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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A secretary needs:
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.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD),
151 The Broadway, London SW19 1JQ
Tel: 020 8612 6200
The Institute of Chartered Secretaries
and Administrators (ICSA),
16 Park Crescent, London W1B 1AH
Tel: 020 7580 4741
Institute of Administrative Management,
Coppice House, Halesfield 7,
Telford TF7 4NA
Tel: 01952 797396
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.