What is an executive assistant?
An executive assistant is much more than just a high-level administrative professional; they are often considered the right hand of an executive, playing a crucial role in facilitating effective decision-making and smooth operations within an organization. They are pivotal in optimizing an executive’s time and focus, enabling them to execute their responsibilities more effectively.
By managing a variety of organizational tasks and often serving as a liaison between the executive and other staff or external stakeholders, these professionals contribute to sustaining the strategic momentum of the company. Their role is complex, involving organizational skills, interpersonal knowledge, and discretion. Whether in a corporate setting, a nonprofit organization, or a governmental body, the assistant’s role enhances the efficacy and reach of leadership, thus indirectly shaping the organization’s trajectory.
Duties and responsibilities
Executive assistants handle a wide range of responsibilities that primarily focus on supporting the executive in managing their professional commitments and obligations. These professionals schedule meetings, manage correspondence, coordinate travel arrangements, and prepare materials for presentations or reports. They often act as the first point of contact between the executive and employees or external partners, screening calls and emails and deciding what issues are urgent enough to bring to the executive’s attention.
Additionally, they may handle some personal errands and tasks for the executive to further free up their time for core organizational duties. While their role is primarily administrative, they may also be involved in project management, strategic planning sessions, and even decision-making processes, depending on the executive’s needs.
The work environment of an executive assistant is generally an office setting, where they have access to the tools and technologies necessary to carry out their responsibilities. They are usually situated close to the executive’s office to facilitate quick and efficient communication. The role often involves interacting with various departments within the organization as well as external stakeholders, making good communication and diplomacy skills essential.
While the job is predominantly desk-based, it may occasionally require travel for off-site meetings, corporate events, or to assist the executive during business trips. The atmosphere is often fast-paced, requiring a high level of adaptability and stress management.
Typical work hours
The work hours for an executive assistant generally mirror those of the executive they support, which often means a standard 40-hour work week. However, the nature of the executive role often demands flexibility, leading to occasional early mornings, late evenings, or weekend work to prepare for important meetings or handle urgent matters.
Given the tight integration with the executive’s schedule, planned or unplanned absences often require the assistant to be reachable and possibly available to assist remotely. The unpredictability of the executive’s workload frequently translates to schedule variability, requiring a high degree of adaptability and commitment.
How to become an executive assistant
This career guide section outlines the steps to become an executive assistant, including obtaining the right qualifications, honing relevant administrative skills, gaining work experience, and continuously upgrading oneself professionally.
Step 1: Complete high school education
The initial step involves completing high school education or obtaining a GED equivalent. Solid knowledge of English, mathematics, business, and computer science subjects can provide a solid foundation for a further career path.
Step 2: Pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree
While it’s not always a requirement, many employers prefer hiring those with a post-secondary degree. Any field is acceptable, but business administration, communications, or similar domains might be particularly advantageous. This will greatly improve your familiarity with business operations and enhance your employability.
Step 3: Develop necessary skill sets
Assistants must excel in written and verbal communication, time management, organization, and problem-solving. Proficiency in Microsoft Office applications is a given. Experience with project management software and other specialized business applications could also be a significant advantage. Building these skills may be pursued concurrently with your ongoing studies or during the early phases of your career.
Step 4: Gain relevant work experience
Begin your career in an entry-level administrative role, such as a secretary or administrative assistant. This can provide you with valuable experience in office procedures and executive support. Focus on gaining experience in your industry of interest, as these roles can be very industry-specific.
Step 5: Consider certification
While not mandatory, obtaining a certification can demonstrate your proficiency and commitment to the role. For instance, the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) or Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) credentials could be viable options. These certifications may require a combination of work experience and successful examination.
Step 6: Apply for jobs
Upon gaining sufficient experience and skill sets, start applying for executive assistant positions. Craft a compelling resume and cover letter highlighting your relevant skills, experiences, and certifications. Networking can also be crucial in job hunting, so attend relevant industry events and establish a solid professional network.
Step 7: Impress in the job interview
Prepare for your job interviews by researching the companies you’ll be interviewing with and knowing your role in detail. During the interview, demonstrate your communication skills, ability to handle pressure, and commitment to career growth. Showcase your skills and experience that make you a valuable candidate for the position.
How much do executive assistants make?
Compensation for executive assistants varies by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Additional factors that impact their pay include the executive’s level of seniority and the complexity of tasks handled.
Highest paying industries
- Securities and Financial Activities – $75,520
- Monetary Authorities – $72,700
- Software Publishers – $70,250
- Computer and Equipment Manufacturing – $70,100
- Scheduled Air Transportation – $69,570
Highest paying states
- New York – $74,100
- Connecticut – $73,500
- New Jersey – $73,230
- California – $71,300
- Massachusetts – $70,410
Types of executive assistants
Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for executive assistants. This career guide section provides a brief overview of each specialization, highlighting their unique roles in various industries.
Corporate executive assistant
Working in the fast-paced world of corporations, these professionals often assist high-profile executives. They manage schedules, handle correspondences, arrange meetings, and play a vital role in ensuring the executive’s day runs smoothly. Given the sensitive nature of the information handled, this position requires exceptional organizational skills, the ability to multitask, and high levels of discretion.
