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secretarial careers


Tell me about it
Secretaries work for all sorts of organisations, and job descriptions vary greatly, but generally secretaries support one or more people, giving them time to concentrate on management, their professional duties or other tasks. The work is usually office-based and includes dealing with the post, drafting letters, filing, making and receiving telephone calls, taking minutes of meetings and word-processing and other computer-related activity.

Titles such as executive secretary or personal assistant (PA) normally denote someone who works closely with a senior manager or executive, providing administrative back-up and keeping an efficient flow of documentation so that the manager’s time is put to the most effective use. Most executive secretaries and PAs organise meetings, keep the manager's diary, handle incoming and outgoing mail, and set up and maintain office systems. They also liaise with the manager and their contacts inside and outside the organisation.

Entry level
There are no absolute educational requirements laid down for training as a secretary, although most employers would expect a high level of ability in English and accurate number skills. Entry to secretarial courses often requires a minimum of some GCSE/S grade subjects, while others look for A levels/AH or H grades or equivalent.

Most secretarial courses take one or two years full-time or may be studied on a modular scheme whilst working. You would normally aim to develop keyboard and word processing skills, combined with knowledge of secretarial software packages. Audio typing and shorthand may also be offered. If you wish to become an executive secretary or PA, you should follow as high a level of general education as possible, paying particular attention to English language, grammar, punctuation and sentence construction.

It is possible to take a diploma or degree in secretarial studies or secretarial administration and some universities and colleges offer postgraduate secretarial training.

Making the grade
When you start your job, you will usually be trained in company procedures and systems. Your employer may also give you the opportunity to work towards a relevant qualification, either through work-based training or day-release at a local college.

You could, for example, work towards an advanced qualification in business administration, such as:

  • OCR Level 3 and 4 Certificate and Diploma in Administration (Business Professional)
  • City and Guilds Advanced Diploma and Higher Professional Diploma in Business Administration
  • NVQ levels 3 and 4 in Business and Administration.

In order to develop your career at a high level, you may find it useful to join the Institute of Professional Administrators.

Personal qualities
As a secretary, you would need to be well organised and able not only to plan your work and prioritise tasks but also to remain flexible enough to deal with other tasks at short notice. Attention to detail, accuracy and a conscientious attitude are all important in this type of work. You should be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and speech, with a wide spectrum of people. Tact and discretion are also required, as you may be producing highly confidential documents or handling commercially sensitive information.

As an executive secretary or PA, you may have to use some personal initiative, screening incoming telephone calls, for example, and often dealing yourself with those you do not consider it necessary to pass to your manager.

Looking ahead
Promotion could mean becoming PA to a more senior executive within the same organisation, or to a manager in a larger or more prestigious company. You could also move on to general or specialist management positions, using the knowledge and experience you have gained in your area of work. For example, a PA to a human resources director may become a human resources or personnel manager, possibly studying for a professional qualification, although this would depend on individual circumstances and your determination to succeed.

Alternative suggestions
You may be interested in focusing on a particular type of work by training as a farm, legal or medical secretary. With suitable language skills, you could become a secretary linguist. Other ideas might include civil servant, human resources manager, local government administrator or hospitality manager. You could also teach secretarial skills as a college lecturer.

Take-home pay
Pay scales vary widely, Depending on the size of the organisation and the seniority of your position.  In general, salaries range from about £15,000 to £22,000, rising with experience to £25,000 to £35,000. Top jobs in prestigious companies in London can command over £40,000.

Secretaries typically work from 9am to 5.30pm, five days a week, although you may be asked to work extra or flexible hours at busy times. You may be expected to travel on business with your manager. Part time work, job sharing and temporary work are all widely available.

Sources of information
Institute of Professional Administrators: 
Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators:
Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Administrators and Receptionists:




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