9 Myths About Being an Executive Assistant

There are all sorts of myths and misperceptions about being an Executive Assistant (EA). Most of them stem from what others have seen on TV or in movies (hello, The Devil Wears Prada!). After all, there aren’t that many books or articles (fiction or non-fiction) written with assistants as the protagonist. But books, TV, movies, podcasts, and documentaries aside, the reality of the life and career of Executive Assistants is much more nuanced than what can be shown in clips and soundbites.

Executive Assistants are the business-savvy professionals who are not content to sit on the sidelines. They are power-players in their own right. EAs are key staff and valuable members of the inner circle. They are leaders, and seeing them as anything else is a complete underestimation of their ability and a disservice to the Executive and the company.

So let’s dispel these false beliefs and ideas about EAs. Here are 9 myths about being an Executive Assistant (in no particular order):

Myth #1 – Executive Assistants Do Not Have Influence

Executive Assistants can be some of the most influential individuals in an organization. What they do not have is a formal title of authority to lean on. Thus, EAs must brandish their communication skills, curiosity, EQ, IQ, servant leadership, and a whole slew of other, often overlooked, skills to get things done. Not only that, but Executive Assistants are in a unique position to influence the culture, the conversation, and the connections that happen in the C-Suite and throughout the rest of the company. They have the ear of the Executive and the leadership team. Their words carry weight throughout the organization. Great EAs also lead their Executive. It’s all about influence in the Executive Assistant role.

Myth #2 – Executive Assistant’s Skills Are Not Transferable

Some of the most important skills a successful Executive Assistant has is leadership, communication, organization, resilience, resourcefulness, problem solving, project management, and decision making. What leader or company wouldn’t want an employee who is has those skills and is able to do it all calmly, consistently, while building consensus and supporting the rest of the team members around them? Executive Assistants have some of the most transferable skills, because they are leaders. And great leadership skills (particularly those that are forged by leading without a title) will take you anywhere you want to go in your career.

Myth #3 – Executive Assistants Have No Personal Life

While some Executive Assistants may have no personal life, this is not a hard and fast rule for the profession. Yes, there are many celebrities, CEOs, government officials, and Executives who do need an EA to be largely committed to the role 24/7. However, I would also argue that those requirements are outlined, boundaries set, and compensation negotiated to be in line with those expectations. And then, at the end of the day, the EA does have the right to either agree or disagree to those standards and expectations (and compensation). If an EA has no personal life (and even that statement is up to interpretation), then I think that is usually by choice. It is very possible for Executive Assistants to have a personal life as long as they are willing and able to establish clear boundaries.

Myth #4 – An Executive Assistant Role is a Poorly Paid Position with Little Opportunity for Growth

On the contrary, Executive Assistants can be very highly compensated and there is tremendous opportunity for growth. While this does not apply to all EA roles, it behooves an Executive Assistant to take the time to find an EA career opportunity that is – because they are out there! Case in point, the average Executive Assistant salary in the United States is about $60,000. However, the middle 57% of Executive Assistant to CEOs makes between $55,917 and $140,703, with the top 86% making $311,665. EAs may also receive other benefits as well, such as stock options, equity, profit share, or annual bonuses. Meanwhile, the average US salary (across all occupation) is just under $54,000. While we can look at this data in many different ways, the fact of the matter is, the compensation and job outlook for EAs isn’t too bad!

In addition, Executive Assistants have a unique advantage that places them in the center point of the organization where they can see all the various opportunities for different career paths. Note: opportunity for growth does not necessarily mean an increase in salary. Perhaps an EA is looking to narrow their focus, run a large team, or flex their human resources skills. Moving on from an Executive Assistant rule into any number of different career paths is completely viable. Who knows the organization’s goals and needs better than an EA?

Just remember, while an Executive Assistant role can be a stepping stone to another position, it can also be a dynamic career all on its own. There are endless ways to level up, take on more responsibilities, lead projects, grow personally and professionally, and yes, increase your income, even if you never leave the Executive Assistant role.

