A secretary


Secretaries perform a variety of administrative tasks to help keep an organisation run smoothly. They answer telephone calls, draft and send e-mails, maintain diaries, arrange appointments, take messages, file documents, organise and service meetings, and manage databases.

Secretaries typically do the following:

  • Answer telephones and take messages or transfer calls
  • Schedule appointments and update event calendars
  • Arrange staff meetings
  • Handle incoming and outgoing mail and faxes
  • Prepare memos, invoices, or reports
  • Edit documents
  • Maintain databases and filing systems
  • Perform basic bookkeeping

Secretaries help an organization run efficiently. They use computer software to create spreadsheets; manage databases; and prepare presentations, reports, and documents. They also may negotiate with vendors, buy supplies, and manage stockrooms or corporate libraries. Secretaries also use videoconferencing and other office equipment. Specific job duties vary by experience, job title, and specialty.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to secretary:

secretarial assistant
executive secretary
school secretary
office receptionist
city administrator secretary
office worker
private secretary
administrative assistant
personal assistant
corporate secretary
front office secretary
head secretary
office administrative assistant
front office clerk

Working conditions

Secretaries work in nearly every industry and in many types of offices. An executive secretary may work in a roomy office in a large office building. Entry-level secretaries may work in a large room as part of a group. Medical secretaries may work in busy doctors’ offices. Most secretaries meet and work with a variety of people. All secretaries are subject to pressures at least some of the time.

Most secretaries work thirty-five to forty hours per week. Some offices permit secretaries to work flexible schedules.

Minimum qualifications

Secretaries generally must have a high school education. Many employers prefer to hire graduates of administrative support schools. Business executives may prefer applicants with a liberal arts degree and secretarial training.

Typing or word processing skills of at least sixty-five words per minute are often required for jobs in big cities.

Shorthand skills are no longer needed for many secretarial jobs.

A basic knowledge of computers is increasingly required. Employers usually provide training for their particular equipment and programs. Communication skills are also valuable on the job.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Secretary is a Skill level 2 occupation.

Secretary career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to secretary.

foreign language correspondence clerk
office clerk
billing clerk
investment clerk

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of secretary. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of secretary with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

administrative assistant
education administrator
executive assistant
management assistant
legal administrative assistant

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of secretary.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of secretary.

  • Disseminate internal communications: Disseminate internal communications using the different communication channels that a company has at its disposal.
  • Maintain internal communication systems: Maintain an effective internal communication system among employees and department managers.
  • File documents: Create a filing system. Write a document catalogue. Label documents etc.
  • Organise business documents: Put together documents coming from the photocopier, the mail, or the daily operations of businesses.
  • Monitor staff absences: Keep an overview of the employees’ vacations, sick leaves and absences, register these in the agenda and file the necessary documents and certificates.
  • Keep task records: Organise and classify records of prepared reports and correspondence related to the performed work and progress records of tasks.
  • Process commissioned instructions: Process instructions, usually oral ones, provided by managers and directives on actions required to be made. Take note, inquire, and take action on the commissioned requests.
  • Handle mail: Handle mail considering data protection issues, health and safety requirements, and specifications of different kinds of mail.
  • Perform office routine activities: Program, prepare, and perform activities required to be performed everyday in offices such as mailing, receiving supplies, updating managers and employees, and keeping operations running smoothly.
  • Manage personnel agenda: Schedule and confirm appointments for the personnel of the office, mostly managers and directive employees, with external parties.
  • Disseminate messages to people: Receive, process, and pass messages to people coming from phone calls, faxes, postal, and emails.
  • Fill out forms: Fill out forms of a different nature with accurate information, legible calligraphy, and within a timely manner.
  • Organise facilities for office personnel: Manage the booking schedule for conferences and meetings of internal or external nature. Shop around and book reservations for travelling or hosting for office personnel.
  • Communicate schedules to the people concerned: Convey relevant scheduling information. Present the schedule to the persons concerned, and inform them of any schedule changes. Approve the schedules and verify that everyone has understood the information sent to them.
  • Communicate by telephone: Liaise via telephone by making and answering calls in a timely, professional and polite manner.
  • Draft corporate emails: Prepare, compile, and write mails with the adequate information and an appropriate language to make internal or external communications.
  • Use Microsoft Office: Possess the ability to work with the standard programs contained in Microsoft Office at a capable level. Create a document and do basic formatting, insert page breaks, create headers or footers, and insert graphics, create automatically generated tables of contents and merge form letters from a database of addresses (usually in Excel). Create auto-calculating spreadsheets, create images, and sort and filter data tables.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of secretary. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Education law: The area of law and legislation that concerns education policies and the people working in the sector in an (inter)national context, such as teachers, students, and administrators.
  • Accounting techniques: The techniques of recording and summarising business and financial transactions and analysing, verifying, and reporting the results.
  • Labour law: The field of law that is concerned with the regulation of the relationship between employers, employees, trade unions, and the government.
  • Education administration: The processes related to the administrative areas of an education institution, its director, employees, and students.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of secretary. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Prepare presentation material: Prepare the documents, slide shows, posters and any other media needed for specific audiences.
  • Manage budgets: Plan, monitor and report on the budget.
  • Manage needs for stationery items: Watch, analyse, and provide sufficient and required stationery items for business facilities to run operations smoothly.
  • Organise travel arrangements for staff: Plan all arrangements for business travels including preparing schedules and booking transportation, dinners and accommodation.
  • Demonstrate professional attitude to clients: Demonstrate responsibility and professional duty of care to clients which will include communication skills and a focus of customer care orientation.
  • Place orders for printed paper goods: Communicate with suppliers and place orders for printed paper goods such as newspapers, magazines, books and stationery products for the store.
  • Write meeting reports: Write complete reports based on minutes taken during a meeting in order to communicate the important points which were discussed, and the decisions which were made, to the appropriate people.
  • Handle petty cash: Handle petty cash for minor expenses and transactions required for the daily running of a business.
  • Develop documentation in accordance with legal requirements: Create professionally written content describing products, applications, components, functions or services in compliance with legal requirements and internal or external standards.
  • Use office systems: Make appropriate and timely use of office systems used in business facilities depending on the aim, whether for the collection of messages, client information storage, or agenda scheduling. It includes administration of systems such as customer relationship management, vendor management, storage, and voicemail systems.
  • Manage online content: Ensure the website content is up to date, organised, attractive and meets the target audience needs, the requirements of the company and international standards by checking the links, setting the publishing time framework and order.
  • Deliver correspondence: Distribute mail correspondence, newspapers, packages and private messages to customers.
  • Manage accounts: Manage the accounts and financial activities of an organisation, supervising that all the documents are correctly maintained, that all the information and calculations are correct, and that proper decisions are being made.
  • Issue sales invoices: Prepare the invoice of goods sold or services provided, containing individual prices, the total charge, and the terms. Complete order processing for orders received via telephone, fax and internet and calculate the customer’s final bill.
  • Handle financial transactions: Administer currencies, financial exchange activities, deposits as well as company and voucher payments. Prepare and manage guest accounts and take payments by cash, credit card and debit card.

ISCO group and title

4120 – Secretaries (general)

  1. Secretary – ESCO
  2. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Secretary Job Description –
  4. Featured image: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Last updated on November 28, 2022

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