Legal executive assistant
For those inclined toward the field of law, becoming a legal executive assistant could be the perfect fit. Their primary role is assisting a lawyer or group of lawyers, handling administrative tasks such as scheduling, legal research, and documentation. They also liaise with clients and legal teams, enabling the lawyer to focus more on providing legal advice and representation.
Medical executive assistant
There is a high demand for medical executive assistants in the healthcare sector. They support doctors, hospital administrators, or department heads, handling tasks such as arranging schedules, managing patient records, assisting in research, and coordinating meetings. An understanding of medical terms and practices and excellent administrative skills are essential for this role.
Non-profit executive assistant
Within non-profit organizations, dynamic support is needed for executives driving mission-based initiatives. These executive assistants manage schedules, coordinate with volunteers, organize fundraisers, attend board meetings, and ensure smooth communication with donors and supporters. Their role is essential for the organization’s smooth operation in pursuing societal benefits.
Educational executive assistant
Educational executive assistants serve in the education sector, most likely supporting the principal or another school administrator. The role covers tasks like managing schedules, communicating with faculty and parents, maintaining student records, and often, coordinating events. Detailed knowledge of the education system and strong communication capabilities are essential in this role.
Top skills for executive assistants
This career guide section explores the world of executive assistants, a job that combines technical skills, communication abilities, and a deep understanding of business operations.
Organization and time management
As a supporting pillar for the busy executive, you must have exceptional organizational skills. You often need to manage calendars, coordinate meetings, and keep track of tasks or projects, resulting in a requirement for efficient time management and planning abilities.
This role necessitates effective spoken and written communication abilities. Since you’ll be liaising with internal staff, external clients, and stakeholders, articulating messages clearly and professionally becomes imperative.
Unforeseen issues and challenges are a part of the daily routine, which calls for strong problem-solving abilities. Whether resolving a scheduling issue or figuring out logistics, quick thinking and adaptability are invaluable.
Understanding and utilizing various software and digital tools is paramount. From handling business correspondence via email to managing databases, spreadsheets, and appointment schedules, a certain level of technical savvy is necessary.
Tact and diplomacy
In a position that might involve handling sensitive information and dealing with high-level executives, diplomacy and discretion in communication and action are essential. This also involves maintaining professional boundaries and respecting the confidential nature of certain subjects.
Executive assistant career path options
An executive assistant typically starts their career providing administrative support to senior leadership. They become extremely proficient in organizational tasks, managing multiple calendars, coordinating travel, and preparing high-level reports. However, their career advancement may not always be linear. Instead, they may leverage their extensive understanding of business operations, networking abilities, and interpersonal skills to move into more strategic roles within the organization.
Many may transition into management positions within the administrative ranks, overseeing a group of administrative staff, planning workflows, and managing operations. Titles like ‘administrative manager’ or ‘office manager’ often denote such advancements. Executive support services or operations management positions may also present viable career growth opportunities.
Additional certifications or education can propel an assistant into even more specialized roles. For example, gaining experience in project management can enable a shift to a role such as ‘project manager’ or ‘program manager.’ Some cases have seen these professionals move into a ‘human resources’ role, driven by their deep understanding of team dynamics and culture-building responsibilities.
After gaining extensive industry knowledge, it’s not uncommon for assistants to transition to roles aligned more closely with business objectives. They may move into business development or operations, using their insights to streamline processes, reduce costs, or enhance efficiency.
Their exposure to strategic planning and high-level decision-making equips them to potentially move into consultant roles down the line. This path allows them to leverage their skills and knowledge to guide other organizations in administrative and operational efficiency.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook for executive assistants
Executive assistants are playing an increasingly vital role in the success of modern businesses. This role has undergone significant transformation as organizations evolve and become more complex. These professionals are now more involved in high-level strategic decisions within the company, and their scope of work goes beyond traditional administrative tasks. They are now assuming more management responsibilities, which require them to be well-versed in business functions and procedures.
Technical advancements have also impacted this profession significantly. Digital tools have automated many administrative tasks, allowing assistants to focus more on strategy and business growth tasks. This shift has broadened the horizons of this profession, creating more opportunities for executive assistants to learn and grow. Knowledge of collaborative software, project management tools, and video conferencing platforms has become crucial for anyone pursuing this career.
There is also a growing demand for those who can efficiently handle various tasks and situations. Multitasking and decision-making abilities are highly valued. This trend reflects the fast-paced and dynamic nature of today’s business environment, where these professionals are expected to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and handle pressures efficiently.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of executive assistants is projected to decline 8 percent through 2031. This decline is expected due to the automation of clerical tasks. However, as businesses increasingly recognize their strategic role, there may be new opportunities for those who can meet the evolving demands of this position.
Executive assistant career tips
Understand your executive’s work rhythm
Every executive has a particular way of working, including preferred working hours, pace, decision-making style, and communication habits. To thrive as an executive assistant, you should synchronize your work rhythm with your executive’s. This helps create a seamless working relationship and enables you to meet the expectations of your role more effectively. Observing, asking open-ended questions, and regularly requesting feedback are ways to gain deeper insight into your executive’s work rhythm.