Myth #5 – Anyone Can Be an Executive Assistant

No, not just anyone can be an Executive Assistant. That’s like saying anyone can be an Olympic Gymnast or CFO. While many of the skills of an Executive Assistant can be learned, there are certain natural behaviors and characteristics that not just anyone possesses (such as initiative, confidence, humility, loyalty, empathy, the ability to pick up on subtleties and nuances in communication, influence, organization, and more). Let’s forget about the “Assistant” part of Executive Assistant for a second. Being an Executive Assistant doesn’t just mean they are an “assistant” to the Executive. It also means they are an “assistant executive.” Not anyone can be a leader, an executive or a high impact player in an organization. Just look around your company and you’ll see that it’s true. Those who chose to be an Executive Assistant must do so understanding the unique value they bring and the valuable contributions that they can make to the organization.

Myth #6 – An Executive Assistant is Not a Leadership Role

Executive Assistants are leaders (see Myth #1). Sure, they do not have a formal leadership title that automatically gives them an edge on authority, but that doesn’t make them any less of a leader. It just means they have to work that much harder to prove their value, make contributions, and lead. Executive Assistants are extensions of their leaders and must be in lock-step in order to support them and help lead the organization by their side.

Myth #7 – Executive Assistants are Tactical, Not Strategic

Executive Assistants are tactical, not strategic. This is one of the oft repeated refrains when discussing an Executive Assistant role (one I, too, was guilty of at one point). However, that is a gross oversimplification. But I’m here to set the record straight. EAs are some of the most strategic individuals in an organization. Have you ever witnessed an Executive Assistant pull off a seemingly impossible trip, navigate the complexities of scheduling multiple Executives with competing demands, or save the day minutes before an event? Yeah. That’s all strategy, planning, extreme resourcefulness, and yes, tactics, too. Do not fall into the trap of asking your Executive Assistants to only handling logistics or tasks with no context. Tap into their vast resourcefulness, problem solving skills, and critical and strategic thinking. You will not be disappointed.

Myth #8 – The Executive Assistant/Executive Relationships is a Subordinate/Supervisor Relationship

Okay, yes, this one is a little harder to dispel. Technically, Executive Assistants are subordinate to their Executive (Supervisor). I mean, just look at an org chart. However, in practice, this isn’t really the case. Nor do most high-performing EAs and CEOs want that sort of relationship. The most effective and successful EA/Executive relationships are those who approach their roles as strategic business partners. One person is not waiting for assignments and tasks to complete. The other isn’t just waiting to hand off things they would rather not be doing. Instead, they operate as one person, simply doing two different parts of the role, each rooted in their strengths. They need each other to thrive. They are both leaders. They are both valuable members of the team. Aside from the org chart, there is no hierarchy here.

Myth #9 – The Executive Assistant Job is Thankless, Menial, and Boring

All jobs will have their boring and thankless moments (Don’t tell me, I’m the only one picking up trash after an event!). But the Executive Assistant role is not in and of itself a thankless, menial, or boring career. It’s interesting and dynamic. It involves high-profile stakeholders and high-stakes decisions. Every day is different, with unique challenges, and opportunities to flex your problem-solving skills. When you work side-by-side with your Executive as a strategic partner, you will be involved in helping to execute many tough conversations and even harder decisions. But that’s what leadership is. And when you’re an Executive Assistant, you’re a leader, too (see Myth #6).

As you can see, there are a lot of incorrect assumptions and myths about the Executive Assistant career. And, yes, it is a career. A career choice and career path that I am hell bent on ensuring is seen as not only a viable career option, but one that is afforded the appropriate professional development coaching and training budgets, as well as the visibility and respect the role deserves.

What other myths have you heard about the Executive Assistant role? How would you challenge or dispel those assertions? What is your favorite part of being an Executive Assistant that would surprise someone else?

Are you looking to hire a kickass Executive Assistant? Are you an EA looking to amp up your resume for your next big move? Check out our sample Force Multiplier job descriptions here!

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