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Hone your organizational skills as an executive assistant

CareerBuilder | July 29, 2020

Don't mistake these professionals for the stereotypical secretaries often featured in '60s sitcoms. An executive assistant must prove competent, engaging, educated, and forward-thinking to excel in this career choice.

What is an executive assistant? These professionals provide administrative, clerical, and logistical support for executives and upper management team members. They share some of the responsibilities of administrative assistants, but they focus more acutely on meeting the needs of one particular executive in a company. In fact, many executive assistants supervise other professionals in the office, so this position can carry significant responsibility.

As the executive's right-hand man or woman, the executive assistant learns to anticipate his or her employer's needs to improve productivity and to create a well-designed workday. The specific job duties and responsibilities vary depending on the size of the company and the executive with whom the assistant works, but the executive assistant job description typically revolves around scheduling, organizing, managing, and customizing an office.

Executive assistants carry significant responsibility

What Does an Executive Assistant Do?

Responsibilities

As mentioned above, the responsibilities that an executive assistant might face on the job can vary significantly. However, most professionals in this field must have the same core competencies and know how to manage an office efficiently. Some of their job duties might include:

  • Taking phone calls and passing them along to the executive when appropriate
  • Filing documents and records for easy future retrieval
  • Organizing online and offline files
  • Conducting research and relays information to the executive
  • Reading mail, email, and other correspondence and passes relevant pieces on to the executive
  • Creating spreadsheets and other documents for presentations as well as internal purposes
  • Attending meetings when the executive cannot attend and taking detailed notes
  • Managing the executive's professional calendar
  • Making travel arrangements for business meetings, conventions, and other events
  • Supervising clerical and administrative staff members
  • Protecting client and executive confidentiality
  • Reminding the executive about upcoming engagements and meetings
  • Routing correspondence to the appropriate party
  • Serving customers' needs
  • Monitor supplies and inventory and place purchase orders when necessary

Work Environment

An executive assistant works in a typical office setting, often with a work space or office adjacent to his or her direct supervisor. These professionals often warrant larger work spaces than other clerical and administrative workers because they have more responsibility.

Other than picking up files and other small office supplies, this job doesn't entail much physical exertion. You'll likely spend much of your day at your desk, working at your computer or making and receiving telephone calls. Some executive assistants serve as a client-facing "gatekeeper," meaning that you would meet with prospective clients, vendors, and other professionals to evaluate them before referring them to your boss. In this case, you'd need a friendly personality and a high comfort level when it comes to working with people.

Additionally, you might face some on-the-job stress. Executives can prove demanding, especially in fast-paced industries, so your multitasking and stress-relief skills will come in handy. If you can meet your boss' demands and maintain excellent productivity, you might excel in this position.

Schedule

Executive assistants typically work regular business hours, such as from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Your boss might need you to work overtime occasionally when a big deadline looms or when work becomes overwhelming. In some cases, you might need to take work supplies home and work in the evenings or over the weekends to catch up.

Some executive assistants telecommute. They might work in the office four days per week, for instance, then work at home on the fifth day. However, this can vary widely depending on the employer, and some industries demand all workers report to the office daily. If you're interested in telecommuting, you can always ask your boss to see where he or she might stand on the issue.

What Qualifications Are Required to Become an Executive Assistant?

Education

Most employers will expect to see at least some college experience on your resume. Many will only consider applicants who have earned an associate's or bachelor's degree from an accredited university, while others will consider a mixture of education and experience. If you have an undergraduate degree, you might enjoy more job opportunities as well as increased salary potential.

If you're considering a career as an executive assistant, choose a college major that lends itself to this type of work. You could major in business administration, communications, finance, or a related field so you better understand the business world.

Experience

A background in clerical work can help you get a job as an executive assistant. Maybe you worked as an administrative assistant, marketing assistant, sales assistant, or similar. In some cases, industry experience matters. For instance, a medical executive assistant has a much different job description from a legal or marketing executive assistant. Industry knowledge can help you land jobs that people with no industry experience can't handle.

Depending on the size of the company, you might need anywhere from two to 10 years of experience under your belt before you can qualify for a job in this field. However, if you have an excellent educational background, you might be able to get a job without accepting a lower position first.

Skills

You'll need a varied skill set to succeed as an executive assistant:

  • Organization: If you can't keep track of files, meetings, events, and other items on your boss' to-do list, you'll struggle to excel in this position.
  • Communication: You'll have to communicate with a myriad of people in this job, from your boss and his or her contemporaries to clients and vendors, both in writing and in person.
  • Software: As an executive assistant, your boss will expect you to know how to use basic office software, such as the Microsoft Office suite and financial software like QuickBooks.
  • Data Entry: Some executive assistants must fill out data in spreadsheets and other documents, so fast, accurate 10-key typing can prove useful.
  • Technology: Knowing how to use typical office equipment, from mobile gadgets to copiers and fax machines, can help you gain traction in this position.
  • Prioritization: Executives lead busy lives and so do their assistants. When faced with an insurmountable task list, you must know how to prioritize the most critical items.
  • Discretion: Executive assistants often find themselves privy to trade secrets, client data, and other sensitive information.
  • Customer service: Many executive assistants communicate directly with customers and clients, so knowing how to speak with them effectively will come in handy.
  • Research: When your boss needs information, he or she might depend on you to find it. Knowing how to use online and offline resources for research can also prove useful.

Salary Expectations

How much do executive assistants make? According to U.S. News & World Report, executive assistants make a median annual salary of $58,000. The highest-paid executive assistants, however, can earn $64,480 or more, making this a lucrative choice for many professionals. When you first start out, you might command a median salary of $68,500 or more.

The U.S. News & World Report reveals that administrative assistants earn an average of $19,000 less than executive assistants, so if you're looking for a more lucrative career choice, you might consider aspiring to this position. Some roles come with excellent benefits, stock options, and even bonuses.

Job Outlook for Executive Assistants

Projected Growth

This job is expected to decline in availability over the next several years, mostly because companies have switched to hiring administrative assistants who serve more than one executive at a company. However, the unemployment rate remains low in this job sector, so you can still find excellent opportunities for work. If you can set yourself apart from the competition in some way, such as through education or experience, the job decline won't impact you as much.

Career Trajectory

Committed, ambitious professionals can get promoted from executive assistant positions in many ways. For instance, some companies have senior executive assistant positions, which typically means that these professionals oversee a team of other assistants. However, if your career ambitions run higher than assisting, you can carve a career path that leads you to your goal.

Focus on creating connections with other professionals and expanding your skill set. You could move into a vice president position, for instance, which would give you more responsibility and excellent salary potential. From there, you might ascend to a president or even C-level position, depending on your qualifications.

To expand your job potential, consider taking classes while you work as an executive assistant. For instance, if you eventually want to sit in the C-suite of a major corporation, consider getting your Master of Business Administration, or MBA. You can take classes while you work because many online educational programs exist.

Executive assistants are an integral cog in the corporate machine. They keep offices running smoothly and ensure that executives have all the resources they need to perform their jobs. If you're looking for an exciting new career opportunity, start searching for executive assistant jobs.