Office and Admin

10 of the biggest challenges for administrative assistants on the job

Written by Peter Jones

Administrative assistants are often the unsung heroes of the workplace. They are the ones who keep the office running smoothly or the boss happy and well prepared to do her or his job. They can multitask, possess multiple skills, and must face a variety of expected and unexpected challenges. The ability to face down any challenge and set it right is one of the things that really separate the great administrative assistant from the good.

When taking on such a position (or considering if this is the field for you), it is vital to be aware of the kinds of challenges that lay ahead of you. Are you up to the task? You should know before you dive in.

Keeping Calm

A major part of being an administrative assistant is—you guessed it—assisting someone. It’s right there in the job title. If you’re lucky, you’ll be assisting someone who is courteous, understanding, and patient. But that’s often not the case. A superior can be rude, impatient, unreasonable, or downright explosive.

It is totally natural for such behavior to make you want to explode too, but the seasoned administrative assistant takes a deep breath and figures out how to navigate difficult personalities. This can be even trickier when the person you are assisting explodes in front of sensitive clients, because you will not only have to defuse your ranting superior but also smooth things over with the client. Basically, you’re expected to be cool, collected, and professional at all times.

Striving for Perfection

People who act cuckoo at work are more prone to make mistakes. That is a luxury an administrative assistant is never allowed. The best of the best remain organized and on top of the situation no matter what the situation or workplace environment may be. Everyone else can be running around like chickens without heads, but you must always remain in control of your work. Adaptable, dependable, and precise, all without breaking a sweat? That’s you!

Never Forgetting

On a similar note, you are not allowed to ever forget anything. Ever. Keep a well-detailed calendar and make sure to check it constantly. Set yourself reminders on your phone. Jot down notes on Post-Its and stick them to your monitor. Do whatever it takes to make sure that everyone thinks you have a photographic memory—even if you don’t. They key is to come up with whatever weird systems works for you, and then to stick with it.

Knowing Everyone’s Likes and Dislikes

Administrative assistants most also get into the heads of the people they’re assisting, because not everyone in the office is the same. For example, some coworkers may love to gobble carbs during big meetings and expect a plate of croissants on the table. Others might need their vitamins and prefer a selection of fruit. It’s your job to know what everyone wants and make sure they get it.

Staying Cheerful

Finally, administrative assistants don’t get to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Well, they do get to, but they can never let that show. No matter what is happening in the office or your personal life, a smile must always spread across your face, a skip must always be in your step, and pleasantness must radiate from your voice. You must exude happiness even when everyone else is down in the dumps. That can be one of the biggest challenges, since it is not always easy to get a handle on your emotions. People who can’t might not be cut out for a career as an administrative assistant.

About the author

Peter Jones