What’s in a Name? How to Choose a Job Title for Your Assistant

The debate about job titles is not new. One of the most frequently asked questions I get from coaching clients or in my various online networks is about what someone should call their new assistant hire. I tend to agree with Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Does it really matter what your title is?

In the grand scheme of things, no. If you are providing value at a high level and getting results, then a title is irrelevant to the internal team. Some say it’s simply semantics, others believe a proper title clarifies the role and dispels confusion–especially in a large organization. Some want clear titles because many have worked very hard to get promotions, and yes, the title that comes along with those increased responsibilities, seniority, and compensation. 

From a business owner and leadership perspective, what I care most about is getting results. In the early stages of our companies, I let many of my team members choose their titles. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to recalibrate.

Where Job Titles Conflict With Business Growth

Here’s where titles get tricky, especially for small companies or high growth startups: Let’s say you have a small team and in order to solidify your company’s reputation in the market (and let’s be honest, stroke some egos) you’ve assigned your sole marketing assistant the title of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Sexy titles make everyone feel good, right? Sure, for a couple of years. But when your company begins to grow, you may need to top-grade your marketing talent. Your CMO is fantastic, but is just not cut out to get your company through its next growth phase. You’ve determined you don’t really need a CMO, but rather a Director of Marketing (who is also less expensive), and your CMO is really a perfect fit for a Social Media Manager position. The ego that wanted the CMO title is bound to be hurt. It is going to feel like a demotion to that staff member when in reality, they weren’t really fulfilling the CMO role anyway. 

I would caution leaders from assigning C-Suite or even VP/Director titles when you’re a small organization unless you plan to stay small. If you do plan on growing, I would encourage you to think about being conservative with the job titles so that your staff has somewhere to go and somewhere to grow, as well as allowing room to bring on other team members at various levels, without disrupting the commitment and loyalty of some of your original staff. Clear titles can eliminate unnecessary internal conflict. 

Clarifying the Executive Assistant Job Title

The Executive Assistant position and the various titles that can accompany it is its own complicated web. Executive Assistants wear so many different hats and the role is incredibly diverse based on the Executive, the company, or the industry. Executives must understand who they are looking for once they decide to hire an “assistant”. Is the Executive looking for a Chief of Staff or Personal Assistant, a COO or an Executive Assistant? Different titles and opportunities are going to attract different types and levels of talent.

As an Executive, make sure you have the right person on your team based on your current and future needs. Executive Assistants, make sure you are in the right role or perhaps take a look at other similar positions that may be a better fit. Disclaimer: I understand that depending on the size of the organization an Executive Assistant may be fulfilling all of these roles. However, as an organization or Executive grows or as the EA moves on to different career opportunities the positions do, in fact, exist in isolation.

Again, clarity is power for career satisfaction and a successful long-term partnership. Let’s break down the most common positions that often end up with the title of Executive Assistant: 

Personal Assistant

A Personal Assistant manages the personal and family life of an Executive. This position can overlap with the Executive Assistant. The Personal Assistant and Executive Assistant work together to manage the Executive’s schedule. The Personal Assistant is responsible for personal items such as personal bills, household purchases, family travel, medical appointments, and personal events. 

Administrative Assistant

An Administrative Assistant manages the day-to-day details for an office, division, or multiple Executives. Most Administrative Assistant duties revolve around managing and distributing information within an office. This generally includes answering phones, managing all administrative tasks for the office, and maintaining files. Administrative Assistants may also be in charge of sending and receiving correspondence, as well as greeting clients and customers or be responsible for additional tasks such as office management or marketing. 

Operations Manager

An Operations Manager is responsible for establishing internal and external processes and key performance indicators for the business. They ensure the company has the proper operational controls and administrative reporting procedures to meet operational and financial targets.

