Administrative Assistant - What They Do

Administrative assistants perform a variety of administrative duties in support of managerial and professional employers. They are employed throughout the private and public sectors.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Prepare, key in, edit and proofread correspondence, invoices, presentations, brochures, publications, reports and related material from machine dictation and handwritten copy
  • Open and distribute incoming regular and electronic mail and other material and co-ordinate the flow of information internally and with other departments and organizations
  • Schedule and confirm appointments and meetings of employer
  • Order office supplies and maintain inventory
  • Answer telephone and electronic enquiries and relay telephone calls and messages
  • Set up and maintain manual and computerized information filing systems
  • Determine and establish office procedures
  • Greet visitors, ascertain nature of business and direct visitors to employer or appropriate person
  • Record and prepare minutes of meetings
  • Arrange travel schedules and make reservations
  • May compile data, statistics and other information to support research activities
  • May supervise and train office staff in procedures and in use of current software
  • May organize conferences.

Job titles

  • private secretary
  • technical secretary
  • administrative assistant
  • office administrative assistant
  • executive secretary (except legal and medical)
  • secretary (except legal and medical)
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is usually required.
  • Completion of a one- or two-year college or other program for administrative assistants or secretaries or Previous clerical experience is required.

Essential Skills


  • Read instructions on labels. For example, school secretaries read instructions on medicine labels to locate dosages, precautions and time intervals between treatments. (1)
  • Read handwritten notes on note pads and entry forms, in the margins of documents and on whiteboards. For example, corporate secretaries read notes from supervisors outlining meeting requirements and job task priorities. Secretaries employed by correctional services read notes outlining special requests on uniform and supply order forms. Secretaries in university settings read editors' notes in the margins of research articles. (1)
  • Skim letters and memos to determine the content and subsequent actions required. For example, church secretaries respond to requests for facility bookings. Secretaries in property management companies read requests for leasehold improvements and forward to property managers. (2)
  • Skim regular and electronic mail and fax messages to determine whether these materials should be copied to others in their organizations, posted to bulletin boards, filed or deleted. (2)
  • May scan job applicants' resumes to ensure that all the stated application criteria are addressed. (2)
  • Proofread outgoing letters and reports for clarity and for proper punctuation, grammar and sentence structure. Depending on their work contexts, they may proofread materials such as auditors' reports, university course outlines, church and school newsletters and marketing pamphlets. (3)
  • May read policy manuals, reports and contractual agreements for specific details. For example, departmental secretaries in post-secondary institutions locate administrative procedures in college and university handbooks. Property management secretaries review clauses outlining leasers' and lessees' obligations with new tenants. (3)
  • Read equipment and procedure manuals. For example, they read fax manuals to determine how to program features such as date and time and troubleshoot equipment malfunctions. They review computer manuals to determine how to perform specific software functions such as exporting data. They review purchasing manuals to determine the proper procedures for ordering products not held in stock. (3)

Document use

  • Scan signs and labels for a variety of data. For example, they locate specific details in address, shipping and file labels, staff and visitor identification badges, directional signage and labels on office equipment. (1)
  • Locate data in lists and tables. For example, they find account codes, telephone numbers, addresses, postal codes, names and dates in expense code listings, telephone directories, postal code tables and work schedules. They scan catalogues to locate product codes, item costs and available models when ordering supplies. Some secretaries may scan invoices to verify descriptions, quantities, model numbers and other data and bank statements to verify deposits and withdrawals. (2)
  • Complete a variety of forms. For example, they enter names, addresses and product descriptions on requisition forms and waybills. They complete purchase order, inventory and expense forms. Some secretaries may complete petty cash vouchers and bank deposit slips. (2)
  • Scan forms to ensure they have been completed properly. Depending on the work context, secretaries may verify the completeness of student applications, security clearances, rental unit agreements, university course change forms and parental permission slips for school trips. They confirm the presence of required information such as health card numbers, emergency contacts, course numbers, employee names, clearance levels and references to supporting documents. (2)


  • Write message summaries on telephone message forms. (1)
  • Write reminder notes and make daybook entries. For example, they note tasks to be completed and people to be contacted within a designated time period and items to include on the next office supply order. (1)
  • Write short comments and explanations in entry forms. For example, they may record the details of accidents in accident and incident reporting forms. (2)
  • Write short memos and e-mail messages on a variety of topics. Depending on their work context, they may propose meeting times, request maintenance services, notify co-workers of changes to room assignments, outline work procedures and specify deadlines for supply orders. (2)
  • Draft letters for a variety of purposes. For example, secretaries in property management companies write letters to respond to tenants' complaints and renovation requests. Secretaries in post-secondary institutions draft letters justifying their departments' reasons for accepting special case students. (3)
  • May edit and correct others' writing. For example, secretaries in electrical and mechanical contracting firms edit project proposals and final reports. They correct spelling and grammar, rewrite text to emphasize specific points and improve the clarity and flow of the text. (3)
  • May write articles for publication in newsletters. For example school and church secretaries may introduce new board policies, provide updates on fundraising activities and promote upcoming events. (3)
  • May record minutes of staff, board and committee meetings. They may circulate draft copies of minutes for correction prior to submitting minutes for final approval and publication. (3)


