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Descriptions of Secretarial Roles

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The impact of technologies on the secretarial role varies according to the way in which they are used. Position descriptors of secretaries differ depending on the specific responsibilities of the job. What is commonplace is the categorization of secretaries as office support personnel. When word processing first developed, the secretarial role was restructured into two distinct types of functions: typing and non typing. The non typing role was handled by the administrative secretary who gave support to principals, executives, and managers in contrast to the typing or correspondence secretary who worked in document production environments. Career paths for upward mobility existed along these lines.

Secretaries are employed in every type of industry, profession, and institution; insurance, banks and financial firms, law, medical and health-care organizations, education, airlines, travel agencies, philanthropic and religious groups, manufacturing, real estate, advertising, publishing, radio and television, public utilities, and retail establishments. However, today, the office is not necessarily within the confines of the organization. It could be almost anywhere-at home, a resort hotel, or an airline terminal.

Secretarial jobs vary depending on the type of firm, size of company, status of executive, willingness of executive to delegate work, kinds of office equipment and systems, specialization, and philosophy of the company. In a large firm with many secretaries, company-wide procedures are established for handling certain administrative tasks to which secretaries receive orientation. Secretaries generally are assigned to a particular department in these firms. In smaller offices, secretaries undoubtedly handle diverse responsibilities and are able to exercise more independence in carrying out specific tasks. They also receive a broad range of experiences. Many positions combine both technical and people support skills. As Roberta Spalter-Roth and Heidi Hartmann of the Institute for Women's Policy Research state, "They [secretaries] provide linkages between different parts of organizations and are central to organizational information exchange."

Chapter 2 referred to the confusion that may exist in job title terminology. These designations don't necessarily reflect the du ties, responsibilities, and qualifications of the secretarial positions. As mentioned previously, firms may advertise for a secretary when they mean a stenographer. Also, to attract a good quality of help, employers will hire as “secretaries” individuals who do not possess the traditional typing, shorthand, and administrative skills. Frequently, when seeking a male worker, one employer may ask for an administrative assistant; while in other firms, there is no distinction between female and male titles with similar job responsibilities.

There is a constant need for secretaries, whether it is in a traditional business office, automated environment, or specialized office. In addition to the general secretarial skills, employers may seek individuals who have specialized training or experience in technical or legal areas.

This chapter will introduce you to the many professional secretarial career specializations to help you choose the career best suited to your own interests and talents.

Traditional Secretary

In the traditional office, secretaries work in a one-on-one relationship with the principal (a term for boss that currently is preferred). Secretaries function as generalists, performing diverse tasks for their principals and in some cases even to subordinate staff of that individual. They need to be knowledgeable about office routines and procedures as well as the organization.

Responsibilities of secretaries go beyond keying (a modem term for typing), filing, taking dictation and transcribing. Duties ex tend into personnel administration, supervision, management, and other areas of increased responsibility, as reflected in governmental job descriptions.

According to the White-Collar Pay, Private Goods-Producing Industries (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1990), the level of secretary's responsibility (LR) dictates the extent to which the secretary is expected to exercise initiative and judgment and the nature of the work relationship between secretary and supervisor. It is typical for secretaries performing at the highest levels of responsibility also to perform duties at the lower levels. The Canadian CCDO Occupational Descriptions are comparable to those used in the United States.

LR-1. Performs duties under specific instructions of supervisor; carries out recurring office procedures independently. Handles a full range of office duties comparable to the following: maintains supervisor's calendar; makes appointments; handles the telephone; controls the mail; reviews correspondence prepared for supervisor's approval for typographical accuracy and format; maintains recurring internal reports such as time and leave re cords, office equipment listings, training plans; requisitions sup plies; takes and transcribes dictation; and maintains office files.

LR-2. Works under supervisor's general instructions, priori ties, duties, policies, and program goals. Performs task requiring greater judgment, initiative, and knowledge of office functions such as the following; prepares and signs routine, nontechnical correspondence in own or supervisor's name; schedules tentative appointments without prior clearance; reviews outgoing materials and correspondence for internal consistency and conformance with supervisor's procedures; gathers information for periodic reports; and explains office procedures to subordinate staff.

LR-3. Exercises judgment and initiative in determining action to take in non-routine situations; interprets and adapts guidelines, including unwritten policies, precedents, and practices. Duties are comparable to the following: composes correspondence on own initiative about administrative matters and general office policies for supervisor's approval; anticipates and prepares materials needed by supervisor for conferences and correspondence; reads publications and regulations and directs important ones to supervisor and staff; prepares special or one-time reports; summarizes or replies to inquiries; shifts clerical staff to accommodate workload needs; and advises secretaries in subordinate offices on new procedures.

LR-4. Handles independently a wide variety of situations and conflicts involving clerical or administrative functions of the office. In addition to the duties of LR-1 to 3, summarizes content of incoming materials, specially gathered information; in executive's absence, interprets requests and helps implement action; and arranges for staff representative at conferences and meetings.