Executive Assistant

An Executive Assistant is a tactical genius and is responsible for managing the Executive. Executive Assistants live in the now (or usually 1 week – 30 days out). Their work is driven by the demands of the day and week. They handle all the day-to-day details, such as scheduling, travel, meeting prep, events, and general office management. In addition, the Executive Assistant maximizes the CEO’s reach through their exceptional leadership and communication skills. 

Chief of Staff

A Chief of Staff lives in the future (a minimum of 90 days out, though anywhere between 90 days and 1 year, and often beyond). They handle what they must in the moment, but much of their time is focused on longer-term planning and projects to ensure the growth of the organization and the success of the CEO. Their work is driven by the demands of the Founder or CEO’s long-term vision – interviewing for future leadership positions, creating a Family Office, writing a book, creating presentations or writing speeches to share the vision, meeting with potential business partners, refining recruiting and retention processes, establishing OKRs (objectives and key results), and above all, maximizing the CEO’s reach in collaboration with the Executive Assistant. 

Click here for more detailed sample job descriptions for some of these roles.

Remember, all of the positions above are Force Multipliers. They are the right hand to a busy executive who will ensure the leader’s vision is implemented.

Why We Believe Job Titles Matter

Through our years of research on the Executive Assistant position, and Hallie’s networking with EAs from around the world, we both believe even more strongly that titles matter. The business perspective aside, there are several other reasons clearly defined roles, coupled with clear titles, are important. I think it is particularly important because the EA role is still largely misunderstood and the more clarity we can provide to the public and various business sectors, the better. This affects promotions and compensation, internal and external communication, as well as future career growth. Here’s why: 

Promotions & Compensation

Executive Assistants have to make sure their titles accurately reflect the responsibilities they have. This ensures fair compensation and allows the opportunity for growth. For example, if an individual is the first and only administrative professional at their company and are supporting an entire department, yet assigned the title of Chief Administrative Officer (at an administrative assistant salary), this could prove challenging when it comes time for a promotion (which often coincides with a compensation adjustment). Make sure your title reflects your responsibilities, and as your responsibilities change, adjust! 

Communication

We know that titles do not equate to power or authority; and yet, having a certain title does carry weight. Accurate titles provide clarity to both internal and external stakeholders. As the Executive Assistant to a prominent CEO, you may get further when making an out-of-the-box request than if your title was Operations Manager (even if you were serving the same function). Conversely, in the real estate world that we are from, Executive Assistant for many years really meant Director of Operations (thankfully that is changing!). For years, Hallie has received requests from people around the country asking her for advice about their real estate team operations; and yet, she hasn’t served in that capacity in over five years. They would need to speak to our Director of Operations or COO. Again, clear titles equal clearer communication and getting what you want faster from the right people. 

Career Growth

Titles are never as important as when you have decided to leave your organization for another opportunity. Let’s say your title is Executive Assistant (yet you are operating as an Operations Manager), and you are looking to move into a Director of Operations role. With the SEO optimization and keyword search used in today’s recruiting processes, you would likely be overlooked for Operations positions with the title of Executive Assistant. On the other hand, if your title is Director of Operations, yet you serve the role of an Executive Assistant, on the surface, it doesn’t always translate when you’re interviewing for EA positions. 

Clearly defined job descriptions are so important because if you are functioning as an Operations Manager, but your title is EA, you may not actually be qualified or have the skill set necessary to take on an EA position. Whether interviewing, posting your resume on job boards, attending networking events, or simply having a quarterly review at your current company, make sure your title and job description accurately describe the work that you do to ensure appropriate compensation and future career opportunities. 

Your Job Title is Looking Good. What’s Next?

Once you have your title and job description nailed down, the next step is communicating your role to you colleagues and leadership team.

Leaders – Who are you? Who do you want to become? Who do you need in your life to help you get there?

Force Multipliers – What is your title? Do you have a clearly outlined job description and a title that matches? Who do you want to become? Where do you want to take your career?

Originally written February 3, 2022. Updated for 2024.

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