The Perfect Guide: Essential Executive Assistant Skills

Thursday, February 9, 2023

New graduates or those with minimal experience in a field of interest may find the idea of becoming a personal assistant exciting. By working in this role, you can develop a set of skills that could help you move forward in your career in a chosen field by assisting an experienced leader by providing administrative duties and handling other tasks.

Curly-haired businessman in a suit sitting at his desk with a laptop, looking puzzled while talking on the phone in a bright, modern office setting.

Whether you are looking to become an executive assistant or wish to hire one, an important thing to be aware of is which skills are integral to the position. Learning about the most common responsibilities and other aspects of the position will give you an idea of whether this is the right career for you (or if you have someone in the interview chair that should be hired).

This article will largely focus on common executive assistant skills. In addition, we’ll give you insight into what a personal assistant does and provide other information that can help you ensure you create the best possible personal assistant skills for a resume. Before we dive into the top skills for an executive assistant, let’s look into what this position is all about.

What Is an Executive Assistant (Personal Assistant)?

Knowing what an executive assistant is should come before worrying about personal care assistant skills. It’s essential to be sure that someone is taking the right first step toward a career in the desired field.

An executive assistant (sometimes abbreviated as EA) is an employee who works under a CEO, high-level manager, or entrepreneur. Some of their common tasks include scheduling appointments, helping with correspondence, and other things. While not everyone hiring an executive assistant requires a large amount of work experience, they are going to expect to see certain skills.

For example, an employer might wish to see an executive assistant resume with skills like time management, organization, ability to travel, and being skilled in prioritizing and multitasking in the workplace.

In some cases, executive assistants can do their work from home or on a self-employed basis. As a virtual assistant, you’ll likely do many of the same duties as an executive assistant since most of the deliverables for the position are digital. In some cases, this will let you work with more than one client and enjoy a flexible schedule.

What Do Executive Assistants Do?

You’re probably curious about what the duties are for someone who is working as an executive assistant. However, this can vary based on the type of company you work at and what industry it falls under. Some duties are going to be different between companies, but several tasks are common for executive assistants, such as:

• Coordinating external and internal meetings for company executives • Liaising with other assistants, colleagues, and clients • Scheduling appointments and managing calendars • Preparing correspondence and conducting research • Arranging accommodation and travel • Responding to phone calls and emails • Preparing expense reports • Editing and proofreading written content • Making standard office purchases • Coming up with ideas for corporate gifts and purchasing corporate gifts for clients

The Most Important Skills of an Executive Assistant

There are several executive assistant skills for a resume that you should be sure to include. If you’ve been wondering “what are the top 3 skills of an executive assistant,” it’s a bit more challenging than that. Executive assistants wear many hats and having a well-rounded list of skills is the best option.

Below, we’ll delve into the soft and hard skills of an executive assistant. This will make it easy to see which you can check off and which you may want to work on while searching for the perfect company or executive to work with.

1. Organizational Skills

One of the most important strengths of an executive assistant lies in organizational skills. Assistants who work in high-level positions handle a variety of tasks and work with huge amounts of information. Being disorganized can make this position a whole lot more challenging.

If there is no orderly system in place, you could lose track of important details, miss deadlines, or fall behind on your work. On the other hand, an executive assistant who is organized keeps operations moving smoothly and finds answers quickly. This leads to being more efficient and calmer while- showing more competence.

2. Time Management

Another of the key skills for an executive assistant is time management. This is crucial since many of the things an EA does are very time-sensitive in nature. Completing tasks on time and staying focused are integral to doing well on the job. Plus, executive assistants tend to have a steady flow of work. Not staying on top of things can make it easy to fall behind.

With good time management, stress levels stay low and operations flow smoothly. Great executive assistants should be good at deciding what to prioritize and how much time to spend on each task. If a task takes up more time than expected, a skilled assistant knows when to ask for help or delegate it to someone else.

As a capable assistant, you need to be good at setting boundaries and creating efficient workflows. If an assistant doesn’t get through several tasks throughout the day, you could end up overworking or spending late hours in the office. Staying focused is an excellent tactic to avoid burnout. You can spend time after work unplugged and focusing on other parts of life.

3. Data Entry

When it comes to the technical skills of an executive assistant, data entry is an especially desirable one. One of the key functions of an assistant is keeping records. An executive assistant may double as a secretary who needs to be able to manage filing systems, upkeep databases, and edit meeting minutes. This requires the ability to input information quickly and accurately. It’s also useful to know how to quickly retrieve data.

In general, basic tech skills are useful for any personal assistant. Sure, you may hope for a workplace where IT always has time to handle small tech issues, but that isn’t always realistic. They have other issues to diagnose and fix. As an excellent executive assistant, being able to find solutions to keep data accessible is a great perk.

