Key Differences Between the Most Common Admin Assistant Roles

How to Focus Your Resume & Cover Letter for Each Type of Admin Assistant Role

Although there are many similiarities, there are some important key differences between administrative roles. Here are the most common administrative roles explained and their differences.

Familiarity with your assistant job prospects could make or break your application. The key to standing out from the competition is customizing your resume for the type of assistant role that you are pursuing. Pinpoint precision for your resume will have a huge impact on how far your application goes. Here are the explanations and differences between the most common administrative roles to make sure that you are focusing your message on the right types of positions.


The receptionist is the front lines of many organizations. This role typically includes things like guest accommodation, correspondence/deliverables (to a limited degree) coordination, calendar scheduling, and recordkeeping. Most of the time, receptionist obligations are even melded with an admin assistant or secretary’s routine. This means that while the latter can function as the former, the flexibility is entirely one-sided. The receptionist role is a great way to get your foot in the door as it is often a stepping stone to bigger responsibilities in the organization.

While this might come across as jarring and underwhelming to some, the beauty of this profession lies in the same simplicity. This is a great role for people that like to interact with other people – in person or by phone. The complexity of the other roles is not present in this position, but it does provide a higher level of visibility with it. The receptionist role also the perfect entry position for professionals eyeing top assistant roles without the experience to show for it.

Administrative Assistant/Secretary

An administrative assistant/secretary role is the next step up the ladder for most people in this profession. Administrative assistants hold true to their title by handling a more hectic workload that affects office rotations on a grander scheme. Secretaries do not simply organize workplace setups and inventory, they also process classified files (hence the title), set calls and appointments on behalf of a superior administrative personnel, assist in payroll functions, and provide supervision to lower clerical positions. This person may support one individual or an entire department. Admin assistants wear their glory on their sleeves, and it would be foolhardy to cross them.

Barring the receptionist role, however, the basic secretary acts more as the generalist who gets things done for people in the office or department. This person will also often work with other departments/groups in the company, but they will not have the same level of visibility as the receptionist or Executive Assistant.

Executive Administrative Assistant/Secretary

The executive administrative assistant is at the top of their game working with the people at the highest echelons of the organization. The executive secretary has additional duties and responsibilities now centered on the needs of C-suite executives and senior leadership. Clerical functions remain but is now lopsided towards facilitation and poses a greater impact to the overall business climate. Executive assistants manage daily schedules and set up personal appointments for top-tier personnel. They may also be charged as proxies for certain company programs and projects management.

In the end, what sets it apart is its level of access, range of responsibilities, and reporting superior. For all intents and purposes, this role can be a true stepping-stone in to having more influence in the organization. Compensation is typically significantly higher with this role over the receptionist and administrative assistant roles. At the same time, this person must be ready to be the executives go to person at all times of day/night.

Medical Administrative Assistant

This title is on par with the administrative assistant when it comes function. The key difference is that they are doing the tasks in a highly specialized setting with its own set of rules. This gives the role a specialist prerogative touching base with multiple points of the medical field. The medical administrative assistant is focused on maintaining patient (not client) records, pharmacy calls, and coordinating for patient needs. Because of this, medical secretaries are often working at the direction of or on behalf of physicians, nurses, therapists, and other hospital/clinical contacts.

Medical Administrative Assistants still fiddle with scheduling that falls into their jurisdiction. They also have dealings with grant-giving entities, government services, and insurance policies. This person will also have to understand the rules around handling patient information and medical billing requirements which are an entirely unique specialty of their own. The key asset to anyone in this role is the knowledge of medical terminology and the ability to interact effectively with patients, providers, and payors.

Legal Administrative Assistant

By now the trend should be pretty apparent, and you may have already guessed that this is a secretarial role that specializes in the legal profession. You are of course right in your assumption. Again, the nature and base properties are carried over, only now, the support is primed towards legal matters. While Medical Secretaries collaborate with healthcare professionals, this version is tight with practitioners like paralegals are attorneys. They handle a chunk of the research involved in cases, coordinate with supporting and opposing parties during settlements, and organize legal documents per their charge’s directive.

A legal administrative assistant may work in a law firm, in a legal department in a company, or as part of judicial operations. This person understands the basic legal terminology and they are able to apply it when working with a wide variety of people in doing their job. They may support attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators, or judges. This person often finds themselves in a role that blends the tasks of a receptionist, an administrative assistant, and in some cases that of an executive assistant.

Which do you think is the best fit for your interests and competencies? Can you handle them all given the opportunity? Or are you perfectly fine with a stable, front desk entry into a Fortune 500 company? All things considered, that’s probably the best place to start anyway.

Ready to jump start your search for one (or all) of these administrative assistant roles? Schedule a free phone consultation with our experienced team to see how we can help.