Every morning Vipra Jain checks the e-mails, letters and faxes addressed to her boss, Antony G Paton, general manager, The Grand, Delhi. She screens them, and then decides if she has to forward them to Paton or hold them back, depending on their importance.
Having worked with him for one year, she even has the liberty of taking minor decisions on Paton’s behalf. “In such instances, I never forget to inform him because I need to justify what I did in his absence,” says Jain.
Personal secretaries hold a very responsible position, doing everything from booking flight tickets to scheduling office meetings. The idea is to make the boss’s life simpler and less stressful.
The job demands patience. “I am an impatient person, but when I enter office, I can’t afford to demonstrate my personal shortcomings. Understanding your boss as a person is equally important to discharge your duties as a secretary,” Jain adds.
The work is very demanding, challenging and — tiring too. “You can have a boss relying on you for almost everything — and at times you might find it hard to find time to even run out and grab a bite for lunch,” says Anuradha Rao, assistant to Analjit Singh, CMD, Max India Limited.
Sandhya Nair, a secretary at Ritu Overseas, says one has to be ready for anything… even convincing the boss that tickets worth R5,000 for the Commonwealth Games 2010 had been sold out. If they want something, they expect you to be efficient enough to get it.
What counts, however, after a hard day’s work are those few words of praise these ladies get from their bosses. Exhaustion then just seems to melt away. “My boss praises me at least ten times a day. Those words are worth a lot,” says Jain.
This feedback for the efforts put in at work is what motivated Shalini Dev to become an office secretary in a company (she does not want to disclose the name) after quitting a front-desk job in a hotel.
“The best part about this work is that the person you are interacting with constantly is the one who will review your work. All that hard work will never go unnoticed — something that is quite common in other routine office jobs,” she says.
A secretary’s role has undergone a major transformation. “They also work as office assistants or office coordinators. There are some who later get into administrative or HR positions too,” says Radha Raja, a faculty member at YMCA, Delhi, an institute which runs courses in secretarial practice.
“My boss also takes me to his meetings and seeks my suggestions on small and big issues. We often brainstorm on matters together. An office assistant is supposed to be a thinking person these days, which earlier wasn’t the case,” says Jain, who has around nine years of work experience.
With responsibilities follows the growth and power. There are secretaries who report to the CEO/MD of big corporations and can earn as much as R1 lakh a month. But more than money, it’s the stability and job satisfaction that draws young women to this profession.
“I like the sense of being attached to a very senior guy in the organisation. I cherish my power. It’s certainly not a bad deal for someone who is just a graduate,” says Jain.
What's it about?
A secretary is an executive who maintains files, attends phone calls, types letters and carries out other clerical functions, normally for a senior executive in the office such as a general manager, vice president or CEO
9 am: Check e-mails, line up interactions, meetings
11 am: Attend meeting with the boss
1 pm: Send minutes of the meeting
3 pm: Follow up with the travel agent for the trips scheduled (for the boss) in the following days
3.30 pm: Make necessary calls, send out letters/ fax/ e-mails as instructed
6 pm: Call it a day
Initially, one can earn anywhere between Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 a month. After five years, one can even earn Rs40,000 in an MNC. There are companies that even pay as much as Rs70,000 to Rs80,000 a month to secretaries reporting to top business leaders, such as managing directors and CEOs
. Patience is the foremost quality a secretary must have
. He or she should be a good listener
. A secretary should be good at coordinating office work, scheduling meetings, taking down and communicating the minutes to others
. Good communication and presentation skills
How do I get there?
After graduation, one can go for a diploma course in office management or secretarial practice. Though no professional qualification is mandatory, it is advisable to have a diploma in secretarial practise. There are some who do an MBA programme before entering the profession
Institutes & urls
. One-year diploma in office management/ secretarial practice at the YMCA -
. One-year diploma in office management/ secretarial practice -
. One-year secretarial practice course at the Industrial Training Institute
Pros & cons
The job is quite stable
You relish a sense of power, because of your close bonding with an executive who is placed in the top echelons of the organisation
You enter the profession quite early in your career
Growth is slow
A very Responsible job
A veteran in the field talks about her work and its scope
Does the job of a secretary entail mere coordination of office work?
It is very responsible work. A secretary must be able to perceive how her boss would react to a given situation. At times, the boss might ask you to send a nasty mail to one individual he is angry with but would ask you the next day if you actually sent it. You should understand the implicit meaning of what he wants you to do.
Will secretaries become redundant one day?
To an extent, they have become redundant (because of the advent of technology). But it also varies from person to person. There are some people who simply can’t do without a secretary while others can manage their affairs without any human assistance.
Does the job pay really well?
The money can be good if you are able to gain the confidence of your boss. A personal assistant draws as much as R40,000 to R50,000 per month but I think money is not everything. There is a fair amount of stability in this job and that counts a lot.
You have been a secretary for more than two decades. Tell us what does it take to become a good assistant.
One should understand the needs of the person you work for. My boss, for example, wants everything to be communicated quickly. He won’t listen to five sentences and wants the message to be given in one sentence flat.
In certain cases, the boss can also be demanding and he looks for perfection. We should adapt according to his requirements.
You entered the field while you were a fresh graduate. Is this advisable to undergo some course before taking up a job?
Yes. One should. It helps in the long run.
Anuradha Rao, assistant to Analjit Singh, CMD, Max India Limited Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi