9 to 5 Culture

A Very Bad Career Choice

What are some of the the worst careers you can think of?

Ditch digger? No. You get to be outside.

Guard at a prison for the criminally insane? Maybe. At least the pay is pretty good.

Assembly line worker? Definitely possible. Long hours of doing the same thing over and over again. That’s pretty bad.

But I can think of one career that is extremely common, that millions toil at every day suffering silently, the only ones truly able to read this article and think, “damn right!”

What is the position? The Administrative Assistant. (Or Secretary/Data-Entry Processor/Office Coordinator)

Why Being an Administrative Assistant is so Awful

1. Independent Thought is Frowned Upon

770472_coffee_If slavery existed today, this is as close as it gets in it’s present-day format. You have no power. You have to do exactly what your superiors tell you. You sit for hours while your body begs you to stop, developing carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems, a bad neck, bad posture and tiredness and have to take it all smiling.

Any hint of insubordination is grounds for dismissal. This is not the case with other positions where people actually have a skill-set which is more difficult to replace. If a web designer who is an independent contractor disagrees with the way their company wants to display their logo, the company may listen to them and take their advice. If an Administrative Assistant disagrees with the way his manager writes a memo, he is told (essentially) that he isn’t paid to think. If he protests further, he can be easily replaced. And this is because office drones are easy to find. There is no special talent required, except for a streak of masochism.

2. The Pay is Really, Really Bad

778130_loose_change_4Honestly, who can live on $9 an hour these days? True, many assistants make more than this (some make a good deal more) but it is rare to find one who makes more than $32,000 per year or so. And there is little chance of any kind of bonus, except for the laughable 2% annual “raise” which doesn’t even keep pace with inflation. And I’m not saying that money is the be-all end-all important factor in job selection. But there are so many other problems with this line of “work” that the pay certainly doesn’t justify doing it.

It also suffers from the terrible, classic “pay by the hour” system which has many, many flaws and limitations.

3. It Isn’t a True Career

Go ahead. Find someone who said that they wanted to be a secretary or assistant when they grew up. Having trouble? That’s because there is nobody. I can’t think of anyone who would actually want to be an office drone. It’s the anti-dream of most young people who are looking ahead to their futures. They’d rather be a physician, attorney, surfer, astronaut, congressman, travel writer, professional boxer… whatever. These are actually real professions that have “personality” and help fuel purpose. Most people want purpose. Most people want to make a difference.

An Administrative Assistant’s purpose is to do what they are told. It isn’t unreasonable to think that assistants may be replaced some day by computers. Anything that doesn’t require independent thought of any kind can, in theory, be replaced by technology. But until that day, we’ll require human beings to be doing the same job that the relatives of your home computer will one day perform.

And every time I hear about the wonders of one of these “Administrative Assistant” training programs at one of these vocational schools I feel like hanging myself.

4. Room for Growth is Non-existent

Foot in the door.


You might as well stick your foot into a blender. You won’t be needing it with the amount of sitting you’ll be doing. (Except for trips to the copy machine and your master’s office.) You’ll be doing this for years on end. Even if you DO switch offices, you’ll just be doing the same things in the next one. Because assistants get replaced all the time, this is likely. So while you are in transition from one drone job to another, you can see any hint of savings (ha!) disappear during these “down times” (between job periods.)

And you get to do this while watching other people advance in their careers and actually make a contribution to their field of choice.

There is no future for the Administrative Assistant. None whatsoever.

That is, unless they find something else to do with their professional life.



  • Annette November 5, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    I do not entirely agree with your stance on this post. Sure you would be hard pressed to find someone who strives to be an admin when they grow up – however, I personally can think of someone who worked this sort of position and seemed rather content.

    No, she was no drone. She had worked more “prestigious” positions and wanted a flexible job that would allow her time to spend with her daughter and make some extra money. She worked in a college and did not have someone breathing down her back. She worked in a department filled with free thinking individuals and she too would fall into such a category.

    I also can think of another younger woman who worked in a staffing agency in such a position and I’m sure it was not her dream job. However, she made it her own and did the job on her own terms. I think the trick is – if someone who works such a position is really needed (i.e. they are not easily replaceable and thus have more leverage) this sort of position may not be as bad as you make it to be.


