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The Job

Secretaries perform a variety of administrative and clerical duties. The goal of all their activities is to assist their employers in the execution of their work and to help their companies conduct business in an efficient and professional manner.

Secretaries' work includes processing and transmitting information to the office staff and to other organizations. They operate office machines and arrange for their repair or servicing. These machines include computers, typewriters, videoconferencing technology, photocopiers, scanners, switchboards, and fax machines. Secretaries also order office supplies and perform regular duties such as answering phones, sorting mail and e-mails, managing files, and writing letters, memos, and other correspondence. 

Some offices have word processing centers that handle all of the firm's typing. In such a situation, administrative secretaries take care of all secretarial duties except for typing and dictation. This arrangement leaves them free to respond to correspondence, prepare reports, do research and present the results to their employers, and otherwise assist the professional staff. Often these secretaries work in groups of three or four so that they can help each other if one secretary has a workload that is heavier than normal.

In many offices, secretaries make appointments for company executives and keep track of the office schedule. They make travel arrangements for the professional staff or for clients, and occasionally are asked to travel with staff members on business trips. Other secretaries might manage the office while their supervisors are away on vacation or business trips.

Secretaries take minutes at meetings, write up reports, and compose and type letters. They will often find their responsibilities growing as they learn the business. Some are responsible for finding speakers for conferences, planning receptions, and arranging public relations programs. Some write copy for brochures or articles before making the arrangements to have them printed or posted to the Internet, or they might use desktop publishing software to create the documents themselves. They greet clients and guide them to the proper offices, and they often supervise and train other staff members and newer secretaries, especially in the use of computer software programs.

Some secretaries perform very specialized work. Legal secretaries prepare legal papers including wills, mortgages, contracts, deeds, motions, complaints, and summonses. They work under the direct supervision of an attorney or paralegal. They assist with legal research by reviewing legal journals and organizing briefs for their employers. They must learn an entire specialized vocabulary that is used in legal papers and documents.

Medical secretaries take medical histories of patients; make appointments; prepare and send bills to patients; track and collect bills; process insurance billing; maintain medical files; and pursue correspondence with patients, hospitals, and associations. They assist physicians or medical scientists with articles, reports, speeches, and conference proceedings. Some medical secretaries are responsible for ordering medical supplies. They, too, need to learn an entire specialized vocabulary of medical terms and be familiar with laboratory or hospital procedures.

Technical secretaries, who work for engineers and scientists, use design and database software to prepare reports and papers that often include graphics and mathematical equations. The secretaries maintain a technical library and help with scientific papers by gathering and editing materials.

Social secretaries, often called personal secretaries, arrange all of their employer's social activities. They handle private as well as business social affairs and may plan parties, send out invitations, or write speeches for their employers. Social secretaries are often hired by celebrities or high-level executives who have busy social calendars to maintain.

Many associations, clubs, and nonprofit organizations have membership secretaries who compile and send out newsletters or promotional materials while maintaining membership lists, dues records, and directories. Depending on the type of club, the secretary may be the one who gives out information to prospective members and who keeps current members and related organizations informed of upcoming events.

Education secretaries work in elementary or secondary schools or on college campuses. They take care of all clerical duties at the school. Their responsibilities may include preparing bulletins and reports for teachers, parents, or students; keeping track of budgets for school supplies or student activities; and maintaining the school's calendar of events. Depending on the position, they work for school administrators, principals, or groups of teachers or professors. Other education secretaries work in administration offices, state education departments, or service departments.

Virtual assistants are a new type of secretarial and office support specialist. Working from a home or remote office, these professionals use the Internet, e-mail, and fax machines to communicate and work with multiple clients in different industries. 

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