4. Persuasion

While it might seem like executives should be the ones who are persuasive, it’s also helpful for an executive assistant. Maybe you need to find unique customized corporate gifts on the fly or you could be in charge of setting up an event and need to get people to help out.

When you are persuasive, you can keep operations going smoothly, secure special favors, win over potential collaborators, and quiet dissenting voices.

5. Composure

Another thing to add to your executive assistant skills list is the ability to stay calm and relaxed even in the most stressful situations. You might be surprised by how often these skills will come in handy. When an executive is dealing with a crisis at work, they’ll often call in their assistant to help. That means high-stakes situations are a part of the job.

Even in less stressful situations, you may need to have a good dose of composure. Think about a situation where the boss is in traffic and misses their flight or forgets to make a reservation for dinner until the last possible moment. Perhaps an upset worker comes in demanding to see the boss and lets loose all their frustration on the assistant. Sometimes days are packed and finishing everything can feel stressful.

In all of these situations, stress can start to add up. The best executive assistant won’t sweat any of that and will simply get going on managing whatever the issue is. You need to be able to find a solution while staying calm and never letting anyone else see you sweat.

6. Tech Savvy

Some executives buy all the newest devices while others stick with tried-and-true technology. Some leaders need to hunt and peck while typing so others can easily run virtual reality meetings. Regardless of the habits of the boss, assistants need to be aware of current technology. If the boss isn’t adept with tech, it’s even more important for the assistant to be.

For example, maybe your boss needs a password. The account is connected to a phone number that hasn’t been in use for years. The executive assistant is the one who will be calling tech support to iron out the issue.

At a bare minimum, assistants should know Microsoft Office Suite or Google Suite. It’s useful to be able to type quickly (70+ words per minute), be comfortable with internet and email research, and know how to get acquainted with the new software quickly. Being familiar with the operating systems on your boss’ computer and phone will also be useful if something goes wrong in the future.

7. Discretion

Another of the most essential personal assistant skills is the art of discretion. Executive assistants often work in delicate situations that contain confidential information, which makes discretion mandatory. You need to be capable of maintaining confidentiality and acting with tact. Information should never leak to other departments, whether on purpose or not.

Gossip is not something an assistant can not engage in. Conversations from meetings should not be retold in the break room. It’s crucial to be conscious of where important documents were left or what windows are open on a computer when you step away for a moment.

As an executive assistant, you’ll likely learn details about your boss’ home life. Many assistants are closer to the boss’ family than others in the company are. It’s important to be aware that this is a privilege. Always gauge and respect the leader’s boundaries about out-of-work topics.

Let’s say one of your boss’ children has a medical emergency that necessitates canceling a meeting. It will be up to you to determine what information you should divulge and what you need to keep private. It’s going to depend on the boss’ desires and who is asking about the situation. Good assistants protect privacy instead of prying into it.

8. Leadership

The boss of a personal assistant is a leader, but the assistant needs to have leadership skills, too. Many executive assistants oversee other assistants or may be in charge of special projects. In addition, they need to establish their own workflows and goals while self-managing.

Having great leadership skills will help a personal assistant own their role in a company. Being accountable, capable of giving instructions, and able to take initiative makes for an excellent assistant who gets things done with ease.

9. Adaptability

The only thing you can be sure will stay the same is change. In business today, change is inevitable. This is important as one of the executive administrative assistant skills because your duties often change in the middle of a project. The best assistants are willing to try new things, stay fully available, and remain pliable to experiment as needed.

For instance, you might be in the middle of typing up correspondence when the boss comes to you for some corporate business gifts that need to be in the office ASAP. Being able to shift quickly and get things done is the only way to keep things running smoothly.

Executive assistants often are among the first to hear about big decisions, which puts them on the frontlines of changes to the organization. Having a positive attitude lets assistants lead the charge while persuading other workers to adapt to the changes. They can also share sentiments and concerns with the executive.

Being a personal assistant means knowing how to take things in stride without being knocked off kilter when the routine changes. The absolute best assistants enjoy and embrace change and appreciate the chance to take on a challenge.

10. Humility

Another trait that is helpful for a personal assistant is humility. It might seem like a strange thing to have on the list, but there’s a good reason for its placement.

Executive assistants are constantly behind the scenes. Your main role is to help a boss look competent and succeed. While recognition is great, assistants shouldn’t expect constant thanks. It’s also not a good look to talk about how the boss couldn’t do things without them.

As a superb executive assistant, you need to be able to run things without getting into the spotlight. Instead, you can think of yourself as a stagehand. You’re there to help others shine while they put on a show.

