Learn About Skills and Duties of an Administrative Assistant
Updated July 31, 2023
An administrative assistant is an office support professional who provides clerical support to a company or organization. This individual often serves as the first point of contact for internal and external parties. Understanding the skills and duties needed to be an administrative assistant can help you decide if this is a career path for you.
In this article, we discuss what an administrative assistant does, including skills and tips to help you develop a successful career in this role.
What does an administrative assistant do?
An administrative assistant provides clerical support, such as:
Managing a complex calendar of professional meetings, personal appointments and travel for several individuals
Answering and transferring phone calls, appropriately forwarding messages and following up on inquiries
Handling incoming correspondence, including emails, memos, faxes and mail and sometimes requiring a high level of discretion
Conducting industry-specific research, organizing important files and drafting supporting documentation for presentations, conferences and meetings
Preparing and proofreading reports and other industry documents relevant to the company, organization or specific group, sometimes involving data analysis
Tracking office inventory, including ordering supplies, coordinating deliveries and managing vendor contracts
Many administrative assistants are full-time employees, though some may work part time or as temporary employees. Salaries for administrative assistants vary depending on your education and experience as well as the employer’s industry, company size and geographical location.
Administrative assistant requirements
Administrative assistants typically need a mix of education, training and certifications to obtain positions.
Entry-level administrative assistants should have at least a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate in addition to skills certifications. Some positions prefer a minimum of an associate’s degree, and some companies may even require a bachelor’s degree.
Many employers will hire applicants with a degree in any field, including business, communication or liberal arts. However, certain employers and industries may prefer university education in specific disciplines that better prepare administrative assistants for specialized requirements, including working with financial matters and government agencies.
Those without degrees can also seek technical courses that provide the hard skills they need for administrative assistant positions, including business writing, documentation, filing and organization, data processing and bookkeeping. Some roles may accept commensurate experience to replace educational requirements.
For training, many administrative assistants learn the specific methods and technology related to their role while on the job. This training may be part of the onboarding process with a new company and may last a few weeks to a month. Training often includes shadowing internal administrative professionals like office managers or receptionists. New hires may also perform duties under supervision until they are comfortable enough to complete tasks on their own.
Certifications enable professionals to prove their qualifications to current and future employers. Administrative assistants can earn certifications to gain more theoretical knowledge of their responsibilities, test their professional skills and further advance their careers. These are two of the most common certifications for this profession:
Certified administrative professional (CAP)
Created by the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), the CAP is an exam that covers six topics relevant to the responsibilities of administrative professionals, including organizational communication, business documentation and writing, technology and information, record keeping, event and project management and business functions.
This exam is a digital multiple-choice test with 200-225 questions and takes about three hours to complete. Individuals can take the exam at IAAP-approved testing centers around the world. The IAAP provides test-preparation materials on its website.
Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS)
This certification assesses technical skills using Microsoft applications administrative professionals commonly use. Microsoft currently offers associate-level certifications for each specific application, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
To become a MOS associate, test-takers can complete each application’s associate-level exam. To earn a MOS expert title, you must earn the associate title and complete two additional Expert-level exams. In addition to these applications, Microsoft offers certifications for applications like Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for Business. MOS certifications are available to anyone interested in testing their practical knowledge of Microsoft’s applications.
Administrative assistants require various skills to succeed in an office, including:
This skill involves creating simple methods to handle complex tasks and create order in the workplace. Administrative assistants use organization skills to file documents accurately, filter incoming and outgoing communication and establish processes for completing daily responsibilities. Administrative assistants also use organization skills to track the activities, schedules and projects of each of the professionals they support.
This skill includes scheduling a series of daily tasks and prioritizing certain responsibilities based on importance, length of completion time and deadlines. Administrative assistants use time management to plan their days, weeks, months and quarters to complete tasks in order and on time. They also use this skill when performing calendar management to best schedule meetings, travel and other appointments each day for each schedule they may manage.
