Defining ‘Administrative Professional’

For those of us in the administrative field, there are few things that can get us as fired-up as trying to define and explain the ‘career administrative professional’.  Let’s start with some  frequently asked questions about the profession.

  1. What is an administrative professional?
  2. Why is the title ‘Secretary’ insulting to some, but not to others?
  3. Why are there so many different titles?  (Hint: This is worthy of  a Ph.D. dissertation.)
  4. How can someone make a living in this career field?
  5. What skills are a must?
  6. What tests must be passed to be considered competent?
  7. Why do many employers require administrative professionals to be university-educated?

1.The term ‘Administrative Professional’ is a catch-all for the many different administrative roles. A sampling of titles would include:  Receptionist,  Director of First Impressions, Administrative Assistant, Chief Administrative Officer, Facilities and Procurement Manager,  File Clerk, Registrar, Secretary, Secretary to the Board, Private Secretary, Coordinator, Executive Assistant, Chief Executive Assistant, Personal Assistant, Office Manager, and probably more than 100 additional titles.

2. The issue with the title ‘Secretary’ is two-fold. One, it does not accurately encompass the  advanced customer service and project management skills that are required for success as an administrative professional today.  Two, it has a history of being used in a derogatory fashion in the workplace. He’s just a secretary! Or, she can’t do that, she’s just Al’s secretary.  Or, You don’t know anything, you’re just a secretary.  [Tell that to Ms. Moneypenny.]

3. In the United States, the Administrative Professional field gets sliced and diced by the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS.gov). [See my blog post from March 20, 2010 – What Makes An Executive Assistant?  Are  you a 43-6011?]  Under the BLS, the majority of positions come under the category of Office and Administrative Support Occupations.  There are more than forty categorizations under this grouping. No wonder it’s hard to define our field! Trust me, one day I’m going to visit the BLS and meet the team that covers our field. But that’s a task for another day!

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https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436011.htm

4.  See Number 3 above. If you visit the Occupational Statistics portion, you can search for the salary data. Mind you, it’s a year behind or so but, it is still valuable information to have in hand when making a case about salary.

5. Skills. Ah, yes. Skills. What skills are a must for the job? Well, that depends on a combination of job requirements, job description, company culture, individual supervisor preferences, Microsoft Office Suite testing, educational background and the unseen assumptions of the recruiter/human resource contact. It really can be that arbitrary. But, if you ask my opinion about basics, I’d say for a mid-level assistant you’d need to rate Intermediate to Advanced on the Office skills testing, pass any alternate test the potential employer requires (grammar, typing (no! Seriously, they still test on that nonsense!). And, if I had my say I’d require each and every candidate to answer phones for a day in my office for observation. How do they handle the call(s)? Are they polite? Do they know how to handle a challenging client? Do they know how to navigate a call that requires additional research before providing a response?

6.  See number 5 above: Microsoft Office Suite (Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, Excel)in the most current version. And again, admins are up against varying definitions of ‘competent’.  Next time you’re in an interview situation ask, “How do you define competent?” That’s going to provide some serious insight into what is needed to get the position.

7. If you want to start a serious, hot-pepper, fiery and emotionally charged discussion, bring up the topic of Degree vs. Non-Degree requirements for administrative positions. Experience is incredibly valuable. Experience in only office/company for the last twenty years, not-so-much. And before you torch me, let me explain. If an administrative professional has not changed jobs or companies, it limits the understanding of the business world around them. It can limit understanding the scope of skill changes in the field. It does NOT mean they cannot learn new skills or quickly grasp a company’s requirements. It does NOT mean they will not thrive and soar in the position. It means it will take them much longer to adjust and read the culture of the organization, especially if the majority of the administrative staff does hold at least an Associate degree. Often the requirement of a bachelor’s degree by a company is a cultural issue. It’s important to those in charge, those in the C-Suite or staff in Human Resources for a particular reason only they know.

I used to believe administrative professionals were at a distinct disadvantage without any college coursework on their resume. I’m not certain that is an accurate assumption. I suspect it may put them at a disadvantage when it comes to earnings. Mind you, I know many C-Suite Executive Assistants that have thrived and made bank without holding a college degree. I just know that I see that requirement in job postings more than not. I’m not sure what the answer is.

I believe Nick Fewings, founder of Ngagementworks, framed this debate  in the best way possible, focusing on the value of assistants.[Full article from Nick Fewings]assistant-value-ngagementworks-nick-fewings

When people ask me what my job was, I’d tell them:

My job is to get my executive where he/she needs to be, when he/she needs to be there, with a complete set of detailed background materials for whatever the day requires, in the most cost-effective and time-efficient manner possible.

