As you look for jobs—particularly admin jobs such as executive assistant or office manager—you may see that employers are looking for administrative skills. And for good reason: Businesses can’t run without them. “Focusing on administrative skills can transform average companies and employees into exceptional ones,” says Muse career coach Neely Raffellini.
But what are administrative skills? Who really needs them? (Short answer: everyone.) How do you improve yours? And how do you show employers that you have them in a job search?
What Are Administrative Skills and Why Are They Important at Work?
Administrative skills are the abilities you need to perform tasks that keep any type of business running. They “are the foundational tools that help you complete your job responsibilities,” says Muse career coach Anne Kelly. In other words, administrative skills allow you to do the tasks that support you in getting your work done. For example, scheduling meetings, writing emails, and maintaining office supply levels are all administrative skills.
Administrative positions rely primarily on administrative skills, of course, but every job requires the use of administrative skills in some capacity. For example, in order to complete their design work, a graphic designer may need to communicate with clients, schedule a meeting with stakeholders, use project management software, plan how they’re going to allot their time in a given week, and organize multiple versions of a design on their computer. If you’re trying to identify when you use administrative skills in your own job, think of those tasks you need to do, not necessarily the ones you want to do, Kelly says.
Administrative skills are helpful not only for getting your individual job done well, but also for ensuring your team and organization’s success as a whole. They “create a structure so that the company and its employees can function,” Raffellini says. “The system they create helps everything (and everyone!) perform at the highest level.”
Examples of Administrative Skills
Any skill that helps support your own work or the operation of your company could be an administrative skill, but here are some of the most common categories of administrative skills—and examples that fall under each category.
Communication skills are all of the abilities that help you share information with others, both inside and outside of your company. They ensure everyone (yourself included) has the knowledge they need to do their job, is informed of any changes, can give and receive feedback, and is able to complete a number of other vital professional functions. Administrative communication skills can be used in verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual forms of communication and are needed in virtually every job.
Here are a few examples:
- The ability to give and receive feedback
- Active listening
- Answering and directing calls
- Body language awareness
- Cold calling
- Communication method choice
- Customer service
- Editing and proofreading
- Empathetic listening
- Note taking
Organizational skills help you arrange your physical and digital space as well as your time, resources, and mental bandwidth, so that you can complete tasks as efficiently as possible. If you’re an administrative assistant, for example, you may need to organize office supplies, files, phone and email messages, or travel plans.
Some example of administrative organizational skills are:
- Attention to detail
- Allocation of meeting spaces
- Digital organization
- Event planning
- Office organization
- Project management
- Reimbursement and expense processing
- Supply inventory
- Time management
- Travel planning, scheduling, and booking
Time Management Skills
Time management skills are a subset of organizational skills, but they’re especially important. Time management skills help you plan your time, be more efficient, and accomplish everything you need to at work. They also ensure that everyone on a team or in an office is respecting the time of others.
Some examples of administrative time management skills are:
- Calendar management
- Deadline management
- Goal setting
- Roadmap creation
- Schedule coordination
- Task management
- Time estimation
Technical skills are the knowledge and ability to perform specific tasks, especially those that require computers or other equipment or software. Even if you’re not in what you’d consider a “tech” role or working for a tech company, these skills are vital. Administrative technical skills help employees communicate; track progress, data, and information; troubleshoot minor issues; create presentations; and maintain efficiency, to name just a few. During the COVID-19 pandemic, technical skills became even more important since most work had to be completed online using various collaboration and other tools.
A few examples of technical administrative skills are:
- Communication software: Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet
- Database searching and updating
- Google Suite: Docs, Drive, Forms, Gmail, Sheets, Slides
- Microsoft365: Excel, OneDrive, OneNote, PowerPoint, Word
- Project management software: Airtable, Asana, Jira, Monday, Trello
- Use of office equipment (for example, operating a printer, scanner, or fax machine)
- Scheduling software: Google Calendar, iCalendar, Microsoft Outlook
No matter what your job is, you’ll come up against unexpected hurdles and challenges. Problem-solving skills help you figure out what to do next. For example, if you’re an executive assistant whose manager is suddenly going to miss an important meeting because of a flight delay, you might brainstorm solutions, analyze the possible options, and make a decision about how to proceed. And it's important to be able to handle challenges without always going to your manager—though you do want to recognize when you need help solving a problem.
- Attention to detail
- Conflict resolution
- Critical thinking
- Decision making
- Resource allocation
How to Improve Your Administrative Skills
Any skill can be improved, and administrative skills are no exception. Here are a few tips for improving yours:
- Identify your weak points. Ask yourself questions to figure out which skills you need to improve: What tasks give you the most difficulty? What parts of your work have gotten the most negative feedback from past managers and coworkers? Where have you dropped the ball? Think through these answers and identify common themes. You can also ask for feedback from a willing colleague.
- Ask for help: Is there someone you know well in your network or personal life who excels at the skill set you want to improve? See if they’re willing to help you out, but be clear in what you’re asking for. Would you like them to look over a few emails you’ve written and give feedback? Do you want to know how they prioritize their tasks? A specific ask is more likely to get a response.
- Look for online resources and classes: There are plenty of online resources for improving administrative skills. If you’re struggling with a specific technology, there may be a tutorial from the company that makes it or a tutorial on YouTube. Sites like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera might have online classes that can help you hone your skills. Resources like The Muse have advice articles that will teach you about using and improving specific skills—for example Google Sheets or inbox organization.
- Practice: Improving almost any skill requires that you actually use that skill, so find ways to practice in low-stakes situations. Can you practice different communication techniques with friends? Can you hone your time management skills by scheduling your chores and leisure activities on a weekend in different ways?
How to Show Off Your Administrative Skills in a Job Hunt
Now that you know what administrative skills you have or need to have, here’s how to show them off to potential employers.
1. Choose the Right Skills to Highlight
Closely read the job description of any opening you apply to and note which administrative skills are mentioned explicitly either in the requirements or the job duties. These are the skills employers will be looking for and they’re the ones you should highlight. For basic administrative skills, make sure you’re not taking up valuable resume space by listing qualifications the employer didn’t ask for, even if you think you’ll need them. For example, technical skills like typing, using Microsoft Office, and emailing don’t need to be in your application materials unless they’re mentioned in the job description.
2. Work Them Into Your Resume and Cover Letter
Employers are interested in the results of your skills more than the fact that you have them, Raffellini says. “The best way to showcase administrative skills is by providing specific examples” on your resume and cover letter. For example, think of times you’ve made a difference. Have you saved time or money? Created a new process or system? Solved a big issue? Under your work experience on your resume, write strong, quantified bullet points that show how you’ve used your skills to make things better for your employers and list any hard skills again in your skills section. You can bring up skills that are especially crucial in a cover letter by giving a more detailed example of how you’ve successfully used them.
3. Demonstrate Them at Every Opportunity
Beyond your application materials, show off your administrative skills at every step of the hiring process. For example, follow instructions for submitting your application, Kelly says. Write professional emails, answer the phone politely, and practice with any tech you’ll use in a video interview beforehand. Any part of the interview process that might resemble your day-to-day job duties is a chance to show potential employers what you can do.