In most organizations, executive assistant is one or more steps up from other administrative positions such as receptionist or secretary. On an executive level, administrative assistants generally handle work directly for leadership staff, including vice presidents, CEOs or CFOs. As such, individuals reaching this level of administrative work must have some special skills.
Any executive needs the basic administrative skills required for almost all clerical jobs. Assistants must be able to communicate clearly and appropriately through both verbal and written means, work standard office equipment such as copy machines or phone systems and handle multiple tasks at a time. While any clerical worker must have computer-related admin skills, many executives require their assistants to move beyond basics such as word processing and data entry. Executive assistants may need to formulate or work with complex spreadsheets for reporting or analysis purposes or create high-level PowerPoint products for their bosses to present.
While all administrative assistants need people skills, at the executive level, support staff must present an especially polished front when greeting or meeting with clients, vendors or business partners. An executive assistant must understand how cultural or social differences impact meetings, be able to appropriately entertain or engage individuals when a boss is running behind, and know how to deliver tactful messaging, even in uncomfortable or complex situations. Much of the executive-level support staff's job is learning the boss preferences and developing an intuition for things such as when to interrupt meetings or phone calls, offer beverages or refreshments, or jump in with assistance before it's requested.
Executive assistant skill requirements also vary by department and industry. At an accounting firm, leadership may expect higher-level assistants to understand accounting terms and some components of tax functions or financial reporting. In a corporation, a CIO is likely to desire an assistant with technical skills, while a marketing VP might hire someone who has a background in advertising. However, administrative and clerical is one area where specialization doesn't necessarily mean a silo; many companies are willing to hire an experienced assistant who comes from a different background because so many admin skills transfer between industries.
Executive-level administrative skills can even transfer to the virtual workplace, though the International Association of Administrative Professionals points out some additional skills are helpful for assistants seeking non-traditional employment. Whether working as a virtual assistant or for a boss who is frequently absent, executive-level clerical workers need to be self-motivated and possess both time and project management skills. Leadership doesn't need another employee to oversee, but a partner who can make each day or task easier or more streamlined; the ability to manage calendars effectively for multiple people often makes the executive admin a high-value employee.
For clerical workers, reaching an executive assistant position often means a significant increase in wage and a higher standing in the company. Since executive-level clerical positions come with more responsibility, working now to develop the required skills lets admin staff ensure a more successful outcome if a promotion occurs.
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