Gaining the Skills You Need for Advancement

So you’re a receptionist, clerk, or administrative assistant and you want more out of your career? Depending on your interests and aptitudes there are many ways you could go. After all, the world is your oyster. But, if you enjoy a fast pace, supporting others, and have a little event planner diva in you, then I think the following profession may be a good fit for you.

What is the profession? Assisting an executive, or an Executive Assistant.

Throughout my career, I have found that I really enjoy administrative support work. I’ve held positions as a receptionist, an administrative assistant, and an executive assistant.  Although I didn’t start out being the assistant to the CEO, I learned the skills along the way that made me the perfect candidate to slip into that role when the opportunity presented itself.

When one becomes an executive assistant (assistant), although many skills are brought to the table, following are top skills that need to be in the arsenal.

Calendar Management

The calendar is the executive’s automatic “go-to” item throughout the day. It is key the assistant keeps the executive’s calendar up-to-date on a minute-by-minute basis.

The calendar is also the assistant’s aid throughout the day. It shows when to be available for the executive. It’s a reminder to be prepared to connect as the executive comes back to the desk following staff meetings or from a string of back-to-back meetings. Most likely, at these times he/she will have a list of tasks for the assistant to carry out and follow-up meetings to schedule.

One practice to help both the assistant and the executive is to meet weekly to review the calendar, discussing upcoming appointments and how to prepare for them. It also is an opportunity to talk about meetings, travel, and events that are scheduled farther down the road.

Another practice in managing the calendar is to post appointments/meetings/projects ahead of time for an upcoming new year. These are meetings that are recurring, but need to be refreshed or rescheduled for the following year. Here are some examples of what an executive assistant may need to schedule:

  • Monthly meetings – Board meetings
  • Quarterly meetings – Town Hall meetings throughout the organization, article-writing for employee newsletter, earnings calls with investors
  • Semi-annually meetings – Off-site retreats for key leaders in the business, Performance Appraisals
  • Annual meetings – Consolidation of business plan and budget, Annual Shareholders meetings
  • (Recurring weekly meetings should always be in place on the executive’s calendar, rescheduling on an as-needed basis.)

Meeting management
First of all, what is meeting management? It’s a skill-set that demonstrates the assistant’s complete oversight of all logistics (detailed coordination involving people, facilities, or supplies) for meetings the executive is responsible for hosting, and that nothing will fall through the cracks.

There are simple meetings, and complex. Here is an example of the assistant’s responsibilities for each:

Simple – This meeting can be as simple as sending out an Outlook invitation, inviting a staff member or employee to meet with the executive for a specific topic at a specific time. The following and last step is to reserve a conference room for the meeting.

Complex - Or, it can be as complex as coordinating the following:

  • Creating the agenda
  • Coordinate all incoming guest speakers and their timelines
  • Coordinating all reports being presented – having them prepared and available in both hard copy and soft copy, so the meeting participants can have their choice of media. Then upload the electronic copies of the meeting’s pre-reading package to a website where all attendees can download encrypted files.
  • Plan refreshments and meals…and, of course make sure there are pitchers of water at arms’ length from all participants. 
  • Reserve and prepare the conference room, either on- or off-site (making sure that there is wireless internet access and a projector for power point presentations to be presented).
  • Take notes of the meeting’s discussions and action items, typing them up and sending them out to all participants within days following the meeting.

Now that sounds crazy! But, usually the complex version is not the assistant’s typical meeting. But, be sure, an executive assistant has to be able to carry off a meeting of this caliber and not drop the ball.

Could planning a meeting be more intense than that, you ask? Yes it can, but meetings beyond this type -- where there are travel and multiple days of meetings -- usually is managed by a marketing/events department, or an Event Planner.

The assistant must know that she/he has to earn the executive’s trust. When trusted, the assistant will be privy to many discussion and decisions that are made behind closed doors.

There are times when the executive assistant has to wear a brave face, as decisions could be surprising to the employees and stakeholders. Examples of these decisions would be a merging of two companies, the company being acquired by another business, a promotion within the leadership, reduction in force (lay-offs), etc.

Professional Presence
As the executive assistant's job is representing the executive, she/he is also representing the business, which is always of utmost importance to the executive. An assistant needs to be aware of his/her professional presence while in the working environment, in dealing with individuals face-to-face, online, and over the phone. Always start with optimism in a conversation or online discussion. Be sure to treat each person with kindness and respect. An executive assistant is to do his/her best to look nice in the clothing and style of choice within the boundaries of the office dress code policy.

Being an executive assistant can be a challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding profession. Holding the position, one sees business from a different point of view. If you are a person who naturally keeps on top of the details, enjoy working with people, and are trustworthy, executive assisting may be the career path for you.