Is the term ‘assistant’ due for a makeover?

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Question: “My boss is definitely a forward-thinking person, and now she’s really stirred up the pot where I work by suggesting we ban the word ‘assistant.’ She thinks it makes people see one worker as less important than another, and this becomes a stigma. She doesn’t want to change job functions, just the way people perceive them. Does anyone have any good ideas for a better word for what people like me do to help a superior in her job?”  – Kelvin, Support Assistant

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Cahy July 29, 2013 at 3:50 pm

At our university, Coordinator is a support person but one who can also supervise Admin. Assistants so these titles are not necessarily interchangeable. Admin Professional sounds good.

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Sally April 16, 2013 at 5:13 pm

What is wrong with the title, “Administrative Assistant?” We’re assistants to administrators/managers/supervisors/department directors/doctors/lawyers/professors… you name it. What’s so bad about that? Seems to me we didn’t choose the profession for the title, but for our expertise in the clerical field. Does everyone have to be Number ONE? Let’s be proud of our field as it is!

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DeeCee April 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm

I agree that “assistant” can be used very loosely and doesn’t really differentiate between duties of various personnel. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being an assistant. After all, the top person, whether President, CEO, or whatever other title they may have, cannot do their job without assistance – and ASSISTANTS! That can make an assistant very important.
Personally, I feel that “assisting” in no way denigrates my contribution and importance. If management teaches everyone that an “assistant” is a valuable part of the team and respects that person, it will trickle down to all levels.
I don’t care for the title “Associate”, because it really doesn’t seem to have any meaning, but other titles may work better for actual job description than Assistant. No matter what your title, you should be respected for the work you do.

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T April 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Totally agree. Assistant is not a derogatory word. Only issue with Assistant is that it’s become a catch-all.

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Andersen April 12, 2013 at 9:28 am

I would welcome updated language because administrative assistant has become a catch-all phrase for every position from receptionist to clerk to secretary to executive assistant. Differentiation of these positions is essential for one to perform their duties with authority as each has its own skill set. Also, more specific titles allow one to accurately convey their skill level on a resume. It is extremely regrettable that in my rural area every woman who works in the office chances being referred to as “the office girl” regardless of their position or age.

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Lisa April 12, 2013 at 8:25 am

Where I work, we are all the same…Adm Assistants. This is my actual title, however, I am the receptionist at my location. Receptionist, which is what I am frequently called, really diminishes what I actually do for this company. This part of my job really is only 5% of my day since most people have direct inward dial phones and we do not get many visitors. Not only do I produce a weekly newsletter, I have typical departmental duties such as processing payroll, paying the invoices, as well as total support for 17 department workers. I do feel that titles are important if you wish to move up the ladder in your current workplace or obtain a new position with a different company. Some employers look at titles to weed through the extreme amounts of applications they receive. I feel my job is more of an Adm Coordinator rather than Adm Assistant since I am not directly assisting anyone.

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Sandra D April 11, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I believe it all depends on the responsibilities of the administrative person in the job. I believe using the word “manager” is only appropriate if you are more upper level and are actually managing other people and managing systems, processes, etc. Perhaps instead of assistant, the use of “specialist” may work. But as some ladies have said, many ARE assistants and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. They are all important jobs no matter what level they are.

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Susie April 11, 2013 at 4:09 pm

We use Executive Business Administrator

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Tamara Coleman April 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

I am in agreement with Patty. I, too, am a member of International Association of Administrative Professionals, and while my title is currently Executive Assistant, I don’t get hung up on titles. I consider myself to be an administrative professional and want to be treated that way.

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Trisha April 10, 2013 at 10:22 am

I think this whole debate would go away if we were just made management.

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Lynn April 10, 2013 at 10:27 am

Oh YAY!! I love Trisha’s idea!! LOL As long as it comes with the pay.

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Sandy April 9, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Administrative Professional!

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Chardel April 8, 2013 at 10:14 am

My job title is “church secretary”. I am confident in my job, no matter the title. Maybe because of my age (64) and not needing to be on the upward ladder climb, I don’t feel the need to be called assistant, executive, administrative… even though I probably wear all those hats at some time or the other.

I also think there is good reason to be called assistants, whatever the job because we are assisting in what we do-we are not the President, we are assisting those above.

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Donna April 5, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Maybe try “Administrative Coordinator” since a majority of our role deals with the coordination of tasks, meetings, companywide initiatives, etc.

