As an executive assistant, you have an important job! You manage calendars, book travel plans, and do so much more to ensure the person you support has everything they need to keep business operations running efficiently.
“The best executive assistants are more than just assistants,” says Shana Cohen, a Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Office Support and Human Resources divisions. “They know their executive’s work style, understand their expectations, and most importantly, are always willing to go above and beyond their immediate job responsibilities.” In other words, an outstanding executive assistant not only serves as a true ally and extension of the person they support, but also as the glue that holds an organization or department together. In that sense, they are truly an invaluable asset that can’t be easily replaced.
Becoming an ally and an outstanding member of the team requires a key set of skills that may not be listed in the job description. Continue reading for 3 key attributes that make up a stellar executive assistant:
The ability to anticipate needs
An executive is looking for an assistant who is “five steps ahead of the game,” which is why being able to foresee the needs of others is one of the most important skills you can have. The executive needs their assistant to be an extension of themselves, so it may be entirely up to you to prep for an important meeting or schedule time sensitive appointments without your executive explicitly asking you to do so.
On that note, an outstanding executive assistant not only has the ability to anticipate their executive’s needs, but also to execute all tasks in a timely manner. This requires a solid understanding of time management as well as the ability to juggle multiple tasks and shift gears at a moment’s notice. “If something urgent comes up, your day-to-day tasks may need to be reprioritized without much notice,” says Shana. “As a result, having the ability to adapt to change, balance multiple responsibilities, and prioritize tasks is crucial.”
Strong written and verbal communication skills
The need for candidates with strong “communication skills” is listed on most job descriptions, but in the case of an executive assistant, these skills are even more important. Since you’ll not only need to communicate with a variety of different people, but also delegate their messages and requests, knowing how and when to utilize written and verbal communication is key to navigating whatever tasks may come your way.
For example, since corresponding on behalf of an executive is a major component of this profession, attention to detail and impeccable writing skills are two qualities that can set you apart from others. “Sending a message that contains incorrect information or is laden with typos not only reflects poorly on you, but on your executive as well,” warns Shana. “Unconditional trust is the foundation of any strong relationship between an executive and their assistant. In order to be considered a true ally, the person you support needs to be confident in your ability to independently represent them in a positive light.” On that note, understanding the tone and level of confidentiality expected from you is a major factor in representing them well. “When communicating with your executive’s clients, family members, and other professional or personal contacts, it’s important to be diplomatic and engaging, but also assertive enough to delegate messages and correspondences. It’s your responsibility to ensure the executive’s limited time is used both effectively and efficiently, which ties into acting as their gatekeeper. To do this, strong interpersonal skills are key.”
A high level of comfort with technology
“The emphasis on technological skills has grown over time and, as a result, we’re seeing that today’s most in-demand executive assistants have a high level of comfort with various platforms and programs,” notes Shana. “The responsibilities of an executive assistant are constantly changing, and to better assist their executive, they are often required to create spreadsheets, organize presentations, and format documents.” As a result, showing that you are savvy with programs such as Excel and PowerPoint can help position yourself for long-term success as a professional who supports a high-level executive.
As the world becomes more web-based, having a working knowledge of other forms of technology is also essential. For example, if a particular executive is a frequent traveler, knowing the latest hotel/airplane booking tools can be extremely helpful. “Utilize your comfort with technology to seek out and master the tools you need to be a better assistant,” advises Shana. “By stepping up and demonstrating your ability to utilize different technologies, you may be granted more responsibilities and opportunities for career growth than someone who isn’t able to navigate these programs.”