6 March 2008

Thinking Outside the Job Description Box

Today’s assistants are computer savvy, smart and up-and-coming, and consider themselves professionals in the workplace. They are no longer stuck within the job description box, but have the freedom to break out of the mould and redefine their roles and sometimes even change their careers.

Employers have begun to recognize our changing roles in the workplace and some have reflected that by changing our title from “secretary” to titles that more accurately describe the positions we are performing in our organizations such as:
  • Legal Assistant
  • Personal Assistant or Personal Aide
  • Medical Assistant
  • Executive Assistant
  • Office Coordinator, etc.
Administrative assistants are highly skilled in many areas and sometimes we take it for granted, not recognizing where we could go with our skills. Here are some ideas to get you thinking in that direction.

Event Planning:

Event planning is a big industry that looks for people who are skilled in planning big events without a hitch. What better candidate to take on that role as a career, than the assistant who regularly plans events from small meetings to large conferences.


An assistant who has a marketing flare with a creative mind can branch out into editing or writing. Those who are skilled at regularly thinking on their feet as they come up with solutions and ideas both on the computer and on the job might be able to step into this role.

Some examples would be managing a company website, creating, editing and writing a company newsletter or creating promotional materials, invitations and brochures for marketing events. This can be a rewarding career change for those suited to this type of work.


An assistant with a head for numbers may be able to move into finance in an accounting or a tax firm. Some assistants regularly manage small budgets when planning functions or have bookkeeping responsibilities and work regularly on spreadsheets. Those with experience in this area might enjoy this type of career move.

Professional Organizer:

Organization is a must if you are an assistant. One of our main duties is to keep our bosses organized. While being organized seems natural to us because of the nature of our jobs, some people are not organized and need help and are looking for skilled and organized people to do the job for them.

Working Within Your Current Job:

Someone who wants to remain in their Administrative Assistant position but spread their wings, can work with their supervisor and HR Manager to develop and change their role by specializing in certain areas and do more of the things they enjoy and are good at.

Administrative Assistants have a list of things they specialize in including business writing, proofreading, minute taking, meeting planning, travel agent, desktop publishing, editing, public relations and client liaison to name a few.

Some assistants have expanded their role to that of an executive assistant which sometimes means performing the role of an office manager.

Working our way out of a job

Kim began as an administrative assistant and has now become the HR Manager of a major law firm.

Sue is an IT specialist who started out as an administrative assistant with a knack for computers and made it work for her as a career.

Elizabeth began as an administrative assistant in an accounting firm and has become a junior chartered accountant.

What do these three women have in common?
  • They each had a desire to pursue a different area of interest and they changed their direction and worked themselves into a new career.
  • They each had forward-thinking employers who allowed them to have vision and encouraged them to work towards their goal and made room for that new role within their organization.
  • They each took the initiative to get appropriate training and education to better equip them in the areas they were interested in.
Our jobs are not limited to just being a “secretary”. We may need to look at courses that will help us reach our goals, but the possibilities can be endless when we think outside the box.


Jodith said...

I think you've just described my career *laughs*.

I started out in the world as an EMT, moved into dispatch, and when a job opened up in the office, began working in customer billing.

That job lead to becoming an accounting clerk with a big medical school, where I also started learning word processing.

That lead me to a job as a receptionist/admin asst for a small graphic arts firm. I was only there a year, but picked up some valuable lessons in graphic design that are still helping me today.

I eventually worked my way up to Executive Assistant at a large software company. When my boss moved to a new job across the country, and I didn't like the new boss, I took the tech support knowledge I'd learned as the assistant in the department and deployed it into a job in tech support.

When a later job as admin asst to the head of HR at a university lead to a layoff when that boss left me, the combination of the HR knowledge I'd gleaned there and the tech knowledge I'd gained at the software company led me to my current position at a small non-profit, where I wear the hat of Executive Assistant, but also do benefits administration, manage the hiring process, and handle the tech support for two office, as well as producing newsletters and mailers for our development committee.

And the moral of this long drawn out story is, wherever you find yourself, learn as much as you can from those around you. Don't be afraid to ask questions and seek to take classes to learn more. You never know where those skills might take you in the future.

Patricia Robb said...

Yes, it does sound like I wrote that article just for you...
We wear so many hats as an admin asst. and I think sometimes we underestimate what we do and how valuable we are to our companies.
I was at an IAAP meeting and we had some people speaking on event planning and all I could think when I was listening to him was that I do that all the time, from making travel arrangements to arranging big conferences. Just all a part of the job for an admin assistant. That's what made me want to write this article.
Thanks for your comments. Very appropriate for this post.


Sarah said...

I found your blog while looking for a way to get out of my current position, executive assistant. I started as an assistant after I graduated from university mainly because I had to pay my bills and while at university, I was already working part-time as secretary. At first I was happy with the job and the opportunity to build a structure, to bring my own ideas - it was kind of my project or at least I saw it like that. In the last months work has changed from working with the help of a co-worker to working alone, a growing team and I have no capacity left to continue to bring in some structure. So things went from good to bad to worst and if you'd asked my right now, if I'd liked my job, I'd say no. I don't want to be the babysitter anymore, I don't want to think for another person, I want to do what I am really good at and what I can enjoy. And getting out of this "assistant stigma" is pretty hard.

Hannah said...

Found this brilliant blog whilst also searching for ideas of how to branch out of the assistant world.
I became an assistant after years of working in shops - although managing most of them, it didn't excite me, and it was quite tough manual work!
I am in my second job as an administration assistant, being paid better then my previous role, but starting to feel a bit like Sarah (hi!).
It's really tough to know what to look into or go to next, unless you are one of those lucky few who know what they are good at and go in search of the next job.
Does anyone suggest any useful courses to go on? Just to build myself as a person, and look good on my CV of course!

Patricia Robb said...

Find something in your job you really like and then evaluate if there is a course you could take to strengthen that. Check the job ads to see what employers are looking for and if it interests you, check at the local college or university to see what you would have to do to get there. I'm on my way to retirement, but I'm already thinking about my next part-time job and what that will look like. I want to continue learning and growing, albeit at a slower pace (2-3 days a week) and in a different direction. Who knows where it could take me. All the best,

Patricia Robb said...

It is very hard to keep motivated when you have either no interest in your job or things are making it difficult for you to do the job. It isn't good for the empoyer or the employee. Sometimes it is just time to move on, but before you do, do your homework. See what's out there. I recently left a job that I had lost satisfaction in. An opportunity csme up and I took it. I'm much happier now. The job is not as all consuming as my last job, but it has enough to keep me morivated and interested. I went from an EA to an AA, which some might consider a demotion, but I'm happy snd that's what matters.

Unknown said...

Thanks... Stumbled on your blog while searching for information for my final project in school.
I studied Office Technology and Management but other students always critiize and look down on us. They think all our profession entails is siting all day and typing or being an "maid"... They see administrative assistants as people with limited future.. It's so sad and depressing for students studying this course, it reduces their self esteem and they are also starting to think they have less potentials and won't bother working with their certificate... Going into business seems like a better idea to some...
Well as for me, I have high hopes and I'm not giving up.. I have skills, and I enjoy what I do and I'm going to develop these skills and get to the top and achieve my goal and be happy... I endured the criticisms till now... But I'm not giving up! Never!