My guess is there will never be an exact, accurate, complete definition of administrative professional but, you’ll recognize one when you work with one.

 

 

 

Issuing the Clarion Call – The Administrative Field Has a Challenge To Face

Where does the career field go from here?

I’m airing dirty laundry.. the mostly unspoken and unwritten challenges faced by the administrative profession. I’m bringing up the uncomfortable stuff,  the elephant under the rug-stuff.

The State of the Administrative Profession.


Early in my career, I was hardly aware there were  any administrative organizations, I then recognized one or two of them because I was heavily involved with the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and my then employer would only pay for Fred Pryor Seminars.  Fast-forward these twenty years plus, and now there are individual trainers, teams of trainers, a multitude of professional organizations for administrative professionals plus the numerous conferences and publications available across the globe. It’s very exciting.

From the trainer’s perspective though, the changes in our career field are a bit more obvious. The administrative professionals that invest in professional development and continue to learn whether or not their employee emotionally or financially supports them are separating out from the rest of the crowd. Lucy Brazier, President and CEO, Marcham Publishing and Editor for Executive Secretary magazine, shared a stage with me last week at the 2nd Annual Symposium for Administrative Professionals at Delaware State University. Lucy noted the full-circle journey of the administrative support role— and how currently, she is seeing more and more businesses farm out clerical, basic administrative tasks to a pool (How quaint!?) of administrative professionals. The more career- invested, professional advanced administrative professionals are challenged with more managerial, budgetary and project driven responsibilities. The gap between the two segments has never been wider. I believe it may continue to grow.

These changes bring to mind a myriad of questions

  1. How does the profession continue to define itself for human resource and recruiting professionals?
  2. How do the leaders in our field present this career choice to students in the 14-18 year-olds, to whom our field is best represented by a character on a Netflix show or other visual media channel.
  3. How do the professional organizations representing our field see their role in this issue? Will they ever be able to work for the common cause of promoting the profession together instead of competing for members?
  4. Will the change in educational learning as it moves to more digital and less face-to-face learning, further erode the image of the profession because soft-skills (customer service, teamwork, manners, and protocols) can only be learned properly with face-to-face mentoring or on-the-job experience?
  5. What will the recruiters and human resource professionals do to fill the vacancies left as a large percentage of experienced and elite administrative professionals continue retire?  Will they even fill the job or will those positions be eliminated?
  6. How will we ever build consensus and a brilliant enough representation of our career field so that being and administrative professional is truly recognized as a career choice, as a legitimate career.

I feel these are the questions that all organizations, trainers, educational workforce programs representing the membership of the administrative profession need to face and address.  And, they need to do it through collaboration.  Energy invested in competing for members does not serve our field.  The energy invested needs to be in :

  1. Building the pipeline of competent young professionals that understand the value of our field.
  2. Establishing a long-term public relations campaign to highlight the value competent administrative professionals bring to businesses.
  3. Establish academic and data-driven research to support #2. We MUST have the data to support us –because businesses, boards and deans want research data. Prove it, we must. (Imagine Yoda as an admin!)
  4. Bringing administrative professional organizations together to agree upon the skills, titles and testing for the administrative career ladder.
  5. Establish business communications with the staff of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in the United States – to bring the Occupational Outlook and titles up-to-date.

Mind you, I only have my perspective and it’s limited to the rather large network to which I’m connected. But I think you, my peers, will agree that time is of the essence. The sooner we work together as a field to promote our profession, the less its importance will erode within the eyes of the business and human resource communities.

As always, I appreciate the thoughtful feedback. ~ K

By the way– I’m still a member of IAAP and ASAP. I’m an instructor in  workforce development focusing on the administrative profession. I have a paid subscription to Executive Secretary, and I’ve also written for several of these organizations.

A Salute to My Peers- Administrative Professionals Week 2015

Thank you to my peers that push me, cheer me, try my patience. Thank you for my mentors that pushed me to attain my Certified Administrative Professional certification. Thank you to the hundreds of peers that have reached out over discussion groups and social media to provide quick insight and assistance when I needed it. We’re all in this together to not only earn a living but to help the companies we support thrive.

Here’s a salute from me to you– the vital and amazing administrative professionals in the United States, and to the millions of our peers across the globe.

Until We Meet Again DE-MD-DC & NoVA Administrative Professionals

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Just want to add this quick post — I recorded this tonight after much pondering.

  1. Why is it such a challenge to access professional development as an admin working around the Beltway region.
  2. How I’d like to see Administrative Professionals recognized during Administrative Professionals Day/Week.

