Administrative assistants are essential parts of day-to-day operations in many companies — they work schedules like puzzles, act as a conduit between the boss(es) and everyone trying to gain access to the boss(es), plan events, communicate initiatives to the broader office, take care of the nitty gritty of documentation, and keep the logistical ship in order so that everything runs smoothly.
Often an entry level position, the administrative assistant position can lead to a career in operations or project management. It’s also a good way to get a taste of an industry that interests you. If you’re a champion multi-tasker, so organized your life is practically color-coded, and a good communicator, you’ve got all the skills you need to own this job. No experience? No problem. Here’s how to land yourself in the role.
First, understand what characterstics employers look for in an administrative assistant:
1. Attention to detail and organization
Most of the coordination work of an office, be it purchasing supplies, searching for event vendors, or handling a schedule, falls to administrative assistants, so what employers are really looking for is a master organizer who never makes mistakes.
Prove you’ve got this by turning in a typo-free resume and cover letter that highlights any experience you have turning chaos into order.
2. Reliability and self-sufficiency
Being an excellent administrative assistant means gaining trust — and that starts with showing up reliably, always being available to help when you’re needed, and not having to be managed closely, since your main responsibility is taming the chaos of the office, not adding to it.
Start to demonstrate your reliability by showing up on time to interviews, and by responding quickly to communication from your potential employer.
3. Team-player and multi-tasker
Alongside a slate of responsibilities that necessitates working with people across an office, administrative assistants are often the gatekeepers for the people they serve — in some cases, anyone who wants to interact with the boss must first get through the assistant.
If you’re a proven multi-tasker thanks to another job or internship you’ve completed, call it out on your resume and in your cover letter. If you’re good at managing or working with difficult personalities, highlight that skill.
4. A sense of urgency
You’re going to face a lot of situations that need to be dealt with immediately. The best administrative assistants are so on top of what they’re doing that they anticipate hiccups — and that’s because they have a driving sense of urgency. If anything in your work experience demonstrates your ability to perform under pressure, be sure to highlight it.
5. Good communications skills
Assistants are often responsible for a lot of office-wide communication, and may be responsible for answering incoming calls or responding to some customer emails. How well you communicate in these situations reflects directly on your boss.
You’ll need to be able to write articulately and speak firmly and confidently. Your cover letter is a great place to showcase the former; the latter should come out in an interview.
Then, learn the basics:
1. Take a basic typing course
If you didn’t take typing in school, you’ll need to brush up your skills so that you can quickly respond to emails, edit documents, and take notes. There are a number of free typing courses available online.
2. Consider an accounting or bookkeeping course
Put these classes on your resume, and you’ll signal that you’re serious about the daily tasks that are part and parcel with many administrative assistant positions. Land the job, and the courses will help you do your job well.
3. Get your GED — or better yet, a college degree.
Although not required in all administrative assistant roles, having a GED or high school diploma and some college work under your belt will move your resume higher in the pile. Completing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree goes a bit further than ticking a box — it shows you stuck through something to completion, and signals you have at least a basic ability to manage projects, work in teams, and communicate.
Now, land the job:
Pick an industry you like, and start expanding your network in it: tap your friends for contacts, work your school’s alumni connections, and reach out on sites like LinkedIn. Be clear about what type of position you’re looking for, and ask for advice in achieving that goal.
2. Search for entry-level administrative assistant positions
Many administrative assistant positions are entry-level.
3. Take an internship
If you’re still in college or just out, landing an internship is a good stepping stone to an administrative assistant position. It gives you a chance to prove you’re organized, good at communicating, and good at working under pressure, which sets you up to slip into a full-time role when the internship ends, or when a position becomes available.
Temping is a great way to gain experience in the duties of an administrative assistant, while also getting your foot in the door at several companies. And good temps often get full-time offers — so be sure to make a good impression.
5. Start in a receptionist role
If you’re not having luck landing entry-level administrative assistant roles, look for receptionist jobs — good receptionists often have many of the same skills as administrative assistants, but the barrier to entry tends to be a little lower (as is the pay). Hone your communications and organization skills and work toward a promotion, or parlay that experience into your desired role at a new company.