Sun, 06 Feb 2000

What's the secret about secretaries

JAKARTA (JP): If I mentioned the word "secretary", you would probably think of a well-dressed woman whose jobs are only answering phone calls and typing memos. Of course that is absurd. Secretaries are also able to handle much bigger responsibilities in their offices. Those well-dressed women can also make very good coffee.

No, seriously. There are many important and complex jobs that are included in a secretary's day-to-day job description. However, most people who have never been assisted by one probably think that the main tasks of secretarial work are gossiping on the office telephone and reading Cosmopolitan magazines, and in spare time she can polish her nails. To make the matter worse, some of those people even think that the quality of a secretary is determined by her nice smile and her 36-24-34 figure.

And who can blame those people. These misconceptions have existed in our country for many years. When a woman wants to become a secretary, many people think that a bright future for her would be if someday a rich and handsome boss married her, or at least sexual harassed her so that she could sue him for Rp 10 billion.

Those people also think secretaries only receive a minimum wage, require no special skills, and have no future career potential.

That is what people usually see, in real life and on TV, and sometimes that is what actually happens. However, that is not always true for all secretaries.

There are many experienced executive secretaries who receive the same level of salary as someone in a managerial position. Those secretaries, who have worked long enough to understand the companies' working system, even hold some of their superintendent's responsibilities so that the boss can concentrate all his thoughts on more important issues, such as how to improve his golf stroke.

And if secretarial jobs do not need special skills, then how come it takes three college years, sometimes more, to get a secretarial diploma? The answer is because all the female students are too busy collecting Leonardo DiCaprio posters. But it is also because there are so many things that the student has to learn in order to become a competent secretary. A secretarial student has to learn about many skills that she can not get from other colleges, such as:

Telephone manner (What.?..I can't hear...hello?... click) Shorthand writing (akjdfgwmfnsdflkjsdfnuy) Computer typing skills (What do you mean I can't type with these long nails?) And finally, personal beauty (I may be dumb, but I'm a beautiful dumb blonde).

Now I want to discuss three of the well-known primary secretarial jobs that may seem very simple, but actually are complicated and beneficial for management.

1. Answering incoming phone calls.

Yes, this is the basic secretarial function that seems requires no more skills than an answering machine. But the real responsibility in this activity is to filter the incoming calls, along with junk mail, fax, e-mail, and even guests.

A secretary also has to have excellent verbal skills so that she can calm the callers after they have been put on hold for two hours listening to Barry Manilow tunes.

2. Scheduling.

A director of a company has very busy days and often has many difficulties keeping to his schedule. He may be too busy even to write his own schedule book. That is why he has a secretary to remind him of what to do everyday.

Director: (on the phone, confused) Uh, where am I?

Secretary: (looking at her schedule book) You are in Japan, Sir.

Director: What for?

Secretary: To buy Pokemon toys for your daughter, and while you are there, don't forget you have a meeting with Mr. Tanaka.

Director: I have a daughter?

3. Typing letter.

This is routine work for a secretary. However, like other secretarial functions, this task is not as easy as it seems, because, thanks to office technology, a secretary often has to type using Microsoft Office software. That means she barely has the chance to actually type a letter because every year she has to spend most of her time upgrading the software.

In addition, when a boss asks his secretary to type a letter for him, the secretary must be on the same brain wave as her boss so that she can completely understand what he wants. A company's director, with too many things on his mind (mostly, "What's for lunch?"), usually dictates a letter to his secretary in a form like, "Uhm, someone... who something, you know... uhm, I want them to, uh... starting today."

The secretary, after some years of working under him, is able to translate those words into a perfectly understandable memo that her boss wants:

"In order to increase our company's efficiency, all workers in this division have to work more efficiently during their efficient working hours. Therefore, they are prohibited to do inefficient activities, including, but not limited to: pick their noses, go to the bathroom, take a lunch, or go outside their cubicles, which they always do anyway because nobody reads internal memos anymore"

In conclusion, I want to point out that if you still consider the job of a secretary as a very simple job, you are probably right. But I think you must also agree that without those simple jobs, the complex works of every company's director will fall into pieces, or even worse: that director may have to make coffee himself.

-- E. Effendi