I have “mad” skills…. 

I can type almost as fast as Jeff Gordon can drive.


I can file with an efficiency that would make the heads at the IRS spin.


I can answer a phone call, greet a visitor and pour coffee simultaneously with great ease – AND with a smile on my face.


I have access to the utmost confidential data and know almost as much as the CEO about running our organization.


Yet….I am just a secretary.


I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and an MBA, both from accredited state universities.  However, all of my entry-level positions have been in the “administrative assistant” genre.  I have type-cast myself.  But how does one get an entry-level position in the field of their choice?  We’re always told that “someone has to start at the bottom.”  But, unless they are willing to let a new college graduate (and a woman at that) have those positions, we can’t start anywhere.


And so…I have these incredible skills and a depth of knowledge, yet no one takes me seriously.  How can I escape that trap?


When I was hired as an assistant to the president of a college over 7 years ago, I met with a counselor about continuing my education beyond my baccalaureate degree.  The counselor asked me what I wanted to do.  I replied that I would like to be in an administrative, or leadership , role in the college system.  Her advice?  To get out of the secretarial position as soon as possible.


Now, this seemed callous to me, because it was a new job with new challenges, which I was seeking at the time.  It was an increase in pay, and I was happy.  But her words haunted me as I went back to my desk.


I tried for about a year to find a more “administrative-like” position at my current employer and another educational institutional, but lacked the “collegiate experience” to even get an interview.  In other words, I should be lucky to be in the position I was in.


My resume stated that since college, I had been a Branch Service Manager (i.e., sales rep) for a loan company, an Office Manager for a small commodity trading company, and an assistant (secretary) for the CEO of a college.


Where were my leadership skills?  Well, the leadership skills that a secretary has, can’t be put into writing – in a pretty title like Director or Vice President.


My writing and oral communication skills are impeccable.  I know how to talk to trading floor executives, diplomats, other presidents, CEOs, politicians, public officials, upset students and parents.  I can pull off a classy gala and/or event with ease and delegate the work accordingly.  I can get directions to almost anywhere in the continental United States with a less than 10% margin of error – and that includes places I have never been.  I can dress like a million dollars, although my clothes come from Old Navy or Kohls instead of St. John.  I can write a letter for my boss that covers issues I have little knowledge of and in a way that looks like it was his/her own words.  I can sense a conflict situation and work ahead to deflect my boss’s involvement.  I can talk to the media with confidence, even though it’s not my job to do so.  I know more about a computer than most people my age, tackled the new phone system without incident, have taught myself shortcuts and tricks that have been shared with my office mates, and can make a decisive decision without thought for recourse.


I am a secretary.


But, I am also a leader.


I have been asked for advice from Vice Presidents, Deans and Managers.  Yet, I am just a secretary.


I have stayed while other managers, directors and administration went home during a crisis.  Yet, I am just a secretary.


So, you may be wondering why, if I have all of these skills, am I not a leader?  Why am I not invited to attend national leadership development conferences?  Why am I not encouraged to stretch my wings in a more leader-oriented role at my institution? 


A former CEO once corrected a visitor in our office when they referred to me as “a secretary.”  She said “she does more than type and file.  She knows as much about being a president as I do.”  This made me proud to be who I am – of what I do.


I am breaking free of this secretary mold.  I am embracing new projects and challenges.  I am seeking leadership roles in my organization.  I am making myself a leader.  I can’t sit around and wait for someone to see the leadership in me – I must create my own opportunities.  And I am.  And I will continue to do so.  For as long as I live.