Administrative “support” roles, in which an employee performs tasks like answering phones, fielding emails, organizing schedules and helping with office maintenance, are frequently considered desirable entry-level jobs for professionals hoping to launch careers in their industries of choice.
While plenty of new graduates take positions as administrative assistants and receptionists, the individuals who provide support for upper-level executives and senior staffers require experience and carefully-honed skills. These employees, often referred to as “executive assistants”, can make full-fledged careers out of their roles, with competitive compensation that reflect their value to their companies.
Read on to find out what an executive assistant’s workday looks like, the educational requirements for this career path, the expected salary range for EAs and the skills most pertinent to success in this role.
What does an executive assistant do?
At its essence, an executive assistant role involves performing crucial administrative duties at a very high level for a senior staffer. C-suite execs add executive assistants to their team in order to help them grow and sustain their productivity as managers (and their department’s productivity as a whole) and to give them the extra assistance and reinforcements they need to serve as effective leaders. Specific job tasks for an executive assistant may include:
- Managing the executive’s schedule, including arranging her calendar, booking travel and setting meeting times and dates.
- Handling phone and email correspondence on the executive’s behalf and following up on time-sensitive messages.
- Conducting market research and preparing reports and presentation documents for the executive to use in meetings.
- Training administrative assistants and junior support staffers to perform less-urgent tasks for the executive and her team.
- Organizing the executive's emails, paperwork and other deliverables.
What types of education and experience levels are required for this job?
Educational requirements for executive assistants can vary dramatically depending on circumstances and on the norms of any particular office. In certain situations, usually those involving EAs who have been with the company for many years and gradually rose to their positions, these long-time EAs may not hold any specific degrees and may or may not have completed career-relevant coursework. However, their seniority and their extensive experience in their roles prove more valuable to the company than formal-education credentials.
Individuals seeking entry to executive assistant career paths these days are typically expected to hold a bachelor’s degree. In terms of experience, EAs almost always start out as administrative assistants and grow into these more senior roles over time.
What does a typical day look like for an EA?
Executive assistants must be comfortable with an unpredictable and flexible work flow; their roles as gatekeepers to their boss’s schedules and as primary sources of research and administrative support indicate that their daily duties will depend on the executive’s needs at any given time.
Most executive assistants work during regular office hours, potentially taking on overtime shifts if the executive’s workload becomes particularly heavy. Starting the day by making a to-do list can prove helpful, although a seasoned EA must understand that this list could change and shift as new priorities arise. Task-tracking software (like Asana, Basecamp or Trello) can allow an EA to document expected daily tasks, assign deadlines and loop in colleagues (like junior assistants) who can provide assistance.
Executive assistants and the leaders they support should meet face-to-face a few times a week to go over scheduling and correspondence and to review action plans. Once the EA has a clear idea of what the executive hopes to accomplish throughout the week, she can set up the exec’s calendar, sift through her inbox to arrange emails in order of priority and communicate with colleagues and clients to confirm meetings and deadlines for deliverables.
Whenever possible, setting aside a chunk of time each day to check in on junior administrative assistants and provide training is often a constructive use of an executive assistant’s less regimented hours. For EAs whose responsibilities include doing research and compiling documents for the executive, those tasks will likely be a daily occurrence. Finally, many executive assistants end their work days by providing the executive with a brief overview of what they accomplished regarding her schedule and correspondence and making sure that she doesn’t have any pressing task requests before the EA heads home for the night.
How much do EAs make?
Salaries for executive assistants aren’t necessarily consistent across industries; depending on the norms for your field, your company, and your geographic location, EA pay rates can vary significantly. However, Payscale reports that an average salary for an executive assistant currently rests at $54,528. Payscale also notes that EA salaries often increase based on experience; average pay for a brand-new executive assistant is $42,000, but an EA with 10-20 years of service under her belt can expect $60,000 or more annually.
What qualities lead to success in this career path?
Just as no two executives have the same preferences and needs, no two executive assistants will perform their jobs in precisely the same way. That said, certain qualities and personality traits can make a job candidate especially attuned to the workflow required of an EA. Examples include:
- The ability to handle ever-changing responsibilities with grace and aplomb.
- Patience and a willingness to follow up with contacts and gain necessary information in a timely manner.
- A knack for time management, both for oneself and for one’s boss.
- The ability to work autonomously, without requiring constant supervision from the executive.
- A talent for communication in all forms: written, verbal and in-person.
- Meticulous attention to detail.
- Strong computer skills, particularly with email platforms, scheduling/calendar programs and Microsoft Office (or equivalent software).
- A positive attitude and a resilient spirit.
- A penchant for creative problem-solving and “thinking on your feet."
- An understanding of how to effectively multitask and how to prioritize tasks.
- The confidence and know-how to provide leadership and guidance to junior staffers.
- A proven willingness to be proactive.