It’s about 20 minutes of an audio recording.

How I Stay Focused on Work from Home Days

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On a rare occasion, I’ll find myself with a day with few or no obligations. No obligations to drive my kid to a school function. No obligation to work or do laundry or to go to the grocery store.  Then, it hits me.

Oooh!  I can go see that movie I’ve wanted to go see. I can do a thorough cleaning of our guest room. I can go shopping. I can nap.I can write Thank You notes I owe. I can… aaaaaaaaaah!!
Too many choices!
Sometimes this happens. And I empathize with the issue of not being able to focus.

Here are some tips  (in addition to remembering to brew and drink coffee) I’ve gathered over the last few years that help me focus– especially when I’m working from home during a snow day because truly, I do have some obligations when I’m working from home and I need to get things done. I start work earlier when I’m working from home and therefore, build in more breaks to accommodate various distractions.

  1. Set appointments on my calendar for bathroom breaks and lunch.
  2. Set an additional 2 appointments for 10 -15 minutes each. The first appointment is to remind me to get up from my desk and stretch. The second appointment is for me to spend 10 minutes playing with my kid and my cat.
  3. Sometimes, if I’m super unmotivated- I’ll add in additional reminder appointments to ask me– Have you send so-and-so this? Have you posted that?

And, that is how I remembered that I wanted to post a blog today! But.. my timer says my break is done and I need to get back to work.

One month until I leave for Executive Secretary LIVE in London, and I can’t wait to meet so many amazing people!

What If Your Personality Outshines Your Brand?

I have to admit I’m concerned.

Sure. I joke about my love of coffee. I profess my love of Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ve been known to buy other people’s coffee for them if they are willing to pick up one for me as well.  Is this a problem?  Not in the big picture. But it is troubling me a wee bit.

You see, I’m a full-time administrative professional at a trade association, and part-time instructor at our local community college. I lecture on social media, prepare boot camp sessions for  the Certified Administrative Professional exam, and travel a fair amount as an invited speaker for conferences for administrative professionals. Recently though, I noticed on my Twitter (@OfficeRenegade) feed and my Facebook page that more comments and shares were sent to me about coffee/my love thereof/ than about the topics and subjects I cover during presentations.  Funny? Sort of.

So I brought part of this on myself by posting and checking in on Twitter whenever I’m drinking coffee, where I’m drinking coffee, who I am drinking coffee with.. and frankly. No one gives a damn. Not unless there is some amazing executive at Dunkin’ brands that is in desperate search mode for a kick-ass, social savvy executive assistant. (DM me if you exist.)

Seriously, I love that my friends and colleagues poke at me about my caffeine problem..but what I really would love, is to set my personality on the back burner and let my determination to bring the importance of EA/AA work to the HR/Recruiting masses shine forth! And that means, re-focus.

It’s fun to have a personality quirk that everyone knows you for (See Ted Rubin and his thing for fantabulous and unique socks) but Ted is really known for his speaking and his message that relationships are the key to success. His hashtag is #RonR (Return on Relationship).

My hashtag is #KeepGrowingKeepLearning.  I do this each and everyday. And my goal is to encourage my peers to do the same.  And.. if they’re drinking coffee while they’re learning.. well.. more power to them!

Getting Feedback From Your Staff About New Employee Orientation

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Employee orientations are important to me. I’m not an HR professional. I don’t portray one on TV.

I am, however, a very observant administrative professional– often the person that new staff come to ask questions they don’t want to ask anyone else.

What do I do if I lose my security card?
The staff calendar says we have a half-day – what time is that?
How do I send a package?
Do we have a courier service?
Do I get reimbursed for my cellphone usage?
Am I really supposed to check my email over the holiday?

These are simple examples. But I was thinking about this today ..are there companies that do a survey of their employees to ask — What do you wish we had included in new employee orientation? What information do you think should be included in new employee orientation?

I’ve been at companies that had superb new employee orientations or ‘on-boarding’– an actual human being was assigned to be your go-to resource for your first 90 days. Saves a lot of hassle. And I think staff that offered to be an on-boarding resource were able to add that to their annual review as well as include that person in their 360 review at the end of the year.

I’ve also worked for a company that handed you a 3-ring binder – with tabs and was told to ‘read this, sign the last page and turn it in with your W-4.

I just have to think that building that working relationship would be so much easier/stronger/better — if the on-boarding process was evaluated annually– and adjustments were made as new staff provide feedback. Or, as current/veteran staff provided feedback on the type of questions they received frequently.

Just one of those random thoughts that popped into my head today.. and I’d love to get your thoughts on it.

Happy Weekend to all.