Must Know Software for the Administrative Assistant

By | Oct 9, 2008

These days, with companies reorganizing and downsizing, more and more is being expected of the Administrative Assistant role.  We’re not just expected to take care of the boss anymore, we’re also expected to design databases, manage websites, produce newsletters and a plethora of other duties we weren’t expected to do in the past.  As such, more and more software knowledge is expected of someone applying for an Administrative Assistant position over and above the usual Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.  I’ve put together a list of software that could be beneficial for you to learn.  Needless to say, you should also be expert at the aforementioned software.


While many of you may have worked with Microsoft Access, you probably have done simple work like adding and updating records and running predesigned reports.  More and more these days, companies are wanting Administrative Assistants to be able to handle everything from the design phase of the database to building it, designing forms and reports, and managing security.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend taking an advanced Access class that talks not only about the specifics of the software, but the concept of relational database design.

Website Editors

One very common theme I’ve seen in job ads recently is the requirement to be able to manage a website.  You’ll find a variety of website editors that companies use to manage websites.  The most popular ones, though, are Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe Dreamweaver.  FrontPage seems to be the one must requested, probably because it was included in Microsoft Office Professional starting in 2003.  However, FrontPage is being phased out by Microsoft, so there are other web authoring tools being offered.  Dreamweaver is considered the industry standard for web design, but it’s a very expensive program, so you see it less often in your run of the mill office setting.  I’ve found, though, that if you understand the concepts in one program, you can apply it to the other program.  You just need to learn the mechanics of the new program.

Again, I recommend taking a class that includes not just the mechanics of the programs, but the concepts of web design.  It’s not just about looking good, but functioning well and loading fast.

Graphic Design

Many Administrative Assistants produce newsletters, fliers, posters, table cards, name tags and any number of other items.  Some of these items must be professionally printed.  Microsoft Publisher, which comes with Microsoft Office these days, is a good tool for simple graphic design and works for internal items.  But if you are going to have things professionally printed, it doesn’t work as well.  Many printers don’t accept Publisher files, and converting them to PDF can sometimes be problematic.  Publisher also provides very little control over color, placement, bleeds and other issues.

Adobe InDesign is another software that you may see requested in job ads.  It’s a very complex, graphic design software.  You won’t be able to learn it overnight.  And, if you are a Microsoft person, you’ll have a pretty big learning curve because Adobe uses completely different terminology for the same things than Microsoft.  I was able to teach myself the basics of InDesign, but more than any other software, I recommend taking a class on InDesign.  It really is very complex and to use it effectively, you’ll be better off taking a class.

Graphics Software

If you’re working on websites and newsletters, you are perforce going to be working with graphics.  Unfortunately, there is much more to working with graphics than just dragging and dropping them into your document.  You need to be able to change resolutions, crop, resize, adjust brightness and contrast, cut out unwanted elements, and a plethora of other little details to make your graphics look great.

In this case, Microsoft doesn’t have a nice, out-of-the-box option for you.  Microsoft Paint just doesn’t do what you want it to, and Microsoft Photo Editor isn’t much better.

The industry standard for working with graphics is Adobe Photoshop.  It’s a full scale graphic design tool that lets you do everything from adjusting photos to painting portraits.  It’s a little over the top for the type of graphics work we do as Administrative Assistants, and it has a price tag to match.

There is another program that you can use.  It’s an Open Source, free ware program called GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program).    If you are already familiar with PhotoShop, there is even an overaly for GIMP called GIMPShop, which is designed to have a similar interface to PhotoShop.  I’ve been using GIMP for a few years, and while there is a learning curve to it, it pretty much does the job you want for a great price… FREE!

The career path of an Administrative Assistant requires that you learn many skills.  Some of these skills will be software related.  Especially in this current economic climate, you will be best poised to climb the career ladder if you know the software companies are using.  Do yourself a favor, learn them now instead of later.

Let’s hear from some of the other Administrative and Executive Assistants out there.  What software do you consider important for someone climbing the Administrative career ladder to know?

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35 Comments so far
  1. Jeremy Kneebone (1 comments) May 20, 2009 3:34 pm

    GIMP is sweet, however if you’re not familiar with photoshop it may have a decent learning curve

  2. Svetainiu kurimas (1 comments) October 18, 2009 9:02 am

    GIMP is sweet AND more importantly FREE! But I agree about the learning curve thing.

  3. Jodith (189 comments) October 23, 2009 1:12 pm

    Yes, free is the best part about it. Many small non-profits and businesses just can’t afford the Adobe software, so GIMP is a nice product for them.