  • escapee November 6, 2007 at 6:47 am

    So, are you an administrative assistant? 😉

    The only way I think this could be a fun job is if you worked for someone you really liked, like a favorite author.


  • Annette November 6, 2007 at 9:34 am

    lol – I am definitely not an administrative assistant – my job does not involve an office! 😉 Actually, I think there are some studies out there that have found that this profession has some of the highest rates of depression.

    That being said, I do think that job satisfaction is very much linked with “the right person for the right job” philosophy. I think that environmental factors such as where you work and who your boss is also play a big role. If someone does not enjoy multi-tasking in an office setting while serving as the glue in the know for others, of course they’ll hate their job.

    However, in the two instances that came to my mind (admittedly a flawed availability heuristic), the admins had more autonomy in their position than what Mike described and also seemed to enjoy being needed.


  • Mike November 6, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Most assistants have very little room for growth, freedom or creativity within the field. Was the person you described (Annette) a true Administrative Assistant? I would argue that since they worked at a college their position was a bit different. I have not met one assistant who had the kind of freedoms you describe.

    I do like your arguement about the “right person for the job” philosophy though – there are people who actually might do well in that environment (not that it was ever where they wanted to end up!)

    Escapee – I actually have a true story related to what you just said, which I’ll save for a post at a later date!


    • Steve December 29, 2017 at 3:34 am

      I have been an administrative assistant for 20 years. I did not do a very good job of career planning as I was too young at 18 to know what I should do with the rest of my life. I would love to quit, which is not very realistic. I feel stuck and my Journalism degree did not produce any jobs since I lacked experience. Just because enjoyed writing does not mean I would enjoy being a reporter.


  • escapee November 6, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    A friend of a friend of mine is an admin assistant to Neil Gaiman. Now, what I wouldn’t do for that job! Can’t wait to read your story.


  • Scott Jackson November 7, 2007 at 7:40 am

    I don’t think it’s the worst job, but it definitely seems boring. The one where I work is a very nice woman, but half the time is just going to beanie baby website, because as she says, she can ask for more work, but there’s really no incentive for her to do so.


  • Beth November 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks, Mike, for posting this and all your other posts. This one cracks me up, but it’s also really sad because it’s true and I can totally relate!

    I think you can go ahead and throw in any title with the word “assistant” in it, for example, Executive Assistant. That’s what I do. And it is humiliating. It’s basically being an admin. assistant for a bunch of executive level jerks, rather than just average ones. I work in an office in NYC, having to listen to the maddening complaints of the entitled rich who often make ignorant, offensive comments about others–and they’re a bunch of self-proclaimed liberals! Watching my boss freak out when the servers go down because she was busy perusing match.com and playing solitaire while the rest of us were actually doing work. The laziness, the disrespect of management, and the mandatory compliance of staff, not allowed to say a word or it’s insubordination. If I ever say I have too much on my plate, it’s regarded as “not being a team player” rather than being assertive or sticking up for myself. Sometimes even when I’m not directly involved, just watching my co-workers run around for these people makes me sick. It is slavery. Yeah, we could leave. I know that. I’m not asking anyone to feel bad for me. But, someone else will replace me. And it’ll be the same hell for them. I have to let my bosses know when I need to use the bathroom because they apparently don’t know how to pick up their own phones, so I have to prepare them for that potentially life-altering experience every single time. I am almost 30 yrs old. Good times. I have been there for over 3 years, and while I make over $40k annually, I’ve gotten 2% raises for the last few years. That kind of income doesn’t really provide for much of a life for me and my husband in NYC. I recently snapped at someone for interrupting my lunch. There have been days I sit in Central Park under an umbrella eating my sandwich just so I can have some peace. No doubt about it, being an assistant makes you a bitter, resentful, paranoid person after a while. Anyway, I know I’ve got to get out soon before my heart turns black and I begin to feel hate, and I’m working on that now.

    Whew! That felt good. 🙂 Sorry for the rant, but what I like so much about your site is the honesty you have about this kind of job and it’s always comforting knowing I’m not the only one who feels so miserable about it and KNOWS it’s because of the job, not because of something outside the office, as they have actually suggested to me. Yeah, that’s right–they know I’m miserable and they’ve tried to attribute my obvious unhappiness there to some external factor. The nerve.


