Whoa! An Administrative Assistant Does ALL That?


One minute you’re making sure the CEO is prepared for his meeting with investors and offering your opinion on what he should say, the next you’re sorting through mail and fielding phone calls. You’re definitely not limited to one type of task and there’s no doubt that without you the office would come to a screeching halt.

So, who are you?

The administrative assistant.

Being an administrative assistant: this job is not what you think

Okay, wait. What?

If I asked a bunch of people what their “dream job” was, how many do you think would say it was an administrative assistant?

Probably not many. This job does not exactly have the reputation for being exciting or particularly rewarding. And yet, when you really look into the position, it has the promise to be both of those things.

Today’s administrative assistant is pretty different from yesterday’s secretary. Lisa Leslie explains in her blog post which contrasts the two that as an administrative assistant, you’re very much involved with what is happening in the company and must be able to anticipate the needs of the business.

You’re really the person who is making sure that everything is running smoothly. Because administrative assistants are support systems to executives, managers, and other professionals, their days will vary depending on the schedules of those other members of the company.

Is there such a thing as a typical task list for administrative assistants?

The kinds of things that an administrative assistant does will also change depending on what industry they’re in and what type of company they’re working for.

At a lot of smaller companies, the role of the administrative assistant is more like that of an office manager or an executive assistant. Not only are you going to be in charge of all of the minor clerical duties, but you’ll be working with higher-up executives and taking care of the human resource needs of the company. This means you’re doing everything necessary to keep employers and employees sane.

We’re a pretty small company here at AfterCollege and we don’t have an administrative assistant. But we certainly do have an office manager and he keeps this place going, doing everything from ordering new chairs to organizing and participating in meetings with the CEO.

Apart from basic clerical knowledge, administrative assistants working in legal offices have to have an understanding of criminal procedures, technical writing, legal transcription, and court proceedings since they’ll be making sure that documents are all set to go to court. Those who work in healthcare facilities will need to be familiar with healthcare terminology, medical transcription, and the software used in this industry.

Bayt.com shares a day in the life of an administrative assistant at a hospital in this post and CareerStep does a good job of showing the difference between an ideal versus real-life day in the life of an administrative assistant at a high school.

Although the job will vary depending on the industry and size of the company, there are some tasks that almost all administrative assistants will want to know how to do.

Some of those typical duties include:


Scheduling appointments

Coordinating meetings

Taking notes

Answering emails

Transferring or setting up calls

Mailing out packages

Maintaining filing systems both electronically and on paper

Entering data

So those are the typical duties of an administrative assistant. Now let’s start exploring why this job might appeal to someone—and why others may choose to go in another direction for their career.


  • You play a pretty large part in the effectiveness of a company. A lot of organizations would be completely lost without the organization and prep work done by the administrative assistant who works there. You’re the one who keeps all the wheels turning.
  • Every day is different. Whatever is needed for the company on that day is what you’ll be doing.
  • You get to meet a variety of different people. You’re the one who is usually greeting clients and fielding phone calls, so on a daily basis you’ll be interacting with everyone from executives to interns.
  • You can work in any field. Almost every industry and company needs administrative assistants to keep everything going. That means you have the chance to work in almost any environment or industry that interests you.


  • Salary. Even though you’ll probably be able to raise your salary as you gain more experience, starting salaries for administrative assistants aren’t very high. PayScale gives us a closer look at the median pay for someone in this position.
  • High stress. You’re support for the entire office. That means everyone is relying on you to keep everything organized and send the right files over when needed. Your work directly affects that of whoever you’re working with and there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with this position.
  • Dealing with difficult personalities. This job requires a lot of interaction with other people and there are going to be times when you have to deal with disgruntled employees, clients, or managers.
  • Not all tasks are exciting. There are tasks that come with this job that aren’t necessarily thrilling. You’ll be doing a lot of data entry and other work that can be considered “tedious.”

Necessary hard skills:

Microsoft Office – You’ll be doing a lot of data entry, note taking, presentation preparation, and document/spreadsheet organization.

Reading and writing  – Because you’re constantly sending and responding to emails, sending memos, and updating and editing documents, you need to have proficient writing and proofreading skills. You’re the person that all outside communication will be going through. As a representative of the company, you’ll want to have impeccable grammar and composition.

Accounting – There may be an accountant already working for a company, but a lot of the time, bookkeeping will fall on the administrative assistant. Having a working knowledge of the principles of accounting will help you to take over this role if necessary.

Necessary soft skills:

Communication skills  You’re responsible for greeting and interacting with executives, managers, employees, and clients both in person as well as over the phone or via email. This means that you not only have to be personable but also capable of getting the point across.

Organization  Administrative assistants are jacks of all trades. You’re keeping everything sorted and organized including schedules, files, and the office in general. You have to be incredibly organized to keep track of everything and make sure that your company runs smoothly.

Problem solving  This is not a position for the easily flustered. Because of the largely human element, there are constantly problems that will arise and you have to be able to think on your feet. Such-and-such client has a sudden change in their schedule and needs to come in for a meeting a week early. What can be moved around to make it work? Who should be called if the new document accidentally got deleted?

Want to know what it’s like to be the office manager at a recording studio? You can read all about it in this post and find out why it’s a lot like playing Tetris.

Then check out all of the similarities and differences between that administrative job and this front-desk manager’s position at the funkiest hotel in downtown San Francisco.

Homework time! Think you might like a job as an administrative assistant? Start thinking about what industry you might want to work in. Then, start checking out courses that will equip you with the knowledge for working in that field.


6 Responses to “Whoa! An Administrative Assistant Does ALL That?”

    • Cindy

      This is a good article, about a field that many students often overlook. This is a field that is always necessary and always hiring. Use your knowledge from school and your ability with new technology to get a great admin job. If you want to get one of the better paying admin jobs you probably will have to get professional certifications from associations like The National Association of Administrative Professionals or American Society of Administrative Professionals, but they are worth it.

  1. Ratko Ivanović

    I agree with you. I found it to be a tough category – it’s a job where someone has to have aspiration for something higher, so they can predict business needs, make processes more efficient and of course adapt to new situations, focus on the goals at hand, etc. etc.

    The issue is when someone is really good at all of that, it’s just a matter of time when they’ll leave. I am currently finding a solution for that position though:)

    Anyways, it’s really essential that whoever is the manager of that position understands their job. If you’re a va to a business owner, the business owner should invest their time in finding what tasks it’s good to outsource, their needs, etc. It’s too much of a weight to lay this all on the VA, and more important the VA can never have the same overview of the business as the manager can.

    I would focus on creating processes for as much as possible, including softwares where you can, so the part of the job of adapting is put out of the picture as much as possible. The thing is – you can never put it out of the picture, but removing the need to adapt to situations you can predict leaves your VA with room for creating better work.

  2. Rochelle

    People assume administrative assistants “just” sit at a desk and answer a phone, but this blog really shows what an important role administrative assistants play! Every person plays an important role in an office.

  3. Mandi

    Everyone has a degree now a days, and you need to still work your way up the ladder. Try looking into training and development courses like iaap or tnaoap certifications to get on the fast track. show your initiative to your employers!


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