Money Math

  • May receive payments for stamps and personal photocopies, collect funds for gifts and special events and reimburse staff for minor expenditures from petty cash accounts. Church secretaries may receive payments for room bookings. School secretaries may receive payments for school uniforms, field trips and school supplies. (2)
  • Calculate total amounts on invoices, supply orders and expense claims after verifying quantities, cost per item and appropriate taxes. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Compare different suppliers' prices for office products and courier services to determine best value. They consider quality of product and service, quantity discounts and delivery times. (1)
  • May manage appointment schedules and create travel itineraries for their supervisors. They allocate appropriate blocks of time for regularly-scheduled meetings and conferences. When working on large projects they may allocate blocks of time for themselves and their subordinates to complete particular tasks within set timelines. (2)
  • May summarize money collection and sales activities; balance petty cash accounts; and reconcile monthly bank statements. For example, school secretaries total sales of school photos. Correctional services secretaries track money moving into and out of inmates' trust and benefit funds. Property management secretaries manage petty cash funds. (2)
  • Create and manage small operating and project budgets. For example, they create budgets for office operating expenses. They examine average expenditures and sales to determine monthly and yearly patterns. They record, total and review expenditures to ensure spending category allocations are within the budgeted amounts. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure and weigh packages being sent by regular post and courier to determine shipping costs. (1)

Data Analysis Math

  • Monitor inventory levels and place orders when numbers fall below established levels. (1)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate duration of time required to complete tasks. (1)
  • Estimate numbers of document copies required for meetings, conferences and trade shows. They may estimate quantities of office supplies required when drawing up annual budgets. (1)

Oral communication

  • Greet telephone callers, respond to their requests and take messages. They also listen to recorded messages and forward those messages on to others in their organizations. (1)
  • Greet visitors, identify the purposes of their visits and respond appropriately. For example, police services' secretaries may schedule appointments, accept job applications and provide information about neighbourhood watches. (1)
  • Exchange information about ongoing work with co-workers, colleagues and suppliers. For example, they ask other secretaries for help in locating files and resolving computer malfunctions. They ask colleagues in other departments for information on new products and confirm meeting dates. They contact suppliers to determine the status of previously placed orders. (2)
  • Interact with their supervisors on a regular basis. They clarify task requests and scheduling details such as appointment times and travel itineraries. (2)
  • Explain administrative processes and procedures to co-workers, clients and the public. For example, secretaries in property management companies explain environmental safeguards to tenants and review procedures for submitting rent payments. Secretaries for university departments explain the processes and timelines for submitting matters for ethics committee reviews. Church secretaries explain facility bookings and clients' requests for room set-ups to custodians. (2)
  • Discuss work processes and upcoming events in staff meetings. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Are unable to locate their supervisors for scheduled meetings and conference calls. They page the missing supervisors and apologize to those who are waiting for them. (1)
  • Cannot complete tasks because of faulty computers, photocopiers, printers and faxes. They refer to diagnostic codes and procedures on equipment labels to identify common faults. If they are unable to correct the faults, they consult the equipment manuals and ask co-workers for assistance. If needed, they call manufacturers' help lines and request technical service assistance. (2)
  • Cannot complete forms and records because of missing, incomplete and illegible information. For example, they may not have the work hours and vacation schedules for staff at their companies. They contact the individuals to confirm their hours and vacation dates and ask them to complete and submit the forms. When handwriting is illegible, they ask the writers to decipher their texts. (2)
  • Face conflicting priorities and unreasonable expectations for the amount of work they can accomplish. For example, secretaries in insurance offices receive high priority work from two or more co-workers simultaneously. They consult with the co-workers to determine completion deadlines. If they are unable to complete the work, they may be able to request help from secretaries in other departments. (2)
  • Find that suppliers and servicers fail to deliver goods and services as contracted. They call to confirm the status of service contracts and the expected delivery times for goods. If suppliers are unable to deliver goods and services as contracted, they find alternate suppliers. (2)

