Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In Defense of Secretaries

a very good jobI am a secretary.

I mean, administrative assistant, but really we all know that means secretary, right?

It's one of those things I used to be embarrassed about, wary of the stereotypes. People would ask what I do and I'd say, "Oh, I'm just an admin assistant while we (insert why I am working my current job)."

The truth is that I actually love my job, but it wasn't always this way, it's not what I started out as, and it's not what I intended to be. Out of college I took a job doing catering sales at the catering company that I'd previously worked at as a server. When the department wasn't all that busy after all, I ended up bouncing to two more jobs that were increasingly more administrative assistanty.  Then I just needed a job as Isaac finished his degree and we either moved overseas or I went to grad school.

It was just to pay the bills and be a productive working person, really, because I was in a crisis over what I wanted to do with my own life and what my own giftings and skills were. However, just when I decided to go looking into a particular career, the economy tanked and no one was hiring anyone for anything. So, again I bounced from one position to another within the organization, eventually moving up the ladder to an Executive Assistant position.

And you know what? I actually think this could be a decent career for someone. Here's why.

1. It pays decently. 
It's true that it isn't known for being a well-paying job, but it is often full-time with benefits. Experience adds to your pay, and with a few years and some recommendations under your belt, if you move to a good company at an executive assistant level position, you can make a good wage. US News and World Report says of admin assistants, "The Labor Department reports administrative assistants earned a median average salary of $31,870 in 2011. The best-paid made approximately $47,670 a year, while the worst-paid made around $20,050."

However, compare that to Executive Assistants: "In 2011, executive assistants earned a median average salary of $45,580, according to the Labor Department's report. The best-paid made approximately $71,020, while the worst-paid made around $30,000."

Interesting, yeah? It doesn't necessarily pay well at the beginning, but I can pay well with experience and time.

2. It's a "Helping" Career
You know those career tests you take alongside of personality tests? I always came out as someone that does well in "helping" type of jobs where you find meaning in helping those around you. So someone like me might be a social worker, nurse, or HR representative (and never, ever, do sales. :)). I find that sort of fulfillment when I have a good position as an assistant. A good position means that I am actually helping those I work for, taking things off their hands, moving things forward, lessening stress, and being a support system. What described my growing job satisfaction when I was put in a good position is that I felt useful. That, in turn, makes me feel fulfilled and meaningful.

3. It Can Have Upward Mobility
In some ways it seems that admin assistants have nowhere to go.  You go from an administrative assistant to an executive assistant, but that's it, right? That's not been my experience. First you put in a few years of work and hopefully find a position that is busy and meaningful (see point 2), and you really get a handle on the inner-workings of the corporation. At this point you begin to not simply be an assistant but also to be a manager. Now I have multiple secondary titles of "manager of..." or "____ Coordinator".  I've managed teams of staff. You have the ability to organize and manage multiple things, and that adds value to your position and gives you more experience.

I see two other things happening as well. First, specialized positions open up in organizations, and if you've gained a good reputation and knowledge of the organization, those positions are accessible to you. When I worked in a catering and event planning company, I was offered the position of Wedding Coordinator. I've seen my peers move into specialized positions in HR and other departments. Sometimes a high value employee has new positions that are offered specifically for their skill set.  If I weren't leaving the country I wouldn't particularly want to stay an Executive Assistant, but there are two positions I could move into that are higher level, don't currently exist, but have been recommended for me. There is definitely room for climbing the ladder.

So, a few tips for anyone interested.
  • Put in time on the front end. I know, you're sitting at a desk and you feel meaningless. I've been there. It takes time (in most careers) doing the intro-level work before you get truly connected and invested. Work hard, be detailed, and build relationships. 
  • Always look for ways to make things work better and suggest these things when appropriate. Often the bosses aren't fixing or organizing things because they don't have time, but if you can envision it and implement the change, you're of huge value to the organization. 
  • Don't move on immediately because you vaguely don't like your job - consider if time or another position in the corporation would change how you feel and thus be worth the time spent now. 
  • However, if you're bored and don't have enough work, find out if you can switch positions or work things out so you have greater responsibility. If that doesn't work, yeah, it's time to look elsewhere. There's nothing worse than being paid for doing nothing. 

1 comment:

Catholic Mutt said...

We absolutely could not do our jobs without a first rate admin assistant staff!