There is still a higher-level secretary that hasn't been included in the previous categories. This individual acts as office manager for the executive and duties performed are comparable to the following: devises and implements new and alternative office procedures; identifies and resolves problems that affect orderly flow of work in transactions with parties outside the organization; prepares agenda for conferences; drafts introductions; prepares outlines for executive or staff members to use in writing speeches; advises individuals outside the organization on the executive's views on major policies or current issues facing the organization; and contacts or responds to high-ranking outside officials, such as city or state officials, members of Congress, or presidents of national unions.

The long-standing definition of secretary adopted by the Professional Secretaries International refers more to the personal qualities required for success than to the specific tasks enumerated above. A secretary is ''an executive assistant who possesses a mastery of office skills, demonstrates the ability to assume responsibility without direct supervision, exercises initiative and judgment, and makes decisions within the scope of assigned authority." Within this concept, a secretary is a highly qualified person who possesses not only a mastery of office skills but also personality requisites of the highest order."

More recently, in response to requests from companies for a prototype secretarial job description, in cooperation with executives and personnel managers from small, medium, and large firms in both the private and public sectors, Professional Secretaries International developed one that encompasses all of the items enumerated in the levels of secretarial responsibility out lined by the Bureau of Labor. However, the prototype did not make any reference to degree of responsibility.

Secretaries in traditional offices are generalists or individuals who perform all support functions, typing and non typing, for the executive, in contrast to the specialist who works in an automated office. Secretaries are basically information workers who process and transmit information within and outside the organization.

They must possess certain intangible qualities that are not easily measured to carry out the duties of the position. For example, the secretary must be able to make value judgments as to the importance of incoming communications and telephone calls, items that require immediate responses, communications that can be answered by the secretary, calls that can be transferred to another staff member, and documents that should be held for future reference.

Another important aspect of the secretarial position is the interaction with executives, managers, staff, clients, and suppliers. Are good human relations skills being used? Is the secretary presenting a favorable image of the office and company?

In traditional offices, secretaries have much more latitude in accomplishing their tasks. They are not accountable in terms of measurement of output and time expended. They only report to the person for whom they work, and this individual usually is interested only in getting the work out.

Traditional offices are generally equipped with an electronic typewriter, desk, file cabinets, and office supplies. However, these are only the bare essentials. The automated office, even to a small degree, has at least one microcomputer-and probably more because principals now key in some of their own work and check their daily calendars on the screen-a fax machine, and a copier. As the cost of microcomputers came down and software became more user-friendly (easier to learn and accompanied with tutorials), even very small firms purchased computers. Many firms are also using software that is designed for their specific needs, such as inventory control, billing, calendaring, and forms design. Secretaries with computers can be more productive and have an opportunity for professional growth by acquiring greater understanding of automated business environments.

PCs and 22 percent use only ETs. The typewriter is used most often for keying envelopes (90 percent), strip labels (72 percent), and preprinted forms (70.8 percent). Almost 47 percent key one-to two-page documents. Apparently, ETs continue to have a place in the office as the following statement reflects: ETs show every sign of remaining a mainstay of the modem office."

Word Processing/Automated Environments

Word processing/automated environments are far more complex than the traditional office because of the sophisticated equipment and systems that are used. In the 1960s and 1970s, large corporations were first to purchase word processing equipment and to establish centralized work areas. However, with the amount of information being generated, even smaller organizations had to find a way to handle business communications efficiently. Firms other than the major corporations began to purchase electronic equipment as the competition began to force prices down. There are manufacturers now producing machines that sell from less than $1,000 to more than $20,000, depending on the sophistication of the equipment. Since the 1980s, electronic typewriters with automatic word processing features and microcomputers with a diversity of software programs for document processing, statistical worksheets, and database management have been placed on the desks of secretaries. This equipment has transformed secretaries and practically all members of the office staff into end users, particularly for word processing. In effect, the desk is now referred to as the electronic workstation.

Vendor statements differ as to which type of equipment will become the leading edge technology. An operations manager from one such firm believes that stand alone will have a significant place in the market because they allow secretaries and managers to have their own workstations, yet can also communicate to larger networks which link office equipment electronically by telecommunications channels to expedite the flow of information. Another vendor believes a network environment where all of the resources of the organization are shared, such as logic, media, and printer, will become increasingly important in the business world. Al though networking electronic workstations can be a difficult technical problem for organizations, according to Amy Wohl in Office Automation, “this issue is expected to be resolved gradually as networking technology advances and as more individuals become knowledgeable about computer networking.”

