Administration has evolved since the days of the secretary.  Whereas secretarial work five decades ago was typically more straightforward, today, administration is complex, and the skills required to perform the job successfully have increased.  For this reason, many employers now ask that only applicants with a completed four-year degree apply, and they won’t even consider applicants who do not possess advanced degrees.

Going back to school is a major life decision, so while you contemplate higher education, here are a few things you can do to try to even the playing field.

Ask for LinkedIn recommendations.  LinkedIn is the online dating, meat market platform for professionals.  Employers can “check out the goods” before they commit to buying; recommendations on LinkedIn are the best way to show a customer (potential employer) that you’re worth the investment and that others agree.  Think about it: when you are shopping online for a product or a restaurant, you will likely opt for the one with at least one review over the one with no reviews at all.  The great thing about LinkedIn recommendations is that they can be from colleagues, people you supported, people you managed, anyone! 

Get solid references.  Professional references can be the determining factor for whether or not a candidate is hired.  The references you have are a reflection of you, and you are a reflection of your references.  Be sure they are well-spoken, professional individuals in a position above your own—usually, references are in a supervisory position.  You want to let employers know that the higher-ups in the companies where you previously worked respect and appreciate you, and that they would happily work with you again in the future.  As the saying goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  If a high-profile business executive is in your network, you’ve worked with them—and they liked you—don’t be afraid to ask for a written reference letter (that way they don’t need to be interrupted for every reference check).

Show off your work.  The proof is in the pudding, people.  What better way of proving to someone that you are capable of successfully performing in a role than to show them hard evidence?  Many companies will assess candidates’ skills with standardized tests. If your scores are noteworthy, include them in your resume or cover letter.  For admins without degrees, having an online portfolio is a great way of showcasing your work.  Remember to always blind confidential or identifying information about the executive you supported.  Many administrative positions require the utmost discretion; you don’t want to blow it by putting someone else’s personal information online. 

  • In the administrative support function, work samples could include:
  • Detailed itineraries (with the executive’s personal information blinded, of course)
  • Written business correspondence (drafted, edited and created by you)
  • Excel spreadsheets tracking expenses
  • Outlines of processes and procedures you’ve implemented and how they were beneficial to your team
  • A PowerPoint presentation you created/edited

What is a degree really worth?  That’s up to the employer to decide, but for now, putting your best foot forward, being proactive in your approach, and remembering to stay positive in your search are the best strategies to employ.

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