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Sheri April 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Administrative Coordinator is actually my title – I work in local government and support a division director and her staff.

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Sharon April 5, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Olivia: Being treated with dignity and respect are important especially with work well done.

Becky: Your point is well made.

My boss has told me he is “very, very macho” which explains alot.

My work is varied, fast paced and gives me the responsibilities I need to keep me here until I can retire in a few years. I also enjoy knowing I serve my neighbors.

If and when I seek a new job at that time, I do not want to carry the outdated call name of clerical with me.

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Sharon April 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm

If you ever want to move out of the “clerical” role or seek a new job within your organization or elsewhere, your title will matter in both opportunity and earning potential.

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Anne F. April 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

There will always be assistants – in all types of positions, not just in administrative or executive assistant areas. One title that might work is Assistant to the Executive Director or Assistant to the CEO, etc. This might give the impression that this is a higher position in the company.

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Gramz April 5, 2013 at 10:55 am

I like to think of myself as a “Superior Assistant” not an assistant to a superior.

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La Tonia Lee April 5, 2013 at 10:37 am

Administrative (just Administrative). Due to my high skill level and vast experience, I also prefer Executive Assistant. ~La Tonia Lee

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Elaine in Ark April 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

Back in 1992, my company change our job titles from Executive Secretary to Administrative Assistant, because it described the job duties better. I find it amusing that this “needs” to be changed again.

You can call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for dinner.

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Judy Shafer April 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

The President of our University calls his executive assistant “colleague”. I identify myself as my boss’s assistant. My official title is Administrator but I am his assistant.

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Rebecca April 5, 2013 at 9:54 am

J – I don’t think this discussion is about “being offended for every little thing”, but about what is the most appropriate way to label these types of jobs. Yes, we all come to work for the paycheck, but title DOES matter in how one is perceived at the workplace. The job is not the same as some did in the 70′s, 80′s or even 90′s and I don’t expect to be have that same job title (“secretary”). I have a high level of responsibility, skill level and exposure and I think my title should reflect that.

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Trisha April 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

I recently registered my CEO for an off-site conference. Some events ask for your contact information which typically includes title and/or classification — which is always administrative/clerical. I was pleasantly surprised to see a new category I’ve never encountered before… Assistant. To me, seeing the addition of this ‘classification’ gave the Assistant title a leg up from the mere clerical category.

I see this as a positive stride in what is quickly becoming a movement to gain the recognition and respect everyone in this field so greatly deserves… regardless of title.

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Q April 5, 2013 at 9:04 am

If the goal is to elevate the perception of Administrative Assistants, considering multiple tasks assigned to us I believe “Administrative Director” would be a better fit. We direct people, to meetings and various other appointments, to the correct files, contacts, etc. I think using the word “Support” in the title would have an adverse effect.

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Rebecca April 5, 2013 at 8:29 am

I’m fine with my title of Executive Assistant to the President. I work at a university.
There are those who have commented, “I realize you’re just the secretary, but could you…” I feel offended by that.
I am very good at my job and have been recognized for reaching out beyond the scope of my “duties”. I agree with those here that as long as you are resepected in your position it shouldn’t matter what your title is. Unfortunately, there are still those who will minimize what you do based on your job title.

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Sharon April 5, 2013 at 7:55 am

I write the administrative standard operating guidelines at a Fire Department, prepare our Homeland Security grant reimbursement submissions and cost recovery from billing to receipt. I am also responsible for ambulance transport cost recovery audits. We use a third party billet.

My boss has the men and SOGs call me clerical. I pointed out clerical is only a category and my title is Executive Secretary to Fire Chief. He refuses to even refer to me as ES for Executive Secretary.

I am the only woman here in a male dominated department. I think referring to me as clerical by my boss and operating guidelines has a trickle down effect of people dismissing me aa merely clerical. I think it interferes with my work and I feel like i would not have to chase down people’s paperwork if I was not referred to as just clerical.

