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The Real Poop

Want something done? Ask the administrative assistant. Think the word "assistant" means less power? Check out the Green Hornet TV series from the '60s. Know who plays the assistant? Bruce Lee. Enough said.

Administrative assistants—sometimes known as secretaries, although this is a term fading like the ice caps—can be thought of as the intelligent glue that holds together the inner workings of an organization. Administrative assistants may work for corporations, schools, law firms, hospitals, or good ol' Uncle Sam. But whoever they are working for, the mantra is the same: Know what’s going on, keep it organized, get it done.

Entry level administrative assistants can expect to earn about $25,000-$30,000 for their work as an organization's right hand man or woman, while more seasoned assistants can earn anywhere from $45,000 to around $80,000 a year. Whether or not this is enough for you depends entirely on your lifestyle. If you prefer eating caviar for your mid-morning snack, you may want to look at other career paths. 

But what is it exactly that these titans of typing responsible for? Administrative assistants provide the organization and support services so that a company runs smoothly. They make appointments, write correspondence, and organize files and other information. There are lots of different specialties within the world of administrative assistants, and responsibilities among them will vary.

There's the medical assistant, who may schedule appointments, organize hospital room assignments, keep track of billing and order supplies. Legal secretaries often perform research on pending cases and handle billing hours. Executive assistants may book meetings, review incoming documents and mail, or produce press releases or other outside correspondence. And think about your school administrative assistant. Their power to spot a forged sick note is mind-boggling.

What do you think? Have you got the moxie to assume the responsibility of an administrative assistant? Bruce Lee could do fifty one-arm chin-ups. Seriously impressive skills, but what skills does it take to be an administrative assistant?

For one, organization. Try this: Take a look at your closet. Do you need to select your outfit for the day from a rumpled pile, performing the "sniff test" on your shirts to decide what to wear? Or are your clothes hanging with all the buttons facing left, color-coded in the order of the spectrum? If your answer hovers more toward the obsessive-compulsive side, you probably have the organizational skills to make the cut.

Administrative assistants also need great interpersonal skills. That means people skills. You have to like people; have to like working with them and helping them with their needs. Administrative assistants all have one thing in common: a boss. Hence the word "assistant." If you can't get along with your boss, look elsewhere.

You will also need to be a good writer. Not like Hemingway—banging away at your keys and guzzling rum will most likely get you fired—but you'll need to be able to put together fairly sophisticated pieces of communication. And you'll need to spell everything correctly.

Speaking of typing, you'll need to be able to do it. This is typing–not texting. Your ability to LOL or BB4N on your phone without removing it from your pocket is pretty impressive, but won't serve you when you need to type a formal letter. Typing means on a computer, so computer skills are very important for administrative assistants. Emails and online calendars, spreadsheets and electronic filing–these are the tools of the trade.

Thinking this may sound like a good gig? Does the idea of having your very own moist sponge on your desk for sealing envelopes get your hard drive booted up? You will probably be wondering just what the path is toward administrative assistant glory. The first thing you will have to do is graduate high school. Were you planning to walk into the nearest office to demand your very own wheelie chair tomorrow? Forget it. A high school diploma is bare minimum for an entry-level secretarial position. In fact, it's not even enough. You need to show you have the skills to be the sidekick every office super hero needs. Not a lame sidekick like Aqualad or the ThunderKittens (we know this is going to anger a lot of Comic-Con regulars), but a seriously potent Kato-esque figure.

What kind of skills? First off, you need to be computer savvy. You'll need to have mastered applications like word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, as well as be able to communicate effectively through email, memos, and formal letters. Database experience and online file management skills can't hurt either.

Want to beef up your résumé even more? There are lots of certification and technical programs out there for those wishing to make themselves in demand or specialists in the world of administrative assistants. Taking community college courses in basic legal or medical terminology and practices will certainly set you up for a specialized position. There are even certifications out there like the Certified Legal Secretary training which will bulk up your sidekick cred and get you that key to the file room you’ve been dreaming of.