Administrative assistant can be a great job choice—for some people and for some time. My mother happily started her working life as an executive secretary, and I followed in her footsteps for a couple of summers during college and really enjoyed my work in admin.
But, while Mom and I both feel that our experiences were a fantastic foundation for our futures, we were both ready for a change after a few years. If you’re feeling the same way but are wondering how to move on from an administrative, executive, or virtual assistant role, you’re in the right place! And, even if you’re not coming from an assistant background, stick with us—you’ll find plenty of tips relevant to you too.
In this article, you’ll learn the 6 things you need to do (and the 3 practical steps to complete each of them) to break out of an administrative assistant role and into a career you truly love. Ready to get started? Here’s what you need to do:
- Analyze your background.
- Learn any new skills you need.
- Take on work in your new field.
- Strengthen your professional relationships.
- Revamp your professional profiles.
- Consider different working situations.
1. Analyze your background.
Before you can move forward, you need to look back. Size up the things that have made you successful in admin that you can apply to your new career. Take a look at these three aspects:
- Your personality
Ask yourself what you enjoy most and where do you feel most comfortable. If you’ve done well as an assistant, you might enjoy helping others and feel comfortable in a support role. In a new industry, these traits will be highly valuable, whether it comes to working on a team or assisting clients.
- Your talents
Reflect on what you naturally do well and find easy. As an administrative assistant, you’re probably organized, detail-oriented, and a good multi-tasker. These gifts will also be a selling point when you’re looking for positions that require you to be on top of things and juggle several tasks or projects at the same time.
- Your skills
Think about what capabilities you’ve used in the admin world that could be
transferrable to a new occupation. Did you update content in WordPress for your company’s website? That’s a stepping stone into a front-end development role. Was the weekly newsletter your responsibility? There’s a great start for digital marketing.
2. Learn new skills.
Now that you know where you stand, you’re ready to add some skills to your toolbelt for a new career. Here’s how to make a plan for getting the hard skills that your new employer or clients will be looking for:
- Determine the skills you’ll need by reading up on the roles you’re interested in or reviewing job boards like Indeed: enter a job title in the search box and check out the required skills.
- Choose a course that suits you. At Skillcrush, we’re huge fans of online learning since you can do it anywhere and anytime—and for a reasonable price!
- Put your learning in your calendar. By making a reasonable schedule for your lessons or classes, you’ll ensure you’re making steady progress without getting overwhelmed. (Even a half-hour or so day can make a huge difference so don’t let a busy schedule stop you from going for your dream job!)
3. Take on work in your new field.
Once you know what job you’re looking to switch to, you can actually start doing work in that field. This doesn’t necessarily mean making a full career change, but you can get some practical experience right away. For example, you can:
- Offer to help on related projects at your current company. Administrative assistants are often called on to pitch in on various projects across different so you can take advantage of this or simply speak up when you spot an opening. If you’re thinking about a career in UX, you can volunteer to take notes during your product team’s user interviews. Or, if you’d like to transition into visual design, look for a chance to flex your Photoshop muscles for your company’s social media accounts.
- Take on side gigs. Instead of spending your evenings binging Netflix and dreading the next day at work, use your time working on side projects. You can build your portfolio and your income by, for example, updating a website for a local business if you’re hoping to move into web design. Or, if you can’t find paid projects, you can always create mock projects to add to your portfolio and show off to potential employers or clients.
- Volunteer with an organization. Groups or communities (including online!) will be thrilled to have you pitch in on everything from creating a logo for a charity to teaching basic programming to local kids. And, in addition to supporting a good cause, you’ll be developing your skills (and building your resume) for a new career.
4. Strengthen your professional relationships.
As you narrow down the areas you want to work in and level up your skills, you should also start networking to find new opportunities. You can reach out to people:
- Where you are now
Spend some coffee or lunch breaks getting to know people on other teams at your current company—developers or the folks in QA, if you’re hoping to get into programming, for example.
- In professional organizations
Join some groups or associations connected to the specialization you’re moving into. And be sure to follow their blogs, newsletters, and social media to make even more connections. Don’t shy away from meetups, seminars, or conferences just because you’re new. Everyone appreciates the fresh enthusiasm, and new members help keep organizations alive.
- People you’d like to work with
Even before you’re ready to apply for a position or bid on a project, you can start researching and reaching out to companies and clients to learn more about them and their needs. Be sure to bring something to the table (maybe promoting their work online or introducing them to an interesting teammate of yours) if you ask for an informational interview or advice.
5. Revamp your professional profiles.
When you search for roles in administrative support, you probably use a more traditional approach. But, changing your line of work might also call for changing how you present yourself professionally. Review each of these to make sure they fit with the area you’re looking to move in to.
- Your resume
Using a functional resume will shift the focus to what you can offer a company even though you don’t have years of experience. So, instead of listing your work history in chronological order, consider breaking it down by skills (like project management, remote working, software programs, etc) to highlight your relevant strengths.
- Your LinkedIn profile
Since LinkedIn is one of the first places hiring managers check nowadays, it’s important that it matches the information on your resume. As a job changer, it’s especially crucial that your headline and About section are current and that you let recruiters know you’re looking for new opportunities.
- Your social media accounts
Be sure all your social media accounts present you in a professional light, and also make sure they show your interest and activity in your new field. So, share your participation in coding challenges on Twitter or post your color palette creations and typography pairings on Instagram.
6. Consider different working situations.
Many administrative assistant roles can be found at mid- to large-sized corporations, but, to get into a different industry, you may need to consider other options like:
- Start-ups or small companies
In organizations that are recently established or not so big, employees are often expected to be able to handle many tasks across different functional areas. So, while you might be hired mainly to serve as an administrative assistant, in a small company you’ll often have a chance to do other kinds of work. So, dipping your toe in a different area could turn into getting your foot in the door in a different profession.
- Companies in your new field
Instead of switching professions right away, you can work for a company that specializes in your field of interest and then gradually move to a new position in that company. So, you could start as an assistant at a web design agency and, as you gain more skills and experience in that field, gradually take on a designer role.
If you’re looking for a quick change, become your own boss! By going freelance, you’ll have the freedom to choose what you do, who you do it for, and where you do it. As long as you can show that you’re able to perform the work, you can win clients and create a nice living for yourself—and no need to prove that you can break out of the administrative assistant bubble!
Kelli is our Operations Manager here at Skillcrush. Plus, she's an early alum of Skillcrush 101 who made her career change into tech in her mid-40's! Kelli started with us as our Customer Support Manager and has also taken advanced web development classes and been an organizer in the Helsinki Rails Girls chapter.
In addition to helping the Skillcrush team and our wonderful students, Kelli loves podcasts (especially ones about tech, of course!), Corgis, emojis, and, most of all, catalan-style line dancing – as a true Texan living in Finland would!