Manufacturers do agree, however, that a firm must install a system that matches its needs. Logically, large corporations will focus on systems that interact and include some of the following PC-based office applications; word processing, electronic mail, centralized storage and electronic filing cabinets, spreadsheets, database, graphics, data processing, voice processing, image processing, telecommunications, and teleconferencing. Smarter firms do not require the same degree of sophisticated systems. Ultimately, each firm, from small to large, aims to increase the productivity of all office workers, including executives, managers, and secretaries.

There is great diversity in capabilities of word processing equipment. Machines display keyboarded copy on a screen, and some functions that secretaries can perform very easily on this equipment are the following: merging information from several sources to produce one document, automatic pagination, global search (replacing one word throughout the text with another), automatic hyphenation, justification, and headers and footers. In the merging operation, you can store separately a list of names and addresses, a form letter, and selected paragraphs. Information can be retrieved from all three sources to produce personalized letters or general form letters to be distributed throughout the country. You can also use a communicating word processor to send a communication to an office in a distant city, thus bypassing the postal service. It is also possible to integrate a table, for example, from one software program into another.

This automated equipment together with the sophisticated systems that have been evolving have created dramatic changes in the office environment with resulting effects on secretarial staff. Office automation has opened up many exciting, challenging job opportunities with career paths. This chapter will describe the diversity of positions available in word processing/automated environments. This will give you a better insight into the demands of this profession.

Position Descriptions For Word Processing And General Secretarial Personnel

As you read the job descriptions, mentally review the difference between these two specializations. Word processing support-staff handle the keyboarding tasks and document production for a number of principals who either forward handwritten material or dictate directly to the center. Administrative secretaries, assistants, or support personnel perform a wide range of non-keyboarding services for principals, such as scheduling meetings, composing, editing, gathering information, screening callers, and keeping digests of mail. The organizational configuration of both of these functions can be centralized, decentralized, or clustered. The job descriptions that follow are used in the 1989 Office Salary Survey conducted by the Administrative Management Society. As you read them, you will realize that the first two designations include the term "word processing" in the title. In these two positions, employees are employed as correspondence personnel and primarily use equipment to perform their job responsibilities.

A. Word Processing Operator

Uses word processing equipment to input and edit documents; may be required to proofread own work; and meets established quality standards. Employee operates a standalone or shared-logic word processing system that utilizes a CRT terminal.

B. Senior Word Processing Operator

Uses advanced word processing equipment to produce and make revisions to complicated documents, such as lengthy technical and statistical reports. Responsibilities include the retrieval of text and data, may schedule workload, and may assist in training new or less experienced operators.

C. Secretary

Performs a diversified range of secretarial duties in a small firm or for a supervisor in a larger firm. Some of the responsibilities may include taking dictation, transcribing from notes and/or recorded dictation; screens calls; makes appointments; handles travel arrangements; answers routine correspondence; and maintains a filing system.

D. Senior Secretary

Has advanced as well as standard secretarial duties and may work for a small company or for middle management in a larger company. Handles special projects that may have time constraints. May perform routine administrative tasks that are normally handled by an executive. Transcribes complex and confidential dictation and may compose documents. Position requires knowledge of company policy and practices.

E. Executive Secretary/Administrative Assistant

Requires a high degree of secretarial/administrative skills. Works for an executive staff member and performs a wide range of secretarial and administrative tasks. Handles project-oriented tasks under timely fashion and relieves the executive of routine, administrative detail. An in-depth knowledge of company practice, structure, and policy is required.

F. Legal Secretary/Assistant

Works for a legal department or firm and performs secretarial and/or administrative support services. Position may include legal-related research activities. A knowledge of legal terminology is required.

A multi functional secretary is usually an individual who has received cross-training in both correspondence and administrative areas. In offices where there is a physical separation of both functions, multi functional secretaries might be used to substitute for an employee who is out ill, during peak loads, during vacation periods, or for lunch hours. This kind of flexibility alleviates many scheduling problems and assures continuity of work flow, In some companies multifunction workstations have been developed in which secretaries perform both keyboarding and non-keyboarding duties, using electronic equipment to process documents and to handle other office functions such as distribution and reprographics.

Specialized Secretarial Fields

Four secretarial positions require specialized knowledge and abilities: legal, medical, technical, and educational.

1. Legal: Qualified support personnel with computer expertise will be in demand in the legal field over the next 10 years. Legal firms were heavy users of word processing equipment when it was first introduced to the American market, and the field is expected to continue to automate, thus creating a need for personnel with computer and data processing expertise. However, the role of the legal secretary is changing, according to Susan Mann, director of legal support services of Robert Hadley Associates. Secretaries, she says, will do less shorthand and administrative work but will do more word processing and transcription from the Dictaphone as more attorneys key much of their own word on personal computers.

