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!

job-definition
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.

What makes an Executive Assistant? Are you a 43-6010? 43-6011 ?

Several years ago an IAAP chapter hosted a breakfast for the executives and supervisors of IAAP members. I remember having a fairly spirited conversation with a local well-known CEO about what defines an administrative professional?

How do we define our field? Is the category reserved only for the clerical realm? What about mail room staff or if your firm has an in-house print shop? What about meeting planners? What about the Executive Assistant that pulls together an entire I expressed my beliefs politely yet firmly that administrative professionals cover a much wider spectrum of support staff than perhaps he believed. He’s not alone. Reviewing a few sources reveals a wide range of approaches to quantifying and defining the field.

Office Team supplied the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) with a list of job titles and definitions for what they feel covers the scope of the field.
Now, take a look at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics approach to our field. Are you a 43-6010? 43-6000 -New definitions of the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) for the administrative profession were released on March 10, 2010. (See http://bit.ly/cX1MHJ)
for the breakdown by job area.

A glimpse of this information is provided below.

43-6011 Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants

Provide high-level administrative support by conducting research, preparing statistical reports, handling information requests, and performing clerical functions such as preparing correspondence, receiving visitors, arranging conference calls, and scheduling meetings. May also train and supervise lower-level clerical staff. Excludes “Secretaries” (43-6012 through 43-6014).

IAAP uses this definition:
Q. Who qualifies as an administrative professional?

A. Many people who contribute to the workplace in a variety of settings. IAAP defines administrative professionals as “individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office-related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession.”

Research shows that many workers around the world still hold the “secretary” job title; however, many alternative titles have become more popular, such as administrative assistant, office coordinator, administrative specialist, executive assistant, and office manager.
If you have a chance to go to the site and look at the vast categorization that Office and Administrative Support covers– Seven different categories with about sixty subcategories- some that seem very relevant and others.. not so much.
———————–

And by the way.. how does one define the engineering equivalent portion of our jobs? — You know, the engineering part of taking apart copiers to find jams- or replacing toner cartridges or taking apart the coffee machine and putting it back together. Silly, yes? Time consuming? Yes. Vital to the continued smooth functioning of our company? Absolutely. But these are skills learned on the job…and rarely documented within a job description or review. It is assumed that the administrative support staff member will inherently be able to address or take on- the small breakdowns of office and kitchen equipment.

One more page to look at -the 2008 statistics for Administrative Professionals (in the BLS category of Secretaries and Administrative Assistants) shows our field at 4.3 million strong in 2008 and the field was expected to grow 11% by 2018.

I digress. Those of us already employed in the field, we already know how much territory we cover and just how tricky it is to define our daily work accurately. We define it more by the title(s) of our supervisor, the number of years of experience, level of education and/or certifications. There is no doubt though- just as in every other occupation- there are those that hold the title- but obviously not the expertise or experience.

For the number crunchers and category makers- It is their task to generalize definitions to get the bulk of our work into neat columns of data. It is encouraging to me to see their efforts to sub categorize the field and to truly make an effort to quantify our contribution to the workforce contribution to the United States of America. As for me.. I think I’ll place myself in this category: 43-9190 Miscellaneous Office and Administrative Support Workers. I just cover too many task areas to fit neatly into any single description.