The Office for National Statistics has, just this week, estimated that the unemployment rate in the UK is 3.8%, which is the lowest since records began in 1974. The contracting pool of available candidates means that it’s becoming increasingly important for employers to attract return to work parents back to the workplace. Employers have not
Having matched thousands of executive assistants with employers of choice over the years, we have a thorough understanding of just what it takes to become a high-performing administrative professional. We’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the best PAs and EAs in their field and, as such, have a unique insight into the skills required to support established corporate and private leaders.
While the responsibilities within an EA or PA job will vary based on the requirements of the role, there are some common threads that high-performing professionals all share. If you are looking to take the next step in your career, it’s worth considering how you can develop these within your current role.
All top-performing PAs and EAs are required to manage a team. From other support staff to private household employees, you will need to be able to supervise and collaborate with people at all levels, exhibiting exceptionally high levels of integrity, patience and understanding. You’ll also need to be exceptionally organised and be open to providing advice and assistance when required. If you don’t have any management experience as yet, it’s best to start small – is there a junior you could mentor?
People management and recruitment often go hand in hand, so it’s not unusual for top executive assistants to do both! With a unique understanding of the principal and their requirements, as well as a knowledge of the wider team, an EA or PA is perfectly placed to assist with hiring administrative staff within a business or household.
This includes engaging an agency or placing a job advertisement, screening applications, organising interviews, providing feedback, issuing contracts and organising aspects like start dates. You may also be required to oversee initial training, schedule working hours and facilitate holiday allowances.
If you are looking to add recruitment to your skillset, why not chat to your HR function? They will no doubt have some key pieces of advice that you can deploy moving forward. Should they be hiring within your team, it may also be worth volunteering to review CVs or be part of the interview process.
Complex travel management
While most PAs and EAs will complete travel planning as part of their role, more senior EAs will generally be accustomed to quite complex itineraries. From multiple time zones and complicated meeting schedules, to visas, ground transportation, currencies and tickets, being able to confidently organise and oversee this on behalf of an individual and family is a key skill that leaders look for.
Demonstrating an understanding of what is likely to go wrong, and developing contingency plans should issues arise, is also favourable, as it demonstrates a capacity to react quickly and calmly in the case of delays or other issues.
To build your travel planning skills, do some research! Familiarise yourself with visa requirements of commonly-visited countries, research ground transportation suppliers and make sure you understand the time zones of different regions. It’s also worth asking other colleagues if they have any tips or tricks that you could adopt.
One huge part of any meaty EA or PA job is taking on projects. The scope of each project will vary depending on the role, but could range from compiling databases, managing real estate and organising events, through to contract negotiations and sourcing luxury gifts. There is plenty of scope for executive assistants to enhance their project management skills, and volunteering to oversee small projects in your current role is a great place to start. Is there an event coming up that you could assist with, or research that your principal could benefit from for an upcoming meeting?
Strategy and gatekeeping
The finest executive assistants take on a gatekeeper position, deputising for their principal when needed. They are comfortable making decisions on their behalf, delegating work, hosting meetings and implementing requests. Depending on the working environment, they may also act in an advisory capacity, liaising with senior-level management on strategic issues across multiple elements of the business. This is where pure experience comes into play. The more exposure you have to your principal’s decision-making processes, working style and knowledge, the more comfortable you will be in representing them. Therefore, be sure to observe, listen and ask questions wherever possible – the more you know, the better!
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