Legal secretaries prepare legal documents such as summonses, complaints, motions, subpoenas, answers, deeds, affidavits, and briefs. They may also be in charge of the law library, adding parts and other material to update editions as the law and precedent change. In addition to the typical responsibilities of taking and transcribing dictation and performing administrative office functions required in any office, other duties include the following: reviewing law journals, assisting with legal research, taking notes on proceedings, maintaining corporate records, filing papers in the courthouse, taking notes and maintaining lawyer's papers in order during trial; investigating cases for trial and obtaining information that the lawyer must have to prepare certain documents; advising lawyer of court appearances and due dates for filing pleadings; and maintaining escrow accounts.

No two jobs in the legal profession are alike, with marked differences between the duties of a legal secretary in a one- or two-lawyer office compared to a large firm employing many lawyers. A special code of conduct is required of legal secretary which is spelled out in the Code of Ethics developed by the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International). Every member shall:
  • Encourage respect for the law and the administration of justice.

  • Observe the rules governing privileged communications and confidential information.

  • Promote and exemplify high standards of loyalty, cooperation, and courtesy,

  • Perform all duties of the profession with integrity and competence.

  • Pursue a high order of professional attainment.
Being a legal secretary is one of the most highly respected positions in the secretarial field. Excellent office skills are necessary and the qualities that enable you to work well with highly trained professionals are desirable as well.

Job opportunities are unlimited for legal secretaries, with choices of specialization in patent, criminal, real estate, malpractice, corporation, matrimonial, probate, or negligence law. In recent years, environmental law and public interest law have also emerged. There is a trend toward increasing specialization in large law firms that employ large numbers of legal secretaries.

If you are interested in diverse activities, the small, private law firm might be for you. It offers the widest variety of work and the greatest opportunity for individual initiative. Large law firms or legal departments of corporations usually provide well-defined work.

An advantage of corporate departments, however, is that hours of employment are more regular; in law firms, no matter what size, frequently the legal secretary is called upon to work overtime. Luther J. Avery of Bancroft, Avery and McAlister in San Francisco, California, believes there is a need for qualified legal secretaries who perform a vital role in the delivery of legal services:

The legal profession and the delivery of legal services is involved in massive changes which reflect the changes occurring in society. Along with the changes affecting the law business, there are many changes in how legal services will be delivered. Despite the changes, certain characteristics of law practice continue; notably, the personal and confidential relationship between lawyer and client; the intellectual stimulation from problem solving and helping people; and the need for quality services and attention to detail.

There is more need than ever for competent legal secretaries today; there is a shortage. There will be a need for competent legal secretaries in the future; and, I predict, a shortage. A basic problem is the need for law practice and law as a business to be better managed so that the career path and opportunities for the legal secretary are better defined and better recognized.

The legal secretary will not have a new role in the “information age” The legal secretary may need more skills or more education, but that is part of the challenge that makes the job interesting. The role will not change because the competent legal secretary is and will continue to be an administrator, a facilitator, the key person on the law office production line who will help maintain the quality of legal products and services.

The essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes of the legal secretary are spelled out in the literature of such organizations as the National Association of Legal Secretaries. The details of skills, knowledge, and attitudes may change in the future. Where the lawyer-client relationship is dependent upon the integrity and intelligence of the participants and is responsive to personal problems, there is a continuing need for the professionalism that is exhibited by legal secretaries such as those who qualify as a Professional Legal Secretary and those who have the same skills, knowledge, and attitudes.

It has been said that one-quarter of the U.S. Army are sergeants and that without them, there would be no army. If suspect that one-quarter of the persons involved in the delivery of legal services are legal secretaries and without them, lawyers and the legal system could not function. If you are interested in employment as a legal secretary, try to obtain a broad education and team management skills and computer skills as well as the skills of personnel relations, human relations, and skills as a technician. Most of all, in seeking employment as a legal secretary, be careful to select your employer wisely because whether or not you will enjoy the legal secretarial profession will probably depend upon the environment in which you function.

2. Medical: The health-care industry has experienced unprecedented growth. The proliferation of medical centers, family practice clinics, extended health-care facilities, private group practices, and long-term care facilities has created a need for secretaries with good office skills, a knowledge of medical terminology, training in administrative and clinical procedures, and a “caring” attitude.

Secretarial jobs and responsibilities in medical offices vary. For example, you might be responsible for business activities in the office, you might be the receptionist who greets patients when they walk into a doctor's office or hospital, or you might be an assistant who helps patients in preparing for examinations or for certain medical procedures such as taking blood pressure and temperature. As a medical secretary, you will have many opportunities for challenges of this nature.

Whether you choose to work in a small doctor's office or in a large medical center, you will undoubtedly perform diverse duties each day. In addition to handling the general office routines, you may prepare papers for hospital admissions, complete insurance forms, arrange for payment of fees, keep reminders for renewals of licenses and memberships in organizations, order supplies and drugs, transcribe and maintain records of the patients' medical histories, and deal with pharmaceutical representatives who visit the office to discuss new products with the doctor.

