Secretary

The Job and What's Involved

Secretaries provide administrative support for a manager or team of people in an organisation. A secretary's job varies depending on the size of the organisation, the kind of work it carries out and individual qualifications and experience. However, a secretary's duties normally include:

  • Using a computer to produce memos, letters, invoices, reports and other documents as requested.
  • Setting up house styles to promote the organisation's corporate image.
  • Following agreed guidelines for producing documents.
  • Producing PowerPoint presentations.
  • Answering the telephone, dealing with enquiries and taking messages.
  • Arranging appointments for managers, staff and customers, and maintaining the office diary.
  • Using a range of software packages including wordprocessing, spreadsheets, databases and, in some organisations, customised software such as financial packages.
  • Meeting visitors.
  • Setting up and maintaining manual and electronic filing systems.
  • Booking rooms or venues for meetings, seminars and conferences.
  • Arranging catering for events and booking equipment such as laptops, projectors and screens.
  • Arranging meeting room layout and equipment.
  • Making travel arrangements for business travel and booking hotel rooms.
  • Dealing with incoming and outgoing post.
  • Taking minutes at meetings (sometimes using shorthand).
  • Sending emails and setting up email groups for distributing information.
  • Supervising the work of junior administrative staff (if they are an experienced senior secretary).
  • Setting up and maintaining a petty cash system.
  • Ordering stationery and other office supplies.
  • Looking after budgets (experienced secretaries).

There may also be opportunities to be involved in research and other project work.

Secretaries normally work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They may work longer hours at busy times. Opportunities for part-time or flexible working and job sharing are often available. Some posts may be temporary.

Secretaries are office based. They often share an office with other administrative staff, but more senior secretaries may have their own office. Most of the day is spent sitting at a desk using a computer and telephone.

Some secretaries may travel to conferences or to attend meetings at other offices with managers. There may very occasionally be opportunities for overseas travel for experienced secretaries.

Smart dress is often required.

Starting salaries for junior secretaries may be around £10,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Secretaries work in all kinds of organisations, from those with very few staff to large multinational companies. Employers include central and local government, and a broad spectrum of organisations in the public and private sectors, including those in retail, manufacturing, transport, finance, property, broadcasting, tourism, education, healthcare and hospitality.

Vacancies are advertised in Connexions centres, Jobcentre Plus offices and in the local and national press. They are also advertised through recruitment agencies and on websites. Local authorities and other large organisations, like health boards, often have their own vacancy bulletins which can be found on their individual websites.

Education and Training

There are no minimum requirements to become a secretary, and there are opportunities to enter this career with qualifications at all levels, up to graduate and postgraduate. In general, secretaries with higher qualifications are likely to have more challenging jobs with greater responsibility and opportunities for promotion.

School leavers are normally expected to have at least GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) or equivalent qualifications, including English. A subject such as business studies, which can demonstrate office skills, may be useful but is not essential.

Many school leavers take a full-time secretarial or business administration course before applying for work. Many qualifications at all levels are available from a number of different awarding bodies. Study options include full and part-time courses, including for example NVQ/SVQ Levels 1 to 4 in Business Administration, plus short intensive and distance learning courses. Entry requirements range from no formal qualifications to A levels/H grades. Courses are available at many colleges throughout the UK.

Employers look for good personal qualities, particularly good communication skills and the ability to get on well with others.

Knowledge of another language could be useful, particularly for those working for international organisations.

It is also possible to study specialised courses to become a legal, medical, farm or private secretary.

It is possible to train for this type of work via an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

New staff generally follow an induction programme to introduce them to the organisation, its people and its systems. They then work under the supervision of more experienced colleagues, perhaps attending in-house and external training courses.

Further training is important, for example learning about new software packages. Secretaries can gain recognition for their skills and experience by working towards NVQ's/SVQ's in Business and Administration, available at Levels 1 to 4.

Many senior or executive secretaries belong to organisations such as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) or have a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) qualification as part of their career development. CIPD qualifications are highly recognised by employers across the world.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A secretary needs:

  • To be a good communicator in speech and writing.
  • An excellent command of English spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Good keyboard skills.
  • Good IT skills and to be confident in using a range of software packages.
  • To be able to prioritise work and work on several tasks at any given time.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail.
  • Good organisation skills.
  • To work well independently or as part of a team.
  • To be discreet when handling confidential information.
  • A pleasant, friendly manner.
  • To work well under pressure and be able to meet deadlines.
  • An awareness of other cultures, particularly if the employer deals with overseas customers.
  • An awareness of the needs of people with different disabilities.

Your Long Term Prospects

In larger organisations, it is possible to progress to providing secretarial support for a busier department or more senior manager, or to being responsible for a team of more junior staff. An experienced secretary may become a personal assistant to a senior manager. Secretaries working for small organisations may need to change employer to gain promotion.

Some secretaries move into office management or related areas such as human resources, sales or marketing.

An increasing number of experienced secretaries become virtual assistants (VAs), working from home as freelance administrators.

Experienced secretaries with relevant qualifications may move into teaching in a college, or into training.

There may be opportunities to work overseas, particularly for people with knowledge of one or more foreign languages.

Get Further Information

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD),
151 The Broadway, London SW19 1JQ
Tel: 020 8612 6200
Website: www.cipd.co.uk

The Council for Administration (CfA),
6 Graphite Square, Vauxhall Walk,
London SE11 5EE
Tel: 020 7091 9620
Website: www.cfa.uk.com
and www.breakinto.biz

The Institute of Chartered Secretaries
and Administrators (ICSA),
16 Park Crescent, London W1B 1AH
Tel: 020 7580 4741
Website: www.icsa.org.uk

Institute of Administrative Management,
Coppice House, Halesfield 7,
Telford TF7 4NA
Tel: 01952 797396
Website: www.instam.org

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