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Dear Electra,

I am an Administrative Assistant for a nonprofit agency and I'm looking for a new job. Luckily my agency has a WWW connection and I have been searching during my lunch hour for job openings and ideas.

I'm sure you know that some places (backwards) still call Administrative Assistants "secretaries." And, even though I don't like the title, "secretary" seems closer to what I do than some of the jobs for "Administrative Assistants." I do some bookkeeping and scheduling for the chief administrator, but I'm much more comfortable with standard "secretarial" duties like word processing, some database entry and reception.

I'd like to stay in the nonprofit sector but frankly, the money is so bad. I'm already driving an hour each way to get to my job--seems to me I could find better paying work with a less frustrating commute.

Can you give me some idea of the best way to approach this? How can the WWW help me?

Stuck in Traffic (and a Low Paying Job)

One of the (few) joys of being underpaid is that you have lots of other places to work where you can also be underpaid. That may sound flip, but it's true. Electra's advice is to concentrate on your long term goal, create a plan for yourself and then (and only then) start moving in that direction.

Is your goal to make "X" amount of money? Is your goal to work closer to home? To have a job with more responsibilities? To learn this or that element that might help you enter another field? To have a positive impact on your community? To make the transition from the nonprofit sector to commercial business? To use a special talent that you have?

And you can't answer "yes" to ALL the above.

Pick one. Prioritize the others but focus on your number one long term goal.

Your present low income can be a job search advantage and can truly help you work your plan. Your strategy is to make a move without losing money--at least until you establish yourself in your new setting. The first move, from where you are now, is RUNG # 1 on the ladder to where you decide you are going.

Helping you think through these issues and coming up with a plan is the specialty of Career Centers and career counselors. There are books that will help you begin, too. Some of Electra's favorites are:

For learning more about what you want to do:

Search Your Library

  • What Color is Your Parachute? Richard Bolles. Ten Speed Press. (Now features a new chapter on job hunting on the Internet.)
  • I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. Barbara Sher. Dell Trade Paperback.
Guides for Secretaries & Administrative Assistants

Search Your Library

  • The Slam and the Scream: And Other Powerful Strategies for Secretaries, Assistants, and Anyone Else who has had Enough. Carole Fungaroli. Noonday Press.
    [Electra loved this book--couldn't put it down. Gritty, in your face career advice for the under-appreciated and over-talented...which includes almost everyone, doesn't it?]
  • From Secretary to Fast Track: The Get Ahead Guide for Administrative Assistants, Secretaries, Office Managers, Receptionists and Everyone who Wants More. Ken Lizotte and Barbara Litwak. AMACOM.
"But," I hear you saying, "I can't plan my career in a vacuum! I need to know what's 'out there' before I can make decisions." And you're right.

Here are some job ad sites on the World Wide Web that contain administrative, clerical, secretarial jobs. As you look at the ads, take notes about "what turns you on" (even if you don't have the skills or experience, even if the job is 2 hours drive away.) Once you know where you want to BE, you're halfway to getting there: you simply have to plan how to do it.

  • If you want to stay in the nonprofit sector, check out Opportunity Knocks, a MAJOR source of nonprofit job ads in Northern California and Sacramento.
  • Explore some of the Mega-Sites for Job Listings
    These job ads come from all over the US (and sometimes the planet.) But you might spot a title, employer or setting that either "fits" or that "turns you on" so you know more about what to look for in California.
  • Start making a list of companies that appeal to you. Find their WWW home page (where job openings may be listed) or their Job Hotline. Check the home page or the hotline on a regular basis.
To learn more about salaries for administrative assistants or clerical workers, check: JobStar's Administrative Salary Surveys. A final note: Once you know where you want to be, let your friends, neighbors, co-workers (if they're discreet) know what you're looking for. Many, many of the best jobs are never advertised. Someone you know may know of a new business starting up, a friend who is leaving a job that is perfect for you, or a contact at the company you most want to work for.


Page last updated: 8:43 AM on 5/22/09