As you become more familiar with the medical secretarial career, you will realize that in addition to hospitals, clinics, and private doctor's offices, you could find employment with a medical research foundation, in companies that manufacture drugs, in health-related organizations such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and in medical departments of large corporations that provide employees with health services.

In addition to promotional opportunities as a supervisor or manager, you may wish to become a medical assistant. In this position, you would continue to perform the typical secretarial and administrative tasks and would also perform clinical duties and procedures. The employment outlook for both types of medical secretarial careers is excellent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 70 percent increase in employment from 1988 to the year 2000 for medical assistants.

Have you ever thought of becoming a medical transcriptionist, another allied health career? Medical transcriptionists work with physicians, pharmacists, radiologists, nurses, and dieticians, A medical transcriptionist must know the language of medical and surgical specialties. They transcribe medical histories and physicals, operative reports, consultations, discharge summaries, and a long list of other subspecialty documentations. They need a command of medical terminology, very good keyboarding and editing skills, excellent auditory skills, and highly developed analytical skills. An individual who is interested in a career as a medical transcriptionist is assured of flexible work schedules and an intellectually challenging position.

3. Technical: A technical secretary works for a scientist or an engineer, employers who are generally found in the laboratory rather than in the office. Therefore, the secretary is more of an administrative assistant who is in charge of organizing and implementing most of the office routines. In addition to the usual secretarial duties, the technical secretary prepares most of the correspondence from composing to mailing; maintains the technical library; and gathers, types, and edits materials for scientific papers. The engineering secretary checks specifications in contracts against standards and orders the materials that meet the specifications.

Opportunities are available for the technical secretary who has the following qualifications: knowledge of technology and vocabulary relevant to a specific field, familiarity with mathematical and/or engineering symbols, skills in formatting and keyboarding statistical tables, and high standards of performance in production of technical reports. A good knowledge of and interest in mathematics and science contribute to job satisfaction and success. Besides work in professional offices, jobs are available in industry. Some of the fields for which you can prepare as a technical secretary are in electronics, communications, aerospace, nuclear energy, and ecology.

4. Educational: Educational secretaries may work in a variety of institutions; private or public elementary, intermediate, or high school; two- or four-year college; and university. If you like working in an educational environment, then you also may have a choice of location. Do you prefer a small town, a large city, or a college town?

School secretaries may work directly with administrators and teachers. They meet and talk with parents, business leaders, visitors, community representatives, and board members. Duties of the position may range from taking dictation and keyboarding correspondence and documents to taking minutes of meetings, preparing governmental reports, and ordering and distributing supplies. Public schools in some cities require applicants for positions to pass an examination. Therefore, you should investigate this requirement in the area where you wish to find a job.

Jan Barr, secretary to the supervisor of maintenance for the Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland, believes that secretaries need to develop exceptional interpersonal skills, keep up with technology, attend workshops and seminars, and network with professional colleagues.

Private Secretarial Service

For secretaries who wish to operate their own businesses, secretarial services might be the answer. These firms perform a wide range of services for the public such as keyboarding correspondence, reports, proposals, manuals, repetitive letters, database input, and graphs on a microcomputer; composing, formatting, and typing resumes; taking telephone and tape transcription; handling mail (folding, stuffing, sealing, affixing post age); printing labels; notarizing documents;    and handling facsimile transmission. To run a business successfully, you need good marketing and managing skills, as well as the ability to determine charges for different types of projects. Pricing jobs is not uniform in all districts; therefore, you need to be able to determine overhead, expenses, cost of equipment, insurance, and supplies. In addition, you need to be knowledgeable about the geographical area in which you are rendering these services. Such a business can be home-based, known as electronic cottages, can be conducted in a storefront, or can be located in a professional building. This is an excellent small business venture for individuals who were secretaries at one time, for they have the right mix of technical, administrative, and interpersonal skills.

What are some of the advantages for the user of these services? The owner of a newly established business who doesn't have the cash flow yet can use these services when needed; it is less expensive than increasing clerical staff; and the customer is charged only for productive time.

Secretarial services as a business has grown so tremendously in the past few years that companies performing these services have organized a professional association as a forum for exchanging ideas and keeping updated on trends in business and technology. More data on this organization are found later in this chapter.

Public Stenographer

The public stenographer is another kind of service rendered to the public by secretaries who wish to run their own business. The offices usually are located in a hotel near prospective employers who need special services in a hurry. Public stenographers serve only those who bring work to them; and because they usually do only small jobs for a traveling population of employers, they can charge rather high rates for piecework. Public stenographers are usually also notary publics, those authorized by the state to witness signatures. For this service they receive a small fee. Much of their work is of a legal nature, and secretaries contemplating careers as public stenographers should be experienced in legal work.

The major advantages of becoming a public stenographer are freedom from supervision and a wide variety of work assignments. One never knows what type of job will be brought in. You can make a very good salary if you are located in a high-paying area. The disadvantages of becoming a public stenographer are the instability of employment and the possibility of low income during holiday periods and slack seasons, or of working in a poor location. Public stenography demands a high degree of skill and flexibility, for each new dictator is different, with unique demands and requirements.

