Secretaries have been in existence since the establishment of the office and will undoubtedly continue to exist as long as there are offices and bosses. But the role has expanded from earlier years, and the responsibilities and duties have evolved as well. In The Elite Secretary, author
Sandra C. Rorbak, who has been a secretary on three continents throughout her career of more than twenty years, provides specific information on how to succeed in the position.
The Elite Secretary clarifies what novice secretaries really need to know: what to do (and what not to do) on the first day, how to handle the bully boss and other unsavory office personalities, what to expect in the modern office, and how to become an elite secretary. It provides real-life examples for both new and experienced secretaries, explaining what to expect on the job and how to handle ambiguous situations. What are the advantages and disadvantages of temping? How do male and female employers differ? How does one navigate office politics?
An informative, how-to guide, The Elite Secretary includes practical tools such as résumé suggestions, a day-by-day checklist for interview preparation, competency guidelines, and a sample dress code policy to help you become a top-notch secretary.
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The Elite SecretaryThe Definitive Guide to a Successful Career
By Sandra C. Rorbak
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Sandra C. Rorbak
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy Become a Secretary?
People choose the secretarial route for a variety of reasons. Many fall into the role by accident, others specifically set out to work in this field, and some use it as a starting point for climbing the corporate ladder. Whatever the reason, secretaries have been in existence since the establishment of the office and will undoubtedly continue to exist as long as there are offices and bosses.
If you are starting out today, in the twenty-first century, how do you decide if this is the right field for you, especially if you have no insight into the day-to-day challenges of the secretarial world? A career counsellor could certainly give you some guidance, and your secretarial training might illuminate some of the more ambiguous aspects of the job, but you would only be scratching the surface of what you need to know.
The minimal choices for women in past decades simplified the decision-making process, as social pressures dictated that a woman planning to join the professional ranks usually chose to become a teacher, nurse, or secretary. However, events in the late-twentieth century altered this scenario, and as a result gender demographics in the career landscape have drastically changed. Women are no longer so limited in their choice of a career.
In the course of writing this book, I researched the trends over the years in theory and in practice and discovered that the secretarial role of today is greatly expanded from that of earlier years. The expectations faced by those in the role are greater today than they were when I entered the profession some twenty years ago. Responsibilities and duties have evolved. I reviewed hundreds of recent job postings for administrative and executive assistants (the preferred job titles since the late 1990s), and the common thread in these advertisements was that they required experience in a particular industry. Employers have the prerogative to be specific because they know the role and the skill set that is required for the aspiring candidate to be successful.
The word "secretary" has been used less and less since the year 2000 because of the increased responsibility and ever-changing scope of the work. Hence some people take offense at being called a secretary, because in their view the label has the debasing connotation of the bubblegum-chewing airhead filing her nails while answering the phone. I would like to believe that as a society, we have moved on from this uninformed notion about secretaries. In fact, I presume that the enlightened members of our civilization appreciate the contributions personal secretaries have made to their ability to do their jobs. When I consulted with one senior executive about the merits of a good secretary, he unabashedly confessed to me that without his secretary at the helm of all his business dealings he would be lost, adding that she seamlessly organized his professional life. His final comment summed up his perception: "I absolutely respect and value her contribution to my company."
The reality of being a secretary is both more challenging and more appealing than most people realize. Secretaries must possess certain qualities in order to be successful in their field. These attributes are crucial and will be put to the test repeatedly in the workplace. Exhibiting some, if not all, of the following traits will propel a secretary to greatness:
An important point to clarify, particularly at this stage of your decision-making process, is the subordinate nature of this role. Secretaries will forever work for and report to someone, commonly (or affectionately) referred to as "the boss." If your aspirations are to become your own boss some day while remaining in this role, you might need to rethink your decision. Secretaries may act as pseudo-managers, but this is limited to administrative work and their own job function. The nearest a secretary can ever come to having the title of "manager" is to be appointed office manager or office administration manager. This is a glorified version of an office administrator and refers to the person who manages the running of the office and its administrative processes. While it is true that some administrative personnel may report to the office manager, such as a filing clerk or office receptionist, this is not a high-level management position.
My advice for someone looking to embark on a secretarial career is to do your homework first. Your initial decision should be based on the industry in which you would like to specialize. The playing field is broad, ranging from the different levels of government to the diverse private sector, including real estate, engineering, the medical and legal professions, oil and gas, telecommunications, insurance, finance, banking, advertising, marketing, human resources, travel and tourism, communications, and entertainment. Job postings within any of these areas will often cite a minimum requirement of experience related to that industry.
