Secretaries interested in working on their own may open offices as public stenographers. The offices are usually located in a hotel near prospective employers who need special services, usually 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. If the public stenographer is located in a good spot, he or she may expect to make a good salary.
The disadvantages of becoming a public stenographer are the instability of employment and the possibility of low income in a poor location, during holiday periods, or in slack seasons. Public stenography demands a high degree of skill and flexibility, too, for each new dictator is new, with unique demands and requirements.
Because the vocabulary of law is highly specialized and matters of form and procedure so complicated, many community colleges offer special courses in legal stenography along with special content courses that give legal background. On the other hand, many regular secretaries receive their specialized training in legal work from legal secretaries where they work.
The work of the law office is exacting; an inaccurate record can be extremely expensive. The hours are long, and much of the work is done under pressure. It is no surprise, then, that legal secretaries are among the highest paid in the field.
Courses in medical shorthand also are given in community colleges for the medical secretary, who must know not only the shorthand outlines and spelling for medical terms but also their meanings. In addition, a medical secretary may act as receptionist for the doctor and may even handle billing. Many medical secretaries also perform such medical duties as taking temperatures and blood pressures.
The Technical Secretary
The "tech sec" works for the scientist or the engineer, employers who are at home in the laboratory but not in the office. They are likely, then, to leave much of the organization of the office to the secretary and expect him or her to handle much of the routine. In addition to usual secretarial duties, the "tech sec" prepares most of the mail from composition to mailing, maintains the technical library, gathers materials for scientific papers and types and edits them, and is more of an assistant than secretary. The engineering secretary checks specifications in contracts against standards and orders the materials that meet the specifications. The work is very demanding, but the pay is high. A good knowledge of and interest in mathematics and science are useful assets for the "tech sec."
Professional Organizations in The Secretarial Field
Professional Secretaries International has a membership of more than 35,000 secretaries in its 750 chapters. This organization holds meetings and workshops at the local, state, and national level that are planned to improve the secretarial performance of its members. It 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.
In addition, it is responsible for the Certified Professional Secretaries' (CPS) program, which is an effort to recognize top-level secretaries as separate from so-called "secretaries." Each year, the Institute for Certifying Secretaries administers a two-day examination in six areas of business in centers located in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. The areas covered by the examinations are: Behavioral Science in Business, Business Law, Economics and Management, Accounting, Secretarial Skills and Decision-Making, and Office Procedures and Administration.
Information about the CPS examination may be obtained from the Institute for Certifying Secretaries, a Department of Professional Secretaries International, 2440 Pershing Road, Suite G10, Kansas City, Missouri 64108.
The examination is primarily for qualified, experienced secretaries, but students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges may take the examination during their last year. Even if they pass the examination, however, they may not be certified as CPSs until they have acquired four or two years of secretarial experience, respectively.
In the thirty years since its inception, almost 15,000 secretaries have been certified. Because of the difficulty of the examination, secretaries preparing for it devote many hours or even years to preparation. The program's contribution to management in improved secretarial performance is incalculable. Some colleges give credit for passing the examination and encourage CPSs to complete their formal education. Many corporations give some form of recognition to the secretaries when they pass the examination, such as a one-grade promotion or an automatic salary increase. Remember the secretaries mentioned earlier who had received promotions to management positions? Some of them were CPS holders.
Legal secretaries are eligible for membership in the National Association of Legal Secretaries (International), which also sponsors a professional examination and certification program. Educational secretaries may belong to the National Association of Educational Secretaries, a department of the National Education Association with offices in Washington, D.C. This group works for improvement of salaries, retirement benefits, and tenure coverage for its members. It also sponsors a Professional Standards Program designed to upgrade the profession.