  4. Vehicle Accessories (1 comments) January 7, 2010 7:11 pm

    Yes, GIMP is very useful and a free program, however I liked the GIMPShop which resembles more Photoshop and myself being a Photoshop person, I am more comfortable with GIMPShop.

  5. Jodith (189 comments) January 8, 2010 3:28 pm

    Yes, GimpShop is great for those folks who already know PhotoShop. For those who don’t know what it is, GimpShop is an overlay for Gimp which uses a similar interface to PhotoShop, to make it easier for folks who know PhotoShop to convert to GIMP. I know a number of folks who use the GimpShip overlay who like it.

  6. devi iriawan (1 comments) January 13, 2010 7:08 pm

    GIMP is free web design software but i prefer use adobe photoshop for my design

  7. Jodith (189 comments) January 14, 2010 8:50 pm

    PhotoShop is great software, but because it’s so expensive, many office just won’t buy it. So a good assistant finds alternatives.

  8. interior design ideas (1 comments) January 30, 2010 11:32 am

    Would be adobe photoshop and Corel draw enough? the MS office suite is pretty accessible for an average pc user, this that will not pose problems.

  9. Jodith (189 comments) January 31, 2010 1:48 pm

    Photoshop and Corel Draw can certainly be of help if you are doing desktop publishing as an Administrative Assistant. As long as you have some graphics program available that know to be able to alter graphics, you should be okay.

  10. Joseph Reed (1 comments) February 3, 2010 6:23 am

    Very good article. An alternative to Microsoft Office is which is a free office suite. So those who can’t but can surely try out this one.

  11. Jodith (189 comments) February 8, 2010 1:43 pm

    Open Office is a good alternative if you can’t afford MS Office. But you do need to be aware that it has problems opening MS Office documents. There’s a work around, but it’s a bit complex.

  12. skornik-security (1 comments) March 23, 2010 11:18 pm

    Yeah, try being the “assistant” when it’s not even your job! and you fill out 70,000 other positions!

  13. Seo (1 comments) March 30, 2010 1:08 am

    this is what i like about GIMP It shares all GIMP’s advantages, including the long feature list and customisability, while addressing some common criticisms regarding the program’s interface: GIMPshop modifies the menu structure to closely match Photoshop’s, adjusts the program’s terminology to match Adobe’s, and, in the Windows version, uses a plugin called ‘Deweirdifier’ to combine the application’s numerous windows in a similar manner to the MDI system used by most Windows graphics packages. While GIMPshop does not support Photoshop plugins, all GIMP’s own plugins, filters, brushes, etc. remain available.

  14. Jodith (189 comments) April 5, 2010 9:43 am

    I really am going to have to try GIMPShop some time. I’m so used to the GIMP interface, though, that it might actually be harder for me than just staying with GIMP.

  15. Jodith (189 comments) April 5, 2010 9:45 am

    *laughs* I know how that is, skornik. I’ve worked for several small businesses where I filled multiple roles. In my last job as a small non-profit, I was the executive assistant, benefits manager, network administrator, help desk, and receptionist all rolled into one.

  16. Devin Kirk (1 comments) April 16, 2010 4:47 pm

    I just started using Gimp, because I was considering buying Photoshop. Thank God I found Gimp. People would be surprised at the number of free softwares out there, like Open Office. Excellent software.
    .-= Devin Kirk´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  17. Bob Jenson@Action Online Web Design (1 comments) May 30, 2010 8:16 pm

    I’m using Dreamweaver a lot less now a days. I’m doing most of my development online now, within various CMS systems (CMS Made Simple, Joomla, WordPress).
    I do use Photoshop loads though. For those with a small budget, I recommend Photoshop Elements. Not as many features as the full version but it’s still very good.

  18. Jodith (189 comments) June 5, 2010 12:19 pm

    I agree. I’m using html editors very rarely these days. Most of the work I’m doing is in WordPress, although I’ve used Drupal for a couple of clients who use it on their websites.

  19. San Diego Web Development (1 comments) June 25, 2010 4:50 pm

    I think DreamWeaver is great for visual design, and they made it somewhat friendly to integrate dynamic programming with the new version CS5, I especially like the livecode and liveview features, makes it a lot easier/faster to see how the code looks like after its parsed by the server. However, I still believe Visual Studio is the best web development tool, the power of ASP.NET is just unmatched compared to other web programming languages.

