A personal assistant (PA) is someone who works closely with members of a company’s senior management, organising their daily schedules on both a professional and personal level.
On a typical day, a PA screens calls, schedules meetings, makes travel arrangements, organises events, handles e-mails and correspondences and assists in generating reports. In smaller organisations, PAs play a dual role, performing administrative functions and certain tasks normally assigned to human resource and office managers.
So how do you become an effective and successful PA? In today’s competitive corporate environment, you cannot be satisfied with simply being good enough. To differentiate yourself from the crowd, it is crucial for you to be the best that you can be.
Here are some tips to achieve PA stardom:
1. Be organised
When you are in charge of organising your chief executive officer’s daily routine, you cannot afford to be disorganised. Every minute needs to be planned. You may consider having your own alert system in place. Use text alerts, follow a to-do list, fully utilise your Outlook schedules and reminders or even use a colour-coded Post-It pad to represent different tasks and levels of urgency.
2. Time management is key
You are in charge of your boss’s time and his time is money. Know where he is travelling to and do the necessary research. For example, in Singapore, it may take only 30 minutes to travel from the Central Business District to the airport, but in the heavy traffic conditions of Mumbai or Bangkok, it could take more than three hours. Your boss will hardly be impressed if he is late for his flight and misses that million-dollar meeting.
3. Know who you work for
What may have worked in the past with your previous bosses may not work with your current employer. It is thus critical that you get to know your boss really well, including his needs, lifestyle, idiosyncrasies, pet peeves and habits. Prioritise appointments based on what is important to him and his working style and not what you think is important.
4. Anticipate needs
Forethought is the name of the game. Always be on top of things and stay one step ahead by anticipating your boss’s needs. Your boss’s schedule is dynamic and will constantly be on the change. If you cannot be flexible and think on your feet, you will be in trouble.
This is a common word in the PA’s world. Whether you are juggling e-mails, taking phone calls, making travel plans and restaurant bookings or rushing out that last-minute presentation, you absolutely have to be a master at multi-tasking. The key here is to prioritise tasks and be absolutely familiar with what needs to be done and how.
6. Maintain a high level of integrity
By the very nature of your role, you will be required to work with the senior management team, sit in on high-level meetings, and be exposed to the inner workings of the organisation. Stay away from the temptation of participating in office gossip.
A good PA will always remain professional and discreet, and can be trusted to not discuss work-related issues with anyone else in the organisation.
7. Leave your private life at home
Good PAs never let their private lives overlap with their professional ones. With everything up to you to manage, organise and balance, you cannot afford to sulk or have your head in the clouds. The last thing you want is to be so distracted with your personal issues that you mess up an all-important presentation, or have your boss arrive in Moscow instead of Beijing.
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Excellent communication is key. You will answer e-mails, draft letters and sometimes even be a spokesman for your boss. This does not end with verbal or written communication but also encompasses non-verbal communication. Being able to read your boss’s body language and to know when to stay away is just as crucial. Get a good grasp of this and you are on your way to the top.
9. Attention to detail
Small things count. If you are writing an e-mail or generating a report on behalf of your boss, take some time to re-read the document. Check for spelling and grammar and that the figures are correct. There is a huge difference between $100,000 and $1,000,000. When booking flights for your boss, make sure you know the difference between JFK and EWR. Attention to detail coupled with initiative will take you a long way in your career.
This is the most treasured quality that employers look for in a PA. The most successful PAs have a tremendous sense of loyalty and belonging. Many of them have been with their bosses for decades and are often part of the family.
If you can get a good grasp of what it takes to be an outstanding PA, it can turn out to be a highly rewarding career for you.