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A Day in the Life of a Secretary

A secretary manages information. Responsibilities can run from scheduling staff appointments to office management to managing an entire database. Since the computer is central to any modern office, mastery of the latest office technology is essential. Secretaries are often the primary conduit of information from their employers to the rest of the world, so they must be comfortable communicating with others in person and on the telephone. Secretaries who work in specialized fields, such as law and accounting, have a working knowledge of that field. Executive secretaries often initiate and execute independent projects. One secretary we spoke to described her view of keeping busy after accomplishing a day's assignments well before deadline: "You can bury your nose in a magazine, or you can find something constructive to do. Good secretaries are self-starters." Few professions call for such careful execution of so many specialized tasks. Such professionalism combined with the almost constant changes in business technology has led secretaries to turn to one another for support, training, and solidarity. "You often don't know exactly what's expected of you," remarked one secretary. "It's easier if there are other secretaries there to help you clarify things, especially in a place like a law office." Because so much of the job depends on organization, secretaries' skills are really tested when they work for particularly disorganized bosses. "Your main task is making sure everything goes smoothly, anticipating as well as accomplishing particular tasks." And secretaries are still expected to handle their employers' moods and foibles in the course of everyday business. The best advice we heard: "Be prepared for anything."

Paying Your Dues

Some of the clerical skills expected of secretaries can be picked up on the job, but secretarial candidates should have already mastered typing and word processing in high school, college, or vocational school. Competition in the field allows employers to place greater demands on applicants: A college education is a valuable asset. In a global economy, being bilingual or even trilingual is often a plus. Stenography has become something of a lost art, but it may come in handy with an old-fashioned boss.

Present and Future

Long the domain of men, paperwork and other clerical tasks fell to women more and more at the turn of the century and was often a woman's first exposure to the world of big business. With the demands placed on the male population by two world wars, the position of secretary came to be held almost exclusively by women by mid-century. The image of the "working girl" making coffee for the boss persisted through the 1980s. Today, however, the occupation has become less closely associated with women. With the recent wave of corporate downsizing, secretaries often find themselves working for as many as three bosses while coping with constant innovations or limitations in technology. As in any profession, a good secretary is a rare and valued employee. Salaries start in the mid-$20,000 range, but veterans can take home three times that amount.

Quality of Life


The early part of your secretarial career is the time to lay the groundwork for greater responsibility and reward in the future. As a new secretary, you'll hone your skills in typing, word processing, and data processing and spend much of your time answering the phone and screening calls. Employers will ask you to do faxing, filing, and photocopying and to handle correspondence. Paralegals can expect to have demanding schedule. Many secretaries discover during these years how to operate efficiently in the face of unending, unexpected, or loosely-defined responsibilities.


Thousands of secretaries move on to other jobs in this period, often getting hired on the basis of their achievements as office professionals. Secretaries who stay on have found a means of coping with a tremendous volume of work and derive satisfaction from helping to make a business run smoothly. At this point, many secretaries train new secretaries, often in a training program of their own devising.


For those who have made the most of a secretarial career, the rewards are palpable. It is hard to last in a profession that demands organizational skill, meticulous attention to detail, efficiency, and patience. Secretaries who possess these qualities know how rare they are and can expect to reap the rewards they deserve, including a pension and benefits.