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Evolve or Get Left Behind

When I (Sarah) started my career in December 1996, the law firm I joined was still using Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS environments.  (If that doesn't ring a bell, you're a lot younger than me)  I had spent months learning Word for Windows 3.1 and had to unlearn it to work there.  Three years later, I had to relearn Word as the whole firm stumbled through the internal adoption and launch of Windows 95 and Office 97.  What I learned then was that to succeed in my role, I would have to evolve or be left in the dust.

In the 1940s, an administrative professional's job was deemed to be successful if they could bring in the coffee/drinks, handle the dry cleaning, answer the phone, take dictation using shorthand and type using a typewriter.  These days, it's a little different.  I only get coffee or dry cleaning if I want to offer that service.  Dictation is electronic, if it's done at all, so I don't need shorthand.  And I'm one of the few that can still use a typewriter at all.

The magazine, OfficeTeam, published results from a survey that canvassed over 2,200 administrative support personnel in North America.  Some of the must-have attributes are:

  • Flexibility/Adaptability;

  • Positive Attitude;

  • Initiative;

  • Diplomacy/Tact

Most of those should not be surprising to you if you're an administrative professional. How we use those attributes may surprise others.  Administrative professionals are still the go-to resource for things such as organizing meetings/events, creating presentation (and/or giving them), and proficiency in Microsoft Office.  Now, we may also be required to be experienced in the use of cloud-based apps (Salesforce, etc.), social media, database management/creation and even so far as website building and maintenance.  And those are just for larger companies.  If you work in a small office or a start-up, you may have to do everything ad hoc.

In the survey, almost 9 out of 10 respondents said that they 'performed tasks outside of their job description' often.  These tasks varied from understandable (get a visa to China in a day) to the bizarre (remove a snake from the office environment).  We can no longer depend on doing our job based on our description.  We need to do and learn more - take on reporting of finances, take initiative to do what is needed without being asked, provide great customer service to our internal team as well as our external customers, and know our specific industries.

How has this profession changed for you? Where will you go in the future? What do you want to learn?

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