Transition from a Personal Assistant to an Executive Assistant

The job titles ‘Personal Assistant’ and ‘Executive Assistant’ are often used interchangeably as many professionals regard it as the same. Yet there is a distinct difference between the two positions. In fact, career driven personal assistants should aspire to become executive assistants as it’s the pinnacle of the administrative profession! We have some valuable tips to help you make the transition from a personal assistant to an executive assistant.

Let’s first start with what the differences are between a personal assistant and an executive assistant. A personal assistant is responsible for covering their boss’s or team’s diary and travel management, time organisation, provide administrative support (phone calls, filing, minute taking, email management etc) and the occasional ad hoc tasks pertaining to their boss’s requirements. An executive assistant covers all of these duties and more. The significant difference is that executive assistants only support the C-Suite level (VPs, CEOs, COOs, MDs, CFOs). Executive assistants have more senior duties. Their jobs require them to be strategic in their thinking and are more project focused than a PAs. Depending on their experience and qualifications, executive assistants are expected to be heavily involved in an executive’s projects, make decisions in their absence and to help develop business relationships.

Upcoming Course: Adam Fidler’s ‘The Indispensable Executive Assistant

Reaching the pinnacle of the administrative support profession definitely has its perks, so if you’re still interested in becoming an executive assistant, keep on reading! Before we touch on the benefits, below are 4 effective and practical tips to help you make the transition from a personal assistant to an executive assistant.

1. Take on Extra Tasks or Projects

Your starting point is to take a look at your current role and evaluate the areas of growth and development. What else can you do for your boss and how can you add value? If you want to get to the level of an executive assistant you’ve got to earn it. Speak to your boss and find out if there are extra responsibilities or projects you can take on. Not only does this show your willingness to go above and beyond, but excelling in these tasks/projects will demonstrate your capability and flexibility of being able to manage more responsible tasks. Voluntarily increasing the scope of your job will make you more adaptable and regarded as more resourceful as well.

2. Elevate Yourself and be a Forward-Thinker

Successful executive assistants tend to have several common qualities. They’re confident, assertive, trustworthy and forward-thinking individuals. No one, especially in senior management, will put their trust in someone that doubts their own abilities, has zero confidence and doesn’t plan for the future. In an executive’s absence, the executive assistant needs to take over, step up to plate and be the go-to person.

So how do you demonstrate this? If you have any suggestions or ideas to improve things, be confident and assertive to share them with your boss. You might have a great idea that they haven’t considered! Always show your initiative and be forward-thinking with your tasks. It demonstrates your passion for your job and more importantly your genuine interest in your company’s well-being. You will win more trust and respect from your boss.

3. Become a Problem-Solver and  Results-Driven

Executives are obsessed with the company’s bottom-line and overall. Executive assistants need to be results-driven, quick thinkers and flexible individuals, who are prepared to work longer hours to meet a project deadline. To succeed, executive assistants also need to be decision-makers and problem-solvers as well.

So how can you demonstrate your decision-making and problem-solving abilities? Taking on extra projects can be the perfect platform to test your problem-solving and decision-making abilities. Depending on the scope and nature of these projects, you might often find yourself in a situation where you need to act fast to make a decision or solve a problem. If you succeed not only will it strengthen your abilities and reputation, but it will also help you become a front-runner when internal promotions or vacancies for executive assistants become available.

4. Focus on your Career Development and Attend Frequent Training

Education and training can provide you with the perfect opportunity to make the transition from a PA to an EA. The business environment is continuously evolving and EAs need to evolve with it to remain relevant and provide exceptional support. More and more South African companies actually encourage their staff to attend training. Apart from you obviously becoming more skilled and motivated, training also provides your company with some valuable B-BBEE and tax benefits so it’s the perfect win-win scenario.

So what courses should you consider taking to develop your skills and become an executive assistant? Definitely consider attending specialised administrative seminars and conferences as those are tailored to your position. Also, consider attending soft skills and tech skills courses to add more skills to your skill set. It also won’t do you any harm to attend leadership and project management courses as well! Another area you should consider developing is languages. Being bilingual or speaking multiple languages can be a huge advantage, especially in a country as diverse as South Africa.

Related: Importance of Authentic Leadership for Executive Assistants

Getting promoted or making the transition into an executive assistant will not just improve your job title and status, but it can also significantly increase your earning potential. Unlike PAs, executive assistants tend to be more appreciated and taken a lot more seriously due to the high-level responsibilities that they have. Executives know very well that their executive assistants are instrumental in their success. Executive assistants also have unlimited networking opportunities as they get to meet new people and rub shoulders with high-profile professionals. Not to mention that another major perk is the high degree of authority that you will have in this position, as executive assistants often need to make decisions on an executive’s behalf and keep things running in their absence.

If you are career driven and want to climb up the administrative support ladder, making the transition from a personal assistant to an executive assistant should definitely be one of your career goals. Demonstrating a commitment to your own development, your company and showing initiative in your present job will also boost your credibility so that if an opportunity presents itself to become an executive assistant, you will automatically become a front-runner for the position!


The Indispensable Executive Assistant


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