Court Reporter

A highly challenging position for a person with knowledge of specialized terminology in the legal, medical, insurance, and engineering fields is the court reporter. In this position, the reporter records verbatim statements made at legal proceedings at the city, state, and federal levels and presents their record in the official transcript. There are also free-lance reporters who record depositions, or out-of-court testimony for attorneys, as well as take proceedings of meetings and conventions. With modem technology, most reporters now dictate notes on magnetic tapes that a typist can transcribe later. An increasing number of reporters have begun to use Computer-Aided Transcription (CAT). This simply means that a computer is used to transcribe the reporter's stenotype notes which were captured electronically in digital form. The transcript is edited on the computer, which also functions at this level as a word processor.

Business-oriented individuals have been establishing court-reporting firms, a growing industry to serve the legal community. They hire certified reporters, transcribers, and support personnel. Governmental court reporters qualify by examination. However, if your preference is private industry, then you may wish to apply for a position with a reporting corporation,

Certification And Licensing

Both the Professional Secretaries International and the National Association of Legal Secretaries sponsor examinations to certify secretaries. The purpose of each of these organizations will be explained later.

A secretary who earns certification is usually a highly motivated person who has superior skills and knowledge. This is viewed by other professionals and employers as a level of achievement that warrants recognition. For secretaries, certification is equal in importance to the CPA designation for accountants.

Therefore, if you want to reach the highest level in the secretarial profession, then you should work towards this achievement.

Certified Professional Secretary (CPS)

The CPS is the registered service mark of the Certified Professional Secretary and is the standard of measurement used to denote secretarial proficiency. Applicants for this rating must pass a two-day, six-part examination that is administered twice a year, in May and November, by the Institute for Certifying Secretaries, a branch of the Professional Secretaries International. In the 40 years since its inception, 30,000 secretaries have attained this certification. Candidates must meet minimum requirements in education and work experience in addition to having one continuous year of employment with the same employer during the five years before taking the examination.

Guidelines for the necessary experience follow:
  • High school graduate must have six years of verified secretarial experience immediately prior to approval date

  • One-year post high school formal education equaling 30 credits; four years of verified secretarial experience

  • Two year college graduate of 60 credits beyond high school; three years of verified secretarial experience

  • Three years of post high school formal education equaling 90 credits; three years of verified secretarial experience

  • Four-year college graduate; two years of verified secretarial experience Students in two- and four-year colleges may take the examination during their last year; however, they will not be certified until they have acquired the secretarial experience.
The examination is based on an analysis of secretarial activities and is administered in centers located in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. The six parts of the examination and the focus of questions in each section are described as follows;
  1. Behavioral science in business. Tests the candidate's understanding of principles of human relations and of self, peers, subordinates, and superiors. It focuses on the fundamental of one's own needs and motivations, nature of conflict, problem-solving techniques, essentials of super vision and communication, leadership styles, and understanding of the informal organization.

  2. Business law. Measures the secretary's knowledge of principles of business law as they may operate in daily work. This part also tests knowledge of content and implications of the operation of governmental controls on business.

  3. Economics and management. This section consists of two major subject areas: economics (35%) and management (65%). An understanding of the basic concepts underlying business operations is emphasized.

  4. Accounting. Measures knowledge of the elements of the accounting cycle; ability to analyze financial statement accounts; ability to perform arithmetical operations associated with accounting, computing interest and discounts; and summarizing and interpreting financial data.

  5. Office Administration and Communication. Measures proficiency in subject matters related to the secretarial position: 50 percent office administration (travel, office management, records management, and reprographics) and 50 percent in written business communications (editing, abstracting, and preparing communications in final for mat).

  6. Office technology. This part tests the secretary's responsibilities that have evolved from data processing, communications media, advances in office management, records management, office systems, and technological applications.
Many employers have expressed an interest in the program because it upgrades secretarial skills and encourages professionalism. Typical comments from executives follow. Patricia Miller of Xerox Corporation believes the CPS program helps "the company's secretaries enhance their qualifications, increase their contribution to the corporation, and improve the image of the secretarial profession."

Clayton Sauers, vice-president of WestPoint Pepperell in Georgia, admires those secretaries taking the CPS examination so that **they can grow, make their jobs more interesting, and become better equipped to handle more responsibility in a secretarial or administrative role."

