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What Secretaries and Administrative Assistants Do

Secretaries and administrative assistants perform routine clerical and organizational tasks. They organize files, draft messages, schedule appointments, and support other staff.


Secretaries and administrative assistants typically do the following:

Secretaries and administrative assistants perform a variety of clerical and organizational tasks that are necessary to run an organization efficiently. They use computer software to create spreadsheets, compose messages, manage databases, and produce presentations, reports, and documents. They also may negotiate with vendors, buy supplies, manage stockrooms or corporate libraries, and get data from various sources. Specific job duties vary by experience, job title, and specialty.

The following are types of secretaries and administrative assistants:

Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants provide high-level administrative support for an office and for top executives of an organization. They often handle more complex responsibilities, such as reviewing incoming documents, conducting research, preparing reports, and arranging meetings. They may supervise clerical staff.

Legal secretaries do specialized work requiring knowledge of legal terminology and procedures. Legal secretaries prepare messages and legal papers, such as summonses, complaints, motions, responses, and subpoenas under the supervision of an attorney or a paralegal. They also may review legal journals and help with legal research—for example, by verifying quotes and citations in legal briefs.

Medical secretaries transcribe dictation, prepare messages, and help physicians or medical scientists with reports, speeches, articles, and conference proceedings. They also take simple medical histories, arrange for patients to be hospitalized, and order supplies. Medical secretaries need to be familiar with medical terminology, insurance rules, billing practices, medical records, and hospital or laboratory procedures.

Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive is the largest subcategory of secretaries and administrative assistants. They handle an office’s administrative activities in almost every sector of the economy, including schools, government agencies, and private corporations. Secretaries in schools are often responsible for handling most of the communications among parents, the community, teachers, and school administrators. They schedule appointments, keep track of students' records, and handle matters that do not require the principal's attention.

Virtual assistants work from a home office. They use the Internet, email, and fax machines to communicate with clients. Although their assignments often vary from short term to long term, their typical duties are similar to those of other secretaries and administrative assistants. Working from a remote location allows virtual assistants to support multiple clients in different industries at the same time.

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