5 Things to Consider Before Starting a Career as an Executive Assistant

First, let’s get this out of the way—being an Executive Assistant is not a stepping stone to another career opportunity. It is a dynamic, interesting, impactful, and fulfilling career in its own right. While many people, myself included, kind of fall unintentionally into the role of Executive Assistant, most stay by choice.

There are few other careers that give you such unprecedented access to top leaders, allow you to be at the table when major decisions are being made (and to be a part of those decisions), see just how businesses operate and scale, and learn the dos and don’ts of running major corporations, first-hand. And you can do all of this without any specific educational requirements (though we’ll discuss later what knowledge and education is helpful).

Once I was actually exposed to, and understood, this career, I wish I had been told about it much earlier! It’s a great option for someone who is naturally curious, is learning-based and growth-minded, enjoys variety, thrives on challenges and change, is highly adaptable, organized, persistent, and likes being behind the scenes, ensuring that everything is running smoothly. Having a general education and wide range of experiences is actually helpful in this role, as long as the individual has an underlining thread of organization, resourcefulness, detail orientation, and exceptional follow-through.

If you’re great at, and enjoy, the following responsibilities, then a career as an Executive Assistant may be the right one for you.

Responsibilities of an Executive Assistant

  • Serving in a supportive leadership role
  • Maintaining detailed calendars, schedules, itineraries, and more, and changing them on a minutes notice
  • Being connected, “on call”, and in the know much of the time
  • Preparing and managing meetings and events
  • Maintaining and managing the communication in and out of the office
  • Handling all day to day administrative and operational tasks
  • Ensuring the office runs smoothly, including creating and implementing new systems
  • Being the point-person for Executives, leadership team members, and other staff members
  • Serving as the confidante and advisor to senior leaders, including being able to lead up and “manage” your Executive when needed
  • Ability to solve complex problems on-the-fly
  • Leading projects

Click here for a more detailed Executive Assistant job description.

Before Launching Your Executive Assistant Career, Consider The Following:

1. Education & Experience

I am a big believer in experience trumping formal education. I would rather hire a candidate who has shown me their track record of success in previous administrative or personal assistant roles, than one who shows me a piece of paper stating they’ve been educated on it.

That being said, I think a variety of educational backgrounds can be a great training ground for life as an Executive Assistant. Any liberal arts degree—particularly those that emphasize communication and critical thinking skills—is helpful. A business degree can also be beneficial, as it exposes you to many different areas that you may come across in your role as EA. Depending on the company and Executive, some Executive Assistant positions may require a more technical background or even a specialization in a particular subject area—for example, accounting or political science.

If you’re just thinking about starting a career as an Executive Assistant, it may behoove you to think about what industry or company you want to work for to guide your educational choices. While the day to day of the role may look similar, an EA role in government may require significantly different knowledge than an EA role at a retail corporation.

The beauty of it all though is that these things can be learned, whether through on-the-job exposure to the industry, a formal degree or certification, taking online courses, or reading books. Unlike many careers (say, a CPA, a nurse, or a Marketing Director), an Executive Assistant career can benefit from this wide and general knowledge. There isn’t necessarily just one specific education experience that works.

2. Career Path

Just like there’s no one-size-fits-all education for becoming an Executive Assistant, the career path can be quite diverse too. Some people become an Executive Assistant from the get-go, fresh out of their last formal education. Others arrive at the position after serving as an office manager or administrative assistant, helping many people throughout the organization, before they arrive at serving only one or two senior leaders. Still others come to the position after years in other careers such as public relations, retail management, operations management, or event planning.

Usually the underlining theme is the ability to organize chaos, communicate effectively, creatively problem solve, and just get things done. Those skills can come from anywhere!

As I said earlier, being an Executive Assistant is not necessarily a stepping stone to another career. I firmly believe it’s an incredible career choice. However, for those who want to move on from a career as an EA, there are lots of great options. Executive Assistants are in a unique position to see all areas of an organization and often help out in one or more areas. This gives them the ability to see what areas they have an interest or real strength in. Executive Assistants can move on to virtually any role, from COO, to VP of Communications, to Director of Finance, to Chief of Staff. Some even move into CEO roles or start their own companies.

3. Career Development & Continuing Education

As an Executive Assistant, it is critical to keep your skills up to date and constantly be learning about your industry, your company, technology, and the economy at large. In general, I think focusing on communication, leadership, and technology skills are a must for an Executive Assistant to stay in step—or even one step ahead!—of their Executive. Best of all, those are skills that will serve an Executive Assistant no matter where they end up in the future.

Depending on your exact responsibilities and career trajectory, a more formal certification or degree may be the next step. Most often I see Project Management certifications or MBAs being added to Executive Assistant resumes. Though, in my opinion, they are not necessary to have a thriving and successful career as an Executive Assistant.

4. Income Potential

Executive Assistant salaries are incredibly polarized. You can have an EA at a small business earning $40,000/year and an EA at a large company or working with an entrepreneur earning well over six figures with stock options, bonuses, and more. There isn’t any real rhyme or reason to the salary—except for what the Executive and company are willing to pay. The Executive Assistants in those two roles may even be doing virtually the same thing. Now, within one company, there may be more metrics and structure to the salary levels, but when we’re talking about companies nationwide, the salaries seem to be fairly subjective.

That being said, being an Executive Assistant has really great income potential, as long as you are clear on what you want, who you want to work for, what industry you’re interested in, are you willing to relocate, travel, etc. The opportunities are certainly out there—you just have to be clear on what you want.

5. Job Prospects

The need for exceptional Executive Assistants will only continue to grow (yes, even with the AI boom). As more and more small business owners and entrepreneurs enter the scene, they will be looking for a right-hand partner, a Force Multiplier, to work with them. The influencer economy is growing, as well. Many influencers need that amazing EA behind the scenes to help them run their business. And, yes, large companies will still need incredible EAs who can manage the complexities of multiple time zones, frequent travel, new project ideas, tight deadlines, and demands from key stakeholders to help their CEOs and senior leaders thrive.

How I Started My Career As an Executive Assistant

I graduated from the State University of New York with a degree in English (Writing Concentration) and a minor in Business. After working in retail throughout college, I started my first job a few weeks after I graduated as a non-profit marketing and public relations assistant. I was at that gig for about a year and a half before I moved to live with my boyfriend (now husband) and had a brief stint working at the Department of Labor in a coordinator role while I was looking for something that was a better fit. When I was 23 or so, I was hired as the Executive Assistant to the Principal of a large public high school in a very rural area. There, I honed my administrative and executive support skills. A few years later we moved again to be in a more thriving part of the state.

When I was 25, Adam (who I worked with for over 13 years), found me on Craigslist. I was hired as a real estate marketing assistant. About three months later, his then Executive Assistant and I were called into Adam’s office and he told us that he thought we were in the wrong positions. He moved me into the Executive Assistant role, helping to run his real estate team, and his then EA moved into my marketing assistant role. I served as Adam’s Executive Assistant for about 5 years, had a hybrid EA/Chief of Staff role for a couple years, and then moved fully into the Chief of Staff role for several years after that.

I’ve been an assistant since I was fresh out of college, yet I always approached my roles as an emerging leader within the company. I believe in leading and assisting from day one. Yet, it wasn’t until I joined forces with Adam that I fully realized how I could harness my natural tendencies into a kickass career.

If you’re an Executive Assistant, or someone who is looking to start a career in a Force Multiplier role, check out our book, The Founder & The Force Multiplier: How Entrepreneurs & Executive Assistants Achieve More Together. Use it as a roadmap to become an impactful strategic partner, manage up, and build a wildly successful career.

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