An executive assistant devotes his or her career to aiding a corporate official, usually by providing a combination of professional advice and administrative support. While the responsibilities associated with the work vary depending on the culture that prevails in a given company, there are a few basic tasks that all assistants perform. Most of these are related to secretarial work, scheduling, and contacts management. Many executives treat their assistants as their go-to people for ideas, recommendations, and confidential help, and they assist with everything from photocopying to press briefings.
Companies with executive assistants typically assign one assistant per executive. The assistant is responsible for handling tasks that are delegated by the executive who serves as his or her immediate supervisor. In many cases, assistants have desks just outside their executives’ offices, so as to be as accessible as possible.
Executive assistants typically answer to only their named superior. They act as this person’s confidante and office helper. Anything that the executive needs done, the assistant does. They may accompany their executive to business meetings, and are in charge of knowing details on other attendees. Depending on the executive’s needs, assistants may also come along on corporate trips. In this capacity, the assistant is usually responsible for managing the executive’s schedule, arranging meetings, and ensuring that he or she has read the right briefing material and is ready to make any needed presentations or remarks.
Not everything about the job is as glamorous as travel and high-profile meetings. Many of an executive assistant’s day-to-day tasks are clerical in nature. Assistants are usually responsible for handling their superior’s paperwork. This includes mail, inter-office correspondences, and basic filing. The assistant may also be called upon to manage a calendar, keeping track of meeting times, official appointments, and important contacts.
Depending on the structure and size of the company, an executive assistant may have one or more assistants of his or her own to help with the workload. These are typically secretaries or more entry-level clerical associates. The executive assistant is usually responsible for managing their tasks, and delegating assignments to them as required.
In most cases, the corporate executive has little to no say over the secretarial structure his or her assistant sets up. Decisions on discipline, commendations, and raises are often left to the discretion of the assistant, often in consultation with the company’s human resources department.
Training and Experience
Securing an executive assistant job typically requires a combination of training and practical experience. In general, executives expect their assistants to be experts in company policies and procedures as well as proficient with basic office functions. It is not unusual for an employee to become an executive assistant after working in another position within the company structure. Many lower level secretaries, for instance, advance to executive assistant status after several years of strong job performance.
Most companies prefer that assistants hold a degree of some type. Coursework in management, human resources, or even sociology can be beneficial, but usually simply holding a degree in something is enough. Corporate hiring managers often view college education as more a mark of prestige and overall intellect than as a source of specific job-related knowledge.
This is not to say that a college degree is required to become an executive assistant, however. In many cases, experience is more important than formal education. While it may be hard to get hired on at the executive level immediately after high school, someone with only a high school diploma who has spend a number of years working as a member of support staff in a corporate setting may be the most compelling candidate. Companies are often more interested in how well a candidate can perform the job than the schools named on a resume.
Prestige and Benefits
Executive assistants are usually considered somewhat elite, at least when it comes to support staff. They tend to have privileges not shared by other administrative assistants, both in terms of resources and salary. In some companies, an executive assistant with a long tenure may be eligible to participate in pension programs or other perks not available to employees in lesser positions.
Relationship to Personal Assistants
In some cases, executive assistants may also perform certain personal duties, such as picking up dry cleaning or making vacation arrangements for a family pet. These are not normal job obligations, however. Most of the time, these sorts of non-office jobs are the tasks of a personal assistant. It can be easy to confuse personal and executive assistants, though the work that they do is technically distinct. An executive assistant’s only official role is to help a superior succeed on the job. A personal assistant, on the other hand, is usually responsible for helping an important person organize his or her life generally, both personally and professionally.