Entrepreneurs want to believe they can make it on their own.
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But when the tenacity to succeed meets the practical demands of the small business workplace, owners quickly realize they need help to achieve their goals. Right out of the gate, savvy business owners turn to a group of people responsible for keeping offices and owners themselves on track – administrative assistants.
It's a big mistake to assume that a good administrative assistant is just a secretary with a fancy title. The business community didn't stop calling office workers "secretaries" and start calling them "administrative assistants" because they needed an ego boost. They did it because the nature of business was changing, and today's administrative assistants are expected to fill a much broader role than their historical counterparts.
The Job of an Administrative Assistant
Although responsibilities vary from business to business, administrative assistants are typically required to play an organizing role in the workplace. At times, their role as an organizer may even include managing workflow: Assigning tasks, monitoring progress, and maintaining momentum for specific projects.
In the old days, document preparation consisted of typing letters. Even though administrative assistants are still expected to prepare word processing documents (sans typewriter), they are also generally expected to regularly fax, photocopy, create spreadsheets, manage databases, compose e-mails, handle files (paper and electronic), and use the Internet.
It's not uncommon for administrative assistants to be responsible for covering the administrative responsibilities of specific employees. While they should not be expected to fetch coffee, it's reasonable to expect an administrative assistant to make travel arrangements, manage schedules, and anticipate problems for person(s) to whom they are assigned.
Required Skillset for Administrative Assistants
The administrative assistant skillset is as broad as the job itself. However, technological proficiency tops the list. The modern workplace is a maelstrom of electronic information demanding to be processed, distributed, and stored for later use. To keep up with the demand, a competent administrative assistant needs to demonstrate general computing skills as well as competency in MS Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and office scheduling software.
Equally important is the administrative assistant's ability to use technology to create properly formatted documents. Knowledge of letter and e-mail formatting is standard, but they should also be capable of creating spreadsheets and designing Powerpoint presentations in a format that is suitable for their employer.
Over the years, small business employers have found that the difference between a competent administrative assistant and a great one is attitude. An administrative assistant with a positive attitude can be the glue that holds the office together. On the other hand, a negative administrative assistant can make the workplace a living hell.
An administrative assistant needs to be organized, but also needs to remain upbeat, even when facing the pressure of looming deadlines and stressful working conditions. Pleasantness and patience are key, but a willingness to take the initiative when the situation calls for it is just as important.