What does an administrative assistant do? (Including skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 September 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Administrative assistants are an integral part of the operation of many organisations. This busy role provides professional support and clerical services to other roles within the organisation. For those considering a career as an administrative assistant, it's important to understand what the role entails, and the skill set that's necessary to be successful in it. In this article, we answer the question, 'What does an administrative assistant do?', list the essential skills to be successful in the role, detail how to become one and discuss salary expectations.

What does an administrative assistant do?

Learning the answer to 'What does an administrative assistant do?' can help you when pursuing this type of role. Typically, they support and provide clerical assistance to others within their organisation. They're responsible for tasks such as:

  • answering and directing phone calls

  • arranging meetings and taking minutes

  • managing the calendar and scheduling appointments for people within the organisation

  • creating, maintaining and organising filing systems

  • preparing paperwork and appropriate workspaces for meetings

  • undertaking market research

  • preparing, proofreading and distributing reports

  • updating and maintaining policies and procedures

  • tracking, ordering and distributing stationery

  • arranging travel and accommodation for staff that are travelling

  • preparing and submitting expense claims

This list demonstrates the varied nature of the administrative assistant role. The role applies to a range of different industries and fields. Most administrative assistant jobs are full-time positions, with a smaller proportion working part-time or on a more casual basis.

Essential skills for an administrative assistant

A range of skills is essential if you're to be successful in the role of an administrative assistant. If you're still in school and interested in pursuing a career in this field, try to incorporate two of the following skills into your routine each week to practise and develop them. Many administrative assistants then refine these skills through work experience. The skills include:

  • Communication: Good oral and written communication skills, along with the ability to listen, are essential given the wide variety of tasks that an administrative assistant may do. The role may involve assisting a number of different professionals, each with their own unique communication style and presentation requirements.

  • Time management: An administrative assistant helps to complete work for multiple people within an organisation, each with their own specific needs. This requires the administrative assistant to manage their workload and time effectively to meet both their own and other people's deadlines.

  • Technical skills: It's essential that administrative assistants are adept at using basic computer software like the Microsoft Office Suite. Other technical skills that are commonly a requirement for the role include a working knowledge of payroll and human resource management software packages.

  • Organisational skills: Administrative assistants take complex tasks and break them down into workable parts, developing procedures and pathways that assist in their timely completion. The ability to organise and structure their workday to ensure they complete all tasks on time is a crucial skill for all administrative assistants.

  • Flexibility: The ability to adapt and provide a flexible support service for those within an organisation is essential, especially in industries that are dependent on deadlines. A degree of flexibility is essential when the administrative assistant's work is subject to changing priorities.

  • Problem-solving: Administrative assistants require the ability to gather and assess relevant information to resolve problems as they arise, across entire days and multiple sections of a company if necessary.

  • Multitasking: An administrative assistant may work with and support multiple people within an organisation and address an often unpredictable business landscape. As a result, the ability to multitask and comprehend multiple demands at once is important.

  • Adaptability: Administrative assistants frequently provide support services to a wide range of personalities, preferences and requirements, meaning adaptability is essential if you're to be successful in the role. Administrative assistants that are able to anticipate the changing priorities of those they work for and adapt accordingly are highly sought after.

  • Office management systems: Understanding how an office works and the different procedures relating to everything it does, from ordering stationery to the handling of petty cash, is vital if an administrative assistant is to be successful in their job. This is a skill that's predominantly learned on the job, as it typically varies from one organisation to the next.

  • Attention to detail: The role of an administrative assistant encompasses a wide range of tasks where attention to detail is crucial. This includes sending the right documents to customers, properly handling sensitive data, noticing when the signature on documents is not correct and maintaining a professional appearance in all client-facing correspondence by properly proofreading material.

Related: Administrative skills: definition and examples

How to become an administrative assistant

If you're interested in a challenging career in an office environment as an administrative assistant, you can follow these steps:

1. Obtain your GCSEs

There's no formal educational requirement to become an administrative assistant and most organisations consider the role to be an entry-level position. Despite this, there's been an increasing trend in recent years for employers to hire individuals who have five GCSEs at A+ to C grade, including English and maths. While there are no prescribed subject areas, employers typically place greater weight on subjects that are relevant in a work environment, such as business studies.

Related: How to study effectively (with steps, benefits and tips)

2. Develop the necessary skills

Almost all administrative assistant jobs require candidates to be proficient in using the Microsoft Office Suite. Administrative assistants use the word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation elements of the software to complete multiple tasks throughout their job. It's advantageous if you can show evidence of these skills, so consider practising with the software or investing in a short course. It also helps to practise your organisational and multitasking abilities.

Related: How to write an administrative assistant cover letter with no experience

3. Obtain relevant work experience

Although the role of an administrative assistant is an entry-level position, the competition for entry-level positions is often fierce. Obtaining some work experience in an office environment is likely to help you considerably when applying for a full-time role.

Related: Work Experience: Definition, Importance and Tips

4. Consider technical certifications

Technical certifications are vocational-based courses that involve a period of classroom study and practical experience. They're an excellent way to show evidence of your skills where there are no formal educational requirements for the job you're applying for and you don't have a significant amount of work experience. A technical certification can distinguish you from other candidates applying for the same job. Technical certifications that are relevant to the administrative assistant role include courses in computer software and hardware, office systems, office practice, and managing office equipment.

5. Prepare your CV

Before you begin applying for a job as an administrative assistant, it's important to write and tailor your CV. Your CV summarises your academic record, any relevant work experience you've undertaken, any further certification you may have completed, your job-specific skills and any other relevant interests. It's the first opportunity that the employer has to form an impression of who you are and what you can offer their organisation, so it's important to present this information professionally and free from errors.

Related: How to write an administrative assistant CV (with examples)

6. Apply for jobs

There are many places where you can look to find available jobs as an administrative assistant, from online career portals to your local community newspapers. When you find a position that interests you, complete the necessary application paperwork. It's important to pay particular attention to the skills and qualifications that the employer has listed as being essential for the position in their job specification. Try to show the employer how you might fulfil each requirement in your application.

Related: 8 common administrative assistant interview questions

Salary expectations

The role of an administrative assistant varies between organisations, with some carrying a greater level of responsibility compared to others. This potentially influences the level of remuneration offered by employers. Other factors that may influence your salary include your location and the level of experience you have in the role.

The average national salary of administrative assistants in the United Kingdom is £19,885 per year. Administrative assistants working in London can expect to be paid a higher average salary of £23,495 per year. Working as an administrative assistant in other cities, such as Glasgow, also pays an average salary of over £20,904 per year.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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