Learn About Being a Secretary

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 31, 1969

What does a secretary do?

A secretary, also known as an administrative assistant, is responsible for the planning, administrative and organizational duties involved in maintaining an organization. The duties of a secretary vary by employer and industry, but they usually include answering phone calls, emailing correspondence, organizing meetings, taking meeting minutes and coordinating inter-office communications. In addition to basic office functions, some secretaries also perform more advanced executive functions or specialize in areas such as legal or healthcare support.

Other responsibilities of a secretary include:

  • Scheduling appointments and update event calendars

  • Helping visitors or clients navigate the workspace 

  • Managing customer files and other documents in the office

  • Implementing new procedures and administrative systems

  • Recruiting, onboarding and supervising new employees

  • Creating reports, presentations and documents

Average salary

Many secretaries work full time, while others work part-time or as temporary employees. Secretaries’ salaries vary depending on their education and work experience and the employer’s industry, company size and geographical location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common Salary in the U.S.: $38,880 per year

  • Typical salaries range from $24,690 to $64,230 per year.

Secretary requirements

Depending on the job you’re applying for, the requirements to become a secretary will include some combination of these: 

Education

Although high school graduates often qualify for entry-level jobs, having an associate degree or technical certificate can give an applicant an advantage by showing their training in:

  • Office management

  • Database management

  • Basic computer use, including competence with spreadsheet, database and word processing software

While a bachelor’s degree is usually not required for general office positions, it can be necessary for certain fields such as law and health care. Individuals interested in secretarial roles in the legal and medical fields may need to complete industry-specific courses that teach them more about the sector’s procedures and terminology. Individuals aspiring to executive-level secretarial positions may need to have several years of experience and a bachelor’s degree to increase their chances of getting hired.

Training

Secretaries usually learn their skills through short-term on-the-job training. The training helps them learn about company policies, procedures and the usage of job-specific technology and software. However, training for legal and medical secretaries may last several months, as they have to learn industry-specific duties.

Certifications

Not all employers require their secretaries to be certified but earning one of these credentials could help you learn more about the role and make you a more appealing applicant. 

Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) or Certified Administrative Professional (CAP)

The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) offers these credentials that show proficiency in office systems, office technology, administration and management. Prospective secretaries need a combination of education and work experience before becoming certified. If they only hold a high school diploma, they need to obtain at least four years of work experience. If they have an associate's or a bachelor’s degree, they need at least three years of experience. They should also work at a single company or organization for at least a year before the experience counts toward the requirements.

Secretarial certifications are usually valid for five years. While the certification is active, an individual should earn 90 points in three categories — leadership, continuing education and other certifications or IAAP specialties — to renew the credential at the end of the five-year period.

National Association for Legal Secretaries (NALS) certifications

Individuals seeking to become a certified legal secretary can obtain a certification from the NALS in categories including the Professional Paralegal (PP), Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) and Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS). Each certification has specific experience and eligibility requirements and individual exams that aspiring secretaries must pass to receive the credential. 

American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) certification

te the exam, they are required to finish a program accredited by the Allied Health Education Programs Commission on Accreditation or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Members should retake the exam every five years to stay AAMA-certified. 

Skills

Secretaries need a variety of skills to successfully perform their duties. Here are some hard and soft skills employers usually look for when recruiting a secretary:

  • Basic computer skills: Secretaries spend a lot of time on computers, especially within spreadsheet, database and word processing software. Thus, proficiency in the Microsoft Office suite is important. 

  • Strong written and oral communication skills: Secretaries usually write emails and memos when communicating with customers, employees and managers, so they should be skilled in grammar, maintain a professional tone and ensure accuracy. 

  • Decision-making skills: Secretaries often prioritize tasks and make decisions on behalf of their employers, so good judgment is essential. 

  • Interpersonal skills: Because secretaries often interact with staff or customers, they should communicate effectively and be polite when interacting with others to provide a satisfactory client experience and to create a positive work environment. 

  • Organizational skills: Secretaries should keep documents, folders and schedules in proper order so an office can operate efficiently. 

  • Attention to detail: A secretary must complete all tasks to a high standard with minimal to no errors. 

Secretary work environment

Secretaries usually work in hospitals, schools, government agencies, corporate settings and medical and legal offices. An entry-level secretary may work in a large room as part of a team, an executive secretary may work in a spacious office in a large office building and a medical secretary may work in a busy physician’s office. Many secretaries work in fast-paced environments with a variety of people. Most secretaries work 35 to 40 hours per week, and some organizations allow secretaries to work flexible schedules.

How to become a secretary

Here are the five steps you can take to become a secretary:

1. Enroll in office courses.

High school graduates may complete office courses to qualify for entry-level jobs. If these courses are unavailable in their high school, prospective secretaries may obtain this education from vocational schools or community colleges.

2. Choose a field.

Before applying for a job or pursuing training, aspiring secretaries should decide which field they want to work in. Secretaries work in a wide range of environments, but most are employed in medical, legal or business organizations.

3. Get a post-secondary certificate or degree.

While employers may not require a degree or certification, having one can show an applicant’s competency. Training programs can help prepare aspiring office secretaries by developing technical skills.

4. Look for a secretary position.

Consider checking job postings on the websites of law firms, medical facilities and business offices. Temporary or staffing agencies can be a beneficial resource for finding secretarial jobs since these agencies sometimes provide formal office and computer training. Secretaries may also work out of their own homes as virtual assistants.

5. Advance in the field.

As secretaries gain experience, they may advance to more senior roles, such as supervisors or executive assistants. These positions offer better salaries and usually come with more responsibilities.

Secretary job description example

Our company is seeking to hire a part-time secretary to assist the office staff and optimize workflow. The secretary will be responsible for maintaining and organizing supplies, files and equipment. The ideal candidate for this position can prioritize tasks, is motivated to get the job done with minimal supervision and comfortable being the primary point of contact for all manners of requests and inquiries. 

Related careers

  • File clerks

  • Accountant 

  • Bookkeeper 

  • Information clerk

  • Receptionist

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