Clerical worker seeks boost

Dear Joan:
I am a female, age 38, and have worked in offices for 20 years. I'm experienced in operating a switchboard, being a receptionist or an insurance agent, doing secretarial work (typing and shorthand) and machine transcription, as well as filing, etc. I'm also very well organized, creative, personable and have much to offer my employer.

For the past two years, I've been doing word processing work and attending school for a degree in supervisory management. I've been at my present $14,600-a-year job for nine years with no chance of "growing."

I feel I'm capable of more responsibility and more income.

Am I being unrealistic? Is my age against me? What is the best way to find a better position and in what area?

Would an employment agency or my own ad for work wanted be beneficial? Any help would be appreciated

Your age isn't against you but your background may be. The bulk of your work experience has been in clerical jobs. Although you are attending school for a degree in supervisory management, you mention no work-related experience in supervising others.

An employer will wonder why you have stayed in a clerical role and have made no move from your present position. Nine years is a long time in a position with no growth.

Career development, or growth, is your responsibility, not that of the company. By "growth," I mean taking on expanded responsibilities, learning new skills and accepting increased accountability. Your boss's responsibility is to provide counseling on areas of weakness and opportunities to develop strengths. If you truly have not grown, then perhaps you are unrealistic for staying on that job for nine years.

As you have discovered, there is no Corporate Promotion Fairy.

If you really are determined to find out what you want and go for it, then try some of the following:

Request a meeting with your boss to discuss your career development. Be well prepared with clear ideas on what your demonstrated strengths, skills and abilities are. For example, you mentioned "organized" and "creative." Be more specific. What can you organize? Creativity in what areas?

In addition to this, outline areas of responsibility in which you feel you have untested potential.

The two topics for discussion with your boss are:

1) What jobs in the company require skills and abilities like yours.

2) What can you do in and outside your current position to get ready for those jobs.

Frankly, another option (and you've already identified it) is to look for a position in a different company. (There's a good chance that you've been stereotyped, in your current job, as "clerical" in the minds of the managers. They've seen you in one role too long.)

Job hunting for more responsibility may be difficult. Sell yourself careful. Play up your new degree, past results and accomplishments and any accountabilities you have.

Because you obviously have expertise in secretarial and support skills, it might make sense to pursue a position as an office manger or word processing unit supervisor. This way, your 20 years of experience will be to your benefit and you'll be able to use that new degree.

In the meantime, if you have any projects to complete for your degree, try to use real companies in your research or activities. Not only will your education be enhanced, but you'll be able to mention these projects on your resume and the employer network you build will get a chance to see you in action.

If you are going to school for a two-year certificate, consider a four-year degree. It carries more weight, particularly when your work experience doesn't show increasing responsibility.

Consider specializing in one area in your education. Computers, for example. With office automation transforming traditional offices across the country, many jobs could open to people with your knowledge of office systems.

Put your name in at employment agencies but don't expect quick results unless your background matches your job objective (For example, you might stand a better chance of being placed if your objective is to be a sales or service representative who calls on secretaries.)

Finally, placing your own ad for "work wanted: will probably yield few responses, if any, and is probably not worth the cost.

You are your own best "work wanted" ad. What it takes is knowing what you want and not stopping until you get it. If determination is one of your strengths, you stand a good chance of getting the job you want. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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