Original on Transparent

If you need to write a selection criteria examples administration response, this blog will explore some ideas about what business admin skills actually are.

If there is anybody else here old enough to remember secretaries, typing pools, stenographers, microfiche and filing cabinets? Hyperlinks provided for the curious to understand things from the business world long since gone.

Perhaps you recall the more modern equivalents of the same things – personal and executive assistants, voice dictation (no not on an app) and external hard disk drives?

Depending on which generation you belong to you may still have nothing?

Does “business administration” mean anything as a term? Not in an MBA sense but as in the things you need to do day to day to make a business, organisation, team, government department run. Yes all that stuff:

  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Document and record management
  • Paying bills
  • Accepting packages
  • Ordering stationery and paper for the multi-function device (ok so some offices today will be paperless but it’s an idea that been around since 1978).

All those necessary evils that need to get done by someone to keep the place running.  That’s business administration.

Computer monitor with words


The decline of the EA & PA

Not going into the details and specifics of the difference, suffice to broadly categorise a PA as a jack of all trades, master of none, and an EA as someone able to represent or stand in for their executive. There has been a 40% decline since 2000 in the employment of executive and personal assistants in America. The Australian and international experience would be the same.

My own personal experience, before the year 2012 every director, executive director, general manager and above had a PA and/or an EA depending on their role. Many managers had them too. Someone who scheduled their time, triaged their emails, printed their daily schedule, and provided what they needed for meetings.

In older times (circa 1970’s and before) they also collected the dry cleaning, purchased Christmas gifts for the boss’s wife, ran children around and other arguably domestic functions. Yes those are gender loaded terms and that is how things were then. Times were different then and thankfully we have all moved on.

More recently, in the last few years especially with the advent of collaboration, systems, speed to text, transcripts and technology; a lot of those tasks now “just happen” and having an EA and/or a PA is the exception not the rule. Don’t get me wrong, for Directors General, CEO’s and the like they are necessary, entirely appropriate and many things would not happen without them. As a CEO it is also fair if you choose to not get your head around technology, you can have someone take care of that for you.

What’s all that got to do with “business administration” I hear you ask?


The rise of the virtual assistant

Digressing slightly from the government, micro-business who do not have sufficient work for a full time employed business administration person, might access a virtual assistant. That is someone from outside the organisation who is contracted to provide a defined set and level of service. This could include:

  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Schedules
  • Data entry
  • Bookkeeping
  • Clerical
  • Manage socials
  • Write blog content.
  • Handle travel arrangements
  • Online file storage and management
  • Research
  • Simple website management
  • Customer management
  • And much much more


The rise of business administration

If EA’s and PA’s and secretaries are no longer doing those tasks, who is keeping the business running?

In some places, everyone does them as “business admin”. If the coffee runs out, someone goes and buys some.

If you need to be prepared for a meeting, you prepare yourself because the documents are all in the Cloud and linked to the meeting and you have tasks to get actions done. That’s your responsibility.

A government business unit/team/section may have a dedicated support officer if there is enough business administration to be done to warrant a full-time person. It may be a portfolio support officer or an executive support officer who also supports the general business as well as directors and/or managers. All dependent on need.

In a world according to me flavour, business administration as a role is knowing how to do the diverse range of tasks that need to be done or being creative and resourceful enough to quickly find or work out how to do the tasks that need to be done if you didn’t already.


Business Administration Qualities

My list of qualities for a good business administration person would not be the “skills” it would be in the person:

  • Quick learner
  • Creative
  • Delegate as needed
  • Patience resilience
  • Detail orientated
  • Flexibility
  • Switch tasking


Woman multitasking computer phone and eating


Switch Tasking (the new Multi Tasking)

Switch tasking is increasingly becoming the enemy of productivity and the cause of time confetti. It is a somewhat demonised concept but what if switch tasking is your job? Welcome to business administration.

The ability to switch task should not necessarily be seen a as a bad thing in a world where lack of ability to focus on a task for an extended period without jumping in and checking emails or some such; is generally criticised.

I would argue it is a good skill to promote in a selection criteria response regards business administration. The rider on that given the negative perception attached to switch tasking, is I would make sure you add an ability to complete tasks efficiently and accurately.

As always, make sure you have examples of how you switch task and deliver accurate outcomes.


Business Administration Key Selection Criteria

This is a selection criteria for a portfolio support officer.

  • Proven ability to select and apply communication and interpersonal skills to develop and maintain working relationships with all stakeholders.
  • Ability to undertake research and coordinate projects and programs independently or as a member of a team.
  • Proven ability to operate as an effective team member in an environment of sustained pressure, changing priorities or as a member of a team.
  • Sound planning, organisational and time management skills, including the ability to work independently with limited direction, often in an environment of changing and conflicting priorities.
  • Ability to use initiative, creative thinking and independent judgement to analyse information, evaluate alternatives and formulate solutions to problems.
  • Experience in carrying out a wide range of administrative, financial and business functions.
  • Experience in data management and preparation of reports.
  • Experience in pro-actively reviewing and improving business processes and promoting a culture of continuous improvement.

What is your takeaway from those eight selection criteria?

My takeaway? They’re all the same thing. How I hear you ask?

When you look at the list you probably focus on the tasks and tangibles:

  • communication
  • relationships
  • projects
  • administrative
  • financial
  • data
  • reports
  • processes

Which are indeed all different.

What if you look at the intangibles – the qualities the person has?

  • select and apply / undertake research / wide range / initiative / creative thinking / judgement
  • coordinate / operate / pro-actively / planning / organise
  • team member / member of a team / work independently / limited direction
  • sustained pressure / changing priorities / environment of changing and conflicting priorities / continuous improvement / time management

To me that list is the importance of the role.


It is not

  • doing a data report.
  • paying the bills.
  • talking to a customer.


It is

Answering the phone while having a customer standing in front of you while a manager is asking where the spare paper is kept for the fax you didn’t know you had while organising the director to get a hire car on her trip to Sydney next week while realising that the process for ordering paper for the fax you didn’t know you had is deficient as it is the second time today you have been asked while paying that overdue invoice to the paper supplier you just remembered because someone asked for fax paper while thinking about your lunch you haven’t had yet and then answering another phone call and sounding as if you have been sitting at your desk all day with nothing to do and are not even the slightest on edge with everything going on and … smiling politely at the next person who just walked in the door and is about to ask you a completely new question.


Do you see the difference?

Being the business admin person is not about being the bookkeeping specialist, it is about being the creative, quick learner who has the patience of a saint, the flexibility to stop doing something start doing something else then go back to the first thing you were doing without making any errors and able to delegate to someone else when you just have too much on, not because you have the authority to delegate just that stuff needs to get done so sometimes you have to ask.


What if business administration is everyone’s responsibility?

Let us assume you’re not applying for a “business administration role” but you are responding to a selection criterion that includes being able to undertake business administration tasks. How do you respond to that?

Easy answer is the same just more condensed into one selection criterion response, giving your best example or two of when you have been juggling half a dozen batons and someone threw in a running chainsaw and you kept them all in the air without dropping one or losing a limb.

It is about the same qualities. Especially resilience which is a term I do not like but it is critical to this role. I do not like the term as it can be used as a bit of a throwaway line; like a modern “suck it up buttercup”. It is the resilience to push through and get stuff done, and done accurately as I said before.


Share this post