The good, bad and strange of being an administrative professional

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• “One of my managers writes so small that I have great difficulty reading his handwriting. Even after telling him how this impacts my accuracy and timeliness, he hasn’t changed in six years.”
• “My boss doesn’t remember what work he assigned to whom, so quite often he will have two of us working on the same thing.”
• “My manager and I agreed upon a deadline for a report I was creating. When I submitted the report on the date of the deadline, he commented on my lateness.”
• “When we recently had a flood in the office, my manager made us work through it.”
• “My manager likes to invent his own words. Even if I question them, he’ll still use them.”

If any of the above comments sounds familiar, you might be an administrative professional. These responses, given anonymously to OfficeTeam, a staffing service for administrative professionals, are only a taste of the demands that workers in the administrative field put up with.

What do administrative professionals do?
Trying to describe what administrative professionals do is like trying to explain what parents do. They take care of, well, everything. Moms and dads make sure their children are fed, clothed, rested, driven to soccer games, and ultimately have a good day. Administrative professionals ensure bosses make their meetings, phone calls are directed to the right people, messages are returned, guests are taken care of, travel is booked, and anything else that arises is taken care of. Basically, like parents, they have to work miracles on a daily basis.

This is why the last full week in April is Administrative Professionals Week, and this year Administrative Professionals Day is celebrated on Wednesday, April 27. As the International Association of Administrative Professionals explains, the holiday began in 1952 under the moniker “National Secretaries Week,” but evolved to include all of the administrative professionals who keep the workplace functioning.

According to the IAAP’s definition, administrative professionals are “individuals who are responsible for administrative tasks and coordination of information in support of an office-related environment and who are dedicated to furthering their personal and professional growth in their chosen profession.”

This workforce of secretaries, administrative assistants, coordinators and more add up to more than 4.3 million workers in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That equals a lot of headaches for them so that someone else’s day goes smoother.

In their own words
For a change, we decided to let administrative professionals do the talking and give us a glimpse into their busy schedules. Some of their stories are funny, some are outrageous, and others are just weird. Here are some notable experiences of administrative professionals:

“When I was an administrative assistant I had one boss who would call me up at 10 am high as a kite and mumble orders to me. I’d finally just tell him I couldn’t understand a word he was saying and hang up. It happened on a regular basis too. Also, he’d call up paranoid that his traders [at the investment banking firm] were plotting against him and he’d ask me to spy. I would always say no.” — Alison Kero

“I was [an] admin at a boutique real estate company, but about half my job was acting as personal assistant to the firm’s wealthy elderly principal. I recall one time when he was on vacation in Europe, and I received a call just as I walked in to the office in the morning. Apparently he had somehow messed up his hotel reservations and needed me to fix them. He had somehow booked himself into the wrong hotel in the wrong town on the wrong side of Germany for the next stage of his trip, and he didn’t know what to do. Oh, and did I mention that I speak no German?

A fair amount of Googling later I discovered that he had booked himself into the wrong hotel because it had a similar name to the one he was really looking for, and hadn’t noticed things like it being in the wrong town and such. I found an English-language travel review online that gave the contact info for the correct hotel. I then called his current hotel back and found someone who spoke German, and then conferenced them in while I called the correct hotel. I don’t want to think about the phone charges, but we got him sorted out in less than an hour. Because of course, I’m an admin and I can do anything.” – Wendy Zdrodowski, studio manager for Tree Studios

“I will never forget the day 18 years ago when, as a temporary administrative assistant staffing the front desk at my temporary agency, I received a call for the president of the company. Of course this was a great opportunity to showcase my abilities and get a great next assignment, right? The president was unavailable so I attempted to take a message. I was told the call was from the President of the Hair Club for Men.

I really thought it was a joke — perhaps a friend of the president attempting to get past the gate keeper. Remember this was before the cell phone era when his closest friends would have a direct line right to him wherever he was. So I asked the caller whether he was just the president, or a client as well (joking about the Hair Club for Men commercials). He presumed I was talking about our president and he confided in me that he was a client.