Where do you start to look for direction prior to focusing on specific training in one area? Ideally, you will get all the necessary information about job prospects during the secretarial training period. If, however, you are still in high school and are curious about secretarial opportunities, I suggest visiting the careers sections of libraries and bookstores . Read up on the areas that interest you. Talk to people in the know. Visit a recruitment agency and get their insights. If you already know a secretary, take her out for a coffee and ask her about what she does, what she enjoys most about her work, and how she suggests you go about finding an area of interest within that arena.
Once you have decided what kind of secretary you want to be, you need to devise a plan to get to where you want to be. If, for instance, you decide that you want to be a secretary for a real estate developer because that is where your interest lies, your career plan will be different from that of someone who wants to be a medical secretary.
The wonderful thing about a secretarial career is that once you finish all the necessary training and are deemed a qualified professional, you are almost guaranteed success. In terms of training, the average secretary in the twenty-first century must have a combination of education and skills to qualify for even entry-level positions. Also referred to as junior secretaries, these entry-level roles will typically require the candidate to have at least a high school diploma, basic training in office administration and management, some computer knowledge, and a minimum of one to two years of experience. The more prominent the position, the more qualified and experienced the secretary must be. Secretaries who reach elite status do so because of a combination of higher education, an array of qualifications and many years of experience. When looking to fill the role of a senior executive secretary, some employers will require that the candidate have an undergraduate degree (or equivalent college diploma) and five to ten years of work experience. While some secretaries will rise through the ranks from lower-level clerical positions, they still require further education and training if they wish to reach the pinnacle of their field. If you are considering a secretarial career after high school, you must attend college and acquire the skills and training necessary to carry out the job. With the right attitude and qualifications, no junior secretary will ever remain junior forever. Progression is natural and should be expected.
Why else do people choose to be secretaries? Asking this question of those in the field will undoubtedly garner a range of answers: "My mother or my aunt was one," "genuine interest," "fell into it by accident," "financial considerations," "easiest route after high school," and so on. Whatever your situation and motivation, you have to genuinely want to do the job in order to enjoy it and be good at it, otherwise you will be making the wrong decision.
The difficult part may be deciding on the area in which to work, but often you will determine this in the course of the job search. If you are applying through an employment agency, they will talk to you about areas that interest you and try to match your skills and interests with the right employer. Agencies can help to play a part in the decision-making process regarding the sector in which you end up working.
The Internet has simplified the job search process so that you can go to specific online job banks or sites to search for work according to whatever criteria you choose. For instance, you can narrow your search to specific industries, locations, titles, or compensation. If a search returns a favourable option, you can investigate further by visiting the prospective employer's own website and learning more about the company before submitting your application.
Job banks are useful. Not only do employers post their job openings directly on their websites, but the administrators of these job banks also post job advertisements that appear in local news publications, making it a one-stop shop. The job postings can encourage you to look at an industry you might not have considered in the past, and this can steer your career into a direction you never anticipated.
If you specifically choose to work in the government sector, be aware that certain departments will require security clearance before you can be hired. A criminal record check will be conducted, your background will be thoroughly investigated, and you will have to sign and adhere to a security code. Your conduct in public will also have to be above board, while you as a professional must remain mindful of your position at all times.
There are those who choose an industry that brings them the closest to what they might have chosen as a career had they been able to acquire the necessary qualifications. Dora, a paralegal, confided that she decided at the beginning of her secretarial training that she was going to work as a legal secretary and ultimately planned to stay within the legal field. Nine years later, when I asked her for the reasoning behind her decision, she replied,
I never had the stamina or the funds to go to law school when I was growing up, even though at one stage I wanted to become a lawyer. I was quite keen on making money as soon as I possibly could. After working a few years as a junior legal secretary, I decided to take further training as a paralegal, which was less expensive, and the beauty of it was that I could study part time while working in the legal field. Ultimately, I reached my goal, but the best preparation I could have had for my current job was the stint I did as a junior legal secretary. I learned so much, and it was tremendous fun. I am happy now in my role as a paralegal because it encompasses legal secretarial work, so in a way my job hasn't changed. I am no longer pursuing the dream of becoming a lawyer even though I can finally afford to pay for my own education. I am just very content with what I am doing.
