Being a good executive assistant (EA) involves more than just answering phones and scheduling meetings.
Top-performing EAs need to navigate their company’s information technology (IT) system, build relationships at all levels of the company, and ensure they continually provide essential support to their manager — usually a chief executive officer or senior executive.
Senior EAs can be compensated very well, up to $120,000 per annum, so it is worth building on your skill-set to become a top-performing EA.
On top of having exemplary technical skills and finely polished interpersonal skills, the key to being a highly effective EA is having the initiative and ability to go the extra mile.
Randstad outlines the five top attributes an EA should possess and master:
Understand the organisation
EAs need to keep abreast of organisational developments and have a good understanding of the company’s aims and objectives. With this knowledge, it will be easy for an EA to prioritise meeting requests, understand who the key clients are, and be able quickly identify potential issues and minimise disruptions to the business — just to name a few.
Above all, an EA’s role supports the business leader and helps him to reach his targets — and being tapped into the business environment will assist in this process.
Be a Jack-of-all-trades
Customer service, human resource, accounting, management and IT issues are all in a day’s work for an EA. Being perceptive and noticing small details makes all the difference.
For example, identifying clients’ preferences so that the boss can take them to their favourite restaurant to clinch an important sales deal or knowing who to call for assistance when a co-worker gets locked in the office on a Saturday morning.
EAs may also be expected to be the company’s IT super users and are often the “go to” person when urgent additions to a PowerPoint presentation are needed. Ensuring your IT skills are kept up-to-date is critical.
EAs should also stay in touch with trends and industry practices. The best EAs know just about everything from what’s hot in social media to what the company’s competitors are doing. Being a Jack-(or Jill)-of-all-trades will be an asset to the company and being able to adapt to the unfamiliar and do this work quickly will put you in the good books with all levels of the organisation.
Stay away from office gossip
Keeping the trust of the boss by keeping sensitive information under tight wraps is an integral part of the job and imperative for the savvy EA. Because of the nature of this job, EAs are often privy to information before the wider organisation.
While sharing information may earn brownie points with colleagues, this breach in confidence will make its way back to your managers — and once broken, trust can be difficult to rebuild.
Be cool under pressure
The EA’s role involves multitasking — continually. A typical day might involve scheduling meetings or travel plans, developing presentation material and updating databases — and if EAs have more than one boss to support — there are usually multiple competing deadlines.
A good way to manage a workload is to write a do-list at the end of each day, which highlights priorities and deadlines. Keep this on your desk and refer to it during the day. If the day starts to slip away, reassess what has to be done now and re-prioritise tasks that can be put off until tomorrow.
Remember to maintain a smile, even when stressed — it will help you keep focus and remain in control.
Develop interpersonal skills
Communication — whether in person, on e-mail or over the phone — provides an opportunity to connect and build rapport with colleagues, customers and clients. Being an effective communicator is not only about talking, it’s also about listening
It is important for an EA to show commitment and a genuine interest in being part of the company. Make it your business to know who people are, as well as the inside workings of the business.