Secretary: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Requirements

Research what it takes to become a secretary. Learn about education requirements, work responsibilities, salary and job outlook to see if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Administrative Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Secretary?

Secretaries manage the clerical work in offices for a wide range of businesses and organizations. You'll need to be able to schedule appointments; manage files, data, and correspondence; and do basic bookkeeping. You'll also perform other tasks needed to support the work of supervisors and staff. Secretaries need to be well-organized and have good communication skills, as well as some computer skills.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know for this career.

Degree Required High school diploma
Post-secondary training and certificate for some jobs
Bachelor's degree for executive secretary positions
Education Field of Study Office administration, secretarial science
Certification Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification voluntary, but helpful
Key Skills Clerical skills, organizational skills, computer skills, communication
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% for secretaries in all fields*
Average Salary (2015) $35,200*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of a Secretary?

Secretaries perform many clerical and administrative duties that are necessary to run an organization efficiently. Your secretarial duties will vary according to your specific job title. For example, as an executive secretary, you'd perform few clerical duties and instead, focus on supporting high-level executives, supervising office staff, conducting research and arranging meetings. If you become a medical secretary, you'll create medical histories for patients and transcribe medical reports. As a legal secretary, you'd prepare legal documentation such as subpoenas and motions.

In general, secretaries organize paperwork and electronic files, manage projects, arrange meetings, conduct research and communicate through phone, mail and e-mail. You may be responsible for creating spreadsheets, developing presentations or reports, composing correspondence and managing databases. Other duties can include purchasing supplies, managing stockrooms, greeting visitors and handling travel arrangements.

What Is the Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), secretarial employment was projected to grow 3% between 2014 and 2024, which was similar to growth in other occupations. Some of this growth can be attributed to workers leaving the field or transferring to professional positions.

New technologies and automation that allow secretaries to complete a greater number of tasks may alter the way work is delegated in many office environments. Smaller companies may outsource secretarial and administrative tasks to virtual assistants; however, in-house secretaries are still expected to be viewed as essential team members because they possess interpersonal skills and may personally deal with clients and staff. To improve your job prospects, you should become proficient in software applications, gain practical experience and hone your communication skills.

What Education Might I Require?

High school diplomas are considered the minimum requirement for secretaries, but you may want to consider enrolling in a formal training program. Most organizations prefer to hire employees who have completed 1- or 2-year office administration programs at vocational schools or community colleges. These programs typically result in certificates or associate's degrees. You might receive instruction in areas such as bookkeeping, Windows applications, Word, Excel, administrative office procedures and written communications. However, for some secretarial specialties, such as medical or legal, you may need to complete a more specialized training program.

If you do not complete a formal training program, your employer may provide on-the-job training. Some temporary employment agencies may also offer training. After training, you can apply for certification through the International Association of Administrative Professionals, or, if you are a legal secretary, the National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS), Inc. Certifying organizations may offer different levels of certification, which can be earned by passing examinations and meeting other requirements. As a secretary, you may need to participate in continuing education to keep up with changes in office automation, new technologies and software programs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

People who have good organizational, math and computer skills may also become bookkeeping clerks, with only some postsecondary education required. These professionals produce and check financial records. Another career that requires only a high school diploma is that of information clerks. Information clerks maintain records and collect data in many industries, including healthcare and hospitality.

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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