Being cocky is not ideal in this position, but being competent is. Combining humbleness with high performance isn’t simple, but it’s what has to be done.

An amazing assistant has full confidence in what they do but still retains some level of modesty. These people are confident without an air of self-importance. Having a little humility serves those in the role well and makes it easier to work with colleagues and leaders.

11. Anticipation

A competent executive assistant is always ready to respond to the requests of their boss. Even better assistants are always anticipating what comes next so they have a solution ready. For example, this might mean being prepared with a list of attendees to a meeting so you can contact those who are late as an example of anticipating the future.

Another example might be having personalized corporate gifts available when you know clients may be coming in or having a few lunch options ready when there are several meetings back to back.

Anticipation is a requirement of the job, even if you don’t see it in job descriptions. The role is about meeting the needs of an executive, which involves predicting upcoming needs.

12. Attention to Detail

A critical personal assistant skill in any industry is attention to detail. Executives and those they surround themselves with are going to have high expectations. A simple typo might not be an issue in lower positions but can have much more extreme consequences at higher levels. Something as innocent as misspelling a name might show disrespect to a board member or client.

Another example would be misplacing a piece of mail, which could lead to a lawsuit. While the worst-case scenario won’t happen every time, making mistakes paints you as less professional.

Most executives are in a hurry since they have busy days. Their assistants stand between them and errors that can cause massive issues. As such, executive assistants should double-check all details, triple-check all documents, and make sure everything is accurate.

13. Event Coordination

Another valuable skill for an executive assistant is event coordination. While not every assistant is in charge of planning events and parties, almost all people in this role will find these skills useful at one point or another.

For example, you may need to order catering for a board meeting or purchase the best corporate gifts for a group of clients. Maybe you are in a situation where you need to change the schedule at a retreat because a speaker is late.

Personal assistants should be able to decorate, write a run of shows, recruit helpers, negotiate prices, make calls, research vendors, and handle other details. This will make you invaluable as the right hand to an executive who wants to host an event.

14. Tenacity

Grit and tenacity are great skills for personal assistants and executives. Some executives have a prickly demeanor and others are very particular. Even if your boss is outstanding, assistants will deal with challenging situations and difficult people on a regular basis. Resilience is essential to make it in this type of position.

On the job, assistants need to move forward from bad days and failures. It’s critical to pivot and persist even after being told no. This kind of tolerance and thick skin can be tough to build up, but handling adversity and continuing on after disappointment is crucial to success.

15. Decision-Making

As an executive assistant, you will be responsible for making tons of decisions each day. While executives may provide you with assignments and tasks, at times, oversight and direction tend to be limited. This is a role where you need to guide yourself and handle things independently. Excellent assistants know what needs to be done and find the best way to ensure these things are completed.

There will be times when personal assistants need to make decisions that are time sensitive, even when the executive isn’t available to offer guidance. Great assistants know their limits and are capable of making calls and signing off on decisions when needed while going to the boss when that is required.

16. Problem-Solving

If you are amazing at solving problems, that’s a good trait to have as an executive assistant. Executives will often come to you with challenges that they don’t have the bandwidth or time to remedy. Throughout the day, various people bring problems to the executive and this person may not have enough hours in the day to handle them all on their own.

These obstacles might range from simple, like finding corporate thank-you gifts, to more unique, like finding a tablet that was left in a hotel room during a business trip.

Assistants should be capable of finding solutions to all sorts of problems. Imaginative, innovative thinking is needed to resolve these issues. Being able to come up with new solutions and think on your feet will help you get through any challenge.

17. People Skills

If there’s one skill every personal assistant must have, it’s the ability to work with people. Every day, assistants talk to people inside and outside the business, whether in person, on the phone, or digitally. Being good at this job requires you to create relationships with all sorts of people.

Another common duty of assistants is to ask for favors. Having a good rapport makes this much easier. People are more likely to step up and help when they find an assistant pleasant. If the assistant has helped this person in the past or knows personal details about the person, this can give extra points.

More important than all these things is having the ability to build positive relationships with executives. The people who excel at this job are tough but personable. They know when to step back and when to confront the boss. They can stay serious when appropriate but lighten the mood in other situations. They’re friendly with executives but avoid crossing boundaries.

These are the people that executives like having around. It’s even better if the assistant builds relationships with people in the boss’ inner circle, such as close colleagues and family members.

18. Communication Skills

Being skilled in communication is a must for an executive assistant. This starts with being capable of writing and speaking professionally to high-level clients, business partners, and executives. Being adept at writing conventions and grammar is essential. As an example, an assistant should know how a business letter is formatted and check for spelling errors multiple times before an email goes out.