I was able to maintain my composure only long enough to get a number where the call could be returned and then erupted into a fit of giggles that stayed with me not only for the remainder of my day at work but also for the many years since that I’ve worked around people and telephones. Lesson learned? Don’t ask any more questions than you have to when on the telephone.” – Shannan Hearne

“I owned a concierge service in New York City for six years. I had a client scream at me for lighting a candle wrong. That wasn’t the most ridiculous part of that day.” — Kero

“I was temping on the switchboard of a small law firm for an afternoon while they had their firm’s holiday party in-house. I was to tell all callers that the party they were trying to reach was ‘in a meeting’ and offer [to send them to] voicemail or take a message. About mid-afternoon, the sounds of drunken attorneys attempting to sing Christmas carols were clearly audible and callers were getting a bit suspicious. I had to go in to their party and say, ‘Look, I will gladly tell callers anything you want me to tell them, but you’re going to have to work with me a little, because they aren’t buying it.’ They got a lot quieter in short order, and I actually got several repeat calls for work there and eventually a job offer. I didn’t take it.” — Zdrodowski

As you can see, administrative professionals have their share of challenges – some good, some bad, some strange. But they always make it work, which is why not just anyone has the skills to do the job or the desire to make it a full-time career. For those administrative professionals who make our lives easier, we send our thanks and we encourage you to let us know your most noteworthy stories.

  1. I had a temporary assingment where the only bathroom available was inside the boss’ office. If there was a meeting going on, you had to wait and I mean wait. The office was also located at the end of a driving range so there was a good chance your windshield would be broken or your car could have so many dings in it that it looked like cellulite.

  2. Working as the Top Account Executive for a CPA firm, I was required to do alot more then most would. The Eldest member of the firm was in poor health and one day he had an accident and trailed it through the office to the men’s room. A client walked in as was cleaning the CRAP up just in time to see the elderly gentlemen come out of the men’s room in his boxers and go to his car. I quit that job shortly thereafter.

    • OMG… I am laughing so hard right now I am crying.

      I am the manager of a Custom Wood Window & Door Company. At this moment I am sitting at my desk reading these & laughing out loud. The owner is sitting right behind me & keeps asking ok what so funny. I just read him your post & told him sorry if that happened to you you’d be on your own!

      Hysterical! Thanks for the laugh!

  3. Alot of young people become administrative professionals when they have no real skills for it. A truly GOOD administrative professional reduces his\her headaches and stresses no matter who work under them. If they are actually good @ being an administrative professional it can be the best job in the world. Yes, every once in a while a customer or employee may bee a pest, but the real problem administrative professionals have is lack of good skills, skills school cant teach. A degree is only a piece of paper NOT proof of any skills what so ever. And that applies to ALL professionals. My uncle only made it to 8th grade and has been the most respected manager for the 40+ years at his company.

    • The admins in my office, including myself, have been asked to do many things we had to do a double take over. From filling out my bosses daughters college/job applications, to ordering her birthday/christmas gifts, to measuring his inseam for a costume, to taking the wrap for the printer being asleep when he wanted something printed ‘NOW!’. He actually made us call our IT company to send someone up to fix it, when all he needed to do was wait two minutes for it to boot up….He has been on vacation in Mexico and wanted a car to drive him a few miles away, and called us (in the U.S.) to call HIS HOTEL and get them to find him a car. He was in the lobby, probably standing next to the concierge…who’s job that is…i mean seriously…do i know the car services in Mexico?? NO. can i get him a car from said service in ten minutes the U.S.?? NO. The other day, he was standing around in the staff break room complaining about how ugly our coke and vending machines were….which came directly after asking how long we had said machines….which had been there for six months…Then he had the nerve to say to get rid of them because noone uses them (like he knows, even though he didn’t even ‘know they were there’)…he sends me in there EVERY DAY to get a coke for him from that coke machine!!! Don’t even get me started on how he has decided that flights exist that simply dont, and then gets angry when this imaginary flight is not available for booking…. I am great at my job, but i cannot work for people who refuse to stop and think for two seconds that the world does not revolve around them, and that just because they want something, they can have it. I cannot wait to be out of here.

    • I like Jose’s comment, it is true to a point, some people have all the training and qualification and do crape. I love my position as an admin. it is four years now, my former jobs help groom me for it as I was a clerk typist and data entry clerk and file clerk before. It is what you make it, you can let the stress and hassel of dealing with the boss’s discrepancies get to you or you can find a way to cope and not only cope but beat it to the top. Like one comment said become a manager yourself and administrative managers are really good.

    • While I agree with most of what you wrote, believe me, a degree is NOT just a peice of paper!! A lot of work goes into obtaining one!! That said, it doesn’t mean that a degree is always neccessary. Life skills are crucial. Just saying…

  4. We had the same thing happen here….a pipe burst in the wall and flooded an entire section of the building. We had to work through it. We had stuff stacked on top of things so they wouldn’t get wet.

