Becoming a Professional Secretary: Pros and Cons
As a professional secretary, you might perform basic and more complicated organizational and clerical duties, including answering incoming calls, taking messages, making copies, managing spreadsheets and creating and managing filing systems. Before you pursue this career, find out more about the pros and cons to being a professional secretary.
|Becoming a Professional Secretary: PROS|
|Can work in variety of areas (law firms, medical offices, corporations, schools)|
|Minimal educational requirements to enter into the field*|
|Major job growth is expected for medical secretaries (21% growth from 2014 to 2024)*|
|Comfortable work settings in offices*|
|Advancement opportunities with experience and training*|
|Becoming a Professional Secretary: CONS|
|Computer experience is required for success*|
|May need to be fluent in another language for some positions**|
|Slower employment growth for legal secretaries (-4% growth expected from 2014-2024)*|
|Some tasks may be routine (filing, routing phone calls, data entry)***|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The Princeton Review, ***Career OneStop.
Essential Occupational Information
Job Description and Duties
Secretaries perform basic organizational and clerical duties. The day-to-day routine of a secretary is normally the same. You'll answer incoming phone calls, take messages and report the information to the intended recipient. You'll make copies of documents, route mail and correct grammar errors in official correspondence. You could create spreadsheets, manage databases and perform basic data entry on a computer. Secretaries use a filing system to keep track of important messages, files and records for the company. These items have to be classified and managed in a specific manner to make it easy to retrieve them on short notice.
As a secretary, you can choose the type of work you would like to perform. For instance, as an executive secretary, you could provide support to a specific top-level individual within the office, such as a president or chief executive. You can also find work as a medical or a legal secretary. You could also work as a school secretary or from home, as a virtual assistant.
The type of secretary you are impacts what your salary looks like. General secretaries made about $17 on average an hour, which amounted to around $35,000 on average annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014. The top-paying industry for secretaries was the postal service, while the highest-paying states were California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
The yearly average salary for executive secretaries was about $54,000 in May 2014. The beer, wine and liquor store industry was the best-paying industry for executive secretaries during that period. Medical secretaries earned around $34,000 on average per year, while legal secretaries earned an average salary of just over $46,000 in May 2014, according to the BLS.
What Are the Requirements?
Education and Skills
A high school diploma or a GED is the minimum amount of education needed for an entry-level secretary position, according to the BLS. After high school, you might want to complete basic computer and English courses to give you a good foundation in this field. If you want to work as a legal or medical secretary, you'll need to obtain additional industry-specific training through a community college. To pursue a career as a professional secretary, you'll need strong computer skills and the ability to communicate with a variety of people on a daily basis. Since your job duties might include writing memos or sending out letters or e-mails, you'll want to have excellent writing and grammar skills.
What Employers Want
Organizational skills are very important to employers looking for a professional secretary. Employers also seek candidates with some experience and at least a high school diploma. Some employers ask for Microsoft Office ability and the ability to work as a team. Find out what real employers were requesting in job applicants for professional secretary positions in April 2012 by reading below.
- In New York, a secretary with discretion and the ability to handle confidential and sensitive information was needed for a financial firm. The ideal candidate needed good phone etiquette, a professional appearance and the ability to work under pressure.
- A hospital in Florida wanted a secretary who was bilingual in English and Spanish to provide clerical support to an associate director and other department employees. Basic math skills, at least one year of experience and communication skills were required.
- A law firm in Pennsylvania wanted a legal secretary with 5-7 years of experience. They asked for an applicant who could type at least 65 words per minute and could work with little supervision. They required insurance defense experience.
- A medical office in Mississippi wanted a medical secretary to perform data entry. They asked for a fast learner who was open to a flexible schedule. Attention to detail and the ability to communicate with patients were required.
How to Stand Out
Many vocational schools and community colleges offer formal administrative assistant programs, which can help you acquire the basic office and computer skills that employers are looking for. Postsecondary education through associate's degree or certificate programs can help give you an additional edge in the field through courses in business communication, business math, computer technology and records management.
You can also set yourself apart from other secretaries by obtaining a professional designation. These certification options are available from organizations like Legal Secretaries International and the International Association of Administrative Professionals. The exact requirements for certification vary, but you normally have to possess a minimum amount of work experience and pass an examination. You might also consider other useful certifications that highlight your skills with computer programs, such as the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification.
Other Career Paths
If you're not sure that being a secretary is the right job for you, you have other options worth considering. For example, if you would rather have more interaction with customers, you could become a receptionist. A receptionist greets visitors to an office and provides information to them. In some businesses, you may be the first person that customers interact with, and it would be your job to make a positive impression on them. You might also act as an escort to a visitor who has a meeting with someone in the office. Mail, messages and phone calls are often forwarded to others by the receptionist. This field could see faster-than-average employment growth of 24% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. The BLS in May 2011 reported that receptionists on average made about $27,000 annually.
If you'd rather work in the legal field, consider transferring your secretarial skills over to a career as a paralegal. As a paralegal, you'll assist a lawyer when they need help researching cases, creating documents and managing files. In a large firm, you won't normally get to work on a case from start to finish. Instead, you'll usually receive a particular assignment on one case and then move onto another case when you've finished your work. Average job growth was expected for this field from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. In May 2011, the BLS found that paralegals made around $50,000 on average yearly.