Administrative assistants are some of the most versatile professionals out there. From handling personalities to keeping everything organized to running office operations, it’s a job that requires a lot of different skills at any given time. If you’re thinking about becoming an administrative assistant for the next phase of your career, let’s look at some of the most important skills you’ll need to succeed.
First and foremost, you should make sure that your hard skills are in order for a job as an administrative assistant. What are hard skills? They’re the skills that require technical or specific ability. These are easy to list because you can use very specific points. For example:
- Expert in Microsoft Excel
- HTML coding expertise
- Typing 100 words per minute
Hard skills are the skills you can quantify and show easily (as opposed to “soft” skills, which are often more subjective and need more specific examples or clarification). There’s no additional context necessary to show that you can use a particular type of accounting software; merely listing the software or app conveys your skill to the reader. And the good news is that hard skills are easier to build, if you want to bulk up your resume. You can take online courses in how to do complex Excel spreadsheet magic, or find tutorials on HTML and other coding languages. Whatever you want to learn, there's surely an opportunity out there to bulk up your resume.
Administrative assistants need to be pretty tech savvy in today’s world. It’s not enough to be familiar with using computers in general. Your boss may depend on you to be a technical ninja in areas he or she is not. An administrative assistant should have a good grasp on software or apps in these areas:
- Email. Microsoft Outlook is the most common, but many companies are turning to Gmail and Slack to manage interoffice email.
- Maintaining a calendar. Again, Outlook’s calendar is the gold standard, but you should be able to schedule meetings, create invitations, and manage calendars. And with a growing focus in the workplace on connecting people remotely via technology, programs like WebEx or GoToMeeting help you set up videoconferences.
- Word processing. Microsoft Word and Google Docs are most typical, but you should be skilled in using document creation programs to create different kinds of formatted documents (like correspondence or reports).
- Presentations. Whether you’ll be making presentations or the people you support will be making them, chances are you’ll be expected to either organize information into presentations or create them from scratch. Programs like Microsoft PowerPoint have built-in tools and templates for creating down-and-dirty presentations, but if you want to bump your skills to the next level, you can also learn shortcuts and design elements to create ones that stand out more.
- Digital databases/filing systems. Part of just about every administrative assistant’s job is maintaining orderly files, whether those are old-fashioned hard copies or digital records.
- Digital editing. Many administrative assistants are tasked with creating or editing manuals, newsletters, invitations, marketing materials, or other materials for public consumption or within the company. Having expertise in programs like Adobe Acrobat or Photoshop can make you even more valuable and add some designer cred to your resume.
- Productivity/project management. From project management systems like JIRA to personal organizational tools like Asana, experience using productivity software can be essential to planning, executing, and organizing projects.
Administrative Support Skills
Administrative support skills are also hard skills that help an admin support his or her team. These can include:
- Answering multi-line phones and routing calls
- Faxing documents
- Processing timesheets
- Transcribing content
- Accounting or billing (using programs like QuickBooks)
- Typing with speed and accuracy
Soft skills are the skills that aren’t so easily quantified. If you want to show that you’re good at data analysis, you can list specific Excel skills. If you want to show that you’re organized or a good problem solver, it’s a little tougher. Here are the most essential soft skills you’ll need as an admin.
Communicating well in person and in writing is a key element of the administrative assistant’s job. It’s a service role, which means that you need to be able to talk, email, or otherwise communicate on behalf and/or your boss. Coordination is a huge part of the job, so that means not only getting along with everyone (or fake it if you can’t quite muster genuine “like” or enthusiasm in dealing with someone), but also making sure everyone has the information they need. Clear and efficient communication, complete with good grammar, is essential.
Examples of communication skills:
- Drafting, editing, and sending correspondence
- Fielding phone calls and taking messages
- Responding clearly and efficiently to emails
- Taking notes and sending follow-up requests/summaries as needed
- Answering questions or explaining processes
- Public speaking or presenting
- Writing clean, grammatically correct (and always business-appropriate!) emails
Supporting a boss (or a team of bosses) can be challenging. It often means negotiating different personalities and ensuring that everyone has what they need. As an admin, you may be interacting with all kinds of different people—other employees, executives, the public—so a calm, friendly demeanor is a helpful asset. And if your job includes handling sensitive or confidential information, you’ll need to be sensitive about how to communicate that information.
Examples of people skills:
- Customer service
- Managing client relationships
- Writing email or other correspondence with the whole audience in mind
Time Management Skills
As an admin, you’re likely going to be responsible for other people’s time as much as your own, so being able to coordinate schedules, set reminders, and make sure things are staying on task is a crucial part of the job.
Examples of time management skills:
- Setting deadlines
- Meeting deadlines
- Managing calendars (potentially multiple ones)
- Coordinating meeting times among large groups
- Sending reminders to stakeholders to keep projects or tasks on schedule
Administrative assistants are usually responsible for not only keeping themselves organized, but also those around them. The admin’s desk should be a calm oasis of order even when everything else is chaotic. These skills are essential, but they can be developed as well, with care and attention to both the tasks at hand and the bigger picture of what needs to be done.
Examples of organizational skills:
- Attention to detail
- Managing calendars and appointments
- Preparing for meetings, including making room, technology, or logistics arrangements
- Taking inventory
- Making travel arrangements
- Coordinating and planning events
- Prioritizing tasks and projects
Problem Solving Skills
Admins are also fixers. That may mean helping your boss troubleshoot issues or helping to solve problems around the office to make sure things are running smoothly. Being able to think calmly and critically about how to approach a situation (even when things are overwhelmingly busy or going wrong) is a skill set highly valued by just about every employer, no matter what industry.
Examples of problem solving skills:
- Training and supervising others
- Managing employee relations
- Providing technical help
- Serving as a point person for questions or guidance
- Organizing the necessary people and resources to resolve an issue, and helping to coordinate follow-up actions
- Coming up with an action plan to resolve issues
As you can see, administrative assistants need a pretty broad range of skills in their day-to-day work. If you focus on building your skills in these key areas (or emphasizing the skills you already have), you’ll be in great shape for your career as an admin.
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