The role of the office professional has greatly evolved. These days, effective administrative assistants handle responsibilities once reserved for managerial and professional staff. Performing and coordinating an office’s administrative activities is just one part of the job,
The first quality you should look for in an office assistant is competence. Far too many offices flounder simply because the office assistant is either untrained or unable to perform their job at a satisfactory level. Minimally, an office assistant needs to be computer literate and demonstrate a working knowledge of word processing, scheduling, database, and spreadsheet software (e.g. MS Office). He/she should also possess the interpersonal and analytical skills that the job requires.
Another important quality you should look for is organization. Remember, your office assistant will be required to play a central role in tasks such as scheduling and coordination of resources. To be effective, you’ll need someone who is highly organized with an ability to multitask. Otherwise, you may find yourself with a mess on your hands.
Time management is also a key qualification for an office assistant. A small business is a fast-paced working environment. Your office assistant needs to be comfortable working in such an environment and demonstrate the skills needed to keep up with you without dropping the ball or complaining.
Personality is a quality that is sometimes overlooked when hiring an office assistant. But just because an applicant looks good on paper doesn’t mean he/she has the personality to function effectively in your company. Even so, it is difficult to get to know an applicant in a single interview. It never hurts to conduct a second or third interview – whatever it takes to decide whether the applicant’s personality is a good fit for you and your workplace.
Finally, it is imperative that your office assistant demonstrates the ability to maintain confidentiality. It is an unavoidable fact that your office assistant will be privy to information that other people in the company do not know. Employee salaries, correspondence, personal scheduling – all of these things (and more) are likely to cross your office assistant’s desk sooner or later. Clearly communicate the need for confidentiality to all applicants and make sure the person you hire is someone you can trust.
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.