Many firms encourage the CPS program by company reimbursement programs for tuition fees, textbooks, preparatory courses, and examination charges; others offer a monetary bonus and awards. Some give priority for managerial positions to certified secretaries, and others give a salary increase or a one-grade promotion. Because of the difficulty of the examination, secretaries who prepare for it devote many hours or even years to preparation. Some colleges give credit for passing this examination and encourage CPSs to complete their formal education. Each college establishes its own criteria for awarding degree credit. The American Council on Education has been evaluating academic credit and does make suggestions. You can write for information to The Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction, Office on Educational Credit, American Council on Education, One DuPont Circle, NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Information on the CPS examination, application, and study materials can be ordered from the Institute for Certifying Secretaries, Department of Professional Secretaries International, 10502 NW Ambassador Drive, PO Box 20404, Kansas City, Missouri 64195-0404.

Professional Legal Secretary (PLS)

Certification as a Professional Legal Secretary also can be attained after having worked in this capacity for at least five years and having passed a high-level two-day, seven-part examination that is given in colleges and universities throughout the United States. This examination is administered by the PLS Certifying Board of the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), (NALS), which consists of two attorneys who are members of the American Bar Association, two educators, and four members of NALS who are PLSs. This examination covers all phases of legal work, and the contents measure the skills, knowledge, and techniques needed to work in a law office. Candidates are examined in the following areas:
  1. Written communication skills and knowledge. Tests language abilities (grammar, word usage, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, composition, and word division).

  2. Ethics. Evaluates ability to handle problem situations involving contacts with employer, clients, the public, and coworkers. Ethical considerations are included.

  3. Legal secretarial procedures. Measures general administrative ability of secretary in handling the mail and telephone; selection of office supplies and equipment; using sources of information; applying computer technology; and understanding of word processing equipment.

  4. Legal secretarial accounting. Measures knowledge of general banking and financial activities as well as accounting theory and terminology.

  5. Legal terminology, techniques, and procedures. Focuses on legal terms, legal procedures, legal bibliography, and basic information about preparation of legal documents.

  6. Exercise of judgment. Evaluates examinee's decision-making ability.

  7. Legal secretarial skills. Tests skill in following instructions and in taking and preparing legal documents.
If you are interested in legal secretarial employment, then pursue certification, for the PLS is a testimony of competence in your profession. It is the key that opens doors. For further information about the Professional Secretarial Programs, write to the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), 2250 East 73 Street, Suite 550, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74136.

A new pilot certification program for beginning level secretaries became effective May 1, 1991. A candidate who meets all of the requirements becomes an Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS).

Certified Medical Assistant (CMA)

The medical secretary can strive to achieve the Certified Medical Assistant designation which certifies professional competence of individuals. The American Association of Medical Assistants, in cooperation with the National Board of Medical Examiners, which serves as educational test consultant, sponsors this examination. It is given twice yearly at many test centers nationwide. In addition to this general certification, specialty certification in administrative (CMA-A) can be achieved. The examination tests general, medical, administrative, and clinical knowledge. For information on these programs, write to the American Association of Medical Assistants, 20 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1575, Chicago, Illinois 60606.

Professional Organizations

Professional Secretaries International (PSI)

The Professional Secretaries International (PSI) is the world's leading organization for secretaries and has over 40,000 members on five continents and in more than 64 countries. This organization sponsors seminars and workshops at the local, state, and national level that are organized to develop the personal and professional expertise of secretaries. The organization sponsors a Future Secretaries Association Program, mostly at the high school level, to inform students about the secretarial profession and to interest them in entering the field. Since 1986, the Collegiate Secretaries International has become a student association of PSI under the directorship of the Institute for Educating Secretaries. As you read previously in the chapter, the Certified Professional Secretaries (CPS) program is one of its major activities.

The Research and Educational Foundation provides funds for projects that benefit secretaries, management, and the educational field. In addition, the organization publishes nine issues per year of The Secretary, which is mailed to all members.

National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS)

Legal secretaries are eligible for membership in the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), NALS, which has over 566 local chapters and approximately 17,000 members. As you read previously in this chapter, the organization sponsors a professional examination and certifying program. You may be asking yourself how you will benefit from being a NALS member.

Most important is to make friends and contacts in the profession with whom you may share ideas and experiences. You also receive a copy of The NALS Docket, a bimonthly publication. As a member, you may attend seminars and educational programs held locally and throughout the United States. The Continuing Legal Education Council plans programs on the national level.

Organizations for Medical Secretaries

Medical assistants may join the American Association of Medical Assistants, an organization dedicated to the professional advancement of its constituents. It has over 400 chapters with a nationwide membership over 12,000. As a member, you are entitled to participate in their continuing education services, usually seminars and workshops, for which you can earn Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credit. Another way to earn CEU credit is by successfully completing examinations that accompany the Guided Study Programs. These are home study courses that enable medical assistants to work independently at their own rate of speed. Three courses are now available: Law for the Medical Office, Human Relations, and Urinalysis Today.

An official bimonthly journal, The Professional Medical Assistant, and the AAMA Network, a quarterly newsletter, are other benefits of membership.

