An administrative assistant has many of the same duties as a secretary, including typing, filing, answering phones and taking notes at meetings. In addition to this, he or she may also oversee the logistics of an office, collaborate with supervisors on important projects and oversee secretaries. Though there is little formal education required to work in this position, executive assistants or those working in specialist fields may need additional training.
The duties of an administrative assistant frequently go far beyond secretarial tasks, and include handling logistical things for the office, like ordering supplies, handling mail and paperwork that goes in and out of the business, and coordinating people's' schedules. In many cases, he or she is a source of information with the public, and as such, sometimes acts as the company's "face." Some senior assistants also oversee junior assistants or secretaries, in which case they may need to make periodic performance reports or presentations. Many people in this position also help with training new staff, particularly if they will be doing administrative tasks. An administrative assistant also needs some practical knowledge, such as how to work with a variety of office equipment.
People working in this position need to be extremely good with details and able to handle many tasks simultaneously, since they are often responsible for multiple people's schedules, and may oversee the progress of several projects at once. They should also be good with people, since the job requires a lot of interaction with people in the office as well as clients. Being able to make judgment calls and work independently is an important part of the job as well, since the administrative assistant is the person who's likely to know which documents are important and which can be discarded, which e-mails can be handled at the office level and which need to be forwarded to upper management, and how to work up the chain of command to get things done. On top of all this, administrative assistants need to be articulate, good at writing, and good with technology, as they're often required to answer mail, proofread documents, and work with databases.
Administrative assistants can specialize in a specific department in an organization, like human resources or IT, though this is more common in larger organizations. Executive administrative assistants only work with upper management in a company. They may be responsible for a pool of people, or may only work with one. In either case, the assistant is responsible for controlling access to the executives, making travel and conference arrangements, and interacting with vendors, executives from other companies, and board members, in addition to the regular administrative duties. Generally speaking, the higher up the executive, the more skills and experience the assistant needs.
Additionally, administrative assistants can specialize in certain fields, like medicine or law. In addition to the normal duties associated with this position, he or she also performs tasks specifically related to that field. For instance, a legal assistant may also research legal precedents and help prepare briefings, while a medical assistant usually needs to know about insurance billing or lab procedures. Some people also do this job from home over the phone and Internet, in which case they are called virtual administrative assistants.
In many cases, a person can start working in this job with a high school degree and some training in business and computer skills. For specialized positions, such as in a medical or legal office, she must know the vocabulary specific to that position. A certificate from a training program, an associate’s degree, or certification through a recognized organization can all help when it comes to getting hired or promoted.