Working as a Secretary

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James Andrews is secretary in West Yorkshire. He and his colleagues keep things running smoothly for the organisation's senior officers.

What does working as a Secretary involve?

It's a very varied job that includes everything from meeting visitors at reception to getting the post out in the evening and taking notes in meetings.

What's a typical day?

I work 37 hours a week, but because I might need to work later some evenings – perhaps to get paperwork ready for a meeting – I sometimes arrive later in the morning. It's a flexitime arrangement.

A typical day might include organising a meeting and ensuring everyone knows where and when it is; dealing with holiday claims from staff; ordering stationery; creating a poster or leaflet on the computer, or filing. I also answer the phone, pass on emails to the right person and take messages for the officers.

What do you have to do in meetings?

Recently, I took the minutes of an hour-long staff meeting. That means sitting in the meeting, taking notes about what is said and who said it. Then, I have to type up these notes on the computer so that people have a record of what was covered. It can take as long as three hours to type up because you have to phrase everything properly to make sure it reflects what happened during the meeting.

What skills and qualities do you need to become a Secretary?

You've got to be good at communicating – both on paper and over the phone or face-to-face. You need to use many of the office computer programmes such as wordprocessing, databases, spreadsheets and desk-top publishing. I've found it important to work as a member of a team, but be able to use your own initiative too. You need to be flexible with your working arrangements and be able to prioritise your workload.

Where do you go from here?

I'm getting as much experience as I can. I hope to do more training – probably full-time – so that I can work in a more senior position in business administration or management.

What's your workplace like?

I work in a largish office with three or four other administrators and it's always very busy. I might be meeting people at reception, or talking to people over the phone. We use computers, photocopiers, fax and telephone answering machines, a shredder for confidential documents and postal weighing and franking machines.

What are the best things about working as a Secretary?

I meet so many different people and I enjoy being part of a team. It's also very varied.

What are the hardest parts?

I have to make sure that the officers and Board of Directors have all the paperwork they need – and that can mean working to strict deadlines. I also have to be able to prioritise my work, because I often have a lot of things to do at once. Taking minutes can be very difficult when people talking in the meetings have strong accents or talk very quickly.

James's route to working as a Secretary

  • Studied for a degree in business administration in Pakistan.
  • Got onto a local training programme that included study and a work placement.
  • Passed his NVQ Level 3 in Business Administration and City & Guilds Level 1 and 2 in Information Technology.
  • Offered a permanent job with company when on work placement.

James's Secretary tip

  • Employers really do want people to have some experience of work, so choose a training course that includes a work placement.

Secretary related jobs

  • Receptionist
  • Bilingual Secretary
  • Executive Secretary
  • Farm Secretary
  • Legal Secretary
  • Medical Secretary
  • Typist

Salary working as a Secretary

  • Starting salary for a secretary is around £12,000 up to £18,000 with experience.
  • A senior secretary might earn £20,000 to £23,000 while working as a personal assistant to senior managers in large companies could attract a salary up to £30,000.

Working as a Secretary

  • There are no minimum qualifications, although most employers and colleges look for some GCSEs/S grades passes (A-C/1-3). English is particularly important.
  • To become a secretary, you would usually start by taking a college course. You might study word processing/typing and possibly audio typing or shorthand. The course will probably cover things like office skills and the use of office machinery.
  • Some employers run company training schemes where you would learn on the job, perhaps with day release at college.
  • There are many qualifications for secretaries, awarded by bodies like the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pitman Qualifications and OCR Examinations. There are NVQ/SVQs at Levels 1 to 4 in Administration, and qualifications in using computers can also be useful.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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