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What Is An Executive Assistant?

What Is An Executive Assistant?

There are many types of administrative assistant roles, but the executive assistant is at the top level of this career choice. However, for some, this just the beginning as they may advance their careers and become company executives themselves. 

Many executive assistants begin their career with an administrative assistant job and their way to the more visible and higher-paying executive assistant role over a few years. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3,638,800 administrative assistant positions in the U.S. as of June 2019. Some employers want only a high school diploma or equivalent for this role when it comes to education requirements.  

With other companies, an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree may help you climb the corporate ladder more quickly and may be required should you wish to become an executive assistant someday.

What is the difference between an administrative and executive assistant?

While both of these clerical staff career paths are within the administrative professionals’ realm, the job description of an administrative assistant job and an executive assistant job is distinct. However, many people use these titles interchangeably. 

The administrative assistant job description is more like that of the administrative coordinator, administrative secretary, or office administrator. Other similar job titles share the same primary assistant duties.

Administrative assistants generally support a group of people or even an entire department. In some cases, they sustain a business function rather than a group. The best administrative assistants have a variety of top skills, including managing: 

  • Calendars

  • Schedules

  • Meetings

  • Travel

  • Paperwork

  • Data entry

  • Reports

  • Communication drafts and proofs

  • Client and business inquiries

  • Phone calls to the business 

Beyond these essential tasks of the assistant’s job description, they may also be responsible for developing and optimizing operational processes and procedures, so well-developed computer and organizational skills are required.

Administrative managers

In some organizations, these entry-level assistant positions can offer management opportunities, often called administrative managers, directors, or supervisors. Other companies provide the role of office manager, which is, of course, responsible for office management, but also other duties such as: 

In companies without this managerial role often turn to an executive assistant for these tasks.

The executive assistant

The executive assistant typically supports one high-ranking individual or a small group known as the executive administrative assistants or executive secretaries. The executive assistant job description does include many clerical tasks, but in this role, there is more demand for professional skills, such as: 

  • Set and maintain the daily schedule

  • Manage projects and tasks

  • Ensure the executive is always prepared

  • Advise others on priorities and deadlines

  • Solve problems before they involve their executive

  • Attend meetings on behalf of their executive

  • Lead teams

  • Act as a role model for junior secretaries and administrative assistants 

In short, executive assistants are not just the support of their executive; they are partners. As such, they must have a deep understanding of their boss’s role in the company and how they process decision-making.  

An executive must trust their assistant with confidential business information and sometimes personal information. At the top of the executive assistant’s duties are the requirements to exercise discretion and show good judgment.

What does it take to become an executive assistant?

There is no set education requirement for pursuing a role as an executive assistant (EA), primarily because most people are recruited from within, drawing on other secretarial-type roles. Professional experience and relationships are of high value in this role.

What are personal assistants?

With so much focus on the relationship between the EA and their executive, it’s easy to confuse an EA with a PA — a personal assistant. Here again, while some may use the terms interchangeably, they are very different. 

A personal assistant’s job is to support a group of managers, department heads, or perhaps, reporting teams. In that way, a PA’s role is more similar to an administrative assistant manager than an EA.  

More importantly, the executive assistant salary is far higher than the personal assistant’s salary because there is more responsibility. A personal assistant’s duties usually include: 

  • Read and respond to emails

  • Organize meetings

  • Manage the managers’ schedules

  • Arrange travel

  • Prepare presentations and other documents

  • Track and submit expenses

  • Take meeting minutes 

When you compare these to the EA’s duties, it’s easy to see how responsibility scales with career advancement.

The EA’s skillset

The EA helps keep the business operating smoothly by supporting their boss and ensuring others carry out the executive’s directives. The EA can make decisions, optimize processes, strategize, and communicate both internally and externally — and their boss trusts him or her to do so.  

Just as crucial as completing their duties efficiently and effectively is the ability to know when to delegate and ensure that assigned tasks are completed on time with the same level of quality as if the EA had done them herself or himself.

Soft skills

Executive assistants must possess heightened soft skills (people skills). They sometimes need to represent their boss or the company in meetings or on calls in a visible position. Organized and detail-oriented, they must also be accessible on short notice should their executive need something urgently.

Time management

Time management is crucial for the successful EA, or instead, the EA is most successful because of excellent time-management skills.  

From maintaining the executive’s calendar to managing logistics, time management ensures the EA stays on track day in and day out, despite endless unforeseen circumstances such as malfunctioning office equipment, flight delays, hosting unexpected visitors, and more.  

Though the list of possible scenarios is ongoing, they have a commonality — ensure work continues without interruption. 

Is a job as an executive assistant for you?

When you choose an EA career, you can become the most important person on an executive’s team. It can mean long workdays, late-night meetings, and interrupted weekends and holidays, but it can be as rewarding as demanding. 

You need a positive attitude to navigate what can often feel like a thankless role. You need to be self-motivated and attentive to detail to ensure work doesn’t suffer. 

There were 542,690 EAs in the United States at businesses as of May 2019. EA roles exist in organizations from universities to wholesalers and everything in between. These high-level secretarial workers earned about $62,290 per year, but some earned as much as $91,330. 

If you have high values, are trustworthy and loyal, can anticipate, filter, and resolve issues, and are a great communicator, a career as an executive assistant might be the perfect fit. The best place to start might very well be the company for which you’re working right now.

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