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Is there a career path for a secretary?
It’s often said that an executive is only as good as their secretary or personal assistant. Handling the day-to-day administration for a person, team or network, a secretary is the “eyes and ears” of a company, privy to unique and powerful insights about the company culture, performance and future direction.
In today’s ever-evolving job market, where soft skills are just as important as technical knowledge and experience, there are more career paths opening up for secretaries. A secretary can move into a different role - from office managers, administrative coordinators to a general affairs role. They may even move into careers in the project management and human resources function. Ultimately, where their careers will take them depends on the type of secretarial position and the skills honed during their formative years as a secretary.
Here’s how one can develop skills and progress in their career as a secretary.
Transferrable secretarial attributes
Juggling a variety of ongoing tasks, secretaries tend to develop strong organisational abilities, efficient time-management skills and good project management skills. This can help them move into roles which require them to multi-task, perform under pressure or tight deadlines, allowing them to move easily into a project management function, which requires all these skillsets.
Secretaries also act as gatekeepers to an executive, team or network. This often means that they are the first point of contact or the go-to person to speak with. Besides developing a friendly disposition and professional communication skills, they often have a personable phone manner and a flair for championing team ethic. This personable attitude and ability to interact and connect with people, allows a secretary to be well-placed to move into more HR generalist roles.
While these are general attributes that any professional can develop over the course of their job, a secretary in particular would have honed these attributes since their day-to-day work calls for the development of these skills.
Carrying skill-sets forward to a future career
There will always be different elements to each secretary’s job description, but the most valuable asset a secretary or business support professional can bring to the table is the ability to think on their feet.
Secretarial and business support work is demanding, with typical tasks including drafting letters, managing correspondence, diary coordination, organising travel and paying expenses.
These duties may fall under the remit of a secretary or administrator, with the main difference between these titles being a formal secretarial qualification. A secretary needs to be able to touch type and hold literacy in the Microsoft Office suite, while administrators often contribute on a project-by-project basis. Once again, these are all transferrable skills that can applied to a variety of jobs.
Building a career after secretarial work
To start with, most employers expect a secretary to be educated to at least matriculation-level, followed by secretarial training. Typing speed is key – if you can touch type, your speed will improve the more typing you do, otherwise it is very difficult to exceed the average rate of 40 words per minute.
An ambitious secretary will refresh their career every couple of years, once they have mastered the latest role. This is the perfect time to take on more responsibility, developing the project management and supervisory aspects of their skillset. This can be done by seeking out related generalist roles in support or HR functions.
The alternative is to make a sideways move within an organisation, or look to new pastures for the next external challenge.
Employers look for stability on a secretary’s CV, as this demonstrates highly prized attributes like resilience, the ability to make considered choices, commitment and reliability.
A career path for a secretary can lead in any number of directions - it's up to the individual to create the path they want for their individual career aspirations.