  20. Jodith (189 comments) June 27, 2010 9:51 am really is a great language that can provide a lot of functionality not available in html. One problem with, though, is that it requires you to keep your site on a Windows server, which is generally much more expensive than keeping your site on a Linux server. For many small businesses and non-profits, that cost difference is just too much. Also, most administrative assistants are not going to have the knowledge to be able to code

  21. Boston portrait photographer (1 comments) June 28, 2010 1:35 pm

    surpisingly ive never heard about GIMP but from the looks of it im going to have to check it out…especially if its free! i use photoshop but i’ve also moved on and really like to use lightroom as well which is pretty similar but lets you batch process stuff which is great for me and i imagine might be helpful to an admin assistant as well.

  22. Sean Rosensteel (1 comments) July 29, 2010 6:33 am

    Great article, however you forgot about! Sometimes, free programs are better than paid-for programs. A similar package to would be Google Docs.. which is amazing because you have the ability to share and collaborate on one live doc in a secure environment.

  23. Chino (1 comments) July 29, 2010 9:12 pm

    Adobe Photoshop and InDesign are the best tools for any graphic related projects. Adobe really worked hard for this softwares, people can really bring out their creativity and personal touch to their designs. Though it’s expensive, Adobe software are worth it.

  24. Custom Application Development (1 comments) August 9, 2010 6:22 am

    I believe Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe Dreamweaver are worlds apart. You can develop squeaky clean websites in Dreamweaver and in my experience that is just not possible with FrontPage. However, I may be wrong since I haven’t used FrontPage in ages. Any proponents of FrontPage in the house?

  25. boston wedding photographer (1 comments) August 16, 2010 2:49 am

    I prefer using Photoshop than Gimp. PS have more features and compatibility that GIMP.

  26. wedding photographer boston (1 comments) September 1, 2010 5:39 pm

    I think ,the first step isn’t software, its meatware – you need an experienced (executive) administrative assistant. They will be familiar with note taking and the formats/programs that work best for filing and looking for information. Everybody in the offices I have worked for would be lost without them.

  27. seo California (1 comments) October 5, 2010 4:27 pm

    GIMP is a good alternative to the expensive Photoshop, along with But it’s good to know an industry standard like Photoshop just in case.

    I’ll ignore the antiquated Frontpage, but MS Outlook is a staple that is very important to have under control.

  28. Steven (2 comments) October 14, 2010 10:35 pm

    I agree about the learning curve thing. Adobe really worked hard for this software’s, people can really bring out their creativity and personal touch to their designs. And they made it somewhat friendly to integrate dynamic programming with the new version CS5,

  29. Sarah@Lauren Clark Photography (1 comments) November 4, 2010 11:22 am

    I am more comfortable with Adobe because it is user friendly and the features are great. I can easily edit banners, logos and photos using it. It doesn’t cost too much too.

  30. Lingwee (1 comments) November 16, 2010 12:54 pm

    I usually find that for every expensive piece of software out there you can always find a free alternative somewhere online. Gimp is a good example. There are some nice web editing programs for free as well.

  31. scott (1 comments) January 27, 2011 8:24 am

    Adobe Contribute is pretty good for beginners editing text and stuff.. worth a look at i didnt know what it did till the other day!

  32. Dave Houk (1 comments) March 28, 2012 6:29 am

    GIMP is a great tool for those that can’t afford Photoshop, but if you are really into photo editing, then get photoshop, it’s really worth it especially when you learn how to use it properly !!

  33. Nana Bosy (1 comments) June 30, 2012 12:25 am

    Adobe Photoshop and InDesign are the best tools for any graphic related projects. Adobe really worked hard for this softwares, people can really bring out their creativity and personal touch to their designs. Though it’s expensive, Adobe software are worth it.

  34. Joshy (1 comments) March 5, 2013 9:23 am

    I don’t think dreamweaver will be less and less common in offices like you said. It’s still the industry standard, and a lot of people these days are only learning to use a WYSIWYG editor unfortunately. If they use dreamweaver they don’t have to hire people quite as qualified because it’s easier to use. Probably a saving overall, even with the high price point.

  35. task management (1 comments) March 30, 2015 4:31 am

    Really great list of tools. I like the way the technology headed with cloud software available to anyone. Your favourite tools are accessible virtually from anywhere including Google Docs and more. Database management is also tricky and requires a great deal of knowledge to handle properly. Do you really need a database? Perhaps a work flow visualization tool is all you need. These allows you to store your tasks, files, comments and more while offering you a wide range of features like notifications ,statistics, analytics, estimates and more. I find it more efficient for teams than database, that is also crucial, but serves a different role in my opinion.

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