Amazing articles on just about every subject...

A Career In Secretarial Work

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The vocation of secretary offers unlimited possibilities to the ambitious man who is alive to his opportunities. A secretary ship is an education in itself and a splendid introduction to the business world. The secretary is not only associated with men of affairs, but is frequently trained in business methods and problems by the very head of the establishment for which he works an advantage which few other employees enjoy. An efficient secretary doubles the working power of the executive for whom he works, and frequently becomes as indispensable to his firm as his superior.

The word "secretary" has its origin in the word "secret," hence the secretary is a person entrusted with secret or private matters, his work depending to a great extent upon the position filled. A private secretary is a confidential attendant, who relieves his employer of all possible detail work and of such executive matters as he can manage. He should be a capable stenographer, be able to write letters on his own initiative, be something of a bookkeeper, note his employer's engagements, act as a buffer between his employer and the various persons who desire to see him, file letters and documents and, above all, learn how his employer wants things done and do them in that way. An efficient private secretary knows more than the office routine; he is willing to assume responsibility; he is able to think independently and yet execute the thoughts of his employer.

A private secretary may have begun his training as a stenographer, but, if he becomes a secretary, he has not only shorthand and typewriting to do, but has executive duties as well, with a resulting increase in responsibility. His duties expand as his employer becomes acquainted with his possibilities, and very often a private secretary finds his position a stepping stone to higher places. Many persons in responsible positions started as private secretaries and then, as opportunity arose, were advanced to responsible positions because of their interest in, and knowledge of, the business.

The secretary must have a high sense of business ethics and must not discuss his work outside of the office. He may be associated with an employer in commercial, financial, religious, scientific or professional fields and, if he is aware of his own best interests, he will select the line of work in which he is most interested. He may have an opportunity to become a private secretary to a member of Congress, and such a position may afford him entry into politics. Many men have won public prominence in this way.

The corporation secretary must have the qualities of the private secretary, although such a position is not in the usual line of advancement from private secretaryship. The man who has had secretarial experience makes an efficient corporation secretary and, if a company desires a secretary who is thoroughly capable, it may offer the position to an exceptional private secretary in its own employ. However, this is one of the things that come only to the man who is in work that is congenial, and where his endeavors to rise will be respected because of his interest in his work.

The man who becomes a secretary to an institution or organization will be brought into close contact with the governing body of that institution and will have a position that, though nominally supervised, is really executive. He will find that such a position will require executive ability of a high order and that he will have to possess a great deal of tact to get along with the various committees. He will have not one employer but a great many people, who, perhaps, may know little about the work, to deal with. One of the outgrowths of this type of work is the position of secretary to Chambers of Commerce in cities or towns. Such a man must get out of the community, through organized effort, as much cooperation as possible, and unless a man is far advanced beyond the stenographic period he is not suited for such a position. It needs originality and executive ability of a high type, as well as genuine enthusiasm for the work.

The public-office-holding secretary is one who has been appointed or elected to a political office where he performs the duties of that office. He has executive powers, and such positions, particularly in smaller communities, often prove gateways to political power.

The young man who expects to become a secretary must equip himself for the work ahead. He must realize that it is necessary for him to have a thorough knowledge of the basic subjects of English, arithmetic, geography and history, with particular attention to English composition and spelling. A speaking knowledge of a foreign language, French or Spanish preferably, is exceedingly helpful. An understanding of stenography, filing, and bookkeeping, and a sound broad knowledge of business, are the tools of the secretary and are essential to good work in his position; but, beyond all these, a good working knowledge of English is perhaps the most necessary. Unless the secretary is proficient in English, his use of shorthand will be hampered, as shorthand is really a system of writing English rapidly. He also needs this knowledge in composing letters, just as he needs arithmetic in his bookkeeping. He must use method in the office, for his work should never be impeded by lack of system; and so the secretary should be naturally methodical and systematic.