  • evie July 18, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for cheering me up. This is all true. The worst part is when people leave their dishes in the sink for you and after you do them when finally they’ve been sitting there all day come running over and say, “Oh you didn’t have to do those, I would have done them.” (Only when you don’t do them they are still sitting there days later.) I also hate the fact that all of your co-workers whatever their level speak to you as if they are your manager. Um where did they get the idea that they can act like my boss? I have to hear about all their little precious snow-flakes attending private universities and preparing for their careers while I’m supposed to know my station and know that I can easily be replaced. Only been doing my job for 17 years but still even little snow-flake who’s parents still make and go to doctor’s appointments with them and hold their hand while they pee in their mid-twenties, could do my job in a heart beat. (ie: especially in this economy they could use a little resume boost and would be much better at it than me.) Some of them hint at this often. If I have a busy event or conference to plan there are people who try to sabotage it too – say negative things and get my nerves flustered or try to tack on extra work while I’m in the weeds to make it more difficult. Then proceed to gossip about me being flustered or seeming upset. After all my crazy planning, attention to detail. etc., etc., etc., and all the stress building around and up to it: They derail me with a nasty comments so I want to cry. I’m suddenly caught off guard holding back tears at an important event which will most likely get me fired. They do it every time, whenever I’m under the most pressure. They get off on it actually. I’m not sure why people have such negative feelings about Admins – I think it’s because they perceive that we’re sitting there getting paid to do nothing all day and that if that’s the case – think “You should be paid less and I should get that raise” which they keep harping and martyring and hinting about. “Because $85,000-$100,000 is so hard to live on” They may have a spending problem, but as I hand them their paychecks I have to hear how it’s all gone already easy come easy go while I haven’t had a full fridge of groceries in years. Accept I have access to payroll records for my job and see what they all make! Insensitive jerks. Secretaries are the number one woman’s job in the country and we’re taking so much crap for so little… because everything else has been outsourced but it’s suddenly occurring to me that we’re the ones paying for everyone else to get unemployment and job training – lucky stiffs they’re not stuck living in limbo like us taking shit from the privileged class.


  • Jenny D March 19, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I COMPLETELY agree!


  • Gayna May 3, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    LOL thanks for a much needed gut-busting belly laugh after a long week serving others in a profession I despise…that was the most hilarious post I’ve read in a long time. I laughed until the tears rolled down my cheeks for a good hour, and my husband laughed with me (not at me)! Thank you thank you thank you 6 years after your post.


  • Maggie December 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you all for your honesty. I’m nearly 25, and I’ve been working as an Administrative Assistant for six months. This job should be entitled “the Office B*tch”, because I have to deal with everyone’s anger; the clients’, teachers’, and students’, and parents. I’m the office Mom; when parents come in with children, they expect ME to discipline them instead of watching them themselves. I’m also the Office computer. I have to answer EVERYONE’S questions, constantly, even when I have NO idea what the answer is to a particularly inane question that is completely illogical. I have to call people when their method of payment is declined, and consequently get yelled at for something that is THEIR fault. I’m the office accountant, which is terrible, believe me, because I have a theatre degree, and as such, Math is something I simply cannot do. Oh, and I’m also a makeshift sales person, which I find particularly repulsive; conning poor people into spending too much money for something they don’t need. I have to listen to these horrific sales training calls once a week, that make me want to vomit. My boss is a psychopathic control freak who spent 30 minutes telling me in person yesterday that “I don’t sound happy enough on the phone” and “I need to transform myself for this job.” Really? Transform myself? Up yours. No. No, I’m not doing that. Oh, and I don’t receive commission for obtaining new clients, either. To anyone who is considering accepting a position as an admin, stop, call the employer, and say, “Hell. No.” Furthermore, if you have ANY kind of college degree, please know that you spent four years and thousands of dollars learning to be an independent thinker, and this is a job for a robot. I am so unhappy, the stress of this job –and mark my words, this job is NOT WORTH THE STRESS– taxed my relationship with my boyfriend. I come home angry and exhausted, from having to deal with the unending barrage of ridiculous questions from masses of stupid, stupid people.

