Can You Believe What Your Administrative Assistant Job Used to Entail in the 1940s?

If you looked at the role of the administrative assistant 70+ years ago, chances are you’d shake your head in amazement. So much has changed, beginning with the job title.

The administrative profession has certainly seen its share of changes since the 1940s. Back then, manual typewriters were an essential for support staff. Today, typewriters are considered dinosaurs, relics rarely found in any office. Administrative staff are expected to master far more complex tools to perform their jobs effectively now.

In the same way office equipment has evolved over time, so has the role of administrative professionals.


Back in the 1940s, much change was taking place across the country. With the world at war, women were entering the workforce in great numbers. Those who didn’t play a “Rosie the Riveter” role in factories often went into administrative positions, then known as secretary jobs.

Secretaries typically had limited responsibilities, and their presence in meetings was usually to take notes or bring in coffee. They needed to know how to type and generally answered a single-line phone. Some managed a switchboard.


The administrative assistant’s role has greatly expanded in scope. No longer solely behind-the-scenes players, administrative professionals are often highly visible, working directly with vendors, making purchasing and budgeting decisions, connecting with remote workers and planning company events, among other activities.

Company leaders often turn to administrative professionals for input on hiring decisions. Many support staff are involved in the hiring of new administrative personnel, frequently screening resumes and interviewing candidates.

Technology skills have also become essential. Over the decades, technology usage has greatly expanded in the workplace, and with it expectations of administrative professionals. Not only do they need to know how to use the latest tools but also be capable of sharing their expertise with others. At smaller companies, in particular, employees often turn to support staff for training on software or hardware.

Support staff today also frequently conduct online research for their own projects or for others on their team. In addition, they may contribute to maintaining the company’s online presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Across Time

As much as the job function has changed over time, many of the skills critical to being an excellent secretary decades ago remain the same for an administrative assistant today.

Support staff continue to be on the front lines in dealing with employees, customers, vendors and other key company contacts. If their interpersonal and communication skills don’t shine, they can create a negative impression that reflects poorly on a department or even an entire organization.

Administrative professionals need to be adept at working with challenging people and resolving difficult situations. With growing reliance on email, text and social media, support staff need to be able to write as well as they speak to others.

Employers also want support staff who are flexible. Business conditions have always had their ups and downs, and companies need administrative professionals who can adjust their responsibilities when needed — often unprompted. This means having an adaptable attitude and taking the initiative when problems must be solved, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

It’s an exciting time as responsibilities continue to broaden and new challenges unfold. Given the hypersonic rate of technological developments, no doubt the administrative assistant’s role even 10 years from now will be quite different from what it looks like today.

(Note: This is a modified version of an article that originally appeared in OfficePro magazine.)

How do you see the administrative profession changing in the future?

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