How to Become an Administrative Assistant in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for administrative assistants. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Administrative Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Administrative Assistant Do?

Administrative assistants perform a variety of business-related tasks, which vary based on position and experience. Depending on the company and your specific position, you may be asked to write reports based on research you've conducted, record minutes of meetings, or complete filing and bookkeeping duties. You may also prepare memos and invoices and perform other clerical tasks. Specialization in the legal and medical fields are also available.

The chart below can give you a general idea of the nature of the job.

Degree RequiredHigh school diploma or equivalent (post-secondary certificate or associate's degree may be beneficial)
Education Fields of StudyOffice procedures, computer maintenance, business communication
Training RequiredOn-the-job training
Licensure RequiredCertification is not required, but can demonstrate competency
Job Growth (2014-2024)3% (slower than average)*
Median Salary (2015)$33,910*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Administrative Assistant?

An administrative assistant is a clerical worker who performs a wide array of business office support tasks. Conducting research, writing reports, writing letters and other correspondence, organizing incoming correspondence, scheduling appointments and meetings, recording the minutes of meetings and greeting visitors are among your responsibilities. If you're new or inexperienced, you might have general duties such as filing and bookkeeping. If you have some seniority, you might supervise other clerks.

Step 1: Prepare in High School

For entry-level positions, a high school diploma or GED is often sufficient. Figures from O*Net OnLine show about 39% of administrative assistants have no more than a high school diploma (www.onetonline.org). If your school offers vocational training courses in computer applications and business office skills, you can begin learning some of the clerical and administrative support tasks you'll perform. Courses in English can also help by developing your verbal and written communication skills.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or Degree

Certificate and associate's degree programs for administrative assistants are available from community and vocational colleges. Programs at both levels train you in office procedures, basic computer maintenance, business productivity applications and business communications. Associate's degree programs might also cover human resources management, accounting and business law. Certificates may be earned in one year and associate's degrees in two.

Step 3: Pursue a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 3.9 million people were employed as secretaries and administrative assistants in 2014 (www.bls.gov). From 2014-2024, employment is projected to rise by 3 percent. Growth is expected to be fastest in expanding economic sectors, such as healthcare and education. Your potential employers include elementary and secondary schools, colleges, government agencies and financial institutions. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for secretaries and administrative assistants (except those specializing in legal, medical or executives) was $33,910.

Step 4: Consider Certification

While certification could improve your professional standing and allow you to negotiate a higher wage, it isn't mandatory. The Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) from the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IVAA) and the Certified Virtual Assistant (CVA) from the International Virtual Assistants Association are two widely recognized credentials you can obtain after gaining work experience.

To earn the CVA, you need to be a member of the IVAA and pass their certification exam. Eligibility for the CAP requires four years of experience if you don't have a degree or three years of experience if you have an associate's degree. Organization and planning, records management and communication are among the topics covered in the CAP exam.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

The knowledge you accumulate about the business operations of your employer provide a strong basis for advancement. You could become an office manager, clerical supervisor or executive secretary. Transitioning into positions as a trainer or instructor of assorted clerical workers or sales rep for computer hardware and software companies are also possibilities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

With a high school diploma you can also pursue a career as a receptionist, general office clerk or bookkeeping clerk, though some employers may require some additional training. Receptionists typically perform similar job duties to administrative assistants, such as scheduling appointments, greeting visitors, maintaining files and answering phone calls. General office clerks may also perform similar clerical duties to administrative assistants, including filing, typing, answering phone calls and creating reports. Bookkeeping clerks are responsible for creating financial statements and reports, as well as managing files and transactions.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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