back to blog

Administrative Staffing: Mad Men Skills That Still Rule Today

Administrative staffing isn’t what it used to be…or is it?  Just how different is admin staffing since the days of Mad Men, when shorthand ruled and fetching coffee was a major job function? (Honestly, here’s a reminder from the New York Times documenting the perils secretaries faced when refusing to serve coffee in the workplace.)  In-demand skills come and go, but there are several attributes that remain resilient. In the post, we celebrate Administrative Professionals Week (April 21-27) as HT Staffing Sales Director Claire Reynolds offers insights into the timeless virtues administrative recruiters still seek.

The Changing Face of Admins

Fifty years ago, administrative staffing looked much different. For every executive, high-level manager or attorney, there was a secretary assigned to that person. Now, it’s more common for one administrative assistant to support a group of professionals. In basketball terms, it’s like replacing one-on-one defense with zone defense. One area in which Reynolds has seen this paradigm shift played out prominently is in the legal profession.

“Attorneys who have been practicing for, say, 30 years continue to look for executive assistants who are proficient in shorthand and performing other traditional secretarial duties like scheduling appointments and sending documents,” she explains. “But we’re seeing that younger attorneys use technology so efficiently, one-on-one admin support in these areas is no longer needed.”

Instead, today’s administrative professional is a highly accountable team member, serving as project manager, advisor, and strategic thinker. He or she is responsible for budgets and managing office facilities by juggling multiple outsource relationships and delegating internally. In short, administrative assistants have more esteemed power than before.

Traditional Attributes That Still Reign

While this shift places very different hats on the heads of today’s admins, Reynolds points out several traditional secretarial attributes that remain imperative.

    1. Professional correspondence. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported last month that written communication skills were lacking in 41 percent of the job candidates who were considered in the study. Locally, Reynolds has witnessed a similar skills gap.“It’s shocking to see the number of administrative-level resumes that come in with basic grammatical, business etiquette and sentence   structure mistakes. And the problem seems to be growing,” she says. “As a hiring manager, how would I justify putting someone who lacks those skills in charge of my professional correspondence?”


    1. Data management.  In the same SHRM report noted above, 38 percent of the job candidates considered in the study lacked mathematic skills.  While manually balanced ledgers may be passé, Reynolds argues that accounting skills for administrative professionals has become more complicated and necessary than ever. Why? Microsoft® Excel – every number-crunchers’ best friend/ worst enemy.“Advanced Excel skills are in high demand and can truly push organizational understanding and productivity forward,” she explains. And with brand new features like a GeoFlow Preview (combining Excel data into charts with Bing maps to create graphics like heat signature mapping), the business value seems to be ever increasing.


  1. Loyalty. Fifty years ago, tenure meant decades of loyalty to one employer. These days, while loyalty is just as valued, the bar has been lowered.“A job candidate with a proven history of loyalty is important, but now that can mean only two years or more,” says Reynolds. And that’s not entirely the fault of the employee. “Younger generations have had to take jobs in the past five years they are over-qualified for, and massive layoffs have become the norm, particularly in areas like administrative staffing.” However, staffing experts can help identify potential retention issues that may be hiding under the surface.

How have you seen admin staffing change or remain the same? Are there any long gone attributes you wish were still in high supply?

Image credit: ivaleksa / 123RF Stock Photo