What Does an Administrative Assistant Do and Why Should I Hire One?

Gone are the days when an administrative assistant was just a glorified term for secretary. Someone who opened mail, answered the phone, brought cups of coffee. In today’s world, smart entrepreneurs and CEOs realize this position might be the most important person on the whole darn business team. But what does an administrative assistant do? From a big picture perspective: enhance your professionalism and productivity, compensate for weaknesses, and increase organization. Sound important? It should. In fact, these factors could be the difference between success and failure.

young administrative assistant at the office

What Is an Administrative Assistant?

If you’ve ever wondered what does an administrative assistant do, you’re not alone. The job title can be a catch-all that describes everything from a $10 an hour typist up to a $30 an hour integral part of the team who guides a busy executive through his day. Since the former doesn’t need much explanation, let’s focus on the latter.

A typical day in the life of an administrative assistant might include managing the executive’s calendar, giving him or her a heads up as to what’s coming next and where they need to be for it. Expect there will be a variety of administrative tasks ranging from the mundane to the interesting. An assistant often serves as the doorkeeper that allows the head honcho to get things done. To speak to the Big Kahuna, you have to get through the assistant first.

Who Uses an Administrative Assistant?

Use of an administrative assistant is fair game for any executive on or near the top of the business food chain. And it’s not limited to major companies. The overworked founder of a small business could be just as liable to need the services of an assistant as the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. The deciding factor likely comes down to whether or not the top banana is so bogged down by the day-to-day demands of the job that he or she can’t find time to grow the business.

At that point it becomes a financial decision. It might be more profitable to hire an administrative assistant to relieve enough of the daily work burden in order that the boss can focus on big picture, business-growing activities. So the answer is simple. Anyone with too much to do and not enough time to do it might consider hiring an assistant.

Ways an Administrative Assistant Can Help Your Business

At this point you may be asking, what does an administrative assistant do that I can’t do myself? The truth is this position can be a boon to your business in a variety of ways. Here are a few of the obvious ones.

  • A Complement to Weakness: Even the most headstrong CEO should be able to admit that he or she has weaknesses, and these weaknesses can affect the overall productivity and ultimately profitability of the business. Hiring an assistant who is strong in the areas where the boss is weak strengthens the entire organization. What does an administrative assistant do? They fill in the gaps in the CEO’s skill set!
  • Adds a Layer of Prestige: Believe it or not, a potential customer is likely to be surprised if the head of the company answers his or her own phone and sets their own appointments. An assistant gives the impression of professionalism. They’re often better at talking to people on the phone and in person.
  • Increased Productivity: A good administrative assistant becomes an extension of the boss. They anticipate what needs to be done to make his or her life easier without being told. As we already mentioned, having a good assistant to deal with the smaller details leaves the CEO with more free time to contemplate and execute the next hostile takeover.

4 Tips for Hiring an Administrative Assistant

Before beginning the interview process for an assistant, ask yourself what does an administrative assistant do and, in particular, what can one do for you? Once you have the answer to that question you can target the interview questions you ask accordingly.

1. Hard Skills

In this high-tech society you need an assistant who knows (or can quickly learn) the office ecosystem. Mac or PC? Do you need high level word processing or the ability to crank out a spiffy Excel spreadsheet in a few minutes? If they don’t have the hard skills, all the soft skills in the world aren’t much use.

2. Soft Skills

These are the so-called interpersonal skills. They’re the ones that go to the heart of what kind of co-worker the person will be under stress and deadlines and the day-to-day grind of a busy office. Are they polite and respectful? Are they enjoyable to talk with or do you duck into the nearest maintenance closet rather than pass them in the hallway? Since it’s not as easy to screen for soft skills, it’s more a matter of trying to draw them out enough to assess their personality.

3. Travel

A heavy travel schedule is a fact of life for many executives and most don’t want to make all their own reservations. Coordinating hotels, flights, cabs, and restaurants across time zones and international boundaries can become a full time job in itself. If booking travel is a big part of your potential assistant’s job description, make sure they know what they’re doing.

4. Office Environment

Try to get a sense of what office environment the person craves. Do they prefer a whirlwind of activity, juggling multiple projects at once, and the phone never stops ringing? Or maybe their preference is the quiet, measured comfort of a small accounting firm where the noise level never rises above a whisper. Neither is wrong but you can be darn sure a person who craves the former won’t last long at the latter.

The Bottom Line

Busy executives and small business owners take heed. The question isn’t what does an administrative assistant do, but rather what can an administrative assistant do for you? For those out there who have already taken the plunge, let us know if hiring an assistant was a smart move. From where we sit, a good assistant might be the best business decision you ever make.

Image from depositphotos.com.

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