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How to Become a Secretary or Administrative Assistant

High school graduates who have basic office and computer skills usually qualify for entry-level secretarial and administrative assistant positions.

Education and Training

High school graduates can get basic office, computer, and English grammar skills in various ways: through high school vocational education programs, vocational–technical schools, or community colleges. Many temporary placement agencies also provide formal training in computer and office skills.

Employers of more specialized positions, including medical and legal secretaries, often require applicants to have some knowledge of industry-specific terminology and practices. Community colleges and vocational-technical schools usually offer instruction in these areas.


Though not required, certification can demonstrate competency to employers. Legal secretaries have a few certification options. For example, those with 1 year of experience in the legal field, or who have concluded an approved training course and who want to be certified as a legal support professional, can acquire the Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) designation through a testing process administered by NALS. NALS offers two additional designations: Professional Legal Secretary (PLS), considered an advanced certification for legal support professionals, and a designation for proficiency as a paralegal.

Legal Secretaries International confers the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) designation in areas such as intellectual property, criminal law, civil litigation, probate, and business law to those who have 5 years of legal experience and pass an examination. In some instances, certain requirements may be waived.


Secretaries and administrative assistants generally advance through promotion to other administrative positions with more responsibilities. Qualified administrative assistants who broaden their knowledge of a company's operations and enhance their skills may be promoted to senior or executive secretary or administrative assistant, clerical supervisor, or office manager. With additional training, many legal secretaries become paralegals. For more information, see the profile on paralegals and legal assistants. Once hired, most secretaries and administrative assistants tend to get more advanced skills through on-the-job instruction.

Important Qualities

Computer skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants use computers for email, word processing, spreadsheets, and database management. Therefore, having good computer skills is very important.

Interpersonal skills. Secretaries and administrative assistants work with many different individuals each day. Being pleasant and attentive contributes to a positive work environment and client experience.

Organizational skills. Whether filing papers or filling out forms, secretaries and administrative assistants must make sure that files, folders, and schedules are in proper order so an office can run efficiently.

Writing skills. Secretaries frequently write memos and email when communicating with managers, employees, and customers. Therefore, they must have good grammar, ensure accuracy, and maintain a professional tone.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition