Generally speaking, to do a PA or office administrator role, you do not need a degree. There are so many things that you pick up on the job that a degree simply couldn’t teach you. I have personally found that experience by far outweighs any administration-related qualification. On top of that, a great deal of the job really comes down to having a bit of common sense.
A degree wouldn’t teach you that a taxi to take your boss across London to Heathrow airport at rush hour will take twice as long as normal.
A degree wouldn’t teach you how to politely get rid of an annoying salesperson who keeps calling for your boss and all he says to tell them is to “**** off!”.
A degree wouldn’t teach you that if you shake the printer toner, you can get another 10 pages out of it.
Then why is it that so many employers still request that their secretarial staff have a degree in order for them to be considered for a role at their company?
I can only think that it’s a way of ‘filtering out’ the deadwood applicants. If someone is smart enough to have a degree, then surely they’re smart enough to arrange your calendar? I’d personally have to disagree on that one, but what other measures are there?
I once applied for a job and the job agency executive asked me if I had a degree. I said no, and asked what degree the position required. This was met with a long silence, followed by a lame response of “anything”. I made my pleasantries and wished her a good day.
So would aspiring secretaries go to university just to be able to get an interview to be someone’s PA? Someone once asked me:
If you’re smart enough to be a graduate, why would you want to be a PA?
I was intrigued and offended in equal amounts at this statement. For starters, you need to be really on the ball to be a good PA. You have to be smart. Much of your job is fire fighting and dealing with emergencies (like when your boss misses his flight, or the photocopier breaks down).
However, I reluctantly agreed that they had a point. If I’d spent 3 years studying for a degree in Law, I would want to use that degree to it’s full potential and become a lawyer. But then I found out that there are specific qualifications that you can get to be a PA or office administrator. Like an Associates Degree in Office Administration or a Postgraduate Certificate in Business Administration
In addition to this, I have recently started a Physics degree with the Open University. What does Physics have to do with office administration, I hear you ask. Well, nothing. But having just been through the process of applying for a new job, I was amazed by the number of people who were genuinely impressed that not only was my degree in Physics, but that I was doing this off my own back, in my spare time. I really do think that it helped get me interviews over other candidates, despite it having absolutely nothing to do with being a PA. It just showed that I had initiative and was a self-starter – two things that are virtually essential in being a good PA.
So, to answer my initial question: does a PA need a degree?
No, but it certainly helps get your foot in the door.