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cutive Assistant” the Right Career for You?

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Nothing about my career has been predictable. In 1975, when I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in theater and English literature, my dream was to be an actress, not an assistant. Those dreams lasted for about three months before the frustration of rejections sent me to seek work behind the curtain. Determined to somehow be in show business, I began working in theater box offices selling tickets.

In a million years, I never thought that job, making $4.25 an hour, would lead me to work for a movie star as her personal and executive assistant, which would lead me to write a book about the experience, which would then lead me to be hired in 14 countries to teach others how to be ultimate assistants. But it did.

In 1985, a colleague told me about a job at a small theater in Montclair, New Jersey, not far from where I grew up. The person in charge was Olympia Dukakis, the producing artistic director and soon-to-be Oscar-winning actress. Ten months into our work together, she was cast to co-star with Cher, Nicolas Cage, and Danny Aiello in the film Moonstruck.

While Olympia was shooting the film in Toronto, she needed someone to coordinate communications with her theater staff back in Montclair. I was chosen to fill this role and functioned as “communications central,” which was essentially an assistant job. At the time, I didn’t know there was a name for what I was doing.

Films such as ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Nine to Five’, along with television shows like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Office’, contribute to obsolete notions about what assistants do.

At the beginning, neither of us could have predicted that our work together would last for 25 years. We often joked that we spent more hours with one another than we did with our families. It was a good thing we liked each other so much. Our bond, our trust, and our respectful partnership and friendship is true of many successful leader/assistant teams.

Today, the myriad of titles for assistant roles makes it difficult to get clarity about what people in this position actually do. The job description of an “executive assistant” in one company can look very different in another company. In my case, the bottom line was that Olympia had a need for someone to help her organize her busy life, and I needed a job. That’s as good of an explanation as any, as assisting someone is not a one-size-fits-all role.

If you’re considering working as an executive assistant (EA) — take it from someone who’s done it for more than two decades: You need to have your eyes wide open about what this work really and truly entails.

Based on my experience, here’s what you should know.

The perception issue for executive assistants is a thing.

Executive assistants all over the world agree that there is a perception problem about the role that directly impacts the level of respect, or lack thereof, for the work. These images of women fetching coffee, typing, and answering the phone while filing their fingernails are outdated yet present, stubbornly and infuriatingly clinging to their roots in the 1960s.

As a result, EAs experience confusion from others about what their work involves in 2022. Sometimes there is a wholly incorrect and persisting belief that being an EA is “easy and anyone can do it,” resulting in lower salaries and diminished responsibilities. This is especially problematic when these perceptions come from the inside — from leaders and human resources staff.

In today’s global world, EAs who work for C-suite executives are referred to as the right arms to leaders, the backbone to companies, and the face of the company culture.

While a college degree is not necessary to be a stellar assistant, solid experience, high emotional intelligence, advanced technology skills, and a killer network are. The profession is 93% to 97% female and while these women may be the ones holding whole companies together, they are not likely to toot their own horns about it. Therein lies the disconnect between the perception and reality. The results of an EA’s work may seem like invisible and silent magic, but I assure you that it is not magical at all. It is plain, hard work that more people need to see, hear, and acknowledge.

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What EAs actually do in a post-pandemic, WFH world.

Back in the early 2000s, I remember a headline about EAs that read, “These are the people you want by your side in the apocalypse.” The top EAs all have what I call the “X Factor,” the secret recipe of innate and learned skills that make them invaluable to their leaders.

Because of the demands of the post-pandemic workplace, assistants are being called upon to use their technology skills to facilitate online meetings, their organizational and calendaring skills to adeptly wrangle complicated schedules over numerous time zones, and their people skills to help determine which candidates best fit the culture of their organizations.

Many EAs are handling project management, travel arrangements, event planning, and board document creation.

Other essential qualities and skills that top EAs possess are:

  • Highly organized
  • Creative problem-solver – taking great pride in saving the day
  • Can find any piece of info in five minutes or less, no matter where they are
  • Advanced calendaring skills – Tetris, anyone?
  • Have an attitude of doing whatever it takes to get a job done
  • Cool in a crisis (remember that apocalypse?)
  • Advanced EQ – can read people well
  • Discreet, trustworthy, and ethical
  • Resourceful / has a great network of experts
  • Proactive and able to take initiative
  • Has access to the leader’s email inbox and manages it for them
  • Can write in their executive’s voice
  • Tech savvy; can create high quality documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations

Top EAs are elite go-to subject matter experts in their companies, often referenced as the “office Google.” On top of that, they see around corners and can often read minds in anticipation of what others want done— or don’t even know that they want done until the EA does it.

In today’s global world, EAs who work for C-suite executives are referred to as the right arms to leaders, the backbone to companies, and the face of the company culture. They are the eyes, ears, and the glue of the organization. As such, they are sitting in a very important seat that is deserving of respect, acknowledgement, ongoing training, and fair compensation packages.

In my experience teaching the world’s top assistants, they love what they do and view the work as their committed calling and career. They have a “service heart” beating inside which drives them to work creatively and to go above and beyond every day in support of their leaders. That was true for me. Only you know the answer for you.

