What Is an Administrative Assistant? (And How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 23 August 2021

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.

The workplace thrives when support staff are successful and efficient. Administrative assistants make this possible by performing necessary duties in support of the office and other staff members. If you're looking for a position that supports others through clerical work, consider working as an administrative assistant. In this article, we define the role, explain the job duties, average salary and required skills and discuss how to begin working in this position.

What is an administrative assistant?

An administrative assistant is an office support professional who provides clerical support to a company or organisation. This individual often serves as the first point of contact for internal and external parties. These professionals help maintain the function and operations of a workplace by managing and dispersing relevant information to the rest of the office.

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What does an administrative assistant do?

Assistants in the administrative field are responsible for a wide range of duties to support people in the office. However, the specific duties may vary based on the industry or level of responsibility included in the position. Some general administrative and clerical tasks performed by people in this role include:

  • Managing a complex calendar of professional meetings, personal appointments and travel for several individuals

  • Answering and transferring phone calls, appropriately forwarding messages and following up on enquiries

  • Handling incoming correspondence, including emails, memos, faxes and mail, sometimes requiring a high level of discretion

  • Conducting industry-specific research, organising important files and drafting supporting documentation for presentations, conferences and meetings

  • Preparing and proofreading reports and other industry documents relevant to the company, organisational or specific group, sometimes involving data analysis

  • Tracking office inventory, including ordering supplies, coordinating deliveries and managing vendor contracts

Typical salary

Many administrative assistants are full-time employees, though some may work part-time and as temporary employees. Salaries for this position vary depending on your level of education, relevant work experience, place of employment, company size and industry. Depending on the status of the employee, a company may include benefits along with the salary. The average base salary for this position is $14,279 per month.

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Requirements and qualifications

Assistant roles have a few key requirements and qualifications to ensure that the employee completes their work successfully. While some positions may provide training on-site after you're hired, it's typical for employers to require foundational and specific qualifications, including:

Education

At an entry-level, assistants need a minimum of a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) before working in this position. While some upper-level assistant roles may require past work experience, others might suggest an advanced degree. If you choose to pursue an advanced degree, consider studying business administration, communications or a similar topic. A higher level of education may increase your competitive edge when applying for a position.

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Technical training

Administrative roles entail technical work, such as filing or basic computer knowledge. Some employers may require experience or certifications in common skills, such as typing, record-keeping, computer software programmes and other relevant business functions. While certification for these skills isn't always required, it may increase your chances of getting an interview for a position.

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Top skills needed for the role

Because of the various office tasks that assistants take responsibility for, there are a few key skills that help with the position. Administrative assistants require various skills to succeed in an office, including:

Organisation

This skill involves creating simple methods to handle complex tasks and maintaining order in the workplace. Assistants responsible for clerical tasks use organisational skills to file documents accurately, filter incoming and outgoing communication and establish processes for completing daily responsibilities. They also use organisational skills to track the activities, schedules and projects for each of the professionals they support.

Time management

This skill includes organising a series of daily tasks and prioritising certain responsibilities based on importance, length of completion time and deadlines. Administrative assistants use time management to plan their days, weeks, months and quarters to complete tasks in order and on time. They also use this skill when performing calendar management to best schedule meetings, travel and other appointments each day for each individual schedule they may manage.

A large portion of administrative tasks involves scheduling meetings, appointments or office events. It's important for people in this position to have scheduling skills to ensure that the supported employees have organised and orderly schedules. This helps the entire office keep to a clear timetable, which improves the function of the workplace.

Written communication

This important skill involves interpreting written messages and writing appropriate responses. These professionals use written communication to coordinate events and meetings, delegate responsibilities and make requests. Written communication also includes synthesising information and using business writing and professional etiquette when creating messages, reports and other important documentation. Excellent grammar and proofreading abilities are important in effective written communication.

Verbal communication

This soft skill requires professionalism and proper workplace etiquette to speak and share clear messages. It also involves active listening to understand a speaker's message to correctly and appropriately respond or take action. People in assistant roles use verbal communication when speaking over the phone and in person. They use cues, such as body language and tone, to gauge interactions and respond appropriately.

Adaptability

This quality allows administrative assistants to serve a variety of personalities and manage several others' preferences. Highly adaptable individuals typically anticipate the needs of the many professionals they support and switch tasks quickly when priorities shift. Adaptability equips individuals to multi-task and accomplish work successfully throughout the day.

Event planning skills

It's helpful for these professionals to have event planning skills for hosting workplace events such as meetings, office parties or conferences. Successful and professional events typically bolster the reputation of the company. Event planning skills include other administrative skills like organisation, attention to detail, budgeting and advertising.

Administrative assistant work environment

These professionals work in a variety of office settings with the following characteristics:

  • Sitting at a desk for extended periods of time

  • Using computers, printers, fax machines and other common office equipment

  • Communicating regularly with other internal administrative staff

  • Facilitating communication between external parties

  • Monitoring the shipping and arrival of vendor deliveries

Common industries

Normally, the skills, qualities and experience of these professionals are transferable to a variety of industries. These administrative employees commonly offer their support in the following industries:

  • Businesses and corporations

  • Government agencies

  • Education, including primary schools and higher education institutions

  • Nonprofit organisations

  • Research science and healthcare organisations

How to become an administrative assistant

Here are the most common steps to follow in order to become a qualified administrative assistant:

1. Pursue education

Before starting work in this field, it's useful to pursue education. At a minimum, completing your Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) prepares you to begin applying for these types of positions. Consider earning a skills-based certificate to help you stand out from other applicants. You may continue to higher education if you so choose.

2. Gain relevant work experience

Once you've completed any education, gain relevant work experience through internships or entry-level positions. It's typical for employers to require previous work experience before beginning work in an administrative role. Consider choosing jobs that prepare you for advanced administrative duties. You might work as a filing clerk, data entry specialist or receptionist to gain relevant experience to advance in your career.

4. Prepare your resume

It's important to include your highest level of education, any relevant certifications and your work history on a resume. Your work experience section typically includes the company name, the dates you worked there and a summary of your responsibilities, contributions and achievements. An effective resume may help you find the administrative assistant role you want. Other tips for writing an effective resume include:

  • Add your personal contact information

  • Use specific details of your work experience

  • Include measurable and quantifiable outcomes from past professional accomplishments

  • Consider including a cover letter

  • Add a list of both technical and general skills

  • Keep your resume brief

  • Use keywords from the job posting

  • Proofread your documents before submitting

5. Apply to various companies and organisations

It's best to submit your application to various businesses to increase your chances of hearing back about an interview. You might turn in your application in person or virtually depending on the company. Consider choosing a business that aligns with your values to ensure there's a good fit between yourself and the organisation.

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.