The Differences Between a Secretary and an Administrative Assistant

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Published on February 12, 2018

Staff for success! The right assistant can be both the face of your company and it's organisational backbone. Click To TweetWhen planning on hiring assistance in the office, the various terms for this new employee can be confusing. It seems that more and more, the titles ‘secretary’ and ‘administrative assistant’ are being used for similar roles and it has confused job specs and expectations.

There is a very clear and important difference between the two. In most roles, the administrative assistant’s role is elevated, holding more responsibility than the secretary’s.  So what are the differences between a secretary and an administrative assistant?

What does a secretary do?

A secretary is normally the first person you will meet when entering a company building. The secretary normally sits at a reception desk, welcoming people in, giving them initial information about their visit or where to go, and offering refreshments. Typically, they will also be in charge of answering all incoming calls and again be the first point of contact before directing the call to the right person. They can deal with posts, written notes and other correspondence, as well as take messages. Secretaries will book in diary appointments, either for their direct superior or for a team of people. The bulk of their job is focused around administration: handling all incoming communication, writing letters, typing reports and processing documents, as well as filing. Some secretaries will report back to the administrative assistant of the company.

What does an administrative assistant do?

Tasks of an administrative assistant can, especially in smaller companies, overlap with those mentioned for secretaries. However, the administrative assistant will normally have more responsibilities and have one or more people working under them – normally the secretarial team. For example, rather than just booking in requested appointments, they might be in charge of full diary scheduling and management, deciding which meetings will go where, with the authority to reschedule, prioritise and make changes where needs be.

Many of the documents that secretaries are asked to process or fill will have been created by the administrative assistants, and they might be in charge of bookkeeping, budgets and planning. They will manage the books, the companies incomings and outgoings, tightly making sure things will be caught in time. They might also work across multiple departments, from the directors to marketing and accounts.

Administrative assistants have a more pro active and responsible role in an office, can work independently and are great at problem solving and troubleshooting. A secretary in most setups will follow the tasks that the administrative assistant lays out for them, rather than trying to troubleshoot or change things independently. In larger companies, the administrative assistant can be in charge of the team of secretaries, but themselves will report back to someone higher up, like the CEO or director of the company.

Both secretaries and administrative assistants can play a vital role in any business, and often form the backbone of the company and the daily running of the office. Both roles require someone with some experience or background in office administration work or a qualification in this. With administrative assistants normally comes more experience, and also confidence in, for example, running a team, delegating and being able to make crucial decisions for the company when required.

A secretary can work its way up to become an administrative assistant, either through more training and qualifications, but primarily through experience working in the role.

Recruitment of secretaries and administrative assistants

When looking for a new secretary or administrative assistant, first be clear on the tasks and responsibilities. If you need someone to be the welcoming face of the business and will do a lot of processing of documentation, you will be better off finding a secretary rather than someone who has been an administrative assistant before. If you know this person will have to work independently, perhaps because there is little time for guidance and support, an experienced and confident administrative assistant might be a better match. Both roles require for someone to have extremely good attention to detail, with great communication and organisational skills and an understanding of a professional corporate environment.

To find a new secretary or administrative assistant, you can either self recruit or use an agency. You can read more here about the different things you should think about when both self recruiting and using agencies.

At Polo & Tweed, we have both excellent secretaries and competent administrative assistants on our books who might be the right match for your company. Do get in touch with us to find out more options and be one step closer to finding the right new addition to your business.