Working as a Secretary? Avoid these 7 Mistakes

As a secretary, your main job is to provide administrative support in an office environment. Depending on where you work, and who you work for, you might be relied on to perform important tasks, such as:

  • Typing up confidential documents
  • Drafting urgent reports
  • Communicating with high-profile clients

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When you are given these sorts of responsibilities, your boss will be expecting you to fulfil them in a competent and professional manner. This means that you need to show the characteristics of an efficient, professional secretary. These characteristics include:

  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Time management skills
  • Tactfulness
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work accurately under pressure

If you want to impress your boss, and possibly even negotiate for a promotion or increase at some point in the future, you need to make sure that you don’t make any of the following mistakes:

Mistake #1: Refusing to admit that you have made a mistake

While it might be uncomfortable at the time, admitting that you have made a mistake is the best way to resolve the situation. If you try to cover up your mistake, you could cause even bigger problems going forward — and if it then comes out that you made a mistake, it will make you look irresponsible and unprofessional. If you admit to your mistake from the start, do what you need to do to make up for it, and learn from the experience, you are more likely to be regarded as a mature and responsible professional.

Mistake #2: Divulging confidential information

As a secretary, you often work with sensitive information, such as business contracts, financial records, and minutes of private meetings. You are therefore expected to maintain strict confidentiality regarding your employer’s business (and personal) matters. And if you don’t, your employer may see you as a liability, and replace you with someone else.

Mistake #3: Not taking notes 

A key aspect of your job involves doing your work accurately. When you are attending meetings, when you are taking instructions, or when you are busy with a phone call, you need to take notes, so that you don’t miss any important details. No-one’s memory is perfect — so if you don’t take notes, you run the risk of forgetting important details, which may cause your work to be inaccurate.

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Here’s an example: You’re on the phone with your employer’s biggest client. He wants to meet with your boss to discuss an urgent renewal of their contract, but he is only available for a meeting before next week Tuesday, when he departs for his 6-month long trip overseas. He also tells you that he is only available for meetings between 08:00 and 11:00.

You aren’t taking notes, and you forget about the time requirements when you schedule the appointment. By the time that the client’s secretary contacts you to attempt to reschedule, your boss’s diary has been filled with other commitments that cannot be rescheduled or cancelled. In this scenario, not taking notes could have serious consequences — not only is your boss likely to be angry or upset with you, but he or she may also have lost a valuable client.

Mistake #4: Displaying poor communication skills

As a secretary, a large part of your job involves communicating with other people. You therefore need to make sure that you are able to communicate clearly and professionally. Make sure that you:

  • Are friendly, approachable, and tactful.
  • Make eye contact when you speak to people face-to-face.
  • Speak clearly, especially over the telephone.
  • Keep your writing free of spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Respond to incoming communication promptly.

If you can’t communicate effectively, you won’t be able to keep a secretarial job for long.

Mistake #5: Forgetting to communicate important information to your boss

This includes not keeping your boss’s schedule up to date.

Your boss is going to look bad if he or she is unaware of an important appointment (because you forgot to tell him or her about it), and shows up late or unprepared for the meeting as a result.

Secretary Taking Notes

Mistake #6: Engaging in office politics

While it’s always a good idea to stay out of office politics, it’s even more important to do so if you’re working as a secretary.

Due to the nature of your job, you will be working with a wide variety of people, and much of your work will depend on the co-operation of the people around you.

Therefore, if you want to succeed in your job, you need to make sure that you handle your work relationships in a professional manner, and that you do not get involved in any of the psychological games that your co-workers might attempt to play.

Mistake #7: Not learning new skills (and not staying up to date with new technology)

While you might think that you have all the skills that you need to perform your current job as efficiently and effectively as possible, there is always something new you can learn to help you make an even better contribution.

  • Are you good with numbers? Take a bookkeeping course, and offer to take on some financial responsibilities at work.
  • Are you a natural leader? Take an office management course, and work your way up to a more senior position.
  • Are you keen to expand your skill set? Consider studying a course in project management or HR.

You don’t even need to take time off from work — you can acquire new skills by studying on a part-time basis from home. To find out more, go to:

While developing these additional skills might not make you more effective at your current job, it might help you to earn a raise (if you take on additional responsibilities, for example), or it might help you to earn a promotion, or even to find a new job.

In addition to learning new skills, you also need to make sure that you stay up to date with new technology. Once again, while being up to date with the latest office technology might not seem relevant to you in your current job, it may help you to find a better position elsewhere. Your current employer might be fine with the fact that you are still filing all your documents manually, but a new employer may expect you to be familiar with the increasingly popular cloud-based storage solutions that are now available.

Secretary Working

By making one or more of the mistakes listed above, you may be damaging your future career prospects as an administrative professional. To make sure that you have the skills you need to succeed as a secretary, and to reduce the likelihood that you will make any of these mistakes, you can take a secretarial course at Oxbridge Academy. Click here to find out more.

Want to enter this field? Check out the latest Admin Jobs on Job Mail.

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