Office and Admin Professional Development

Job Spotlight: Administrative Assistant

job spotlight administrative assistant

There are currently almost half a million open job postings for qualified administrative assistants—do you have what it takes?

Table of contents.

What is the job?

Where to search for jobs? 

Average salary for an administrative assistant

How to get the job? 

How to advance your career as an administrative assistant

what-is-the-job

Employers are seeking applicants with a minimum of an associate’s degree—and the job requirements have evolved from answering phones and fetching coffee. Today’s administrative assistants can expect to not only field incoming calls, but also connect callers to the appropriate contact person, as well as data entry, daily problem-solving, managing office supplies and ordering, coordinating company events, maintaining the boss’ calendar, supervising interns, composing memos and mass emails, and serving as the first point of contact inter-departmental communication.

It is an under-appreciated and at times overwhelming role, but it can help prepare you to move onward and upward in administrative jobs in pretty much any field you can think of.

common career path for administrative assistant
[Source: Payscale]

Titles for your job search

Where to work?

Here are the current top hiring locations for administrative assistants:

And here are the current top hiring organizations for administrative assistants:

  • Wells Fargo
  • Macy’s
  • Bank of America
  • Family Dollar
  • Seas
  • Target
  • Lowe’s
  • Home Depot
  • H&R Block
  • Petsmart

 

Certifications and skills

If you’re not already, it’s time to become an expert at Microsoft word, excel, outlook, and powerpoint. Figure out what publications online and in-print contribute to your industry and read them regularly. Make sure your written and verbal communications skills are on point—odds are you’ll be called upon for proofreading, at the very least.

Though you don’t have to be great at math, you should definitely be organized enough to handle accounts received and payable, which means tracking bills and checks on their way in and out of the office. If you can, consider taking an accounting course or two—or even getting a certification to bolster your hard skillset.

administrative assistant job titles

[Source: Wanted Analytics]

The bad news is, you have to deal with a lot of personalities, and not all of them will be terrific. The good news is, your skills will be thoroughly transferable, so you can job search by researching companies instead of being limited to a few companies that provide opportunities for a rare specialty.

The job can be high stress, until you can master compartmentalizing and set healthy work-life boundaries so your to-do list doesn’t follow you home.

Expected salary

The median yearly salary for administrative assistants is in the $30k range, and the median hourly rate is under $15.

administrative assistant salary levels

[source: Wanted Analytics]

how-to-get-the-job

Develop your resume

The soft and hard skills that make an excellent administrative assistant can come from nearly anywhere—and entry level positions will help polish any skills that you’re still developing. Make sure you frame any experience you’ve had in terms of working with the public, reporting to a busy supervisor, balancing demanding tasks, and communicating efficiently with your colleagues.

See also: 3 entry-level job seeking mistakes to avoid

Accumulate references/letters of recommendation

For your references, select people who’ve seen you in action at your busiest without cracking under the pressure! Send them a copy of your latest resume and the job posting before you list them as a reference, so they know which of your skills to emphasize when they talk you up.

Apply in person or online

Do your research to find out whether the company you’re applying to work for accepts applications online (in which case be extra vigilant about uploading the correct and well-proofread versions of your documents; usually saving them as a pdf is most effective), or whether you should drop off a folder with your resume, letters of recommendation, and cover letter.

Apply here: Administrative assistant jobs

 

Interview like a pro

Many of these basics are widely available online—dress professionally, nothing too flashy or revealing or casual, no cologne, plenty of deodorant, neatly groomed and well-rested. Don’t make the mistake I make nearly every time of over-thinking your handshake or arriving way to early and downing a giant iced coffee while you’re waiting across the street!

Research the business ahead of time

Knowing how old the company is, who its founders were, what their mission is, and how your position fits into their overall business will help you answer questions like “why are you the best fit for ABC corp’s downtown office?” or “what will you bring to ABC’s professional atmosphere?” with poise and confidence.

In summary: know what you have to offer, and know what they need.

Be prepared to highlight 5-7 personal anecdotes that showcase your skills

It’s not enough to say you’re organized, describe a project you worked on that required you to exercise all of your organizational skills like planning ahead, coordinating with vendors, tracking payments, running an event, etc.

Follow up graciously

The morning after your interview, be sure to send a thank-you note or appreciative email to everyone you met with—or if you emailed with only one point person, ask them to pass on your regards. You want to express thanks for their time and information, and reiterate your enthusiasm for the position.

how-to-advance-your-career

See the bigger picture

When I first started working as an assistant, I was eager and ready-to-please, but eventually, I got burned out on menial tasks and what I perceived as a lack of respect—people talked over me as though I were invisible in meetings and seemed to only think of me when it was time to order things.

What I had to realize was that being invisible actually gave me great access to the levels of the company where I wanted to work anyway, and that being the one responsible for keeping everyone in pens and copy paper actually meant everyone relied on me.

Be the one everyone wants to know

The all time great administrative assistants, like Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing or Donna on Suits or Joan Holloway-Harris on Mad Men, thrive because they are the hubs of their offices. If you want to know anything that’s going on, you go to them, and you ask politely, and hope they are feeling helpful. This can be you!

As long as you recognize when you’re paying your dues, and are generous with your time and knowledge, people will appreciate your role as gatekeeper.

Prove yourself

Another crucial component is being able to effortlessly pull off the impossible—or at least make it look easy. Assisting is all about anticipating needs, thinking ahead, and taking initiative to make the higher-ups’ jobs run smoothly.

I used to get exasperated when my bosses hounded me about small assignments. Eventually I realized the way to avoid follow-up emails with the little urgent exclamation point was to communicate quickly and clearly, even if it was just a quick “this is still in the works, estimated delivery date is 4/12” note that didn’t even get a response. My bosses learned to trust I would turn jobs around exactly when I said I would, and they could rely on me to communicate if I hit a snag.

Be a trusted confidante

I am not going to lie. Office gossip is great. It is fun, it builds work-friendships like nothing else, and seems like a great way to boost your own standing when you’re the one with the intel. But, a truly great administrative assistant knows that loose lips sink ships—if your boss is trusting you with a big project, or access to confidential information, your career will be better served by keeping a lid on it and being worthy of that trust.

Look at tasks that seem more personal than administrative as a sign that you’re becoming indispensible—don’t let it derail your other work, but see what professional benefits come after you demonstrate your ability to keep someone’s confidence.

Now that you know what the job looks like, where and how to look for it, and what to do when you get there, you should have everything you need to decide whether a career as an administrative assistant is right for you. Good luck and happy searching!

Apply here: Administrative Assistant jobs

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About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.

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