Secretaries are multi-skilled professionals that undertake various tasks across administrative, clerical, and client/customer-facing duties. As both a representative of an organization and a key figure in its day-to-day operations, a secretary plays a core role in a company's business support functions.
Ensuring the smooth running of an office, supporting managerial staff and colleagues as required, and acting as the first point of contact are all responsibilities that fall to a secretary.
With such varied duties to fulfill, it's important that those employed in secretarial positions have a well-rounded skill set. This includes technical skills, like the ability to operate office equipment and software, and a range of soft skills including organization, communication and professional judgment.
In this article, we take a closer look at what a secretary should be capable of, the skills and abilities they should have, and how, as a recruiter, you can effectively test for them as part of the selection process.
What should a secretary be able to do?
There is no set-in-stone job description for a secretary, and an exact list of their responsibilities will vary according to the size and nature of your business.
In a small company, a secretary will likely act as a receptionist, office manager and personal assistant to multiple senior staff. If employed by a large corporation, they may be assigned a much more specific set of tasks, or provide support to a single manager.
There are however critical job functions that all secretarial staff should be able to perform to a high standard. These include:
- Meet and greet visitors in a face-to-face capacity, dealing with them personally or directing them to the right person/department.
- Answer incoming calls and emails, providing relevant information or redirecting inquiries as appropriate.
- Implement and manage both physical and digital filing systems for core company documents.
- Schedule appointments, calls and travel, and maintain up-to-date calendars.
- Compile, type up and distribute accurate meeting notes and minutes.
- Prepare official documents, as well as proofing and editing documents prepared by others to ensure they meet company standards.
- Record stock levels and order office supplies as necessary.
- Book and pay for meeting rooms, travel and accommodation, and keep an accurate log of expenses.
To complete these daily tasks, a secretary should also be proficient in the use of business equipment, such as photocopiers, printers, telephone systems and computers, and software applications including document editors, mail servers and databases.
Skills to look for in a secretary
The skill set required of a secretary is diverse. They must be able to work both independently and as part of a team, and must demonstrate initiative whilst responding well to specific instructions and guidelines.
Beyond this, recruiters should look for the following when selecting candidates for interview:
Interpersonal skills: secretaries interact with all kinds of people on a daily basis, including clients, visitors, coworkers, suppliers and top-level management. They must be able to navigate these interactions in a professional manner that suits the circumstances.
Organization: from digital files to physical paperwork, a secretary is responsible for ordering a lot of information. They should take a systematic approach to organization so those seeking information can easily retrieve it.
Time management: to meet the varied demands of the role, a secretary needs to juggle their workload effectively. They'll need keen time management skills to prioritize, meet deadlines and achieve maximum productivity.
Attention to detail: secretaries are responsible for maintaining professional standards across both internal and external communications, so they should be able to spot inconsistencies and errors quickly. They'll also apply attention to detail when making bookings, placing orders and updating schedules.
IT skills: a secretary must be competent in the use of office-based computer programs, software and equipment, and have the confidence to learn new IT skills when a company's systems are updated.
Useful abilities for a secretary
To support the skills required, a strong candidate will also have core abilities that enable them to thrive in a secretarial post.
Abilities to look out for include:
Problem-solving: when unexpected challenges arise, a secretary must be able to weigh up all available solutions and quickly identify those that are in the company's best interests. This requires keen critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Active listening: whether it be taking notes in a meeting, transcribing verbal dictation, or addressing the needs of a visitor, a secretary must be an attentive listener that can maintain concentration for extended periods of time.
Decision making: when supporting managerial staff, it often falls to a secretary to make decisions on their behalf, such as the best method of travel. They must be able to make these decisions with confidence and autonomy.
Written comprehension: secretaries work with a lot of written information in a lot of different forms. They produce, proof and edit everything from outgoing emails to internal procedures, so they need the ability to understand key messages, context and appropriate language use.
Service orientation: a strong candidate for a secretarial role will actively seek out ways to help people. Look for those that are sensitive to the needs of others and go out of their way to meet them.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a secretary?
When hiring for a secretarial post, it's important to identify candidates with a core set of soft skills - the inherent skills that enable them to excel in the duties of the role.
These can be tricky to assess since they're not measured through traditional methods like academic qualifications. They can however be measured through pre-employment tests designed with specific soft skills in mind.
Those you might find useful when hiring for a secretary include:
Time management: these tests ask a candidate to respond to a range of time-sensitive scenarios, giving you insight into how well they prioritize and manage their own workload.
Interpersonal skills: this is a useful test for assessing a candidate's people skills and their ability to effectively engage with others. This is key for a secretary, who will interact with all kinds of people on a daily basis.
Adaptability: a high score on an adaptability test indicates a candidate capable of adjusting to shifting goalposts and competing priorities. This is critical in a secretarial role where the demands of the job are so varied.
Communication: effective communication is central to the role of a secretary. A communication skills test will show you how good they are at interpreting and expressing ideas and information.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a secretary?
Experience and qualifications go some way to proving a candidate's technical ability, but additional testing throughout recruitment gives demonstrable proof.
It's also advisable to administer aptitude tests that give a strong indication of natural talent and future potential.
Technical and aptitude tests useful for a secretarial position include:
Logical reasoning: these tests look at a candidate's thought process and the extent to which they apply logic to solve a given problem. A high score shows someone that will apply the same logical processes to work-based problems.
Error checking: as attention to detail is such a vital skill for a secretary, an error checking test is highly beneficial. It will highlight those in your applicant pool with the sharpest eye, able to spot errors and inconsistencies whilst working under pressure.
Verbal reasoning: on a daily basis, a secretary must mentally process key details, messages and instructions from various sources. A verbal reasoning test will give you confidence in their ability to interpret, evaluate and draw sound conclusions from written information.
Microsoft Word: this is the one piece of software a secretary is likely to use more than any other, so you might want to test for Microsoft Word proficiency. This multiple-choice assessment looks at fundamental skills like file management, formatting and navigating the user interface.
Our recommended test battery for a secretary
When choosing pre-employment tests, you should focus on those best aligned with your selection criteria and the skills you deem essential to the role.
To help you, here's our recommended test battery for a secretarial post:
Interpersonal skills: to ensure a candidate has the social and people-oriented skills required for their diverse duties.
Error checking: to guarantee a sharp eye for detail and the ability to work accurately under pressure.
Verbal reasoning: use this test to measure written comprehension and language skills.
Time management: this will ensure you only hire those who are capable of dealing with a varied and demanding workload.
You'll find more information on how to hire a secretary on our dedicated secretary test page.