This important skill involves interpreting written messages and writing appropriate responses. These professionals use written communication to coordinate events and meetings, delegate responsibilities and make requests. Written communication also includes synthesizing information and using business writing and professional etiquette when creating messages, reports and other important documentation. Excellent grammar and proofreading abilities are important in effective written communication.
This soft skill requires professionalism and proper workplace etiquette to speak and share clear messages. It also involves active listening to understand a speaker’s message to correctly and appropriately respond or take action. Administrative assistants use verbal communication when speaking over the phone and in person. They use cues, such as body language and tone, to gauge interactions and respond appropriately.
This quality allows administrative assistants to serve a variety of personalities and manage several others’ preferences. Highly adaptable individuals can anticipate the needs of the many professionals they support and switch tasks quickly when priorities shift.
Administrative assistant work environment
These professionals work in a variety of office settings with the following characteristics:
Sitting at a desk for extended periods
Using computers, printers, fax machines and other common office equipment
Communicating regularly with other internal administrative staff
Facilitating communication between external parties
Monitoring the shipping and arrival of vendor deliveries
The skills, qualities and experience of administrative assistants are often transferable to a variety of industries. These administrative professionals commonly offer their support in the following industries:
Businesses and corporations
Education, including primary schools and higher education institutions
Research science and healthcare organizations
How to become an administrative assistant
Here are the most common steps to follow in becoming a qualified administrative assistant:
1. Pursue education
Earn the level of education that is most common for administrative assistants in your industry or location. You can also pursue specific disciplines if your intended field prefers it.
2. Gain relevant work experience
You can earn relevant work experience through temporary or part-time administrative positions. You may even find volunteer positions that support professionals to have more supervised responsibilities and receive on-the-job training. Consider finding an administrative role as a student while you earn your diploma or degree.
3. Earn technical certifications
Depending on your education and work history, you may consider earning technical certifications in business writing, office management or software applications to prepare you for the daily responsibilities of an administrative assistant.
4. Prepare your resume
You can include your highest level of education, technical or other relevant certifications and your work history on a resume. Your work experience section should include the company or organization’s name, the dates you worked there and a summary of your responsibilities, contributions and achievements. An effective resume can help you find the administrative assistant role you want.
5. Apply to support companies and organizations
After earning education, certifications and experience, review the current job market. Select positions that you are qualified for based on required years of experience as well as level and type of education. This step can ensure you optimize your job search and increase the likelihood that employers contact you for an interview.
Administrative assistant job description example
The human resources (HR) department is seeking an Administrative Assistant with one to three years of experience in administrative support. HR or payroll experience preferred. The Administrative Assistant answers phone calls, forwards messages and occasionally drafts weekly emails sent from the HR team.
This role supports a team of five HR specialists and the HR Director in coordinating interviews as well as new hire training and documentation. Other daily responsibilities are assigned as needed. The ideal candidate has at least a high school diploma or GED, the ability to work independently and an interest in HR processes.
You can consider the following related careers:
Frequently asked questions
What is the job outlook for an administrative assistant?
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects secretary and administrative assistant roles to decline by 8% between 2021 and 2031. Despite this anticipated decrease, you can expect to see about 354,000 annual job openings. The BLS expects these job openings to occur because of individuals shifting career paths or exiting the labor force to retire.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an administrative assistant?
Advantages can include interacting with people from different lifestyles and cultures and finding employment opportunities in numerous industries, including health care, education and science.
A potential disadvantage is multitasking daily to complete tasks for various individuals. To help with this, create a task list and prioritize assignments based on their deadline or importance.
What's the difference between an office administrator and an administrative assistant?
An office administrator oversees the daily operations of a business, and their tasks include managing staff, updating records and coordinating events. Often, employers seek candidates with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
Administrative assistants help various company departments with preparing reports and performing customer service duties. Employers typically require these assistants to have at least a high school diploma.
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