How to Know If Executive Assistant Is the Right Career for You

What Is an Executive Assistant?

An executive assistant manages the day-to-day administrative tasks and scheduling for high-level executives, such as a CEO, director or senior manager, allowing them to focus on delivering core strategic direction for the business. 

They are often the first point of contact for internal and external stakeholders, managing correspondence on their executive’s behalf and ensuring their lives run as seamlessly as possible. An executive assistant will have access to a high level of confidential and sensitive information and will have the ability to work at the board level.

Key Responsibilities:

Here are some of the most common executive assistant duties: 

  • Complex and ever-changing schedule management
  • Making travel arrangements for national and international travel, hotels and transfers
  • Working across time zones
  • Handling itineraries
  • Screening phone calls and emails
  • Scheduling meetings
  • Managing expense reports for executives
  • Correspondence
  • Inbox management
  • Preparing reports and PowerPoint presentations
  • The ability to work with Board level executives
  • Taking minutes in meetings
  • Arranging events
  • Running personal errands
  • Ordering office supplies
  • Acting as a gatekeeper
  • Managing a junior assistant or a team of admin assistants
  • Providing cover for others if required
  • Project management
  • Involvement in strategic planning
  • Facilitation of cross-departmental communication
  • Implementing and maintaining filing systems

See a full list of EA responsibilities here.

Skills Required:

Below is a list of executive assistant qualifications, skills, and personality traits that an EA needs to have or aspire toward:

  • Good academic qualifications
  • Exceptional organizational skills
  • Competency with Microsoft Office Suite
  • Confident and professional demeanor
  • 5 years previous PA or EA experience working at senior level
  • Experience in managing others
  • Time management skills
  • Extremely good attention to detail
  • High level of interpersonal skills
  • Exceptional communication skills
  • The ability to travel if required
  • Flexible attitude
  • Happy to be on call outside of office hours
  • Exceptional ability to problem-solve
  • Good emotional intelligence
  • A good team player
  • Ability to handle sensitive and confidential information
  • Ability to stay organized and calm under pressure

For more details on what is expected in a typical EA role, see this EA job description example.

Is Becoming an Executive Assistant a Good Career Path?

Pros of Becoming an EA

Being an EA has many benefits, such as working with high-level executives, performing a diverse range of tasks, and experiencing career growth. Below are a few of these pros explained in greater detail.

Exposure to Senior Leadership

By working as the right hand to a senior executive, there is a huge amount of exposure to other senior members of the business and also to the strategic decisions made. This can be very interesting and give you access to highly confidential information which, in another role you would not be exposed to. 

Job Variety

In addition to this, an EA will be able to perform a wide range of duties, and no two days will be the same. Depending on how the executive you support likes to work, they could allow you to assist with report writing, attend meetings on their behalf, and have access to both their business and private lives.  

Ability to Influence 

This exposure will give you a broad understanding and overview of business needs and allow you to work closely and learn from senior leadership, assisting your career growth and development. If there is a certain project you are passionate about, you are also in the right place to influence this, so you can mold the role in a way that most interests you.

Challenges to The Profession

Of course, as with any role, there are some challenges, which could include high-stress levels, demanding schedules, and the need for extreme adaptability. Below are a few of these common challenges broken down.

Demanding Work Schedule

When working so closely with a senior executive, they may not stick to typical working hours, which could impact your work-life balance. Long hours and a demanding work schedule could result in increased stress and ‘burnout,’ so it is wise to understand the demands of any EA role before deciding to move forward with it. A good way to assess this is to understand the history of the role and how long previous EAs have remained in post. A long tenure generally suggests a happy working relationship.

In some cases, you may be assisting multiple executives, which can require advanced levels of prioritization and extremely effective communication and organization. Learn more about how to support multiple managers here.

Extremely Fast-Paced Working Environment

Decision-makers and entrepreneurial spirits can also move from one idea to the next very quickly, and if you are not extremely adaptable and able to anticipate needs, you may fall behind. This will lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Remember that a senior EA will be working alongside the more senior people in the business, so you need to be highly efficient and on the ball in order to succeed.

What Type of Person Makes a Good Executive Assistant?

Personality Traits

Ideal traits for an EA include being detail-oriented, proactive, and having strong problem-solving skills. Good emotional intelligence and advanced soft skills is also important to ensure you can read your boss and adapt to his or her working style.

Work Preferences

Preferences should include enjoying a fast-paced environment, being comfortable with multitasking, and having a supportive role. In addition to being able to work in a team, the EA role can sometimes involve working closely with only one or two other people, so it is important that you remain self-motivated and work autonomously if required.

Career Aspirations 

EA skills are transferable, allowing you to work across a variety of industry sectors rather than being pigeonholed to one industry. EAs also support the most senior individuals within any organization. Therefore, there is a great opportunity to learn and be exposed to an organization’s business strategy and operational functions. 

As an EA, you could develop into a Chief of Staff, a more senior role within business administration, operations, or other managerial roles.

Steps to Becoming an Executive Assistant

Education

Generally speaking, good A Levels (or equivalent) are required for most senior admin positions. Some clients will want to see degree-educated candidates, but this usually depends on the preferences of the executive the role is supporting. 

There are also skills-based courses that you can take, either online or in person, to ensure you are prepared for the workplace. Being proficient in Microsoft Office is particularly relevant for admin, PA, and EA roles. 

It is always worth asking HR in any company you are working at if there is a budget for personal development and to make sure you make the most of this. You never know where it can lead, and will show your employer you are keen and willing to develop.

Get tips on how to effectively advocate for your professional development here.

Experience

Most EA roles will want solid, proven previous PA/EA experience. Often, an EA career starts with a junior reception or admin role, and as your experience builds, you are given more responsibility and provide support to more senior people.

In addition to direct PA or EA experience, valuable experience can also be achieved through support roles in other areas of business, including HR, marketing, office management, and project management.

If you’re just starting out in your administrative career, you may be interested in learning how to secure an admin job without experience.

Skills Development

In most organizations, there will be the opportunity to put your hand up for additional projects, such as:

  • Arranging the Christmas party
  • Sitting on the social committee
  • Being involved in charity support

Whatever this might be, particularly when developing your career, it can be a great idea to volunteer for these tasks. 

Not only will it give you more experience and exposure to other areas, but it will also give you access to more senior people within your business, allowing you to be noticed and to stand out above your peers. All additional experience is valuable, and you can draw upon this when in an interview or asking for a pay rise or promotion. 

Learn more about how to develop EA leadership skills here.

Mentorship

In addition to this, you may have the opportunity within your business to have a mentor or to shadow someone above you. This can give you exposure to a more senior role, and also allow you to get advice from someone who has been in your shoes before and who can be your champion when you are trying to move up within a business. There will also be a budget in most companies for career development/investment in staff, which is also worth utilising.

Ask for constructive feedback

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. It is only by learning where we fall short, that we know where to improve. As long as this is given in a constructive manner, feedback will allow you to understand areas you need to focus on and develop in order to achieve your career goals.

Final Thoughts 

It is important to reflect on your own skills and career aspirations to determine if an EA role is suitable for you. Are you happy in a support role where your workload is determined by someone else? Are you highly organized and like working your way through a to-do list? Do you find completing administrative tasks satisfying? If the answer is yes to these questions, then the Executive Assistant career path could be right for you!

Author: Olivia Coughtrie is Co-founder & Director at Oriel Partners, a PA and administrative recruitment consultancy based in Central London. Olivia is passionate about providing high-quality talent to businesses and the best career opportunities to candidates.

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