Job descriptions and industry overviews

Secretary: job description

15 Feb 2024, 10:00

Secretaries and administrators play a supportive role in organisations where they are employed to undertake a variety of administrative tasks.

Mobile phone and notebook: a secretary handles correspondence and arranges appointments.

What does a secretary or administrator do? | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Secretaries and administrators help to keep an organisation running smoothly, taking care of the administrative and organisational tasks that make the organisation function. The job title ‘administrator’ and ‘secretary’ can be used interchangeably to describe the same role, or ‘secretary’ can be another, more old-fashioned name for a personal assistant or executive assistant. Read our other job description to learn about personal assistant skills and how the role differs from that of a secretary.

Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • answering calls, taking messages and handling correspondence
  • maintaining diaries and arranging appointments
  • typing, preparing and collating reports
  • filing
  • organising and servicing meetings (producing agendas and taking minutes)
  • managing databases
  • prioritising workloads
  • implementing new procedures and administrative systems
  • liaising with relevant organisations and clients
  • coordinating mail-shots and similar publicity tasks
  • logging or processing bills or expenses
  • acting as a receptionist and/or meeting and greeting clients
  • if more senior, recruiting, training and supervising junior staff.

An administrative or secretarial role can sometimes be a way into another profession, particularly those in the media or marketing; that is, many professionals in sectors such as marketing and the media start out in an administrative role and 'work their way up'. Similarly, university students and graduates often do short-term temp work as an administrator or secretary via a recruitment agency during the holidays or after graduating. This sort of office experience can be an asset on a CV.

However, if you wish to specialise in an administrative role, career progression can come from taking on more senior administrative positions; what these are exactly will differ according to the organisation. In some, you might become a senior administrator or team leader; in others, a personal or executive assistant ; in still more, an office manager . It’s also not unknown for secretarial and administrative staff to specialise in working for organisations in particular sectors: for example, pharmaceuticals or law.

Typical employers of secretaries and administrators

A huge range of organisations across the public and private sectors employ secretaries and administrators.

Jobs can typically be found on jobs boards, directly through the employer’s websites, through recruitment agencies and in the print and online versions of local and national newspapers.

Qualifications and training required

Formal academic qualifications are not always needed, although some employers do require you to be educated to a GCSE/standards or A level/highers level. A small minority might ask for a degree, in which case a degree in English, business, IT or information science may be beneficial.

Most employers require applicants to have office or administrative work experience; relevant experience can be gained through temping via recruitment agencies. This, in turn, can lead to permanent work.

Some organisations ask for the ability to type a certain number of words per minute or to have experience in audiotyping; however, shorthand is no longer asked for as standard. A range of secretarial training courses are available online or via further education colleges.

Key skills for secretaries

  • Good communication, customer service and relationship-building skills
  • Teamworking skills
  • Organisation and time management skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Negotiation skills
  • Assertiveness
  • Flexibility
  • Tact, discretion and diplomacy
  • The ability to be proactive and use your initiative: to see what needs doing and to do it
  • The ability to use standard software packages (eg Microsoft Office) and to learn bespoke packages if required.

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