  5. My last boss sent assignment e-mails, with no explanations, when other secretaries were involved and knew what it was about, and I didn’t. Given tasks and days later asked why it was done that way. Got tired of being TOLD rather than asked on new assignments. I quit.

  6. Upon returning to the workforce after staying home with kids for years, I landed a temporary job at a bank. The boss was looking for a report one day and asked me where it was. I had put it in a tray on his desk. He very gruffly told me that tray was not an in-tray and that if I wanted him to see something, I needed to put it in his seat. The next day I brought the report to him and asked if he could get up off his in-tray so I could put the report in it. I am no longer employed there.

  7. At the office I’m currently in, I’m frequently asked to do random, off the wall things. One such ‘assignment’ was to watch the boss’s 2 kids while he left the office for a lunch meeting since he forgot to arrange for a sitter. His kids, ages 5 and 7, were given little pellet guns and a target to shoot at which was set up in the conference room. They weren’t interested in their target, though. Instead, they shot at the back of my chair for 1.5 hours.

  8. One place I worked, there was a leak in the roof over the only bathroom we could use. So when it rained you got a shower too. The building was not renovated until after I didn’t work there.

  9. I worked in a large law firm and a friend of mine came over with a dilemma. The attorney she worked for, who is an avid hunter, wanted to ship frozen duck breasts to a friend in the Chicago area. She asked what would be a way to ship it there. After pondering the question, I called a local fish market and asked if they had some sort of package that they mail their lobsters in and they said yes. We purchased a package, stuff the duck breasts in the package and overnight the package (and recipe) to the friend in Illinois. When the lawyer found out the elaborate measures we had done, he said, why didn’t you just overnight the duck breasts in the Fedex envelope. I looked at my friend and wondered, is he from this planet. I could just imagine the secretary on the other end receiiving the wet Fedex envelope with the thrawed and wet duck breast in them. Yuk.

  10. I was an Admin Assistant 20+ years ago and it looks like things haven’t change d at all. I used to have to schedule my bosses OBGYN, nail, hair, etc. appts, do all the copying/faxing, etc. for her volunteer work and even had to get her shoes resoled. One time she had to go to a convention in California where I booked and reconfirmed the flight, hotel, limo, got her registered, credentialed, etc. The flight was late leaving due to bad storms so her limo driver didn’t wait the 3 hours. Then the hotel gave her room away figuring she wasn’t showing up. She called me to chew me out about the weather and nothing working out. I quit shortly thereafter.
    As a PS – I went on to get my bachelors degree and Project Management certification and ironically despite all my achievements, accomplishments, and efforts years later, people still ask me to schedule their meetings for them, take notes, and treat me like an Admin, not understanding the difference between an AA and PM. So much for getting ahead.

  11. My boss asked me several times to burn some cd’s of music for him at home. He paid for the downloads and told me I could keep the mp3′s for myself. Well, he has terrible tastes in music so that was no fringe benefit. The real kick in the guts came when a parent on his kid’s team came in to pick up the cd he had burned for the team party.

  12. I’ve been asked many things: to order things for a boss’ child’s birthday party, to help load songs to an ipod, but the best one was being asked this year to file my boss’ son’s taxes… because, aparently the college grad can’t figure it out.

  13. Wow, an Office Manager here…I can’t believe the stuff we have to go through! That’s my title but I’m really an Admin. I once had a boss as me to do her Marketing homework for her while she was going for her Masters Degree. Just some online research…:)

  14. I did many things for the physicians that I worked for. THey were married and occasionally I played marriage counselor, but the 2 strangests request came when I was ask to explain to their daughter about her period and to order playboy magazines for their son.

  15. I have been working as an AA for a medium sized firm for a few years now. Father and Son as bosses. As in most offices, we share a fridge in the break room. Even though they are quite successful and pull in SIGNIFICANTLY more income than I do, I can’t count how many times they have freely eaten my leftover lunch, drank my sodas that I bring from home and totally devour any chocolate from the candy dish on my desk (they grab handfuls and eat non-stop until it is all gone within a few hours). Never once offering to replace anything. One time I was so angry about another missing lunch that I confronted my boss and asked that he pay me back and he looked at me incredulously and actually had the nerve to cop an attitude with me. He said I was probably going to throw it out anyway and he couldn’t believe I was so upset! If it weren’t for todays economy I would not be here!!

