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How to be a top PA and EA: advice from PA Life Club Mentors

The EA and PA profession is rapidly evolving, and it can be challenging to break into, and keep up with these ever evolving roles. The rise of technology and AI has further increased the pace at which the industry is developing. Joah Freeman, a journalism student at University of Brighton spoke to our PA Life Club mentors to ask for their best advice on how to be a top PA and EA.

Advice for breaking into the industry

1. “If you’re aiming to step into the realm of Personal or Executive Assistants, a blend of key skills will pave your way to success. Start by honing strong organisational abilities as these roles often involve juggling numerous tasks simultaneously. Effective and friendly communication, both written and verbal, is paramount. Embrace technology, familiarise yourself with office tools and demonstrate trustworthiness with confidential information.

Network like a social butterfly; attend industry shindigs and build your connections like a pro.  Adaptability is crucial for the dynamic nature of these roles and efficient time management is your most important sidekick. Consider obtaining relevant education or certifications to enhance your credibility.

Showcase your initiative, create an online presence that sparkles with professionalism. Seek internships or entry-level positions to gain practical experience and craft a tailored CV highlighting your skills and experiences.

Breaking into the industry may take time and persistence so stay focused on your goals, keep learning, be brave and maintain that positive attitude.” Hannah Houston-Banks, EA at Associated British Foods

2. “I would recommend that training with Global PA or a similar organisation to get a highest possible qualification, minimum level 4. Mainly I would say they would need to become part of the community and join relevant networking clubs to build relationships and learn from the experience of other EAs. These steps will help in reaching the top EA level.” – Pamela Crespo, EA to CHRO and CMO, Alti Tiedemann Global

How can Personal and Executive Assistants progress in their career?

1. “Decide whether a team leader role is right for you – not everyone wants and enjoys people management, and that’s absolutely okay. Being a manager is often a thankless task on top of a presumably busy workload, and you are directly responsible for someone else’s development. Their successes are your successes, and in turn, their shortcomings are too. When done right however, it can be an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding string to your bow.

I am our Office Assistant’s biggest champion and have genuinely become a better employee since becoming her manager. Next, I’d suggest proactively approaching your own manager, as presumably for you to step-up as a team leader, there will be additional resource being brought in underneath you. So, speak to your manager to let them know you think additional resource is required in the team and/or you would like to be considered for a team leader role. Should they agree, discuss what they need from you in terms of logistics, how you both see your role changing to allow you to take on this added responsibility and what success looks like to both of you in terms of people management.

Keep expectations clear from the start, and check if there’s anything you personally need to achieve before being given the opportunity. I would also request formal management training, especially if it’s your first time in a team leader role, to ensure you are doing right by your report/s from the get-go.”  Caroline Rees Williams, Operations Manager, The Valesco Group

2. “My advice to anyone who is looking to progress their career from a Personal Assistant role to an Executive Assistant would be to speak to their Line Manager in the first instance and let them know their aspirations.  There may be an opportunity to shadow a Senior EA in their work or get involved in projects.

I’d also look at how you can help assist your director more, are you able to give briefings prior to any meetings they have, are there any ways you could make their life easier, above and beyond what you are already doing. Think about whether there are any projects you could initiate, such as a procurement on event spaces, or even securing a better stationery supplier.

Another aspect to think about is training, look for opportunities to learn more about software such as Outlook and add minute taking to your skillset.

The role of an EA often involves business strategy, so look at ways that you could improve systems in the business and make the office you are working for more efficient, share your ideas, as a lot of career progression comes from showing a willingness to learn and networking! – Helen Haslam, Founder of Virtually For You VA

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How to be a top PA and EA, and what qualifications and experience are important?

1. “The only person who will be able to start your journey in self-discovery and development is you! I would come up with a development plan first and see where the gaps are. Also depending on where you are in your career – have a look at what the next level up looks like for you via job profiles. Questions I would be asking myself:

– What do you want to do next?