The Pros

1) You don’t need a college degree.

In light of the Great Resignation, jobs for skilled EAs are plentiful and salaries are increasing. 2022 is being called “The Year of the Employee” because the demand is high.

Until the pandemic, a source of great frustration among EAs was the degree requirement on job postings. Top assistants knew that what mattered more were sharp and current computer skills, rather than a degree obtained 20 years ago.

The current job market is so tight for skilled EAs that many recruiters are starting to collaborate with HR and leaders to make a college degree “preferred” rather than “required.” Hiring managers have found that the degree requirement has caused self-elimination, preventing talented candidates from applying for jobs. In a talent shortage, this is not a good thing.

2) You get a seat at the table.

Whether you and your executive work in person, hybrid, or totally remote, as an EA, you get to have a seat at the table with the decision makers at your company or organization. Top EAs save their leaders’ time, which also means saving serious money. They function as strategic business partners who provide value by increasing productivity.

In the post-pandemic world, EAs in the C-Suite are often viewed as part of the executive leadership team (ELT). Their experience and skills are respected, and as such, their opinions are valued and sought after.

3) Ultimate access. You get to develop your leadership skills (and travel too).

When fully leveraged by leaders, EAs have opportunities to flex their leadership muscles and influence in many ways. Most have access to their executive’s email inbox. Some EAs sit in on certain meetings in place of their executives. Other EAs support the company by participating in and coordinating onboarding, interviewing, succession planning, and training. These kinds of partnerships require high levels of access and trust.

In some positions, the job offers national and international travel, exposure to international leaders, and responsibility for complex event planning on location. An example is the EA to CEO who was planning a 3,000-person event in Maui and travelled there for a week to do a site visit before signing the contract with the hotel.

4) The salaries are high.

Depending on the company, EAs may either be compensated hourly or by salary. Compensation is typically calculated based on experience, skills, geographic location, and most importantly, job responsibilities. Average starting salaries for experienced EAs range from $80,000 to $100,000. If an EA has direct reports, that increases the starting salary into the $125,000 range. Highly skilled and experienced EAs may earn $200,000 and higher.

For those paid hourly, punching a virtual clock becomes necessary and overtime pay can be a big perk for some. Additionally, EAs are increasingly eligible for bonuses and stock options.

5) You have a more personal connection with your executive.

Finally, working as an EA often gives an assistant the opportunity to collaborate with an executive’s family and take on a wide range of personal responsibilities, from gift buying to planning destination birthday parties. If travel and event planning are passions of yours, working as an EA can be highly rewarding, both financially and through a highly varied job description.

The Cons

1) You may have to work long hours and not have a life.

Given the demands on the leaders, the hours can be long, hard, and stressful for their EAs. Most assistants understand and accept being on-call 24/7. Your personal life may suffer as Thanksgiving dinners can be interrupted with what may or may not be a real emergency. Looking back, I regret that I missed far too many of my son’s events over the years and wish I could have a do-over. I would do it better.

If there has been any silver lining to the pandemic, it is that many EAs reported that working from home represented the first time they were available for family dinners in years. Work-life balance needs to stay an important priority.

2) Workplace bullying is a big problem. Do your research.

Seek companies with cultures of respect. The profession is dominated by females, and women are the primary targets of workplace bullying and sexual harassment. These issues are serious risk factors in the global workplace.

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Toxic behaviors can take a high emotional and mental toll on assistants who are not always respected by managers and/or peers. The situation is made worse when accountability policies are not in place to prevent the kind of toxic work environments that chase people away. To EAs, I give you advice that works: Do not reward bad behavior. The workplace is no place for bullies or harassers. Do not suffer in silence.

3) Blurry boundaries. Your responsibilities may go above and beyond the job description.

The job description for EAs is prone to “scope creep” as assistants reveal themselves to be highly competent in an extensive range of responsibilities. This can be both a pro and a con, depending upon the interests of the EA. Setting healthy boundaries is a very common challenge, and why clear and detailed job descriptions are necessary.

One example is the executive who decided to get a dog and bring the pup to the office. The EA was asked to walk the dog and to even dog-sit while the executive was away on a trip. After the first trip, the EA needed to respectfully say: “I am not comfortable doing this anymore. I would be happy to find a great dog-sitter for the next trip and also a dog walker for the day-to-day.” Problem solved.

In addition, I’d recommend anyone considering the EA role to not only look for a detailed job description and a fair-to-generous starting salary, but also an annual training budget as part of their offer package. Ongoing professional development for EAs is no longer optional if assistants are going to stay sharp and at the top of their game in support of their leaders.

This factor is making the difference when candidates are choosing between offers. In  2022, the average training budget I hear from my students is around $5,000 per year. In all cases, the assistants who receive a budget for learning love that they no longer have to fight for training dollars.

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Career and life advice for young professionals.

How do you break into working as an EA?

For many, working as a receptionist or an administrative assistant is a reasonable entry point into this career path. In many companies, it is seen as the easiest route. Given the volatility of the workplace, advancement is available as an assistant proves themself. As one example, in the post-pandemic world, many EAs are being promoted into chief of staff positions because of the need to coordinate the hybrid workforce.

