Pros and Cons of a Becoming a Secretary
Being a secretary can be a good option for those who have good software and communication skills. Read on to learn the pros and cons of becoming a secretary and decide if it's right for you.
|Pros of Being a Secretary|
|Advancement opportunities for skilled workers*|
|Faster-than-average job growth for secretaries (12% increase by 2022)*|
|Can work in almost any field (education, healthcare, government, legal, retail, manufacturing, etc.)*|
|Can work practically anywhere*|
|Cons of Being a Secretary|
|Continuing education needed to keep current with software and office skills*|
|Lower-than-average median annual salary ($33,240 in 2014)*|
|Must be able to type and sit for long periods of time (possible eye or hand strain and stress)*|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Job Description and Duties
Secretaries perform a variety of clerical and administrative duties using office software and equipment. Most tasks involve organizing and maintaining information used to run a company. Some common duties include answering phones; scheduling appointments and meetings; conducting research and retrieving information by phone, internet and mail; managing and preparing projects, files and paperwork; and creating spreadsheets and databases.
Secretaries can specialize in their field as executive, legal or medical secretaries as well as administrative assistants with on-the-job training, a college degree or a professional certification. Secretaries who specialize usually earn a higher salary (the top ten percent of executive secretaries earned $71,000 annually in 2011) and perform more technical and complex tasks.
Secretaries without specialization earned a median annual wage of nearly $33,000 in 2014, according to the BLS. The postal service paid the highest annual wage for secretaries without specialization in 2014, at close to $55,000. The median annual wage for executive secretaries or administrative assistants was over $51,000, and the median annual wage for legal secretaries was over $42,000 in 2014. Virtual assistants, who perform freelance or contract work from a location outside the office, usually bill an hourly rate from $10-$31, depending on the skill level required.
What Are the Requirements?
Education requirements for secretary positions vary depending on the specialization, but most employers require candidates to have a high school diploma and office software skills. Some employers prefer executive secretaries to have a college degree in the field. Most secretaries learn advanced skills on the job or through training programs at community colleges as well as vocational or online schools.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Most specialized secretary positions require previous office experience, particularly with office software. Here are some examples of job listings posted by employers in March 2012:
- A radio station in West Virginia advertised for a secretary/receptionist to perform office operations full time. No degree requirements were specified, but MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel and PhotoShop skills were required. Attention to detail and the ability to multitask were additional requirements.
- A Houston, TX, law firm looked for a legal secretary with at least four years of litigation experience. Ideal candidates have experience with employment law, mediation and arbitration. No degree requirements were listed, but candidates must be familiar with Intermediate Calendar/Docket, Basic Discovery, Intermediate MS Outlook and Intermediate MS Word.
- A senior living home in Denver, CO, looked for an administrative assistant with at least one year of experience to perform a variety of administrative duties. Candidates are required to have experience working with MS Word and Excel. Ideal candidates enjoy working with senior citizens and have excellent social and communication skills.
How to Make Your Skills Stand Out
Develop Related Skills
Communication classes in speaking and writing can be beneficial to aspiring secretaries because most jobs require frequent social interaction. Other useful skills that can help distinguish you include excellent typing, grammar and spelling skills; good organizational skills; good judgment; and the ability to work independently. Also, since most secretary positions don't require a college degree, a degree or training program in business or office skills can help you stand out in the field.
Organizations such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals, the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS), Inc. and the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) offer designations that prove knowledge in the field and proficiency in office skills. Secretaries can choose to earn the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) or the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) designation by passing an exam and meeting experience or education requirements. Virtual assistants might be interested in pursuing the Certified Virtual Assistant, the Ethics Checked Virtual Assistant or the Real Estate Virtual Assistant, all offered by the IVAA to those who pass the required exams. Legal secretaries with one year of work experience can earn the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) designation from NALS with a passing score or their exam.
Alternative Career Paths
Receptionist or Information Clerk
If you enjoy working with people and performing basic office tasks, such as routing mail and phone calls, greeting visitors or providing information about an organization, a career as a receptionist or information clerk might be right for you. Most jobs only require a high school degree and interpersonal skills, as well as basic word processing and spreadsheet knowledge. The field is expected to grow faster than average for most occupations (15% increase by 2018).
Medical Records and Health Information Technician
If you want to work in the healthcare field doing administrative work, this may be the right career path for you. You can specialize in different areas, such as medical coding or cancer registry. Most positions require an associate's degree, though certification in a specialty is needed for some. The median annual salary for medical records and health information technicians was over $33,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.