The secretary must guard against undesirable limitations of his interests and narrowness of outlook by not only having a broad education but by constantly seeking to improve it. A college education is desirable, but not necessary, though the better class of firms now prefer college men. However, the man who is unable to attend college will find that, if he is willing to read and study, such a lack will be of little hindrance. A good high school education is absolutely necessary, and special preparation for secretarial work can be had in many high schools. The student who prefers to take such work in special secretarial schools will find that there are in every community at least one or two business colleges, where a student can, in from one to two years, acquire a fair knowledge of, and training in, shorthand, type-writing, business English, spelling, penmanship and similar subjects.

The universities have begun to appreciate the appeal of the business world to the young man and are adapting their courses to his needs. Business departments, wherein not only business routine but a well-diversified education is provided, are becoming a part of our great universities, and the young man who can afford the time and money to take such a course will find himself well repaid, as his value in the business world will correspondingly increase. Evening schools, giving business courses for the man who works, are a part of the school system of most cities. There are also evening classes in the commercial schools and the extension courses of many universities.

The cost of preparation for secretarial work varies from nothing at all, if the student takes it at the regular high school, to several thousand dollars, if he takes university work. The usual commercial school course takes at least six months, and the tuition varies from $15 to $40 a month. The public high school offers both day and evening courses with free instruction. The evening classes in private commercial schools meet three or four evenings a week, and the tuition is from $5 a month upward. The business departments of the universities demand a high school education for admission, and the courses take from two to four years to complete. They prepare a man for more than a secretarial position, however, for he has the background, both in collegiate work and business training, for an executive position. Since a secretarial job often leads to such work, it makes the course doubly valuable. The expense of the college training varies from $1,500 to $4,000, dependent upon the institution and the length of the course.

The financial returns for secretarial work vary greatly according to the nature of the position held. The salary for a private secretary varies from $25 to $100 a week, but the beginner usually starts with a stenographic position which may pay only $15 a week. In the executive offices of large corporations, the secretary who proves his worth has not only an opportunity to learn the business but also receives a good salary and may even be promoted to a responsible executive position, such as head of a department, the vice-presidency, etc. The work is steady, and a good secretary can usually find a position. Civil service positions may also be applied for, but the work is mainly steno-graphic, and offers little opportunity for advancement. In almost all secretarial positions the conditions of work are excellent, and a two weeks' vacation with full pay is usually granted every year.

The young man who wishes to become a secretary should be trustworthy, unselfish and industrious, and should have the ability to keep silent regarding his employer's affairs. The work is often hard, and so he will need good health, and skill in adapting himself to his work. A good memory, concentration and initiative are necessary if he hopes to advance in his work. He must seize his opportunities as they arise, and so he should have the faculty of quick observation along with foresight. Tact, alertness, retentiveness, an agreeable personality, correct and easy speech and orderly habits will all help the new secretary. He should be particular about his personal appearance, for careful dress is as essential to his success as good manners.

The relationship between employer and secretary is likely to be intimate and personal and react to the advantage of the secretary, but, unless he is willing to study and work and become more than a secretary, he will quickly reach the peak of his earning ability and become a mere cog in the machine. The secretary can generally, if he is capable, find a position, but if he does not grasp the opportunities to advance, he will always be working at a nominal salary. The success of the secretary most often comes when he does his work so well that he is given an opportunity to step into a higher position for which his secretarial work has fitted him.


KILDUFF, E. J.: "The Private Secretary, His Duties and Opportunities," The Century Co., 1916.

MCLACHLAN, J. E.: "How to Become a Private Secretary," Sir Isaac Pit-man & Sons, Ltd., London, 1920.

ROSE, ROBERT F.: "How to Become a Private Secretary," Funk & Wag-nails, 1917.

SPENCER, ELLEN LANE: "The Efficient Secretary," Frederick A. Stokes Co., New York, 1916.

TAINTOR, S. AUGUSTA: "Training for Secretarial Practice," McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, 1923.


Gregg Writer, Gregg Publishing Co., Chicago.

Pitman's Journal, Isaac Pitman & Sons, New York.

Shorthand Writer, A. C. Gaw, Publisher, New York.

Stenographer and Phonographic World, The Stenographic Co., Philadelphia.

System, A. W. Shaw Co., Chicago.

Home | More Articles | Email: