How to Become an Administrative Assistant (Career Guide)
Administrative assistants are often the backbone of a great business. The job involves more than just taking notes during meetings or scheduling meetings. They’re the people who keep everything running. If you’re interested in a job that allows you to build a fulfilling career in a variety of business settings, becoming an administrative assistant could be the perfect fit for you. In this guide, you’ll learn how to become an administrative assistant, what the job is like, and how to know if this career path is the right one for you.
Oct 17, 2022
10 min read
Administrative assistants are often the backbone of a great business. The job involves more than just taking notes during meetings or scheduling meetings. They’re the people who keep everything running. If you’re interested in a job that allows you to build a fulfilling career in a variety of business settings, becoming an administrative assistant could be the perfect fit for you.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to become an administrative assistant, what the job is like, and how to know if this career path is the right one for you.
What does an administrative assistant do?
Administrative assistants keep an office or business organized, managing schedules, appointments, paperwork, and some communications. Depending on where they work, they may also be responsible for managing the office – keeping track of supply inventory, reordering supplies when necessary, and working with vendors for various purchases and needs.
They play a super important behind-the-scenes role in making sure a business – large or small – runs smoothly from day to day.
What is being an administrative assistant really like?
Administrative assistant jobs require someone who pays attention to small details, is organized, and has strong communication skills. Being an admin doesn’t always come with the same job duties, expectations, and experience, however. It can vary a lot based on the employer, the industry you’re working in, and your experience.
You may find yourself working to support just one boss within the office or be responsible for reporting to and assisting several different members of the team.
While your work environment can offer some variety, being an administrative assistant can be a repetitive job – you’re often working on the same types of tasks every day – but that can be great for someone who likes to know what to expect.
For the most part, you can expect a steady schedule as an admin, working when the office is open. That often means a regular Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job.
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What are the worst parts about being an administrative assistant?
Every job has its pros and cons and there are things you may not like about being an administrative assistant, even if it’s a career that you enjoy. The worst parts about being an administrative assistant come down to a difference in the skills you need for the job and the work you’re expected to do.
Administrative assistants need to have a wide range of skills to be successful on the job, including written and verbal communication, interpersonal skills, basic computer skills, organizational skills, a strong sense of time management, and an ability to work independently.
Depending on where you work and your boss, you could need the skills but still only handle tasks that are similar to the duties of a receptionist – answering phones, scheduling appointments, greeting guests and clients. On the other hand, you may use every one of your administrative skills plus take on marketing, management, or financial work.
“Administrative assistant” is used as a job title for many open positions. It’s important to really read those job descriptions carefully before applying because being an administrative assistant can mean different things to different employers.
That can also affect your potential salary – some employers consider administrative assistant a very entry-level role, while still expecting a high level of professionalism and skill. Others may think of it as more of a mid-range or higher range career which comes with different expectations and higher pay.
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What are the best parts about being an administrative assistant?
The best parts about being an administrative assistant include the variety of work you can do, the opportunity for career growth, and the different avenues your work can take you.
Most administrative assistants have full, busy days working on any number of items on their task list and taking on new assignments based on need. In this job, you could start your day following up on messages, working on data entry, then arranging meetings and travel.
While becoming an administrative assistant is, generally, a pretty entry-level job, the variety of tasks you are responsible for can lead to additional opportunities. From marketing and PR to finance or project management, a career as an administrative assistant can help you build a set of diverse skills that can serve as a foundation for jobs and promotion into different departments or industries.
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Average administrative assistant salary
The average salary for an administrative assistant can vary based on several factors, including where you work, where you live, your experience, and your education.
Administrative Assistant Salary - How much do admin assistants make?
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Types of administrative assistants
There are several different types of administrative assistants, though some people treat the job titles as interchangeable. However, each type of admin assistant can be responsible for unique tasks and have different job descriptions and requirements. The most common types of administrative assistants include
- Executive assistant
- Office manager
- Virtual assistant
- Medical administrative assistant
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Administrative assistant vs executive assistant
Administrative assistants could be considered the entry-level role, while executive assistant jobs are positions that require more work experience and skills.
Executive assistants usually work to support a single member of a corporate leadership team, or the leadership team as a whole, versus working for an entire company, office, or department. While the job does cover a lot of the same responsibilities as an administrative assistant, executive assistants may also handle higher-skilled tasks such as sending or responding to communications on behalf of their boss, overseeing projects, and managing project timelines and expectations for the leadership team.
On average, most employers looking for executive assistants require job applicants to have at least 3 years of relevant administrative experience to qualify for the position.
Administrative assistant vs secretary
Secretaries handle the schedules of their boss or bosses, set appointments, make and take calls, pass along messages, and record notes in meetings. While administrative assistants may be responsible for a lot of the same tasks, they’re also usually more independent in their role and have duties that can include managing an office, maintaining office inventory, and being responsible for some projects.
While both jobs can be considered entry-level, there may be more opportunities for career advancement as an administrative assistant.
