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What’s the Difference Between a Secretary and an Administrative Assistant?

Posted: February 3, 2015

Difference Between a Secretary and an Administrative Assistant
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Although their titles are often used interchangeably, secretaries and administrative assistants actually perform different jobs. Their responsibilities may sometimes overlap, but in most organizations, an administrative assistant has a higher degree of responsibility than a secretary does.

What other differences are there between a secretary and an administrative assistant? Keep reading to find out!

Similarities Among Roles

Both secretaries and administrative assistants play important roles in corporate America and need to have solid business skills. They should have a natural skillset that includes:

  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Exceptional time management skills
  • Strong sense of professionalism

Among the technical proficiencies they’ll need is familiarity with a wide range of business software, including such programs as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, QuickBooks, and desktop publishing. They’ll need a good work ethic and a desire to become part of a business team as well.

While some of the skills and responsibilities of a secretary and administrative assistant are similar, secretaries and administrative assistants have very different functions.

What’s the Difference Between a Secretary and an Administrative Assistant: The Role of a Secretary

A secretary may be the first person you encounter when contacting or visiting a business. They often serve as receptionist, greet people as they enter an office, and direct people accordingly. Other responsibilities include handling written correspondence, answering phones, forwarding calls, and taking messages.

Secretaries also must be highly organized as they’ll schedule daily, weekly, and monthly meetings within the company; make appointments with clients on others’ behalf; and maintain the schedule of their supervisors.

Clerical work is generally the primary focus of a secretary’s day. This includes:

  • Typing
  • Filing
  • Entering data
  • Bookkeeping

All of this is done with the purpose of optimizing the workflow of a business or operation.

Secretaries Often Have Fewer Career Requirements

Nearly anyone who is proficient with Microsoft Office, is organized, and can work in a multi-tasking environment is capable of working as a secretary. Often, a high school diploma is the only education requirement to land this position.

Sometimes, if the secretary doesn’t report directly to the boss, they may answer to an administrative assistant instead.

What Is An Administrative Assistant: Roles & Responsibilities

Administrative assistants, on the other hand, generally have more of a leadership role in an organization than secretaries do. While they can—and often do—perform all the tasks of a secretary, their days as an administrative assistant include more responsibilities, too.

On top of clerical work, the role of an administrative assistant is to provide administrative support to ensure efficiency in the workplace. These tasks include:

  • Organizing schedules
  • Creating agendas for meetings and conferences
  • Developing spreadsheets that a secretary uses to input data

Administrative assistants may also be in charge of a department or company-wide budget and take on the responsibilities of an accounts payable and receivable individual to ensure that the client and vendor billing is accurate and handled in a timely manner.

Benefits of Being an Administrative Assistant

While secretaries only require a high school diploma, it’s worth the extra education to land a role as an administrative assistant. Each day, you’ll have more responsibilities within the business. You’ll also play a more vital role within the company.

With a wide variety of tasks—some of them being as large as creating agendas and schedules for co-workers—a business may have a harder time on a day-to-day basis without your administrative assistant expertise.

Because of the major role you play within a business, a potential employer will likely seek out candidates with additional education, like a degree or an administrative assistant certificate.

What Are the Top 3 Skills of an Administrative Assistant?

When considering a career as an administrative assistant, there are many skills needed to succeed. Three of the top skills of an administrative assistant include understanding of technology; written and verbal communication; and organization. Let’s take a closer look at how each skill plays an important role as an administrative assistant.

  • Understanding of Technology

A large portion of you work as an administrative assistant will be done on a computer. You must always stay current on the latest technology, especially when it comes to Microsoft Office. Every day, you may find yourself using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access. You may also need to learn any specific software your new employer uses.

Being technologically savvy and a fast learner when it comes to these things will go a long way as an administrative assistant.

  • Written & Verbal Communication

The bulk of your day as an administrative assistant is spent talking with others either face-to-face or on the phone. You’ll need strong verbal communication and interpersonal skills to excel in this area so you can deliver clear, concise information when needed.

Since you’ll be writing meeting agendas, creating spreadsheets, and relaying messages to workers in your department, it’s essential to have strong written communication. This includes spelling and grammar, clear handwriting, and the ability to relay information quickly and efficiently.

  • Organization

With the wide variety of roles and responsibilities as an administrative assistant, being organized is a must. You must be able to readily pull out information that a co-worker or boss has requested. Since you’ll also oversee agendas and create schedules, you’ll likely be managing several duties at once. Careful filing, document labeling, and more are all needed to excel as an administrative assistant.

How to Become an Administrative Assistant

Becoming an administrative assistant is easy with our help. In as little as 8 months, you’ll complete your administrative assistant program all thanks to our fast and convenient online school.

Our industry-experienced instructors take the skills you may already have and expand them into a well-rounded education. Even those without prior knowledge, skills, or experience will shine thanks to our online program. This is all possible because of our relevant courses, such as:

  • Intro to Computers
  • Microsoft Office Classes
  • Project Management
  • Desktop Presentations

We even offer externships to our administrative assistant students. This way, you’ll gain real-world experience before earning your certification or degree.

Ready to Become an Administrative Assistant? Enroll Today!

If you’d like a career in business, becoming an administrative assistant may be a good place to start. Do you have what it takes? At Career Quest Learning Centers, our associate degree in business administration or administrative assistant programs can help you get started on your path to a new career.

Classes for both our certification and degree programs are now enrolling for online courses, so don’t wait any longer. Take the first step to enhancing your professional life by enrolling with Career Quest today!

Are you ready for online business career training?