Admins don’t tend to have to much of a career path. In my world, there would be a reward equal to what other employees receive for similar achievement, but we’re stuck in Theirs. The highest rung on our ladder is Executive Assistant. The question for an entry level admin is: what’s the difference between and Administrative Assistant, a Senior Administrative Assistant, and an Executive Assistant? Sad to say, sometimes nothing. There are times when AAs toil along doing exactly the same work as a EA for less pay. This tends to happen when executives are entitled to an assistant based on their level; e.g. a Senior Vice President is entitled to an EA, a First Vice President an SAA, and Vice President, an AA.
Assume that this is not the case; you’re an entry-level Administrative Assistant and you want to become an Executive Assistant. What makes the difference?
The most obvious thing is that Executive Assistants work for…yep: executives. EAs are commonly dedicated to one or two execs heart and soul, as opposed to working for an entire team. It’s hardly a hard and fast rule, however– you may be the assistant to an executive and still support the team, but your official role will be to assist the heck out of that executive.
The next hierarchal difference arises from what level of executive you support. It’s very important to recruiters for senior executives to see that you’ve had some experience at that level. You’ll sometimes see EAs who support C level executives differentiate themselves on their resumes as “Senior Executive Assistants.” Often, it’s a silly distinction. You’ve supported an executive; you know how to support an executive. The big BUT is there are some senior level execs who really know how to use an assistant and will give you with a much broader scope of responsibilities and commensurate compensation. So how to get there?
In my opinion, there are three crucial requirements for an assistant to higher level executives:
Business acumen What the heck does that mean? You’re business-like, right? You understand basic business principles. Well, it’s a little more than that. You need to understand your business at the detail level. Try to get your manager to include you in meetings with her direct reports. Read everything that crosses your desk. Ask questions. Read trade journals. Ask more questions. Figure out how the parts of the company work together and who the players are. Understand the company goals and your manager’s strategy for meeting those goals. Have something to contribute to that process.
Political acumen This is crucial when a new manager comes onboard. If you work in a big company, you may find yourself with a new manager fairly often, and even if not, new hires need your help. You need to know who is crucial to your manager’s best interests, who to turn to get things done, and the best approach for dealing with Important People like your boss’ boss’ EA.
Proactive behavior The first word on all of our resumes is “proactive,” because we know that’s going to be the first question out of the interviewer’s mouth, but are we really? When you see a meeting come in, do you just accept or decline it, or do you look for materials that might apply to it? If there are none, do you check in with the organizer to see if there any forthcoming? Do you stop there? If you’re aware of what’s going on in your company (see ‘business acumen’) and who the players are (see ‘political acumen’), you’ll check to see if the right people in your department are invited, if there’s anything on the agenda that’s jumping the gun on your manager’s schemes…anything you can think of to ensure no surprises. You check what’s coming in to your exec for completeness – because you know what complete looks like. See the pattern? Eyes and ears wide open. Protect the exec.
How to find the perfect boss for all these wonderful skills you’ve developed is another challenge for another day. I’m off to work on becoming that paragon I just described…
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