Job-hunting tips for those in administrative fields

By Eve Nicholas Herald Columnist

Question: I have noticed that most career articles, like the one you wrote for The Daily Herald, tend to give advice to people in the sales, money or marketing professions. What about those of us who work in the administrative field? We need help too!

I have extensive experience in administrative support and secretary positions for schools and offices. I want to make my resume and e-mails instantly impress prospective bosses, but after contacting so many employers, I know my documents are getting stale. Do you have any suggestions?

B., Everett

Answer: Yes, it’s true that sales, marketing and finance careers are ideally suited for career articles. Their daily challenges make great stories. Plus, people in these fields usually produce tangible achievements, such as dollar amounts or lists of prestigious clients to showcase on a resume.

But let’s face it. Administrative professionals are the backbone of every successful organization. You create and oversee the systems, processes and daily procedures that are essential to running a business and keeping it afloat. Your contributions may not include as many dollar signs and percentage points, but they are vital and should not be taken for granted.

Here is some advice to make hiring managers sit up and take notice:

Speak the right language. Different kinds of employers have distinct requirements for hiring qualified candidates. For example, schools often need hands-on assistants who can establish a friendly yet professional rapport with students, parents, teachers and board members. Corporations may seek out executive assistants with poise, exceptional multitasking abilities and sensitivity to confidential issues. Get to know the culture of the industry and organization you are targeting in your job search. Create documents that match.

Differentiate yourself. Too many administrative professionals get lost in the crowd by submitting boring, jack-of-all-trades resumes. Figure out what makes you stand out and highlight this information in your presentation. Try something like this: “Proven ability to represent a company to the media and public with composure, confidence and an eloquent speaking style.” Or this: “Demonstrated expertise balancing multiple projects, changing priorities and tough deadlines without missing a beat.”

Show your value. You don’t need to be a sales, marketing or finance specialist to add real value to an organization. Use your resume and letter to emphasize your ability to boost efficiency and cut costs.

Let’s say that a salesperson at your firm closed five new accounts in a week and brought in $100,000. Very impressive, right? In the same time frame, you revamped the entire filing system. No dollar signs. No new clients. But you simplified procedures (which saved money) and made the workday easier on personnel (which increased retention and therefore lowered hiring costs). These details can be just as striking to a hiring manager.

On your resume, you can phrase it like this: “Overhauled the company’s filing system to reduce manual processes for all departments. The effort dramatically improved operations by streamlining tasks and decreasing labor hours. Completed the morale-boosting in one week.”

One final note. In order to make an outstanding impression as an executive or administrative assistant, your documents must be impeccable. Create a flawless presentation with zero spelling errors. And use clear, concise statements to call attention to your communication skills. Good luck!

Contact Eve at