-time, job sharing and temporary work are all widely available.
There are plenty of upward promotional prospects, with opportunities for people of all levels. In general the more qualified you are, the more likely you are to win a more challenging job with greater responsibility.
The most common development opportunities come in the shape of promotion to PA, a senior manager or office manager. You've also got the option of specialising in a certain industry. By taking a specialist course you can qualify yourself as a legal or medical secretary for example.
An opportunity you might not have considered, is that an increasing number of experienced secretaries become virtual assistants (VAs) and are able to enjoy working from home as freelance administrators.
Money, money, money
Salaries are quite competitive and rise healthily in line with experience. As a new starter you will probably earn between £11,000 and £14,000 per year. With experience your earning potential creeps up to nearer £20,000.
PAs and secretaries with specialist skills earn nearer £25,000
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The good points...
You'll be working closely with one boss or a small team who rely on you heavily and who will regularly tell you that they would be lost without you.
Secretarial is a career path open to everyone. Today, more and more men are joining the profession.
Your skills you learn are also highly transferable and would suit a move into some completely new areas, like HR, sales, marketing or administration.
...and the bad
You’re going to need heaps of patience in this job as you’ll be dealing with a lot of people.
Is there study involved?
Whilst there are no minimum entry qualifications, if you've got GCSEs or other qualifications don't be afraid to shout about them as employers do prefer for individuals with a good standard of education.
If you don't have the advantage of any relevant office experience and really want to impress potential employers in order to bag a more interesting job, you could take a secretarial course before looking for work. There are plenty of full time and part time courses including GNVQs and GSVQs in business administration, NVQs and SVQs or the specialist courses run by Pitman, OCR (RSA) and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Two common ways in are via apprenticeships (see www.apprenticehips.org.uk for more information) and temporary work. Temping often leads to a permanent position.
When you start your job, you will usually be trained by someone senior to you in the company's procedures and systems.
Further training is important and your employer may also give you the opportunity to work towards a secretarial qualification, either through work-based training or day-release at a local college. Courses you'll find most helpful include:
- NVQ in Business Administration
- Education development International Diploma in Business Administration
- OCR Certificates in Administration
- OCR Higher Level Diploma in Administrative and Secretarial Procedures
- City & Guilds secretarial courses
The role of senior or executive secretary is seen as a prestigious job which can open some exciting career doors for you. That's why many secretaries now belong to organisations such as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) or have a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) qualification as part of their career development. CIPD qualifications are highly recognised by employers across the world.
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
You'll need a fantastic ability to multi-task and good communications skills to become a secretary.
Employers will be looking for people with good personal qualities and who get on well with people. The skills that will best prepare you for the job include:
- Good organisation skills
- Good time management
- Good communications skills, written and verbal
- Confidence with IT and computer packages
- Accuracy and good attention to detail
- An ability to stay calm and tactful under pressure
- Self motivation
- A bright and positive attitude
You should also brush up on your computer and telephone skills as these will be important to employers.
In today's global society it is seen as a real advantage if you speak another language.