    Thank god, I found another job, and I will be putting my two weeks in at the end of January.


  • P. January 14, 2015 at 5:27 am

    OMG! I was LMAO! Funny but SO TRUE!!! 🙂


  • CEO February 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm


    There was nothing funny about any of these posts. You must be one of those people who are stimulated by watching others suffer.


  • Brandon November 4, 2015 at 5:08 am

    Found this and it made my day I’ve been miserable after getting a client services coordinator job that ended up being a 90% administrative assistant gig that had a 6 month interview process. Worst part is I can’t quit till i get something lined up being fresh out of college trying to pay down my student loans. But honeslty thank you for writing this made my f****** day.


  • Alia March 12, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Thank you thank you thank you I think this will help give me the boost I need to seriously
    leave a dead end job where I am used, get to play maid at dinner parties. and yes too much work means I am not organized , of course not paid for over time

    tired of dead end job
    thanks for relevant post


  • Lucy C March 15, 2016 at 1:26 am

    Hilarious! Thanks also to EVIE, for the dishes scenario- This would happen to me all the time as the Exec Assistant to CEO. I cannot believe the double standard of behavior allowed for engineers- who go around swearing loudly and stomping around like raging toddlers when things don’t go their way. They are prized and forgiven quickly, “Oh Adam, you poor guy, let’s go out for a beer later.” I never yelled, stomped or freaked out but, acted as the dustbin for OPM (other peoples’ moods). If I had a comment that was less than glitter-pen positive, I was stonewalled by bosses,etc. -for weeks. Silent Treatment can be just as hurtful to the person who runs the office and makes it special for everyone,everyday. Many Thanks for this article, I remember now why I cannot ever do this job again.


  • Anita November 24, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    One month ago I left my adminI job for a completely different job. After several years of suffering and enduring in silence the rudeness, the gossiping, the 2% laughable raise, the miserable pay, the condescending looks, the nasty comments, the 4-years-old-grammar-skills colleagues who thinks they can boss you around, the disrespect and the ungratefulness, my prayers have been heard. There is a God, for real!

    Talking about recognition, how could you feel valued when even your boos talked shit about your job? For the last years, I have witness my colleagues and even my boss saying to people “I’m not your secretary’ when they got some works they don’t want to do. They took every minute to remind you that you are less than nothing, that your job does not count.

    I looked at myself dying inside just a little bit every single day. I am very forgiving and compassionate person but I was slowly but surely turning into a bitter woman. So I went back to university and studied like my life depended on it. Even though I am not done yet with my studies, I started applying for other job. Any thing unrelated to office admin job would do. After 10 years in this field, I was done with it. I just couldn’t take it anymore.

    So, when I have recently and finally been offered my new job, I did not hesitate a second. Believe me ladies (and gentlemen), this job can suck the joy and life out of you. If you can, run, RUN FAST … FAR FAR AWAY.


    • mike February 28, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      Thank you for stopping by, Anita

      Very sorry to hear about your job and the toxic environment (that even your boss recognized!)

      When I first wrote this article I was writing from the basis of my own time as an admin and how that always seemed like a terrible job. What I have now come to realize is that there are some admin positions which are actually pretty great, but the following conditions need to be there:

      1. Your boss MUST be a good manager. If this isn’t the case then your admin job is going to be spent largely making up for/suffering for your boss’ shortcomings, which will be rough.
      2. The pay must be comparable to what others in the company are making (which is rare)
      3. The hours must be reasonable.

      Anything less than the above three and you’ve got no chance except to get very good at meditation and not taking anything that happens to you during the day personally. Easier said than done!


  • BitterEA June 18, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Oh my!!!!!!! This is the BEST page i have ever come across to!!!!!
    Anita, i hear you big time!!!! After 12 years od tolerating shitty men, i am now trying tomfigure out what to do to feel like waking up again because being an EA has sucked life out of me!!! Today, if i could have my scream heard by the females of the whole planet i would say “be a HO but NEVER EVER EVER AN ASSISTANT!!!!!!!!” – this comes from someone who is VERY principled and sure as hell against prostitution but darn, being an EA DRAINED ME!!!!
    NOTHING – not even a good pay, if any – would EVER convince me why a female should be an assistant!!!!! Took me tooooo many disappointments to wake up AT LAST!!!
    I BEG you, ladies: even if you will starve to death, do NOT be an assistant!!! NEVER!!!!

