Working With Confidential Documents

By | Jan 12, 2009

Creative Commons License photo credit: ivoryelephantphotography

As you progress in your career as an Administrative Assistant, and especially as an Executive Assistant, you’ll be working more and more with confidential documents.  Pretty much every interview you go on will ask you about your experience in handling  these types of documents.  Below are some tips for properly handling confidential files.

Handling Confidential Electronic Files

You should take precautions that confidential data isn’t seen while you are working with the electronic files. 

  • Position your desk so someone cannot easily stand behind you and see your computer screen.  I habitually set my desk up so that my back it to a wall.
  • Get a privacy screen for your monitor, which will limit the angle at which someone can view your screen.
  • Make sure to enable a password protected screensaver, so that any document you are working on is protected if you step away from your desk.  I usually set mine for about 3 minutes.  Annoying, but safe.
  • Ideally, lock your computer when you step away (in Windows, type Ctrl-Alt-Delete and then K to lock your computer).
  • Encrypt all confidential files.  Find the file on Windows Explorer, right click it, and choose Encrypt (for Win XP and higher).
  • Delete your temp files regularly.  Every time you open an attachment in Outlook, a copy goes to your temp files, including confidential documents.
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Keeping Hard Copies Confidential

  • Put a cover page on all confidential documents.
  • Mark each page of the document with a SECRET watermark.
  • Remember, don’t print confidential documents to a shared or public printer.
  • Number copies of confidential documents and have each copy signed for so you can track each copy.
  • When not in use, confidential documents should be locked in a desk or file cabinet.
  • When you’re finished with a confidential document, shred it in a high quality, crosscut shredder.  Strip shred documents are very easy to reconstruct.

One of the hallmarks of a good administrative assistant is the ability to handle confidential data.  Assure your boss that you know how to properly handle confidential files.

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14 Comments so far
  1. Barbara Swafford (8 comments) January 15, 2009 11:49 pm

    Hi Jodith – This is fabulous advice. Like you I’ve worked with confidential docs for years. Keeping them protected is so important.

    I also work with my back to the wall. I hate when someone is trying to read what I’m working on (even if it’s not confidential).

  2. Jodith (189 comments) January 16, 2009 3:08 pm

    Yes, I have to admit that I have a thing about sitting with my back to the room. But then, I’ve always been a bit paranoid *laughs*. In my current job I’m in a cubical, and I sit with my back to everyone. Drives me crazy.

  3. JostMon (1 comments) April 11, 2009 11:38 pm

    I just put up an interactive encryption site called encryptiAn (my name links to that site). I created it for myself to be able to store my private data in Google notebook but then I thought that it has a lot of other uses including: encrypted emails, encrypted public chats, encrypted diaries, encrypted social site comments, etc. Of course gmail already has encryption option but it can still be read at the user’s computer. This method could keep the prying eyes completely away. Also, can you see other peoples reaction if two people use encrypted strings to chat in a public chatroom? Check it out.

  4. dvd storage cabinet (2 comments) September 10, 2009 2:35 am

    Another tip is to get yourself an iron key. This is a usb storage stick, but it also comes with encryption and is impossible to hack.

  5. Jodith (189 comments) September 10, 2009 6:29 am

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, an encrypted USB is a must if you need to travel with confidential documents.

  6. Jodith (189 comments) October 23, 2009 1:47 pm

    Great news is that Windows 7 has the capability of encrypting external media such as your usb drive. And, it’s backwards compatible, so you can open it on any other computer as long as you have the password.

  7. Computer Maintenance (1 comments) December 21, 2009 11:36 am

    Very good insight into maintaining confidentiality of sensitive documentation. In fact, our company has a 10 minute induction video tutorial explaining it’s importance!

    .-= Computer Maintenance´s last blog ..USB Troubleshooting =-.

  8. Ohne Schufa (1 comments) February 1, 2010 3:50 am

    Jodith, you mentioned very good points to keep confidential electronic files confidential. Most people are not aware of the danger and I still have the feeling that people do not care as much as they should to keep electronic files save.
    .-= Ohne Schufa´s last blog ..Credit without Schufa =-.

  9. Jodith (189 comments) February 2, 2010 5:16 am

    I’m not sure that people don’t care so much as people just don’t understand the dangers. We tend to take the security of our computers and files for granted, which is always a big mistake.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Ohne.

  10. Raymond J. (1 comments) February 5, 2010 5:10 pm

    I am glad someone finally brought this up. People care to little about protecting their sesitive data. This was an excellent guide, and really opened my eyes to this issue. Thanks. – Ray J- Mobilhuset: Mobil uten abonnement

  11. Defragment Computer (1 comments) July 18, 2010 5:43 pm

    Passworded screensaver and computer lock all the way!

  12. dlf@chistian travel (1 comments) August 16, 2010 5:54 am

    One of the most effective means of not accidentally exposing confidential data is simply reducing access to the data. This includes not collecting such data if not absolutely necessary, not showing it on printed reports or computer screens, and eliminating cases where it has been historically stored in locations, both electronic and paper, where it is no longer required.

  13. dannie @ public records search (1 comments) October 15, 2010 11:38 pm

    This was a great post about working with confidential documents. All of the advise you give is spot on. I have worked in this area and agree with everything you say.

  14. Betty Williams (1 comments) July 27, 2014 11:54 am

    I am a Senior Administrative Assistant II. Your blog is very infomative.

    Would you be so kind as to provide me with some strategies and tools for Organization, Time Management and Handling Multiple Projects?

    Thank you.

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