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Lynn April 5, 2013 at 8:38 am

Sharon, as a female in a male dominated government agency, I agree that your Fire Chief continuing to refer to you and your job as ‘clerical’ does add stigma. If you are performing all those duties you described, you would be caled ‘Secretary” in my world, or possibly ‘Administrative Assistant’. It would cost your Chief nothing to change your title even if he didn’t change any other aspect of your job. I have long suffered the trickle down effect you describe, because when “clerical” demands urgent/critical paperwork, it’s not a priority. When the secretary demands it, it’s more likely to be produced in a timely manner. The boost to your self-esteem wouldn’t hurt either! :)

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Becky April 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

Sharon: You could use a test day to call the Chief “Manager” all day and see how he feels about it at the end of the day. If he feels like it diminished his role, then perhaps he would understand how you feel when others call you merely “clerical”. I think clerical is an outdated term that should not be used in this day and age.

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Karen April 5, 2013 at 7:43 am

Administrative Coordinator or Office Administrator

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Jackqueline April 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm

We have moved away from Assistant in any grouping, I am now an Administration Officer. Not sure it means anything different, I still do the role I have always done, right back when I started in 1979 and was a Clerk Typist, its just a title, if you are good at your role then it shouldn’t matter what you are called.

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Gigi April 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm

I have no trouble with the term “Assistant”. Of course, I also don’t mind “Secretary”. I know my skills, value and experience. I don’t need a special, modern title to change who I am and how I value myself.

As long as you respect me and I respect you, we’ll get along just fine.

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Ann April 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Love your comment Gigi! That is exactly how I feel!!

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babs April 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm

We were nce called Secretary, Secretary I, II, III, Personal Secretary, then Adminsitrative Assistants, then to Execuitve Administrative Assistant, then created Sr Executive Administrative Assisant (to mean highest), also have Associate Adminsitrative Assistant for a new entry level. then the mix with Coordinator and Specialist – does it change what we do – no, in the end does it change how we are viewed – no – it is usually who you work for in a company that denotes your status. Unfortunately the world is changing and now 80% of your job is to be soft skills (how well you get along) and only 20% is actual skill. If I were interested in changing anything it would be that ‘skill does matter’.

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T April 4, 2013 at 5:36 pm

We have Administrative Assistant, Project Assistant, Project Coordinator, Office Administrator… Duties with each position are largely the same, depending on who you support and the department you are in. I think that’s the case with most Admin positions. If you tell me your title, I really don’t know what all that entails at your company/office. Also, I’ve seen two people in the same office have the same title and very different jobs. One Project Coordinator (for example) may handle duties another doesn’t, simply because they took the initiative and reached out to grow. Personally, I was ambivalent about titles until recently. I thought “It’s the same job, same tasks… I got my increase and kudos, who cares what title is on my email signature?” I’ve changed my mind. Now I do think that titles are valuable signals to others. They themselves look to move up in the ranks and they associate a progression in titles with promotions/progress/authority. They are looking to titles to tell them which Admin is senior. Unfortunately, sometimes a change in title is not a reliable indicator… here it simply means “Don’t go!” …and they change the Admin’s title to justify an increase to higher ups. Same job/duties/influence… they just want the person to stick around. So asking for an updated title is conversation worth having. Inthe end the people that truly matter will value the results you get above all else… but there are just too many jokers out there that make assumptions based on title to leave it to chance/whatever they feel like calling you.

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Rebecca April 5, 2013 at 9:46 am

I agree 100%, T.

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Kim April 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm

In my company, we are now all Administrative Specialist or Administrative Senior Specialists. Of course, around here, everyone knows that it’s the assistant who keeps everything running and typically speaking, all of our Admins receive a great deal of respect (it helps that they all do a great job).

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LCR April 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Our global company uses Administrative Coordinator. This seems to work well since each AC supports various leaders, but due to the global virtual environment, they are not true “assistants.”

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Patti April 4, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Since I am a member of the International Assocation of Administrative Professionals, I like Administrative Professional; even though, my title is Executive Assistant (but then I’m the only assistant in the office). There are some industries (i.e., military, municipalities) that still use the term secretary. I don’t really have a problem with any of the titles as long as I am respected and treated professionally. When thinking of secretary, I am always reminded of “Secretary of State”, “Secretary of the Defense”, etc. They don’t seem to mind the title of “Secretary”. If you boss thinks the title needs to change, what are her recommendations??

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Olivia April 5, 2013 at 11:36 am

Oh, Patti, I couldn’t have said it better. I truly echo your words and feelings. As long as I’m treated professionally and with dignity and respect, I haven’t got a problem with the title either.

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Terri April 4, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Our college changed the title from “Administrative Assistant” to “Administrative Professional”

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Kelly April 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I like Associate.