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Administrative assistant vs receptionist
Receptionists are generally the first people you see at a business or office. They greet and welcome clients and visitors, answer phones, and may set appointments. Administrative assistants don’t necessarily work at the front of an office and are more responsible for a lot of the behind-the-scenes organization of a business.
Administrative assistant vs office manager
Becoming an administrative assistant is usually one of the first steps on the path toward becoming an office manager. An office manager is the person responsible for the day-to-day operations of the office and may manage administrative assistants and receptionists. They ensure that the office runs smoothly, from making sure necessary supplies are kept in stock to scheduling some employees. Depending on the size of the company and office, office managers may have varying tasks that include planning office events to organizing company meetings for management and leadership teams.
Administrative assistant vs virtual assistant
A virtual assistant is sometimes considered a sort of digital version of an administrative or secretary and they may fill those roles for clients. But virtual assistants are almost always their own bosses, freelancing to offer their services to smaller companies, individual professionals, and busy people who need someone to take charge of their calendars and communication.
Virtual assistants perform a lot of the same tasks as administrative assistants, but rather than working for one employer, they handle many clients and projects. Depending on the client’s needs, their responsibilities include
- Taking calls
- Scheduling appointments and travel
- Writing professional documents and memos
- Maintaining and organizing records
Because being a virtual assistant allows them to be their own boss, they usually can decide how many clients they work for, what kind of tasks they’re willing to work on, the services they offer, and the hours they work.
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Administrative assistant vs bookkeeper
Some administrative assistants may be responsible for completing some bookkeeping work, depending on the size of the company they work for. This experience could be a great first step toward a full-time job as a bookkeeper for admins who want to advance their careers.
Bookkeepers record financial transactions, keep financial records up to date, and process invoices. Good bookkeepers need to be organized, detail-oriented, and analytical, which are qualities many administrative assistants already possess. A lot of the skills you need as an administrative assistant are transferable to other roles, so after gaining experience it’s not difficult for interested assistants to further their education and take the next steps toward becoming a bookkeeper.
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Administrative assistant vs medical administrative assistant
Medical administrative assistants have very similar jobs to administrative assistants. The biggest difference is that they are trained to provide admin services to a specific industry: healthcare. Medical administrative assistants most often work in physician’s offices, scheduling appointments, billing patients, and processing paperwork for health insurance claims. Because some tasks require specific knowledge, medical administrative assistants should have a good knowledge of medical terminology and medical office procedures on top of their other administrative skills.
Read more: Your Guide to Medical Assistant Duties
How to become an administrative assistant
There are a few different paths you can take to become an administrative assistant. However, the first step is to earn your high school diploma. Most employers require entry-level administrative assistants to have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent to qualify for the job. The steps to become an administrative assistant include
- Getting your high school diploma or GED
- Administrative assistant training
- Finding an entry-level job
- Gaining experience on the job
- Deciding on your career path
- Pursuing any additional education, specialization, or certification to take the next steps in your career
What qualifications do you need to be an administrative assistant?
To be an administrative assistant, you’ll need qualifications and skills such as
- Written and verbal communication skills
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Basic computer skills
- Familiarity with common office software like Microsoft Office Suite
- Time management skills
- An ability to work independently and with others
- Strong organizational skills
Depending on the job, employers may also want their administrative assistants to be able to type a minimum number of words per minute and be familiar with a variety of workplace apps like Slack, Outlook, and task management software.
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Do you need a degree to become an administrative assistant?
No, you don’t need a degree to become an administrative assistant. However, even though it’s not a requirement to qualify for the job, having some formal training and education can be beneficial and help you stand out when competing for open positions. An Administrative Assistant Career Diploma can also help you build the skills that can set you up for success in the job.
How to choose a good administrative assistant program
When you’re looking for a good administrative assistant program, you want to make sure that the curriculum lines up with the skills employers are looking for. Your administrative assistant program curriculum should include classes covering
- Workplace communication skills
- Computer applications
- Filing and records management
- Standard offer procedures
- Professional writing
Read more: How Do Online Classes Work?
How much experience do you need to be an administrative assistant?
Since becoming an administrative assistant is considered an entry-level job, you don’t necessarily need to have a ton of experience to qualify for the job. However, most employers do want to see that you have some level of experience with the skills you’ll need to be good at the job. While you don’t have to have an administrative assistant background to get a job as one, having other work experience that demonstrates things like communication skills, customer service skills, and office skills can be very helpful.
If you don’t have relevant work experience, you can potentially get a job as an administrative assistant by furthering your education. An educational background that shows you have learned the essential skills you need to be a successful administrative assistant can make a difference.
Read more: Learn About Careers in Business (and Find the Right One for You)
Prepare for a new career with online administrative assistant courses
Whether becoming an administrative assistant is your end goal or it’s just the first step on your career path to other professional opportunities, earning an Administrative Assistant Career Diploma can help you build the foundational skills that can prepare you to get a foot in the door. With Penn Foster’s online training program, you can take the next steps toward starting a new career in the field on your schedule – from home. If you’re ready to start the next step on your career journey or have more questions about what you’ll learn in online classes, reach out to our expert Admissions Specialists at 1-888-427-6500!
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