What does a secretary or administrator do? | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills
Secretaries and administrators help to keep an organisation running smoothly, taking care of the administrative and organisational tasks that make the organisation function. The job title ‘administrator’ and ‘secretary’ can be used interchangeably to describe the same role, or ‘secretary’ can be another, more old-fashioned name for a personal assistant or executive assistant.
Typical responsibilities of the job include:
- answering calls, taking messages and handling correspondence
- maintaining diaries and arranging appointments
- typing, preparing and collating reports
- organising and servicing meetings (producing agendas and taking minutes)
- managing databases
- prioritising workloads
- implementing new procedures and administrative systems
- liaising with relevant organisations and clients
- coordinating mail-shots and similar publicity tasks
- logging or processing bills or expenses
- acting as a receptionist and/or meeting and greeting clients
- if more senior, recruiting, training and supervising junior staff
An administrative role can sometimes be a way into a profession, particularly those in the media or marketing; that is, many professionals in sectors such as marketing and the media start out in an administrative role and 'work their way' up. Similarly, university students and graduates often do short-term temp work as an administrator or secretary via a recruitment agency during the holidays or after graduating. This sort of office experince can be an asset on a CV: read our top tips for temping.
However, if you wish to specialise in an administrative role, career progression can come from taking on more senior administrative positions; what these are exactly will differ according to the organisation. In some, you might become a senior administrator or team leader; in others, a personal or executive assistant; in still more, an office manager. It’s also not unknown for secretarial and administrative staff to specialise in working for organisations in particular sectors: for example, pharmaceuticals or law.
Typical employers of secretaries and administrators
A huge range of organisations across the public and private sectors employ secretaries and administrators.
Jobs can typically be found on jobs boards, directly through the employer’s websites, through recruitment agencies and in the print and online versions of local and national newspapers.
Qualifications and training required
Formal academic qualifications are not always needed, although some employers do require you to be educated to a GCSE/standards or A level/highers level. A small minority might ask for a degree, in which case a degree in a English, business, IT or information science may be beneficial.
Most employers require applicants to have office or administrative work experience; relevant experience can be gained through temping via recruitment agencies. This, in turn, can lead to permanent work.
Some organisations ask for the ability to type a certain number of words per minute or to have experience in audiotyping; however, shorthand is no longer asked for as standard. A range or secretarial training courses are available online or via further education colleges.
Key skills for secretaries
- Good communication, customer service and relationship-building skills
- Teamworking skills
- Organisation and time management skills
- Attention to detail
- Negotiation skills
- Tact, discretion and diplomacy
- The ability to be proactive and use your initiative: to see what needs doing and to do it
- The ability to use standard software packages (eg Microsoft Office)and to learn bespoke packages if required
While in general the University believes that patients, students and constituents can best be served when Washington University employees are physically at work, it also recognizes that flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting can be an important part of meeting departmental and university needs. Any such formal arrangement must be defined in writing prior to the start of the assignment and signed by the employee and the department.
Telecommuting is a work arrangement in which employees routinely perform their regular job responsibilities away from their primary business location. Telecommuting is normally considered an alternate worksite arrangement to an employee’s primary work location for a defined period of time. This arrangement may be established for regularly scheduled, sustained periods of time and may represent a portion or all of the employee’s work week. By special approval, this may also be the employee’s sole work location when appropriate. Formal arrangements are not needed for temporary or intermittent assignments in which work has been approved to be performed away from the primary work place.
The ability to telecommute is a privilege based on the needs of the job, work group and organization, and may be determined by the employee’s past and present levels of performance and is not a right. Not all employees and not all jobs are suited to telecommuting. Typically, telecommuting relationships should not be established during an employee’s orientation period or when an employee is experiencing performance problems or requires close supervision. Nor are such arrangements intended to create a “second job” with the university or to allow employees to pursue other jobs or business initiatives external to the university.
Department managers are responsible for determining the feasibility of any individual telecommuting arrangement based upon evaluation of the work to be accomplished, benefits to the department, interactions required between the telecommuting employee and other staff members or customers and the demonstrated skills of the employee. Employees being considered for telecommuting must have a demonstrated record of acceptable or higher performance, be capable of independent, self -directed work and be highly self- motivated. The employee should currently be in good standing with the University and possess a current work record that is free of current disciplinary action or documented performance issues.
Telecommuting arrangements must comply with federal, state and city laws and University policies that apply to employees at Washington University. This includes, but is not limited to, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Therefore, telecommuting arrangements do not change salaries, benefits, job responsibilities, leave policies or other basic terms or legal requirements associated with employment. In those rare instances in which a department is hiring a new employee into a Telecommuting status, the Telecommuting requirements must be spelled out as a condition of employment during recruitment for the position.
Telecommuting agreements should add value to the operations of the department /school and must be reviewed and approved within established departmental approval processes before being enacted. In cases where telecommuting requests reflect employment outside of the state of Missouri, create on-going telecommuting arrangements or involve FMLA or other medical accommodation issues, requests must also be reviewed and approved by Human Resources.
When management determines that exigent circumstances exist, such as natural disaster, pandemic, etc., temporary or intermittent assignments may be approved by the department without formal written agreements in place. Departments may approve temporary telecommuting based on the circumstances and needs of the department and employees should not assume they may work from home without first obtaining management’s approval. When the exigent circumstances no longer represent a crisis situation, such assignments must either stop or have formal agreements developed and signed by both the department and the employee to continue offsite arrangements.
Please refer to the Telecommuting Guidelines and forms below for procedures.
- Telecommuting is an arrangement between management and employee, not an entitlement, and is based on the needs of the job, work group and organization, and may be determined by the employee’s past and present levels of performance.
