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Career: Secretary

 
A Day in the life of a Secretary

A secretary manages information. Responsibilities can run from scheduling staff appointments to office management to managing an entire database. Since the computer is central to any modern office, mastery of the latest office technology is essential. Secretaries are often the primary conduit of information from their employers to the rest of the world, so they must be comfortable communicating with others in person and on the telephone. Secretaries who work in specialized fields, such as law and accounting, have a working knowledge of that field. Executive secretaries often initiate and execute independent projects. One secretary we spoke to described her view of keeping busy after accomplishing a day's assignments well before deadline: "You can bury your nose in a magazine, or you can find something constructive to do. Good secretaries are self-starters." Few professions call for such careful execution of so many specialized tasks. Such professionalism combined with the almost constant changes in business technology has led secretaries to turn to one another for support, training, and solidarity. "You often don't know exactly what's expected of you," remarked one secretary. "It's easier if there are other secretaries there to help you clarify things, especially in a place like a law office." Because so much of the job depends on organization, secretaries' skills are really tested when they work for particularly disorganized bosses. "Your main task is making sure everything goes smoothly, anticipating as well as accomplishing particular tasks." And secretaries are still expected to handle their employers' moods and foibles in the course of everyday business. The best advice we heard: "Be prepared for anything."

Paying Your Dues

Some of the clerical skills expected of secretaries can be picked up on the job, but secretarial candidates should have already mastered typing and word processing in high school, college, or vocational school. Competition in the field allows employers to place greater demands on applicants: A college education is a valuable asset. In a global economy, being bilingual or even trilingual is often a plus. Stenography has become something of a lost art, but it may come in handy with an old-fashioned boss.

Associated Careers

"Secretary" is an umbrella term for any number of administrative jobs, and the best-qualified secretaries have mastered them all. Many secretaries use their experience to enter a particular profession. Some secretaries get practice using editorial skills and move into editorial jobs. Many secretaries who are responsible for office management, including payrolls, bookkeeping, bill-paying and maintenance of the office's physical plant, find more specialized opportunities in these areas. Those interested in doing secretarial work on a temporary basis may seek assignments through a temporary agency. These agencies provide companies with administrative workers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Temp work has the advantages of flexibility and variety--of bosses, office settings, and tasks. It also has the drawbacks of sameness--you will quite possibly be given one boring task to do for a week--and the possibility that the work may dry up at certain times of the year when you could really use a paycheck.


 
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