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.
- What is an administrative professional?
- Why is the title ‘Secretary’ insulting to some, but not to others?
- Why are there so many different titles? (Hint: This is worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation.)
- How can someone make a living in this career field?
- What skills are a must?
- What tests must be passed to be considered competent?
- 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!
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]
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.