    Thank you for this article and for all the comments!!!


  • Jane July 5, 2019 at 3:04 am

    This is a very negative post. I came across this randomly. Not sure if it was meant for satire.

    As a high level EA, it is disappointing to see this career be viewed upon so negatively… Especially since women take up the majority of these positions that were originally designed for men back in the day.

    There are many different levels of administrative assistant jobs at many different types of companies. Just as there are many different managerial roles at many different types of companies with many different pay levels.

    There are downsides to every job, but if you have the right smarts, high EQ and eagerness to learn, you can be a high level EA to an executive that will find you to be invaluable.

    I get paid well in the 6 figures. So this post wrong about the salary amount.

    If your environment is toxic, then leave. If you’re not getting paid well enough, then learn enough to beef up your resume and leave. And if you suck at your job, find a mentor. There will always be someone out there better than you at your job. Find them and learn from them. But don’t talk trash the position because you haven’t reached success in it in others or yourself.

    These types of posts pull down the image of EAs and AAs in general. It’s a shame.


  • Sarah Richards August 9, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    I was an Administrative Assistant of my alma mater’s foundation for seven months. I had just graduated and was given the job three days before I graduated. Everyone there was friendly enough, but the Executive Director had absolutely no respect for me. An interesting story: I was the Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper my last semester; a photo of a robotic mannequin giving birth appeared in the January issue. I didn’t choose the photo–the new EIC did–but my name was on the byline, as I had written the story. Well, my Exec Dir comes at me like I don’t know what, having a complete meltdown, being all shrill and asking me where all the papers were delivered, wanting me to take down the video of the birthing (I had posted one on the Facebook page) and have the staffers remove the papers (both of which are illegal for her to even ask me to do). She was flipping about about offending the donors when many donors were there that night, watching the whole amazing thing happen. She wasn’t crazy about me before, but she treated me like Lumbergh talked to Peter Gibbons in “Office Space.” Thank God I wasn’t the Senior Administrative Assistant whose office is right next to hers and is basically her lackey. When my position was canceled “due to a restructuring,” I was actually relieved; I would’ve stagnated there (I was already looking for other work anyway and going back to school in the fall–it would’ve been a hard job to keep). An Admin Asst job is fine for a while, if you’re working for a decent human being–just to gain some office skills (soft and technical), but it should never be anyone’s career path.


  • Jillian Black August 31, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Wow, just wow…I have been depressed lately, trying to find yet another admin job and wanting nothing less! So bad when you are desperate to find a job and yet the thought of doing this again just makes you ill. I could probably find work as an actor at this point, because yes, you have to be happy and cheerful on a daily basis (act), you have to dress professionally (put on my business COSTUME), be inclusive, be a team player (act, act), be helpful (hides under my desk), be the answer person (computers, office equipment, internet problems – I am not tech, people, I know less about your cell phone than you do), etc. I have always taken classes trying this or that, lately I have been exploring virtual assistant jobs, gig jobs, thinking of working retail, etc. etc. anything almost, so I don’t have to be someone’s assistant anymore. Today I finally googled “I don’t want to work anymore” and “I don’t want to be an admin anymore” just out of curiosity – just to see what came up, and this came up and I love it! thanks for the company, thanks for validating my experience (I was wondering if I was the snowflake, since on paper it’s a pretty good job, decent pay with benefits, yet I have come to hate it so because of the jerks you have to “serve.”) And make no mistake, it’s a service job, I have waited table, done customer service, retail, etc. and at least the jerks come and go, but you are stuck with the boss and co-worker jerks until you can find another job. And as I age, I do feel the managers and co-workers get younger and younger and they seem to see you as a “failure” because you’re still an assistant and treat you accordingly with a lack of respect and sometimes a patronizing attitude. I have had great bosses, but very few. Anyway – onward! Respect yourselves, you are great and talented, but do find something else to do! I am working on it…


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