– How do I get there?

– What do you need to upskill on?

– What do you enjoy doing?

Once you have done this, I would suggest learning on the job as there could be lots of opportunities where you are and start by having conversations with your boss or the Exec/Heads you work for. What would you like to get involved in which will help you to progress to the next level? I would look at courses as well – what things do you want to feel more confident doing? E.g. speaking in front of people, having difficult conversations. If possible, choose courses which are accredited and add this to your CV (once completed) and development plan. I hope this helps and I hope things go well.” – Amanda Redfern, EA to the CEO, The Newline Group

2. “The role of an Executive Assistant is one that holds a lot of responsibility and influence. It’s important to keep evolving, developing new skills and expertise for several reasons. Formal qualifications aren’t needed to be an Executive Assistant, however, there are several skills and characteristics that are pivotal to the role.

Stay curious and be willing to learn, if you are continually learning and developing yourself, you are not only open to potential opportunities at your workplace, but you are also growing your toolkit for resilience. Take risks, look for opportunities if you see an opportunity, put your hand up. it will help you, and your organisation.

Technology and digitisation. With concern about AI and automation of roles. It’s imperative to keep up to date and proficient with the changing technologic landscape. Technology can’t work on its own. If assistants can learn how to work with AI, saving time and money for their company, then they can future proof themselves and use this to their advantage.

Networking with peers, helps you stay up to date with industry trends, provides an opportunity to connect with peers, access to resources and information, knowledge sharing, building relationships and importantly support.

People skills don’t underestimate all the different hats you wear as an EA from mentor, motivator, trusted confidant, adept at reading a room or a situation, EQ is invaluable.

Being commercially aware: Don’t see yourself as ‘just an Assistant’.  You are a strategic business partner, we empower business leaders to make efficient use of their time, stay focussed on targets and find clarity in their day to make the decisions that accelerate the growth of a company.

If you can align your goals with our Executive’s goals, this contributes to the firm’s ROI. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready! – Dee Oteng, EA to the CFO and Group People Director, Aggreko Limited 

How are Executive and Personal Assistant roles and responsibilities being redefined with AI?

1. “The role of Personal and Executive Assistants is evolving rapidly due to technological advancements. A PA/EA should embrace new technologies to stay ahead in the market.

Prior to the widespread use of the internet, Personal and Executive Assistants relied on paper-based tools to carry out their tasks efficiently. Nowadays, the use of AI can help support PAs/EAs to become more efficient, enabling them to focus on personnel, management, communication, and creative tasks. With the advent of quantum computing, AI is becoming increasingly common in the workplace, freeing up time for management to be more productive and allowing for more time to be devoted to strategic thinking.

AI is a useful tool, it can enhance the text, but one should be cautious as it does not always comprehend the content. While it can be effective for creating snappy and engaging comments on social media, be cautious with complex text. Marketing platforms and using text to create images are faster than searching through stock photo sites for social media campaigns, presentations, and advertisements.” Hazel Bates, EA at Whirledge & Nott

2. “As technology and AI continue to advance, the roles and responsibilities of Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants are undergoing a significant redefinition.  Traditionally focused on administrative tasks, these positions now incorporate a spectrum of digital capabilities, including managing complex data sets, orchestrating virtual meetings, and leveraging AI-driven tools for efficient task prioritisation.  The development of technology has liberated assistants from mundane chores, enabling them to become strategic partners to executives and individuals, providing insightful analysis, and contributing to decision-making processes.  Moreover, AI-powered assistants augment their capacity to anticipate needs, personalise interactions, and streamline workflows, elevating the efficiency and effectiveness of their support.  In this evolving landscape, Executive and Personal Assistants are transitioning into indispensable collaborators, empowered by technology to enhance productivity and drive organisational success”. – Helena Jackson, CEAP, Business Support Supervisor, WTW

 

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