The complete guide to becoming an executive assistant
An executive assistant is, as the name suggests, someone whose primary role is to assist or support a high-level executive. C-suite executives have a lot on their plate and require vital administrative support from their executive assistants (or EAs).
The people who fill this role are often given other job titles such as administrative assistants, personal assistants, or executive secretaries. In a nutshell, they are gatekeepers, confidants, and an overall support system to execs. They offer administrative support, carry out staff training, oversee office management and even advise executives on vital decisions that could directly contribute to the success of the company.
The role is a hard and often highly stressful one but it is perfect for anyone seeking a dynamic and exciting career path that is bound to provide them with loads of skills and valuable experience.
The executive assistant job description
So what does an executive assistant do? Or, perhaps a more appropriate question would be what doesn’t an executive assistant do? Along with various administrative tasks, EAs spend a significant amount of time dealing with correspondence on behalf of the executive from phone calls, emails, internal memos, and letters. They are often referred to as gatekeepers, the first point of contact for anyone looking to get in touch with or set a meeting with one of the company’s top executives.
There is also a fair bit of research and writing involved for executive administrative assistants who might need to dig into the statistics and performance of a company to compile reports that will ultimately help shape company policy. This gives executive assistants a bird’s eye view of the company and puts them in a good position to help executives make strategic decisions.
They must regularly communicate and collaborate with practically every member of an organization from the clerical staff, the HR team, and senior management as they are often required to oversee and implement internal projects.
While the type of company an EA works in will influence the sort of jobs they’ll have to undertake, below is a list of some of the typical executive assistant duties you might find outlined in a job description:
- Handling all types of correspondence
- General administrative work
- Dealing with clients
- Research and writing internal documentation
- Scheduling meetings and taking minutes
- Overseeing travel arrangements
- Accounting/bookkeeping and processing expense reports
- Organizing efficient filing systems and keeping adequate records
- Event planning
- IT and technical troubleshooting
- Offering strategic advice and counsel
- Onboarding, offboarding, and training of staff members
- Managing other team members and delegating tasks
The path to becoming an executive assistant
The duties and responsibilities of a typical executive assistant cover a wide range of areas and therefore need an equally wide range of skills and experience. Becoming a great executive assistant is an ongoing process and requires honing the right skills and obtaining the appropriate qualifications and on-the-job experience.
Here are the typical steps the best executive assistants take on their journey to EA-greatness:
1. Get the right education
An entry-level administrative assistant usually needs a high school diploma to kick-start their career. It is recommended that you go at least one step further and obtain a bachelor’s degree in areas such as business administration. Getting a job based on previous work experience is not unheard of but this is very much based on your potential employer.
2. Obtain relevant certification
There are a number of courses out there that will give anyone looking to become an executive assistant a leg up over the competition. These are normally focused on specific aspects of the job such as:
- Certified Administrative Professional - this is a course sponsored by the International Association of Administrative Professionals.
- Computer skills courses - aimed at enhancing your knowledge on some of the key IT platforms such as Microsoft Office, G Suite, and more. These will show prospective employers that you have the computer proficiency levels needed to do your job properly and efficiently.
- Project management courses - this is a big part of being an executive assistant so understanding some of the fundamentals will definitely come in handy.
3. Get the right training and work experience
The right education and certification will provide a strong basis to start your career but there’s nothing quite like the valuable experience you’ll get once you’re on the job. When applying for entry-level positions, be sure to prioritize those that will give you the training you’ll need in your first few weeks or months. If you can learn directly from other assistants that’s even better!
Due to the demanding and sensitive nature of the job, the executive assistant position is considered to be quite a senior one. An aspiring EA would need to cut their teeth on entry-level positions such as administrative assistants, receptionists, or office assistants and work their way up from there.
4. Hone the right skills
The best executive assistants possess an impressive amount of skills that make them adept at the many aspects of the job. They must be masters of time management, possess great communication skills, know how to handle being privy to sensitive information, be cool-headed problem solvers and so much more.
These skills will come with dedication and years of experience and might seem daunting at first. To help, we prepared an article which outlines essential skills you need to become the best executive assistant you can be.
5. Network and learn
Landing that EA job doesn’t mean the journey is over. You must be constantly open to learn about the industry and stay up-to-date with the latest news and trends. Networking is a big part of this. Be active on LinkedIn, attend relevant events and conferences, and find the right contacts and tools that will help you excel in your career.
Bonus tip: Dressing the part
Office attire is always a tricky one to get right and this is particularly so for an executive assistant. As an executive’s gatekeeper and confidant, you represent them as well as the company as a whole. First, second, and third impressions all count here.
A good understanding of the company culture, how your colleagues dress, and how your boss dresses are all important in helping you figure out what might be the best look to go for. If you’re working for a more traditional, well-established company, you might want to consider going a bit more formal.
Whatever you decide to wear, it is important to be sure that you feel good and comfortable while doing so. As an executive assistant, you can expect the day to throw anything at you so keep that in mind while planning your outfits.