- The nature of the employee’s work must be considered in evaluating the appropriateness of a telecommuting arrangement
a. Jobs that entail working alone or working with equipment which can be kept at the alternate work site are often suitable for telecommuting.
b. Jobs that require physical presence to perform effectively are not suitable for telecommuting. Examples: supervisor, manager, secretary/receptionist, student advisor, custodian and maintenance worker.
c. Jobs that require a high degree of collaboration and /or group discussion to achieve goals may not be suitable for telecommuting.
- Other factors to be considered include assessing potential costs and savings to be expected, impact on space, equipment, staffing and overall departmental efficiency both at the alternate work location and on the primary work site, and the employee’s overall fitness for self-directed work and demonstrated work record.
- The manager must communicate in advance what assignments or tasks are appropriate to be performed at the telecommuting site and what assessment techniques will be used to measure success in meeting performance standardsA good system for measuring the quality, quantity and timeliness of output should be equally effective for both employees on-site as well as those working at home and should not reflect differences in standards.
- All forms of information (paper, electronic, conversations) must be kept secure and confidential. Employees may be required to:
a. Install Antivirus software, update the software & virus definitions weekly and scan for new viruses at least weekly
b. If connecting to the network via DSL, cable modem or non-University dial-in (e.g., SNET, AOL), use the University’s VPN or Proxy servers
c. Use a personal firewall if using DSL or cable modem
d. Disable or restrict file sharing
- On-going telecommuting arrangements must be defined in writing and address:
a. The business reason for the decision to telecommute;
b. Length of time the telecommuting arrangement will continue;
c. Number of hours per day / days per week the employee will telecommute – including when (what days/hours) the employee is expected to work;
d. A description of the impact to customers in terms of service and quality of work;
e. An explanation of how necessary communication with management, the department and customers will be maintained;
f. List of general duties to be performed while telecommuting (Note: other duties or accountabilities may be added/deleted as necessary);
g. List of the necessary equipment and software as well as where/how/by whom it will be obtained and maintained; and define who is responsible for telephone costs (if any), supplies (paper, pens, etc.), computer set-up and maintenance, installation of and/or training on computer software, security of University equipment, materials, and supplies (including responsibility for loss), any additional applicable items. Normally, employee will use his/her own equipment. However, if the telecommuting arrangement is at the direction of the department, department funds must be used/approved by the Department Head for appropriate expenses.
h. The items for which the employee and the department are responsible for in establishing the telecommuting arrangement.
- The employee is responsible for:
a. Maintaining the telecommuting site in a manner free from health or safety hazards that could endanger the employee, his/her family or others.
b. Notifying the manager immediately about any safety or ergonomic concerns at the telecommuting site. Health or safety hazards at the telecommuting site may result in immediate suspension of the telecommuting arrangement. If an injury to the employee does occur at the telecommuting work site, management reserves the right, in response to the injury or illness, to inspect the worksite and make appropriate recommendations.
c. Taking reasonable steps to protect any University property from theft, damage or misuses. This includes maintaining data security and record confidentiality to at least the same degree as when working at the regular University worksite. All Washington University HIPAA and other compliance policies and procedures, including those for handling the physical and electronic security of Protected Health Information (PHI), remain in effect as if the employee were working at the regular University worksite and will be provided to the employee. An employee must complete refresher HIPAA training before being approved to work from home with PHI.
d. Providing dependent or child care arrangements during work hours such that these do not interfere with work being performed.
e. Remaining in touch with customers, colleagues and management as directed by the department, and
f. Returning any and all documents, equipment, badges, keys, etc upon termination of employment as directly by the department.
- The employee may not duplicate University-owned documents and will comply with the licensing agreements for use of all software owned by the University. Depending on the circumstances, the employee may be responsible for any damage to or loss of University property.
- A Confidentiality Agreement must be signed by the employee at the initiation of the telecommuting assignment and annually in the employee’s performance appraisal.
- Employees must adhere to all university, school and departmental policies while telecommuting. In particular, all record-keeping requirements must be followed and an accurate and timely record kept of all working time as a condition of continued participation in the telecommuting program. He/she must also take meal and rest periods with applicable legal requirements and University policies. An employee is not exempt from the meal period, rest period, time off or other record-keeping policies solely because he/she is permitted to work at home or at another off-site location. Non-exempt employees must receive prior approval from their supervisor before performing any overtime work during a telecommuting arrangement. Shift differential and on-call pay are not applicable while telecommuting.
- The employee will be covered by workers’ compensation for job-related injuries that occur in the course and scope of employment while telecommuting. In cases where the home and the designated workplace are the same, workers’ compensation will not apply to non-job related injuries that might occur in or outside the home or for incidents that occur outside of work hours. The employee must report job-related injuries to his or her supervisor as soon as possible and seek treatment from authorized medical care providers consistent with University policy.
- Management retains the right to modify the agreement as a result of business necessity (for example, the employee may be required to come to campus on a particular day) or in response to an employee request. An employee should give at least two weeks’ notice to the University prior to terminating the telecommuting agreement; likewise, the University should provide at least two weeks’ notice to the employee prior to terminating the telecommuting agreement, unless such notice is not feasible due to business necessity.
The employee will be subject to all applicable University policies during the telecommuting arrangement.
- Questions should be directed to Human Resources.
- Employee and Manager complete the Telecommuting Assignment and Agreement;
- Manager approves and submits both forms to the business office;
- The Business manager approves, or discusses with the Department Chair as needed and relays the decision to the Manager. Where an out of state arrangement or FMLA/medical issues are involved, the Business Manager sends the forms to HR for review and approval/disapproval. If HR approves the request, the documents are returned to the Business Manager for follow up within the department. If HR does not approve, the documents are returned to the Business Manager/Department Chair for discussion and revision /resubmission.
- If approved, the Business manager and others finalize arrangements for employee to begin telecommuting.