Running an organization or a department as the executive or head is not always easy. You will always have busy schedules that may create little or no room to take phone calls, write memos, prepare reports, etc. To meet up the demands of your office, you will need the services of an executive assistant (EA).
Executive assistants or personal assistants support high-level executives by carrying out day-to-day administrative tasks within an organization. They are similar to administrative assistants or secretaries because both of them support someone’s work. However, executive assistants differ because they are senior office staff members who are assigned to top executives.
Personal assistants act as the point of contact, gatekeeper, and support system between an executive, internal staff, and visitors. Generally, EAs supervise office management, provide administrative support, and train other staff members. They also advise executives on important decisions that could lead to the growth of the organization or company.
While the career is stressful, it gives you to have a dynamic and exciting career where you will gain transferrable skills and valuable work experience.
If this role interests you, you may want to know what it takes to become an executive assistant. Therefore, this article will explain the duties of executive assistants, the skills necessary for the job, how to become an executive assistant, and the salary you stand to earn.
Who is an Executive Assistant?
Executive assistants, also known as personal assistants are administrative professionals who provide support to an executive or another high-level administrator in an organization or company.
EAs are similar to secretaries, however, EAs carry out more advanced duties in supporting an executive and making more decisions in an organization.
How is a secretary similar to an executive assistant? Secretaries answer phone calls, schedule appointments, arrange meetings, prepare memos, edit documents, and perform bookkeeping duties just like EAs. However, EAs carry out a wider range of tasks including research, managing other administrative staff, and preparing reports.
What does an Executive Assistant do?
Executive assistants act as gatekeepers because they are the first point of contact for anyone who wants to meet with one of the company’s top executives. Therefore, they spend a large amount of time dealing with correspondence on behalf of the executive.
Personal assistants also communicate and work closely with almost every member of an organization. In most cases, they are charged with supervising and implementing internal projects in an organization.
The duties that executive assistants carry out vary depending on the type of office they work in. Generally, the duties of an executive assistant include:
- Answering and transferring phone calls as well as taking messages.
- Sending and receiving emails and faxes.
- Setting an executive’s schedule and staff meetings.
- Managing filing systems and databases in computer systems and carrying out basic bookkeeping.
- Preparing memos, invoices, and reports to enable executives make smart business decisions.
- Training and overseeing lower-level administrative staff.
- Managing travel arrangements.
- Conducting market research.
- Deciding the phone calls and visitors that reach the executive.
- Offering strategic advice and counsel to the executive.
How To Become An Executive Assistant
Becoming an executive assistant will require you to work in a wide range of areas. Therefore, the job requires someone who possesses relevant the right skills, educational background, and work experience.
Below are the steps to becoming an executive assistant:
1. Earn a high school diploma or GED
Pursuing a high school education will give you the opportunity to take classes in English, mathematics, economics, and computer science. These courses will give you the basic knowledge necessary for office practice.
Some schools offer classes in typewriting and other office administration skills. You may also take computer classes very seriously where you learn how you use Microsoft Office Suite (word, excel, and PowerPoint) to carry out administrative duties.
These classes will enable you to hone the computer skills necessary for office administration.
2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree
While you can begin a career in office administration with a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree will give you a more profitable career. Acquiring a bachelor’s degree in business administration, database management, information technology, and bookkeeping will give you comprehensive knowledge of office work in a wide range of settings.
During your degree, you will learn about accounting, finance, human resource management, information management, and operations management. Additionally, you will learn how to use computer software to analyze and solve business problems. You will also use the software to communicate effectively with the company’s top executives and colleagues from different backgrounds.
3. Acquire administrative experience
Most employers usually seek executive assistants that have a minimum of three (3) years of administrative experience. So, after earning a bachelor’s degree, proceed to gain more administrative experience by seeking jobs.
You can gain administrative experience by applying for internship positions, seeking office administrative jobs, or volunteering opportunities. Consider applying to work as a receptionist/front desk officer, office assistant, or research associate in an organization. This will help you to build skills and gain more experience to succeed in the profession.
4. Obtain certification
Acquiring administrative experience will help you to grow your career but obtaining a certification will give you an edge over other candidates. Pursuing certification in administrative support will give you comprehensive knowledge about the career.
There are a lot of certifications for executive assistants. You may consider pursuing the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) or the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP), both of which are offered by the International Association of Administrative Professionals.
To gain any of these certifications, you will have to take and pass their exams which tests a candidate’s knowledge of records management, organization & planning, financial functions, and human resources.
To qualify for the CPS and CAP certifications exams, you must possess at least two (2) years of valuable work experience.
If you wish to work in a law firm, you may consider obtaining the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) from NALS and the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) from Legal Secretaries International. You must have at least 3 years of experience to qualify for the PLS exam and it tests your knowledge of written communication, office procedures, law, and ethics.
To gain the CLSS certification, you must have a minimum of 5 years of experience and pass an exam in one of six specialty areas including civil, criminal, business, intellectual property, or probate law.
5. Write your resume and apply to jobs
Now that you have acquired your executive assistant certification, you can now prepare your resume for job application.
If you are creating your resume and cover letter, ensure to highlight your administrative experience and skills (organizational and computer skills). Make sure that you tailor your resume and cover letter to the company and their job description.
There are several openings for executive assistants online. So, you may have to search for any of these positions online. You can choose the roles and industries that meet your interests. Ensure to always review the job description in order to know what the employer wants so that you can use the keywords to craft your resume and cover letter.
How much can I make as an executive assistant?
According to PayScale, the average salary of executive assistants is $58,309 per year. Most executive assistants work on a full-time basis. However, some work part-time or on a temporary basis based on the needs of the employer.
The salary you will make as an executive assistant depends on your level of administrative experience and the number of years in the profession. In addition, the location and size of the company determine the amount you will make in certain cases.
Considering the criteria above, PayScale reports that executive assistants with less than one (1) year of experience can make an average salary of $44,752 per year. Executive assistants with 1 – 4 years of experience make an average salary of $50,680 annually.
The agency also reports that executive assistants with 5 – 9 years of experience earn an average of $58,577 per year. Executive assistants with 10 – 19 years of experience make an average salary of $62,395 per year. Employees in their late careers (20 years and higher) make an average salary of $64,091 per year.
What is the job outlook of executive assistants?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of executive assistants is projected to decline by 20% for the decade ending in 2029. This decline is worse than the 4% growth projected for all occupations. It is also worse than the 9% projected for all assistants.
The decline in the employment of executive assistants is due to the increase of executives who share one assistant in an organization. Technological advancement is another contributing factor as executives now use mobile and other electronic communications to handle correspondence and scheduling.
Managers in organizations are usually faced with so many activities. These activities must be attended to so that the organization or company can grow. However, managers cannot carry out all these activities alone as they need someone who will make the job easier for them. Executive assistants fit this bill.
They are always the first point of contact for anyone who wants to meet top managers in an organization or company. Executive assistants work closely with top executives to deal with correspondence for them.
If you wish to become an executive assistant, you will need to earn a high school diploma or GED, pursue a bachelor’s degree, and acquire certification. Once you meet these requirements, you can now apply to work as an executive assistant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it hard to become an executive assistant?
Becoming an executive assistant is actually hard unlike other positions within an office. Executive assistants get to work very early and work until as late as they are required to stay.
What skills do I need for the executive assistant job?
The soft skills necessary for the executive assistant role include communication, multitasking, time management, trustworthiness, and clerical skills.
What do executive assistants find very difficult?
Executive assistants find it very difficult to meet time-sensitive requests, too many demands from coworkers, constant interruptions, unrealistic expectations from managers, and too much workload.