Getting coffee, typing letters, the stereotype surrounding the profession of a secretary is fortunately outdated. If you are a secretary today, you can do more, you want more and you do more. A nice side effect is that you can move in many directions from a secretary job. But what is it really like to work as a secretary? And how do you ensure that you avoid old-fashioned thinking ‘office dinosaurs’ and obtain the employment benefits you want? Personal experiences, tips and facts. One of my friends is approaching thirty. She is highly educated, drives a company car, and supervises three colleagues. In the evenings she takes a higher professional education course in her field to move up even higher. She is ambitious, earns well and does responsible work. Her job? Secretary, for the director of an international company. This example shows that the infamous dull image of the secretary is a thing of the past. The profession has developed, you don’t have to settle for just typing and getting coffee. Sharda (23): I left my previous job in just a few weeks. One day I was searching in a file bin, and my boss stood next to me: a guy who was about to retire and had quit a few years ago. I don’t think you have understood it very well yet, he says. It’s eleven o’clock and I still haven’t had my second cup of coffee. It’s like feeding a baby all day long! I didn’t sit there, of course. I eventually found a new job as the right-hand man of an independent business advisor. He usually works from home or is on the road. A few times a week he comes to discuss what needs to be done, then he disappears again. I also manage my time and manage his administration and business contacts. He doesn’t need to know anything, as long as it works out.
Exit ‘office dinosaur’
Fortunately, you don’t come across office dinosaurs like Sharda’s previous boss very often anymore. Not only have companies discovered that you are missing out on a lot if a secretary manages nothing more than the coffee, there are also surprisingly few aspiring employees left who set the bar so low. Lara (20), just in her first job as a secretarial employee at a computer parts company: Our office manager is only 23, but she manages a secretariat of four people. Our director is away a lot, so she practically runs the entire office. She is my role model, I want to be as far as she is in a few years.
The secretary ‘career ladder’
Secretarial assistant is usually a starting position with (still) quite limited independence and responsibility. The work as a secretary/personal assistant goes one or more steps further. What that entails depends largely on you, your boss, and the company. With a bit of luck and your own initiative, your range of tasks will be varied and you will work quite independently. You work (almost) independently, manage and make decisions about office management as an office manager, management assistant or executive secretary. You often know as much about a company as the manager or director you work with – and a manager position is not that far away if you want it.
I want more!
For a proactive type who wants more from her job, a job as a secretary can have a lot to offer. This does not mean that most opportunities can be found within a large company. Anne (25): My last job was at a small but growing company in industrial applications. The director quickly noticed that I could and wanted to do a lot and left more and more to me. When a computer network had to be installed, I sorted everything out and compared systems. My boss accepted my final advice uncritically. The company also paid for a professional course so that I could become a network administrator. No one was allowed to touch the system except me, which was quite funny. Before I left, I looked for a successor myself: really fun, recruiting and selecting candidates, assessing what people can do. It was a secretary job, but I was also essentially doing what a human resources manager or computer specialist does. Michèle (36) has the same experience: Secretary is a profession with many possibilities, but you don’t get it for nothing. You must clearly indicate that you want to take responsibility. By taking the initiative yourself and thinking along. Over the years, in addition to being a personal assistant, I have been a system administrator, editor-in-chief of a staff magazine and I have done departmental coordination for approximately 30 secretaries and their managers, including planning and job interviews. Since January 1, I have had my own company as an interim management assistant. I’ve been fully booked all year now. I am also setting up a consultancy firm. I have unknowingly built up an enormous amount of knowledge, which I can certainly put to good use now!
The raindrops, the prospects
Not the most important thing, but a big advantage: secretary work usually pays well. Even in these uncertain times on the labor market, a qualified secretary can often find work. A recent message from the ABU, or association of employment agencies, is a sign of the future. The supply of work is declining, but this is not the case for qualified secretaries. This means that even in these times you can put certain demands on the table. An important tip is to do just that. Many secretary jobs have potential, but if you don’t make the most of it yourself, that potential could stay where it is forever! In terms of job content, but also in terms of the much-needed rewards for your efforts, a proactive attitude is important. Marijke (25) entered the company in a better position than her collage secretary, and also enjoyed her work a lot more. It turned out that her confidence made the difference. Not only did she cheerfully laugh off unreasonable demands from her clients, she was also convinced of her value and made it known what she wanted. Marijke: I was in Human Resources for my new job and said what I wanted to earn. They did struggle, but I didn’t negotiate. Like it or not, I said. So it became nice.
Do a lot, learn a lot
Research by the Catholic University of Brabant on behalf of Schoevers Bedrijfsopleidingen shows that simple secretary work is becoming increasingly automated. That is why the emphasis shifts from ‘doing’ (typing, archiving, simple administration) to ‘thinking along’: you manage data, organize things such as administration and procedures, in short, manage everything that has to do with the smooth running of the company. Of course, you don’t just do that. As in all professions, as a secretary you can get where you want to go fastest with additional training and courses. The training offer is enormous. It was known that you can study at secondary level, but also consider HBO office management and the Certified Secretary program, which is offered by Schoevers to executive secretaries and management assistants, among others. This training includes self-assessment, personal guidance and a personal development plan for further training, coaching and career.