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Joyce April 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm

In the same company essentially doing the same work, I did get more respect as Administrative Coordinator vs Administrative Assistant. In response to “J” I don’t care about title, and my bosses haven’t treated me any differently based on title, but there are people out there that will treat you poorly with the “oh, you’re JUST a secretary” mentality based on title alone–as if secretary is a bad thing. Whatever you change it to, if others follow, eventually that title will lose meaning as well … Evil minds think evil thoughts, and small minds have a need to drag someone down to make themselves feel better. It gives me insight on whose real and who isn’t, and makes me that much more valuable to be able to flush out the fakes that much quicker. Maybe instead of changing the word, the definition of the word needs to be updated?

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Teri April 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Add “co” to the position. Works for pilots. Or “para” – from Greek para: beside.

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Cynthia April 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I like my title: Executive Administrator. Many people think of assistants as people who answer phones, process paperwork, or get coffee. My role is much as Jessica described: arranging travel, coordinating meetings and schedules, preparing agendas, ordering catering, customer visits, etc. Assistant vs. Administrator can also denote if you assist one or a few executives or if you provide support to a whole department.

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Rachel April 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Our Project Coordinators. I feel like administrative assistant these days means secretary or clerk.

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Marti April 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm

We never use the word ‘secretary’ and I agree that now the word ‘assistant’ is used too loosly. Every clerk, typist, secretary, and Administrative Assistant are referred to as ‘assistant’ and nobody really knows what level of support they are. I work at a state university, so we can’t just makeup titles; however, we have changed all the Administrative Assistants to ‘Executive Administrative Specialists’. Then, beneath that level, more specific specialists, like ‘Administrative Specialists’; ‘Development specialists’; Alumni Specialists, etc. clearly noting their area of expertise. It has helped a great deal, but most bosses still say “See my assistant”.

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CuznMickey April 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Administrative Professional works!

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Victoria Wood April 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Some groups prefer to call everyone “team member” or “associate”.

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Maddie April 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm

I like Administrative Support Coordinator. I also liked the Office Services Manager noted by Jo. While we may not be ‘managers’ as such we certainly do alot of managing including managing our Managers. How is that for a mouthful. Accurate none the less!

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Patty April 4, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Administrative Specialist

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DB April 4, 2013 at 4:12 pm

“Facilitator” would be a good word to squeeze in there someplace :). So I would be “Facilitator to the CIO” or something like that.

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Trisha April 4, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I prefer to be referred to as an assistant much more than being called a ‘secretary’ any day. If you want to talk stigma, then do something to change the one that’s attached to that particular title. jmo

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Jessica April 4, 2013 at 4:09 pm

(Dept.) Administrator, (Dept.) Coordinator or Analyst, it really depends on the type of assistance you provide. For example If the majority of your tasks are arranging travel, meetings, events, customer visits, etc. then Coordinator would be appropriate, etc.

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Debbie April 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Adminstrative Services Coordinator

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J April 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm

This is dumb. We are assistants, so what’s the big deal? We choose the support role for our career. We enable our managers by assisting wherever possible. If she is showing respect to you, then everyone else will follow. I’m really tired of people being offended for every little thing. As long as you are respected and being paid, what the heck does it matter what your “title” is?

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Jackie April 5, 2013 at 9:04 am

Agreed! I used to get wrapped around the axle about my title, but not anymore. I am an Admin Profession and am grateful to be employed. As long as my paycheck is in my account on the 15th and 30th of every month I am good to go. Respect comes from job performance, if you excel at what you do you will be respected.

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Rebecca April 5, 2013 at 9:55 am

Rebecca April 5, 2013 at 9:54 am

J – I don’t think this discussion is about “being offended for every little thing”, but about what is the most appropriate way to label these types of jobs. Yes, we all come to work for the paycheck, but title DOES matter in how one is perceived at the workplace. The job is not the same as some did in the 70′s, 80′s or even 90′s and I don’t expect to be have that same job title (“secretary”). I have a high level of responsibility, skill level and exposure and I think my title should reflect that.

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Jweems April 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Administrator, Management Services Administrator, etc.

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Jo April 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I like Office Services Manager

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Karen April 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I like Management Support Specialist or Administrative Support Associate.
If you google “office worker titles” you’ll come up with hundreds of ideas.

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