In terms of your resume and LinkedIn profile, highlight your technology skills and name all your software proficiencies, including any recent workshops you’ve taken to update your knowledge. Know that your written materials will serve as examples of your technical abilities.

Leaders are facing an unprecedented set of challenges as they work to run their companies and EAs are supporting them to bring order to the chaos.

In general, recruiters will only want to place you if you have solid experience as an assistant. After all, their clients pay them a hefty commission to provide candidates who possess the necessary skills and experience. Even if you were not paid to assist someone, like a relative or friend, include any and all examples in your application materials. Experience is experience, no matter where it comes from.

If there are companies you are specifically interested in, look to your LinkedIn connections and ask for informational, 15-minute conversations with people who already work there, even if they are not EAs. People like to refer people they know, like, and trust. Don’t you? Plus, many companies are offering bonuses to staff who refer qualified candidates who end up getting hired.

The future is bright for ambitious EAs.

Despite the workplace being an ever-changing stew of remote, virtual, hybrid, and in-person EAs, the need for all of them is strong. Why? Leaders are facing an unprecedented set of challenges as they work to run their companies and EAs are supporting them to bring order to the chaos.

If you are excited by the idea of being by a leader’s side – in-person or virtually – to enable them to maximize their time and have the freedom to do the things that only they can do, then put that resume together and show them what you’ve got.

. . .

The work taught me how to think and prepared me to navigate any challenge that comes my way. That includes pulling off the impossible. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. If all of that makes you think, “sign me up,” you are halfway there. I am rooting you on all the way.

Author’s Note: It is intentional that I don’t use the word “boss” in writing or verbally because it translates to “master,” as in master and slave. It’s time for other descriptors for the executives, leaders, and managers EAs support.

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Is “Executive Assistant” the Right Career for You?

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  • Matching Result: The Pros · 1) You don’t need a college degree. · 2) You get a seat at the table. · 3) Ultimate access. You get to develop your leadership skills ( …

  • Intro: Is “Executive Assistant” the Right Career for You? Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here. Nothing about my career has been predictable. In 1975, when I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in theater and English literature, my dream was to be an actress, not…
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Becoming a CEO's executive assistant can be a bad move

Becoming a CEO's executive assistant can be a bad move

  • Author: en.globes.co.il

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Executive Assistant | Base

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The Eye-opening Reality of Being an Executive Assistant

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Is executive assistant to CEO a good job? - Zippia

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5 Things They Don't Tell You about Becoming an Executive ...

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Frequently Asked Questions About is executive assistant a good job

If you have questions that need to be answered about the topic is executive assistant a good job, then this section may help you solve it.

Are executive assistants respected for their work?

EAs in the C-Suite are frequently seen as members of the executive leadership team (ELT) in the post-pandemic world because of their respected experience, skills, and opinions.

Is working as an executive assistant a wise choice?

The answer to the question “should I be an executive assistant?” is yes. It’s a great career path that pays well for those with or without a degree.

How high of a position is executive assistant?

Yes, an executive assistant holds a more senior position than an administrative assistant, even though both perform many of the same duties. This is because executive assistants can bring more proactiveness and tactical knowledge to their position.

Is working as an executive assistant challenging?

The position is challenging and frequently stressful, but it’s ideal for anyone looking for a vibrant and exciting career path that will undoubtedly give them tons of skills and priceless experience.

Why do executive assistants resign?

Not everything can be avoided; in these cases, you need to take what you can from the exit interview and move forward. Your Executive Assistant may leave for personal reasons, to pursue full-time further education, or to make a career change unavailable at your company.

What position follows that of executive assistant?

Consider all of your options and make the best decision possible. Your next move may be as a COO, VP of Business Development, Director of Public Relations, Executive Director of a non-profit, or Executive Assistant in a different industry.

Is being an EA worthwhile?

Executive Assistants (EAs) do a lot of different things, work with a lot of different people, and end up advancing to a lot of different careers. This position comes with variability, excitement, and independence. Few jobs offer benefits that compare to the experiential benefits of being an Executive Assistant (EA).

What are an executive assistant’s top 3 skills?

An executive assistant needs to be adaptable, have good people skills, and be organized.

Is working as an executive assistant stressful?

Actually, many assistants follow their boss’s schedules, which may entail frequent 5AM wake-up calls, late-night meetings, and working during all kinds of random hours, particularly if the boss is in a different time zone. And just when you think the day is over, something else comes up.

Do executive assistants feel content?

It turns out that executive assistants rank in the bottom 16% of careers for career happiness, scoring only 2.8 out of 5 stars.

What qualities should an executive assistant possess?

As a result, the executive’s ability to achieve their goals and leave a lasting impression on key contacts depends on having strong attention to detail, excellent written and verbal communication skills, and a high level of discretion.

How much money can executive assistants make?

According to comparably.com, an executive assistant earns an average bonus of 4% of their salary, with 44% of EAs reporting a bonus every year. Executive assistants now frequently earn six-figure base salaries and occasionally receive bonus incentives and equity, all benefits that were previously only available to executives.

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