I have seen the role of an Executive Assistant change enormously in the last decade. Whilst there continues to be traditional EAs with a 1:1 role, the focus has shifted to assistants being communication specialists, decision makers and business sounding boards.
Over the past 10 years it is amazing how technology has progressed, which has resulted in managers being more autonomous. Advances in email, smart phones and productivity programmes have allowed managers to operate with a greater degree of self-sufficiency. At the same time, companies have faced enormous pressure on cutting costs. As a result, many businesses have moved towards more team focused assistants where they will support multiple managers and their staff.
Mary Melabiotis, EA to a GM at George Weston Foods, commented:
"An EA now needs to deal a lot with people issues, to be the ear to people of the company, manage a lot of different reports, communicate any issues, they want you to provide an extended view as you work with everyone. You need to think outside your job description and think in an agile way within your work and your personality"
As an experienced recruiter placing EAs into many organisations over the years, I have observed managers and staff are suffering from all the same problem: “There is too much administrative work that is required from each of us”. This is unfortunate, as an effective assistant can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of an organisation.
The new era of the executive assistant role is far more complex, demanding and high level. Executive assistants must prove they are competent, engaging, agile and forward thinking to excel in this career of choice.
You need a varied skill set to succeed:
Organisation: If you cannot keep track of files, meetings and events you will struggle to excel.
Communication: You must have the ability to communicate with a variety of people, from clients, vendors and internal stakeholders in both verbal and written form.
Technology: There is now an expectation that proficiency expands into database management, social media management and cloud based applications.
Discretion: Executive assistants are privy to highly confidential information. You must be the vault.
Research: The people you support require information. You will need to hone your research skills. Get very familiar with how to utilise the interwebs!
This job is expected to decline over the next several years, mostly because companies have switched to hiring Team Assistants who support more than one Executive at a company. However, you can still find excellent opportunities, but you need to set yourself apart from the competition.
So how can EAs keep up?
- Focus on creating connections with other professionals and expanding your skill set
- Consider getting your Master of Business Administration. This is highly valued, particularly in senior roles
- Investigate Meetups in your industry. They are a great way to start abreast of industry trends
- Consider finding a Mentor or Peer Support Programme. These can be very effective career accelerators.
Every business is different and each team requirements are different. Work out what skills and tools will aid you in staying ahead of the curve. Don’t be afraid of technology. Embrace it and allow it to enhance your professional efficiency.