Secretaries work in most industries and in most companies. In fact, in May 2009, approximately 1,797,670 secretaries were employed in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Secretaries provide the administrative and clerical support needed to keep offices running smoothly.
Secretaries often work to manage communications and information in offices. They also file paper and electronic documents. They plan, coordinate and arrange meetings and travel. They may also handle arrangements for the company's guests.
Secretaries use different types of office machinery in their work, including multi-line phones, videoconferencing equipment, personal computers, fax machines, scanners and copiers. They use computers to write letters, create spreadsheets and databases, design presentations, perform Internet research and write reports. When office machinery needs troubleshooting, they may isolate or fix the problem or call a technician to solve it.
Secretaries also often purchase supplies for the office and the company, organize and manage filing areas or stockrooms, and take inventory of supplies. They may also retrieve data and files from a number of sources when the information is required. Since more automation in the office environment is available today than in the past, secretaries can more easily support more than one staff member.
Secretaries have many different titles. Executive secretaries and administrative assistants provide support at a high level. They typically work for the organization's upper management. They manage information more than they do clerical tasks. They may also supervise other clerical tasks. They may write agendas for meetings or review reports for distribution. Legal and medical secretaries have knowledge of processes and vocabulary related specifically to these industries. Virtual assistants work for themselves to provide administrative assistance to professionals. They often work from home, using the phone, Internet and fax machines.
Secretaries usually work in offices in businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, schools and hospitals. They sit throughout much of their day and use a computer. They may experience carpal tunnel syndrome from typing much of the day, as well as eyestrain and stress. They usually work full time, but some work part time or have temporary positions.
Education & Skills
A high school diploma is the only required education for many entry-level secretarial jobs. Knowing how to use a computer, type, write and communicate are important for all secretaries. They also should know how to use computer software programs, such as desktop publishing, databases and spreadsheets. Office skills and certification can also be acquired by attending a vocational school or community college for a year or two. Temporary employment agencies also often provide training in office and computer skills. To become a legal or medical secretary, a secretary has to complete a training program specific to that industry. Higher level secretaries often need a college degree. One related to the industry the secretary wants to work in is especially helpful. In general, secretaries should be self-motivated, able to handle confidential matters appropriately, have good time management and prioritization skills, and be organized. Secretaries can also seek certification through organizations such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals, Legal Secretaries International, Inc., International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) and the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS), Inc.
The average annual salary of a secretary (except legal, medical and executive) as of May 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $31,060, or $14.93 per hour. Medical secretaries earn an average annual salary of $31,450, or $15.12 per hour. Executive secretaries earn an average of $44,010 per year, or $21.16 per hour. As of May 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the annual average salary of a legal secretary is $39,860.