  16. I was an AA for years, thankfully, not now. I worked for 2 different lawyers who through staplers at me, not because of something I did, but they were mad at their clients. My best one, however, was years ago. I had surgery to remove a stingray barb from my foot. I was on crutches with my foot bandaged up to the size of Michael Jordan’s foot. My boss owned an apartment complex on the side. He came up to me with a wastebasket full of quarters from the laundry machines in the complex and asked me to take them to the lobby to have them counted and deposited into his account (we worked for a savings and loan), then get him a cup of coffee.

    I put my foot up on my desk and asked him how I was supposed to accomplish that task. He apologized and brought me a cup of coffee! His wife had trained him well, LOL.

  17. I worked as an office manager for several years and had to baby sit the boss’s three children after school, pick them up at school if they were ill and nurse them once they were home and frequently mediate their disputes. The mother could not cope with them. I also took care of their two dogs including baths and vet visits because his wife did not want to get her car all dog hair.

  18. I was asked by my boss to go purchase the latest playboy magazine… the one that had the interesting spread on Vanessa Williams…. he would have been embarrased to go purchase it. He really was a great boss. Just a bit shy….

  19. I was working at a company as a Receptionist. One day a Buyer directed me to print out ALL her contracts as they were submitted. I politely informed her that it was not in accordance to procedures. That it was the duty and responsibility of the Buyers to manage their own contracts. Well she complained to her boss and then her boss complained to my boss and my boss directed me to make it another of my duties and responsibilites. Well, I am no longer with that Company but employers should not think that Administrative Professionals are a dumping ground for jobs that other employees don’t want to do especially when its their job to do so.

  20. I’ve been an Administrative Assistant for 28 years (10 yrs government & 18 years private industry) and I can tell you that the staff knows who really runs the show and it isn’t the boss. We are the epitomy of multi-taskers and the go-to person for everything. I’m lucky enough to work for a great company with an incredible staff who tell me often how much I’m appreciated. Schooling them to run the show when I’m on vacation is difficult and sometimes things wait for my return. For it’s during my absence that they realize how much I do for them. They have respect for what I do and that is why I love my job!

  21. One day the boss gave a directive to get a Disaster Preparedness Plan prepared by a particular deadline, of course the person she had assigned it to never prepared it. On the day of the actual meeting with the National Emergency Management Office along with the Prime Minister she call for the document. Well of course it was not prepared, she spoke at the top of her voice because she was upset and she needed that document. I (Admin. Sec.) went into her and I said I am going to have that document prepared for you before you go to the meeting. She was like are you sure, I said yes. I prepared the document, she was able to peruse and go to her meeting. She was very pleased at the end of the day.

  22. Like so many young people today, I have a Masters degree but have been stuck in terrible admin jobs because of the economy. I can barely pay my student loans, then go to work to get harassed by management all day. That’s why admins are not always the happiest people!

  23. Administrative management of an evolving humanitarian crisis can save lives, i.e. apply timely for entry visa of incoming expert humanitarian workers, get them security clearance, arrange their flight booking, hotel accommodation, identity cards, internal security clearance to travel into the crisis area, UN flight booking, taking to the airport, arranging for pickup and safe accommodation and staying place in Darfur in addition to a fully equipped and functioning office and that is just the beginning and only for one person of hundreds to be deployed in different places in Darfur…These humanitarian experts save lives by working with all parties to get civilians protected and fed and kept them out of danger and in this way, administrative managers are live savers of the first order….and I am proud to being one….

  24. I’ve been an AA for 30+ years. Back in the days when you could legally smoke in offices I worked for a V.P. of a large multi-national corp. who chain smoked. He walked around all day with a ‘grit’ hanging from his mouth…never took it out, even when talking. The ashes used to rain down on me, my desk, paperwork. Nice. The ‘highlight’ of working for this guy was the day he threw a not-quite stamped-out butt into my wastebasket and it lit on fire. I put it out with my cup of coffee. Ironically, this occurred on National Smokout Day (honest)! LOL!

  25. My first job out of high school was working as an AA for a small company. I was fixing the toilets on a daily basis. I had to make sure the boss had the correct amount of sodas in his fridge at all times. My boss had a job within his church, but would always have me do the work for it. Also one time my boss yelled at me in front of the whole office because he thought I had parked the company car in a place he wanted to park (not his normal parking spot), it turned out it was another employee’s car and the only similarity between the two was the color, he never apologized. He tried to fire me once because his neighbor’s daughter needed a job and mine would be perfect for her. Luckily he had no real reason to fire me and HR kept him from doing it.