Maintain confidentiality and discretion
In this role, you’ll often be privy to sensitive company information or confidential documents. Maintaining the utmost discretion and confidentiality is, therefore, of utmost importance. Developing a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable professional will further enhance your standing within the company and your relationship with your executive.
Master the art of prioritization
With many tasks vying for attention, intuitive and effective prioritization is a must-have. Whether managing the executive’s calendar, organizing meetings, or handling correspondences, you should always be able to discern what’s urgent, important, and relevant at any given time.
Build a professional network
An expansive professional network is invaluable, whether seeking advice, sharing best practices, or identifying resources. Consider joining professional organizations or online networks that provide opportunities to connect with other administrative professionals. Here are a few to consider:
- International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
- American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP)
- Executive Assistants Organization (EAO)
Practice continuous learning
Your role will constantly evolve as you adapt to changes in company dynamics, technology, and industry trends. This makes it imperative to stay updated and constantly educate yourself. Here are some opportunities for continuous learning:
- In-house training sessions
- Professional development workshops
- Webinars and online courses related to your profession
- Certification programs like the CAP from IAAP
Develop a solution-oriented mindset
An assistant often acts as a problem solver for the executive and the team. The faster and more efficiently you can identify potential solutions or avenues to explore, the more value you will add to your role. It’s also important to actively seek feedback from every situation for continuous improvement.
Where the executive assistant jobs are
- New York
Top job sites
What does an executive assistant do on a typical day?
They manage daily operations, such as setting up meetings, organizing travel arrangements, handling correspondence, and maintaining the executive’s calendar. They may also handle some administrative tasks like managing budgets, preparing reports, and facilitating communication between the executive and other staff members or clients. Every day can look different, as they often need to adapt their duties to the needs of the executive they assist.
What skills are crucial for an executive assistant?
They must have strong organizational and time management skills to manage multiple tasks and responsibilities. They should also have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, for interacting with clients, staff, and other stakeholders. Proficiency in office software, such as Microsoft Office Suite, is also essential. Lastly, problem-solving skills and the ability to work under pressure are also critical for this role.
What qualifications are needed to become an executive assistant?
Typically, a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as business administration is required, although candidates with associate’s degrees may also be considered if they have relevant work experience. Prior experience in lower-level administrative roles can be very beneficial. Some employers may prefer or require candidates to possess certification through an organization like the International Association of Administrative Professionals.
Is the role of an executive assistant challenging?
The role can be challenging, as they often juggle many responsibilities at once and must adapt quickly to changing circumstances. However, many professionals find the work rewarding due to the variety of daily tasks and their critical role in their organization. The success and efficiency of the executive and, by extension, the overall organization often depend on their work.
Can an executive assistant work from home?
Whether they can work from home largely depends on the nature of the duties and the specific company’s policies. Some tasks, such as correspondence, scheduling, and report preparation, can be performed remotely. However, other tasks, such as managing physical documents or coordinating face-to-face meetings, may require a presence in the office. With the rise of digital communication tools, more companies offer flexible work arrangements for this role.
Are there growth opportunities for an executive assistant?
Yes, growth opportunities do exist. With experience, they may be promoted to senior executive assistant positions or executive office managers. Some may transition into human resources or operations roles. Others may be interested in opportunities to work with high-level executives in larger organizations or specific industries that interest them. A lot will depend on the individual’s interests, skills, and career objectives.
Will I need to handle personal tasks for executives as an executive assistant?
The scope of their responsibilities can vary greatly depending on the organization’s culture and the specific executive’s needs. While the primary role is to assist with professional duties, they might be asked to handle personal tasks such as making personal appointments, running errands, or coordinating personal travel. The expectations should be defined during the hiring process to ensure a clear understanding of the role’s responsibilities.
What’s the difference between an executive assistant and a personal assistant?
While both roles involve providing support to another individual, a personal assistant’s duties are often more focused on personal tasks like managing the individual’s personal calendar, scheduling personal appointments, or running personal errands. On the other hand, an executive assistant typically deals with professional tasks, like assisting with business correspondence, setting up meetings, managing the executive’s professional calendar, and coordinating with other staff members. However, the exact distinction can vary between organizations and individuals.
Are communication skills important for an executive assistant?
Yes, strong communication skills are crucial. In addition to frequently interacting with the executive, assistants often liaise with other staff, clients, and stakeholders. They must provide clear, concise, and professional communication both orally and in writing. Good listening skills are key to understanding instructions, feedback, and the concerns or needs of others effectively.
Is flexibility a crucial quality for an executive assistant?
Flexibility is indeed a critical quality. Executives often have shifting schedules and priorities, and their assistants must adjust accordingly. An ability to multitask, adapt to changing circumstances, think on one’s feet, and handle unforeseen issues efficiently are all skills that stem from flexibility. Being flexible also extends to the willingness to take on various tasks, both big and small, to aid the executive.