In Ontario, Canada, medical secretaries are eligible for membership in the Ontario Medical Secretaries Association (O.M.S.A.). This is a provincial organization whose primary goal is to expand the knowledge base of its members and keep them abreast of rapidly changing office methods and equipment. The association sponsors a Certification Program for qualified applicants to achieve professional status as a Certified Medical Secretary (CMS).

National Association of Educational Office Personnel

Educational secretaries may belong to the National Association of Educational Office Personnel. This group works for increased recognition for educational office personnel. It sponsors a Professional Standards Program (PSP) to encourage members to grow profession ally and to keep up-to-date in the profession and field of education. It also has an Awards Program in which it honors outstanding administrators and office professionals, individuals for distinguished service, and affiliated associations for outstanding newsletters and magazines. A benefit along with membership is The National Educational Secretary, which is published four times a year.

National Association of Secretarial Services (NASS)

A more recent organization is the National Association of Secretarial Services (NASS), which represents secretarial service owners and managers. It has 1,200 members and 40 state groups. Active membership is granted to businesses that are engaged in full-time services. The association publishes a newsletter that includes diverse articles pertaining to the membership's type of business. It also holds workshops and seminars and shares referrals and training. For information about this organization, you may write to 100 Second Avenue South, Suite 604, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701.


The proliferation of microcomputers has affected the secretarial work environment but has not reduced the demand for qualified personnel. More than 570,000 secretarial positions will be available each year during the 1990s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This adds up to opportunities for many individuals; however, many jobs will not be filled because there is a shortage of secretaries. Yet, starting salaries for entering executive secretaries have more than doubled in 10 years.

Salaries for secretaries vary greatly, reflecting differences in level of skill, experience, and responsibility. In addition, salaries in different parts of the country vary depending on demand, current salary scales, and availability of personnel. Generally, compensation in large cities is higher than in small towns, and the earnings on the East and West Coasts are above the earnings in the Midwest or South. Those cities that offer the highest salaries are New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Also, salaries of secretaries tend to be highest in transportation and utilities and lowest in retail trade, finance, insurance, and real estate. It is significant that secretarial salaries reach a high point that exceeds those of all other clerical positions.

You will also be interested in glancing at the average salaries paid in different parts of the country. This might be factor you will consider when you lode for a job. If you wish to relocate, notice the difference in salary between the East and the West Coasts, particularly between New York City and San Francisco, whereas the average weekly income for all secretaries in New York City is $564.00, in San Francisco, it is $508.00.

Similarly, at the highest level, a secretary earns an average of $707.00 in the East; on the West Coast, it is slightly lower, $702.50. In manufacturing industries in New York City, you can earn as high as $720.00. This figure was not available for the West Coast.

You will also want to bear in mind that salary differentials may reflect the increased cost of living in a given area. Investigate the fixed expenses of rent, taxes, and other significant items that may be higher than the area in which you presently live before you consider a move. A list of the expenses where you presently live can be used as starting point. You can request information from the Chamber of Commerce where you are thinking of moving, from friends, and from such organizations as church groups, civic organizations, schools, and banks.

More interesting data on five job classifications were collected from a 1990 Secretarial Want Ad Survey by Dartnell Corporation's Institute of Business Research and From Nine to Five. Data were gathered and tabulated from 4,500 individual ads in a Sunday edition of newspapers in 14 U.S. cities and a Saturday edition of newspapers in three Canadian cities; Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. The wide range of salaries reflected in the advertisements, depends on region, skill, experience, and responsibilities of the position.

Reports the Canadian findings of a 1988 Newspaper Help Wanted Ad Survey conducted by The Secretary and sponsored by Professional Secretaries International. Salaries in the Canadian ads ranged from C$12,000 to C$36,000. Average salary increases over the previous year for executive secretary were 5.8 percent; secretary, 11.2 percent; and secretary/receptionist, 16.7 percent. Interestingly, salaries for word processors decreased by 4.3 percent. Salaries were not given for the previous year for administrative secretaries or administrative secretaries.

Fringe Benefits

Although fringe benefits are considered apart from salaries, nevertheless they have a substantial money value. Consider the cost of hospitalization, medical insurance, vacation benefits, life insurance, and retirement plans. The pre established benefits that were provided by the company are now being replaced in some companies by pick-and-choose plans or "cafeteria" plans, as they are frequently called. Other companies now require employees to pay for a portion of their health coverage. Plans will vary as they are adopted by employers. For example, a firm might give its employees a core of basic benefits, such as those mentioned above; then from another group of options, employees may select benefits up to a maximum amount.

The Wage Gap

Traditionally, clerical work has been performed by women. Although women have been fighting for equality, and some progress has been made, a gap still exists between women's and men's earnings. Third quarter 1990 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women's median earnings are now 71 percent of median earnings for men, slightly lower than the previous year but above the 64 percent figure of 10 years ago. A look at earnings for the same period for administrative support positions, including clerical, show median weekly earnings of women are $335 compared to $439 for men.
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