We live in a different world today, and better opportunities exist now than ever before—certainly more than what was available at the time Dora or I trained. Today you can dream big and achieve the seemingly impossible. If you happen to be interested in law and want to be a legal secretary, take a legal secretarial course, then join a law firm. You may start on the bottom rung as a junior legal secretary, but as long as you have a clear sense of where you are heading, you will not stay there for long. As a junior secretary, you get a rare and privileged front row seat from which to observe the professional lives of the higher echelon of whatever industry you choose. Use this opportunity to observe the work of legal secretaries, paralegals, lawyers and senior partners.
My reasons for becoming a secretary were complicated. After completing high school, I was very anxious to start working and earning my own money. Due to my circumstances, going out to work as soon as possible was the most sensible thing for me to do. I decided that my education would not stop; it would continue, but I would gain it on my own terms. I wanted to pay for my own education to ease the burden on my single mother. I was also very ambitious, and was resolute from the outset about taking as many of the courses as I could that would propel me to the top of my field. I decided that I wanted to be a secretary (among other things) and that I wanted to be one of the very best ones out there. For a little black girl living in sub-Saharan Africa to have such a clear vision and the tenacity to pronounce such bold aspirations was highly irregular for the time and place. While attending a select executive secretarial training program, I took on a part-time job as a telephonist/receptionist, and so my career began. Upon completion of the executive secretarial training program, I rose through the secretarial ranks very quickly. Just four years after commencing my career, I had been promoted thrice, and as a result I began working for high-powered executives at a very young age. This rapid rise to the top boosted my confidence and inspired me to travel to Europe so that I could acquire international working experience and further my education. At this early stage of my career, all my employers were very generous in allowing me to work and simultaneously continue my business education. At about the same time, one employer paid me the greatest compliment of my career. I was asked to organize the company's annual Worker of the Year awards event. Eager to do a good job, I threw myself into the role of event planner and was oblivious to all the other activities going on around me. It came as a complete surprise to me when the Worker of the Year award recipient turned out to be me. My career started out incredibly well and I have not looked back since, and the ride has been fulfilling and exhilarating.
I hope this personal example will reinforce the point I most want to make in this chapter: make a decision about where you want to go and what you want to do, and then go ahead and do it.
It is my belief that you need to be clear about your goals and where you are heading professionally. Not identifying your goals is detrimental to your future, since you cannot aim for something you don't know about. How can you tell when you have succeeded if you don't start out with a blueprint, goal, or vision? You need to chart your career and ensure that you will finish whatever you start. If you happen to start down the wrong path, you will soon find out. Almost always when such a dilemma arises, the universe also shows you a way out—an alternative career path.
If you are serious about becoming a secretary and choose to make secretarial work your lifelong vocation, then good for you. You are about to embark on a wonderfully fulfilling career with endless possibilities. Many of the secretaries that I know—and some whom I have interviewed for this book—are among the most privileged and contented professionals out there, and understandably so, because there is nothing better than landing the right job with the right boss.
Most of the secretaries I spoke to talked about how planning their careers and carefully selecting the industries that interested them the most contributed to their success. They felt that putting the time into reviewing their various areas of interest made the process easier and success that much sweeter, because they were succeeding in an area or industry where they wanted to be. For instance, one secretary might set out to work primarily in the investment sector for her entire career, while another might choose to work solely in the medical sector. It is entirely a matter of choice.
Twenty years ago when I entered the profession, the requirements were mainly good grammar, spelling, and letter composition, reasonably fast typing, good shorthand skills, and some formal education (at least a high school diploma). This was a tradition started in the 1920s, in an era when applicants for clerical jobs were expected to have a high school education.
Then, a kind of gold standard for the profession was set by the National Secretaries Association (NSA) via their first Certified Professional Secretaries Examination, which was first administered in 1951. The association, based in Kansas City, Missouri (USA), was in 1998 renamed the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). There are representative IAAP chapters in most cities. A simple search on the Internet will reveal whether a chapter exists where you live, and if none exists you can look into the possibility of organizing one by contacting the organization.
Excerpted from The Elite Secretary by Sandra C. Rorbak Copyright © 2012 by Sandra C. Rorbak. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations....................xi
Chapter 1: Why Become a Secretary?....................1
Chapter 2: Secretarial Résumés....................11
Chapter 3: Interview Guidelines....................26
Chapter 4: New Kid on the Block....................64
Chapter 5: Office Politics....................85
Chapter 6: The Job....................104
Chapter 7: The Secretary and the Modern Office....................145
Chapter 8: Temporary Secretaries....................174
Chapter 9: The Boss(es)....................191
Chapter 10: The Final Word....................222