Secretary Job Description - Responsibilities, Skills, Tasks and Career Path

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Secretary Job Description

Secretary job description

A secretary is a person who is employed to perform daily office operations and provide clerical, organizational and administrative support.

Secretaries are responsible for managing and coordinating a large number of front and back-office activities and therefore need to be not only highly organized and detail-oriented, but also capable of establishing workload priorities based on the needs of their managers and colleagues.

But what does a secretary do, exactly?

Common secretarial duties include, answering and forwarding incoming telephone calls, receiving and processing correspondence, such as emails and letters, drafting documents of various kinds, handling and filing administrative paperwork and records, entering accounting and financial data into reporting systems and maintaining diaries and arranging appointments for management and colleagues.

In some cases, a secretary may also be responsible for welcoming visitors, guests and clients and for performing other tasks typically carried out by a receptionist, including signing visitors in and out, enforcing access control procedures and accompanying guests to the person or department they are looking for. Secretaries assigned these duties have a public-facing role and should therefore have a kind, polite and friendly manner, be well-presented and ensure they wear appropriate attire at all times.

Secretary skills and competencies

A secretary’s exact duties - above and beyond the general secretarial duties outlined above - may vary widely according to the nature and needs of their place of work. Here are some of the common types of secretary and their typical tasks and functions:

  • Administrative secretary - primarily handles administration and accounting tasks, including compiling information and data for financial reports, filing administrative documents and records and processing invoices and other financial transactions
  • Sales secretary - provides support to the sales office, recording details of sales orders and forwarding them to the sales team, handling commercial correspondence with customers and maintaining diaries and arranging appointments for members of the company’s salesforce
  • Executive secretary - in charge of arranging appointments (e.g. meetings, lunches, business trips etc.) and handling communications and correspondence for members of a company’s senior management team
  • Professional practice secretary - e.g. a secretary working for a medical practice, dental practice, law firm or accounting firm. Typically responsible for organizing appointments, welcoming clients/patients to the practice, answering their questions and handling various administrative and accounting tasks (e.g. processing medical or legal documentation).

A secretary usually works in an office (this could be a front or back office, depending on the nature of the company or organization and its requirements). Whether they have a full-time or part-time contract, secretaries are often expected to have a very flexible approach to working hours in order to meet the requirements of the role. They also need to be able to work as part of a team and cope well with stress - particularly if they work in large, fast-paced offices, for a very busy manager, or at a practice with a very high workload.

Secretaries are employed in a large number of different settings and organizations. There are vacancies for secretaries with companies and businesses of all kinds, from small-to-medium concerns right through to large multinationals, as well as with consulting firms, professional practices, public organizations and agencies, schools, educational institutes and training centres, travel agencies, estate agents, hotels, gyms and beauty salons.

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Responsibilities and Tasks

Secretary tasks and responsibilities

The main duties of a secretary include:

  • Routine, day-to-day secretarial and administrative tasks
  • Answering and forwarding inbound telephone calls and handling letters, emails and other correspondence
  • Administrative and accounting duties
  • Drafting letters, memos, documents, reports, presentations etc.
  • Filing documents, records, contracts, etc.
  • Welcoming guests, clients, patients etc.
  • Maintaining diaries and arranging appointments
  • Planning business trips and preparing and processing expense reports
  • Providing organizational support and assistance with general office activities

How to Become a Secretary - Education, Training and Requirements

How to become Secretary - Training

To become a secretary typically requires a high school diploma or equivalent (ideally with a business or management focus), although some positions may require a degree. Preference is typically given to candidates who have some prior experience of front office or back office work in an administrative or commercial setting (for example, as a junior administrative assistant). Also important are excellent written and spoken English and knowledge of one or more foreign languages.

Aspiring secretaries without any prior experience can improve their CV by attending a professional training course for secretaries. In some cases, courses may be aimed at specific types of secretary, e.g.:

  • Administrative secretary
  • Company secretary
  • Medical practice secretary
  • Legal secretary

Training courses for secretaries typically cover topics such as business administration, accounting and document management. They also teach basic IT skills, such as how to use word processors, spreadsheets, email applications and popular data management tools and systems (e.g. electronic filing and order entry software).

Secretary: Skills and Qualifications

An efficient and effective secretary needs the following skills and qualities:

  • Ability to use office equipment, such as computers, printers, telephones and fax
  • Familiarity with common office IT applications (Microsoft Office suite, business and management systems)
  • Excellent organizational and coordination skills
  • Detail-oriented nature and ability to work independently and methodically
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Pleasant, discreet and professional manner
  • Well-presented professional appearance
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Strong timekeeping skills, precision and reliability
  • Flexibility and dynamic approach

Secretary Career Path

Secretary career path

A career as a secretary offers a wide range of professional development opportunities.

For example, administrative secretaries at large businesses and organizations can develop their finance and accounting skills and eventually secure a promotion to a coordinating and planning role, such as administrative office manager.

Experienced secretaries working for medical practices or legal firms, meanwhile, can apply for vacancies with larger, more prestigious firms offering better salary packages.

Secretaries in executive assistant roles who are able to demonstrate reliability and strong organizational skills can expect to be assigned to increasingly senior managers and may eventually secure a position working with the company CEO or another top ranking role.

Finally, the technical, organizational, planning, communication and interpersonal skills needed to work as a secretary can be used in a wide range of other areas and sectors, including administration (e.g. as an administrative clerk) and customer services (for example in a front office role such as receptionist).

Top Reasons to Work as a Secretary

Why should you consider working as a secretary?

A job as a secretary is ideal for highly-organized, detail-oriented individuals with strong timekeeping skills. Secretaries play a key role in ensuring that the daily activities in an office run smoothly, by supporting and assisting their colleagues and management with a range of organizational, clerical and administrative tasks.

The highly dynamic nature of the role, which comes with responsibility for a variety of activities (including processing correspondence, dealing with administrative questions and issues, managing deadlines and cut-off dates, filing documents and records, handling communications and relations with clients and planning meetings and appointments) make it especially well-suited to individuals with strong planning and organizational skills.

Finally, the administrative, accounting and general planning skills needed by a secretary can open up alternative employment opportunities in a wide range of other areas, making it a hugely versatile profession.

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