  26. I had a boss similar to one mentioned above. She would call and leave messages lasting as long as 10-15 minutes. The messages were left in the wee hours of the morning. Generally she’d forget that she had even left a message by the time she arrived at work. She also asked me to spy but from an end stall in the ladies room where you couldn’t “see the feet”. She was sure other employees were talking about her in the bathroom. I got out as soon as I possibly could – she had a substance abuse problem among many others.

  27. I got a sent a picture of a dress from a high end retail store and told in the body of the email – get me this in a size 12 or larger. So of course I am thinking and hoping its for the wife but not sure about the size since I know the wife. And then I am thinking why is he asking me to call the store when he is standing right in front of it. Of course they dont have her size (they have mine) and then begins the long journey of you have my credit card make it happen. Have one flown in from paris. Um…thats not how things work in the “Real World” and since I needed it by 12 noon the next day – dont even think an overnight paris trip would cover it. After 6 hours of non stop calls, I secured a dress in the US (not the same color), had it sent overnight, the store then packaged it and made it all nice for his pick up. Never got a THANK YOU! I really think he thinks I can build him a seat on an airline, that I am a peasant and that he really is somebody!

  28. This is a little long, but I had to tell it….
    I once worked for a man so cheap that he recycled envelopes fromt he mail and ripped them in half to use in place of post it notes and would not use trash bags in his recepticles (there was a dumpster out back to dump trash in), among many other things. I had only been at this business for a few weeks and one day we ran out of toilet paper so I asked where it was kept. He proceeded to yell at me because I didn’t let him know the day before and he bought toilet paper in bulk – ON PALLETS – to save money and they were stored at his residence! He then went on to say “use paper towels but don’t flush them or they’ll clog the toilet!” Then he let everyone else in the office know this also…… yes, throw them in the trash with no trashbags in them and guess who was in charge of emptying the trash? Later that day he was looking for a “note” he had written (if it was on a post it there would’ve been no issue because the note would have stuck to what it was on). He had me look everywhere and even in the trash barrels. When I told him it was no where to be found he asked if I had checked EVERY barrel… even the bathroom!
    I walked out…… that was my only job as an admin and I would never do it again!

  29. I worked (briefly) for a placement firm who trained/found resident managers for apartment and commercial buildings. I was told by one of the Project Managers that if someone came in for an interview who was unattractive (his words were “face full of acne or something wrong with them”) I was to let him know and tell the prospective applicant the position had been filled. I naturaly refused and since it was within my probationary period I was let go. Thankfully, since it saved me from quitting…

  30. I have been working as a temp for 6 months which leads me to believe they don’t want to hire me because I’m over 50. I can’t get an anwser from them yet they are hiring this discrimination?

  31. I was an admin for a boss who was well known for screaming at everyone for any reason. One day I was called into his office where he proceeded to yell at me for leaving all the cubicle keys in a box and it had been that way since the building at been built. I had only been his admin for 6 months. When I stated that was the job of the Facilities Coordinator who quit, he yelled, “I don’t care! I’m going to yell at you because you’re here!”

    Later on, I asked him if he would yell at me if I threw a pencil out the window the same way as if I threw a million dollars out and he said YES! To top this off, it was Admin. Day!!!!

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  41. Hi Anthony, I hope that writing this article gave just as much joy as it gave me reading it because every Admin experience I resonated with completely.  Thank you for discussing the pains/woes of Administrative Professionals because not enough attention is ever given to us.  We work hard and are often unappreciated.  Yet the lunatics that we serve could not survive a day without us!  I’m so grateful to the Admins who were brave enough to share their stories OMG hilarious stuff LOL thanks for the laughs! :-D

  42. The problem with being a really great executive assistant is that no matter what amazing things you do outside of your ‘general scope of duties’, no matter how wonderful you’d be as Director of ____, they’ll never let you do it or even encourage you because they can’t imagine having to train someone to take care of them. This job is a dream-killer. The “best” thing they’ll ever promote you to is office manager because then they can still use you for their admin. My old boss called me in after the annual party to tell me that although they had given it to some guy, I had actually won Employee of the Year, but that year, he and the owner decided to give it to someone else instead. He was so proud that everyone had voted for me (1st time in history that had ever happened, apparently) and wanted to tell me what an amazing job I did. (?!) Sick… They gave it to me the next year instead, after they drained any meaning from it for me. I collected my award, check and a fat new job offer and said goodbye. 10 years of my life wasted. Onto bigger and better things!

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