They may not always be at the front-and-center of an organization, but an Executive Assistant is the unsung hero and Chief Efficiency Creator of any team.
They make organizations run smoothly by supporting their boss in maximizing productivity, making decisions more easily, and supporting their leadership. Usually, this means saving their executive time by managing processes methodically and strategically, plus communicating proactively, so the executive is more available to make the critical, high-level business decisions that only he or she is qualified to make. With all that needs to be done in a single day, Executive Assistants ensure that executives have the time and bandwidth to do what only they can do, and delegate the rest appropriately.
Interested in pursuing this career path? Read on to learn which skills are necessary for this essential role.
Responsibility and Organization
Successful Executive Assistants are reliable, responsive self-starters. Traditionally, they are punctual, diplomatic, and skilled conversationalists in both written and verbal form, which is important because they will regularly be called to represent the Executive they support, or to represent the company. It’s an asset to be highly organized and naturally pay close attention to detail, and it goes without saying that this person must be accessible and available when their Executive needs something done quickly.
Scheduling meetings is absolutely imperative for both executives and Executive Assistants. The Executive Assistant should feel comfortable doing everything that is needed to successfully schedule and execute a meeting for their executive from start to finish, from selecting a date and inviting the appropriate attendees to clarifying the agenda and sending follow-ups, to-dos, key dates, or recaps.
Managing time is a key responsibility for Executive Assistants, including day-to-day maintenance of a calendar for the executive and his or her team. Other daily functions could skew toward logistics and scheduling needs. For example, ensuring meetings run on time; booking travel; or tackling a never-ending list of facilities needs, like coordinating the repair of a shared resource (is that printer still broken?), ordering more office supplies or even catering a team lunch; it could also mean protecting the executive’s schedule — and space — from time-draining “drive-bys” with irrelevant questions.
While these tasks and responsibilities may seem unrelated, they all have the same mission, which is to keep schedules and processes running smoothly so that work isn’t interrupted for unnecessary reasons. There are only so many hours in the workweek, and it’s important to make sure that time — a limited resource — is used most productively.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Serving as a key support for an in-demand Executive can translate to long hours, late nights, and even working over weekends or holidays. Sometimes, the work might feel thankless. It’s important to be self-motivated and maintain a positive attitude, and not to let the work suffer or details slip through the cracks. Also, there is a tremendous amount to gain from being surrounded by greatness.
It’s not uncommon for an Executive Assistant position to eventually lead to an executive position. Jenna Lyons, Executive Creative Director of J.Crew; Cindy Gallop, Ad Executive behind If We Ran The World; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice; and Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox all started their careers as Executive Assistants.