Decision Making

  • Select suppliers for a variety of products. They consider the suppliers' selection, prices and account histories. (1)
  • Sort e-mail and phone messages according to subject matter and intended audience. They respond to some of the messages and forward others to their supervisors or the appropriate person, in accordance with established parameters. For example, secretaries in educational settings respond to questions about admission requirements, refer queries about the status of applications to the Dean of their departments, and forward questions about bursaries and financial matters to accounting departments. (2)

Critical Thinking

  • Assess the urgency and importance of telephone calls prior to interrupting a meeting. (1)
  • Evaluate the suitability, readability and appearance of all documents, presentations, schedules and notices produced in their offices. They ensure that the contents are not out of date, the language used is easily understood and page designs are appropriate and visually appealing. (2)
  • Assess the efficiency of work processes and procedures. They consider the typical tasks assigned, the time required to complete various tasks and time saving methods learned through previous work experiences. For example, they may judge the efficiency of filing and storage systems for printed documents and electronic files. They consider their ease and speed in accessing and retrieving files, whether the files are organized in a logical manner and whether co-workers and colleagues are able to access stored information efficiently. They may have to conduct evaluations and cost analyses to justify the reasons for changing existing systems. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Secretaries are given specific tasks and duties, with urgent completion timelines, on a daily basis. They reorganize their daily schedules to accommodate these new tasks while ensuring completion of their recurring tasks in a productive and time efficient manner. During the execution of daily tasks, they are frequently interrupted by phone calls, walk-in traffic and co-workers' requests. If they are responsible for supporting several people, they may need to juggle deadlines and priorities to ensure all work is completed in a timely manner. Some tasks, such as verifying rent rolls and attendance registers, reconciling bank statements, tracking budget categories and preparing administrative reports are weekly and monthly tasks. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Secretaries may be responsible for travel and meeting planning for their supervisors and co-workers. In some work contexts, such as schools, churches, and not-for-profit agencies, they may schedule the work of volunteers and assistants. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember financial and department codes when allocating expenses and purchases to various accounts.
  • Remember multiple passwords to access various computers and network resources.
  • Remember telephone and extension numbers when transferring calls.
  • Remember the voices and names of frequent or important callers.

Finding Information

  • Access travel planning and booking information by speaking with travel agents, telephoning airline reservation agents and reviewing airline schedules. They may use Internet travel services to locate hotel rooms and meeting facilities. (1)
  • May gather information on job applicants. They review application documents, call former employers and listed references and visit applicants' web sites. (2)

Digital technology

  • Use graphics software. For example, they may prepare PowerPoint presentations for their supervisors using slide design and layout templates. (2)
  • Use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. They enter data such as employee hours and invoice details. They generate monthly reports and other financial summaries. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use search engines to locate information such as travel and per diem guidelines, out-of-print books and speeches from the throne. They access suppliers' web sites to complete on-line order and request forms and to download equipment manuals. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they access their organizations' databases, enter and revise data and search for specific details. They may assign identification numbers to new projects, revise client contact and account details and track inventories. School, university and college secretaries access student information management systems to enter student marks, update contact and custodial information, determine staff and student assignments and track graduate school applications. Corporate secretaries may search collections of resumes, leases and accounts receivable reports to access documents associated with specific projects or matching specified criteria. (3)
  • Use spreadsheet software. They create spreadsheets and modify spreadsheet templates to track attendance, product sales, inventories and budgets. For example, property management secretaries prepare tables showing current tenants, unit numbers and sizes, start and end lease dates, and prices per square foot of rental space. (3)
  • Use communications software. For example, they exchange e-mail and attachments using distribution lists. For example, graduate school secretaries e-mail application forms, fee schedules and grant information to prospective graduate students. They may enter appointments and events into their own and co-workers' appointment calendars. (3)
  • Use word processing software. They enter and edit text, format paragraphs, lay out pages and create finished documents. They enter specific details into form letters and fax cover sheet templates. They create and update lists and tables, merge data to create form letters and mailing labels. They use office integration features to embed and link pictures, graphs and spreadsheets when producing newsletters, reports and promotional flyers. They may assist co-workers with these tasks. (4)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Secretaries work independently answering phone calls, preparing and filing documents, scheduling meetings and booking facilities. They may co-ordinate their work with assistants and volunteers and serve as members of teams when completing larger projects. (2)

Continuous Learning

Secretaries usually set and manage their own learning goals. They continually update their knowledge of software programs and company policies and learn how to operate new equipment. They read manuals and seek advice from co-workers and colleagues. They may attend company-sponsored seminars and workshops on topics such as customer service skills, new computer software and policy and procedure revisions. (2)