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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Demand Never Flags for Qualified Secretaries

The expansion of the Russian employment market has created a bewildering array of new businesses offering a range of new jobs. But one post that will always remain in demand is that of secretary.


Moscow's recruitment agencies say they take this demand seriously: CR Support, a division of the Dutch-based Commonwealth Resources, was created especially for the recruitment of administrative staff such as secretaries and personal assistants.


"People are biased about the job of secretary. It's much more than just serving coffee and filing documents," said Anna Pisemskaya, head of the new department. "It's a very responsible job and the range of duties is wide and interesting."


Precisely what those duties include is something of a question of culture, according to Pisemskaya, who has two years experience in the recruitment business.


In contrast to a Western secretary, who will usually stick to the duties listed in her job description, a secretary in Russia is expected to do everything that is asked of her -- and she will be asked to do everything, Pisemskaya said.


Besides typical skills such as typing, agencies said a secretary also needs to have command of a foreign language -- usually English -- and translation skills.


"Among applicants for a secretarial job, 80 percent have a university degree, 40 to 50 percent graduated from linguistic schools," said Yulia Gafiatullina of Penny Lane, an American recruitment agency, which receives between 2,000 and 3,000 applications for secretarial jobs a year.


"Our applicants are mostly graduates of the Linguistic University and women who learned English living in the U.K. or U.S.A.," said Leonid Stetsovsky, operations manager at the Russian Connection agency, which provides employees for Western companies in Moscow.


For those who wish to get specific training as a secretary, there are a number of institutes in Moscow offering courses that reflect the breadth of secretarial duties.


Among them is the American Academy of International Cooperation, an organization based in New York which has two schools in Moscow and trains up to 300 secretaries a year. Terms last for seven weeks and include business etiquette and computer training, as well as traditional secretarial duties such as filing and writing business letters. They also provide a basic grounding in English.


Another option is the International College of the Foreign Ministry, where two-year courses offer thorough training in typing, shorthand, foreign languages and major subjects such as history and philosophy.


Recruitment agents say that as well as qualifications, previous work experience is either a must or a big plus. However, there is a tendency with some Western companies to hire personnel with no previous experience, train them at work and pay them lower salaries.


According to Pisemskaya, a secretary's average salary is $550 per month, while a personal assistant makes $800 to $900. It is salaries like these that make women put away their university diplomas and apply to recruitment agencies.


Agencies concede that discrimination on the basis of gender is virtually universal among their clients, with women invariably filling the job of secretary and normally working for a male executive.


Pisemskaya said, however, that she had received applications for secretarial positions from men.


"Men usually apply for positions as administrative assistants or office managers, but quite a few would like to be secretaries," said Pisemskaya. "And often their typing skills and telephone manners are better."


But Stetsovsky of the Russian Connection said there was no demand for male secretaries among the clients he deals with.


"Our clients are mostly leading Western companies and I've never had a request for a male secretary from them."


Age and looks also continue to be an issue when firms hire their secretaries.


"Women over 40 apply to us but have much less chance of finding a job," said Gafiatullina of Penny Lane. "At such an age, it's hard to teach a person something new, for example, how to use a computer."


"A younger woman is better at overcoming the psychological stresses that sometimes occur at work," said Stetsovsky. "When a woman is older, she has higher self-esteem and higher demands. But there are always exceptions from the general rule."


Most agencies also said that looks still seem to matter to their clients.


"A woman should have style and charm," said Gafiatullina of Penny Lane. "It always makes a good impression."


"A secretary is the face of a company, and it's her duty to look perfect at work," said Maria Livneva, a secretary at a Finnish construction firm. "However, I wear very little makeup, perfume and jewelry at work. The office is not a night club and I always remember that."