A secretary is an essential part of the administrative network of an organisation and should not be thought of as ‘just a typist’ or a ‘filing clerk’. His or her work is far from unskilled and a successful modern secretary is expected to understand a plethora of technological gadgets – usually within moments of their purchase – and be the resident systems guru. All this, while receiving calls, passing on messages and typing letters. It isn’t a job for everyone.
“Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him” (Albert Schweitzer)
Traditionally the post holder has been perceived as being ornamental – ‘fluffy’ to use a modern word. However things have changed and being competent is now more important than being decorative although, since many secretaries face public scrutiny, presentability is still important.
Typical duties for a secretary might include:
- Typing letters
- Taking dictation
- Receiving calls and operating a switchboard
- Faxing and copying
- Data entry
- Maintaining contact records
- Keeping the office diary
- Recording minutes
- Setting up and running a product and reference library
- Preparing presentations
- Ensuring office stationery supplies are regularly replenished
Although an ability to understand technology at a day-to-day level is required, great technical ability is not generally necessary. On the other hand, a sunny disposition, a level head and good organisational skills are.
Since typing and letter composition are part of the daily routine for a secretary, they are expected to possess a good standard of English and have an above average knowledge of grammar and spelling. Every written communication that passes through their hands represents the company and therefore literacy is a key quality.
A secretary normally functions alone or, less commonly, as part of a pool of secretaries. Consequently, he or she is not usually called upon to supervise junior staff although this may be required of them from time to time – particularly with management trainees who may come under their wing.
The job has been a traditionally female role with many of the post holders eventually intending to leave their work to run homes and look after children. As a result, many secretaries have not aspired to ‘greater things’, being content, instead, to shine at what they do rather than seek out promotion. Despite their relatively junior role, a secretary can have a considerable amount of authority as they are often keeper of the ‘great secret’ of how things like the switchboard, photocopier, fax machine and other gadgets work.
However, for a secretary looking to move up, the standard routes for higher pay and responsibility are either to supervise other secretaries or to become a Personal Assistant. In either case, experience and an excellent track record are going to be essential.
The role of secretary has changed dramatically over the last two decades. Nowadays typing accuracy is much less important since the computer screen permits endless corrections. However, the replacement of typewriters with computers has meant an expectation of higher standards of presentation through correct use of different fonts, colours, text attributes and the incorporation of graphs and charts into documents.
While skills like shorthand and dictation have become less essential, the requirement to understand the finer features of Excel, Word, PowerPoint etc has come to the fore. As a result, many companies will send secretaries on IT courses such as CLAIT.
Secretarial salaries typically range from £11,000 to £15,000 per annum. Those who choose to specialise can earn more – for example, a law secretary will be paid up to £40,000 or £80,000 if they get chartered. Working in the City for a FTSE 100 company can net up to £130,000 p.a.