Julia, mid 30s
How did you become an admin officer?
"How DID I get into it?" Julia puzzles. "Oh, yes. I started as a switchboard operator and from there moved into a reception role at a university, and there was a lot of admin involved in that, so it was a gradual progression from there."
It's not unusual to forget how you got into admin - people often start working in the area temporarily and collect skills as they go, Julia suggests. "Admin can be a really good short- to mid-term option for people who are working towards other things, because it gives you a wide variety of skills and can open doors into other areas."
What does an admin officer do?
Julia also temped in admin and reception, finding some crossover between them. The difference? Administration involves greater responsibility and complexity. "Reception is more focused on short-term, simple administrative tasks, whereas admin deals with coordinating whole projects from start to finish." In reception, you might take calls and do typing, data entry and photocopying, and generally react to demands by referring queries to other staff. "Admin is more coordinating all aspects of a particular role, and there's more of an emphasis on following up on those demands."
This can have its downside. "If there's work that doesn't fall within anyone's position description, the admin person will be the first who's assumed to have to deal with it." Julia works in a busy higher education organisation and says being able to change priorities quickly is essential. "It can be quite stressful in terms of dealing with a great number of demands that are constantly shifting." So good communication and interpersonal skills are a must. "You need to be able to relate to a wide range of people, because an admin person will often deal with almost everyone in a particular organisation [from management down]... You need to be able to be a good listener but also to be able to communicate your concerns as well."
What are some of the pros and cons of the job?
For Julia, some of the job's greatest rewards come from the people she meets. "They are multi-skilled people who have learnt to adapt to different environments and different demands." In other jobs, Julia has also trained and supervised other staff, which she found very rewarding. Her commitment to the organisation is also important: "The level of satisfaction that I get out of being an admin officer is largely dependent on where I work and the people I work with, rather than the nature of the job."
The less satisfying bits are the repetitive, day-to-day tasks and the workload. While Julia's hours are generally 10am to 6pm in the higher education sector, overtime can be unpaid, or rewarded with Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) rather than with extra money. Also, "It's a cliché, but it's often a thankless job, insofar as you're not senior and your skills are seen as not specialised and a lot of people see admin work as expendable and replaceable."
What does a typical working day involve?
In reality, the place would fall apart without an administrator. In a typical day, Julia will "do a lot of photocopying, answer the phones, liaise with people via email and telephone a lot. I write and format documents on Word, Quark and Pagemaker, I organise travel, do banking and write cheques, book hire cars and accommodation, and provide advice for clients or the general public." She's also responsible for keeping the office running smoothly: "I order stationery and make recommendations on the maintenance and upgrading of office equipment," as well as faxing, franking and dealing with mail and couriers. She also updates files and databases. "And I maintain a cool and calm exterior at all times," she chuckles.
Find out more about a career in administration
Visit the MyFuture website to find more about duties and tasks, work conditions, earnings and required qualifications for a career in administration.
Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).