At the same time, the tone is also part of it. Skilled assistants know when to be highly formal and when to be more friendly and personal. Medium and length are also things to consider when communicating. A memo or quick mention may be fine for minor news, while bigger issues or announcements are better as a formal report or detailed email.

Personal assistants also need to be capable of providing directions. The best assistants often coordinate departments for special projects and oversee other assistants, as mentioned above. Being able to communicate in a respectful way while giving clear instructions is crucial.

19. Multitasking

It’s quite uncommon for assistants to have the ability to work at a leisurely pace while focusing on a single task at one time. Skilled assistants need to be capable of multitasking. You should be ready to pivot at any moment when something important comes up. After that is handled, you need to be able to resume the first task.

For many executive assistants, these kinds of situations happen several times each day. People come up with questions and problems are uncovered. Plans change, phones ring, and you need to take it in stride. Top assistants can prioritize well to make sure the work gets done when it needs to be done.

20. Calendar Management

Also of importance are calendar management skills for executive assistants. While supporting a busy executive with a packed schedule, maintaining the calendar can be a constant effort. You’ll find yourself changing things and making decisions multiple times each day. Being able to handle this often takes savvy and a tool that focuses on calendar management.

The idea is to use a system that benefits both the executive and you. For instance, you should establish a weekly framework that works for you. It’s also essential to have skills to stay in control when appointments, meetings, and tasks start to stack up.

21. Email Management

There are several skills associated with management for an executive assistant. In addition to calendar management, you must be able to manage emails. This is a small piece of a huge job. Moving forward to maintain the executive’s email inbox quickly to avoid spending too much time on it later can be a serious challenge.

As such, email management is a critical skill for any personal assistant. When you keep their inbox in great shape, this can save the executive from spending dozens of hours a week on this task. However, it can also be a challenge to reach an empty inbox when this is a common mode of communication for the executive. Find out what methods work best for you.

22. Travel Management

Some executives spend a lot of time on travel. When this is the case, the executive assistant has a lot of jobs related to getting the leader where they need to be when they should be there. You might be responsible for booking rental cars, hotels, and flights just like a travel agency. If there are special needs, you’ll likely be taking care of those too.

It might be easy to give the leader a list of hotels and flights to select from. Still, an executive assistant with experience in travel management can take things to the next level. This is done by learning what the executive prefers and recommending a full itinerary from the second they leave until they are back in the office.

23. Meeting Management

One of the skills that trip up some new executive assistants is meeting management. It’s challenging to learn the ropes of properly planning and managing meetings. This is especially the case when so many workplaces have nearly endless meetings that you’ll need to assist with.

The good news is that a great personal assistant can gatekeep those meetings that might not be too important. By doing this, you protect the time of the executive you work for. Below are a few tips to excel at managing meetings:

• Be sure each meeting has a solid purpose and that everyone who attends is aware of what the outcome of the meeting will be. • Attend meetings in place of the executive and then share the highlights after you finish, rather than making them do all the work. • Other than in cases of brainstorming, all meetings need a clear owner and clear agenda to be sure relevant topics are covered. • All meetings should start and conclude on time.

If someone in a meeting is taking up more time than allotted, an excellent assistant will be skilled at guiding the conversation back on track and ensuring quieter guests have a chance to speak up.

24. Project Management

Most executive assistants have a great deal of experience managing projects, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. Why is that the case? When you really home in on the process, project management involves taking big, complicated goals and breaking them up into smaller ones. From there, it requires ensuring everyone and everything stays on track and organized to meet goals. This is what an assistant does every day.

If you want a way to show off project management skills, consider streamlining tactical work and communication between involved teams. This decreases the amount of time an executive needs to spend answering questions, going over the details, and tying up loose ends.

25. CRM Management

In almost any modern business today, a customer relationship management (CRM) tool is used. This might be something like HubSpot, Zoho, or Salesforce. These are all tools to manage customer relationships. They are highly useful tools and managing them is crucial. This means that they can end up requiring a lot of time throughout the day.

Since these are so time-consuming to manage, many executive assistants make a point of learning these systems. In some cases, they even become certified to use them. Thankfully, many of these tools and databases have similarities. If you are familiar with one, it will be easier to get acquainted with a different one depending on the needs of the business.

26. Process and Systems Management

The last skill specifically relates to management focused on systems and processes. Assistants with experience will be fluent in managing processes and systems and building SOPs. If you aren’t sure what that means, we’ll provide you with a basic definition.

SOP stands for standard operating procedure. These are used by companies and teams to deliver excellent results in recurring areas like reimbursements, customer service conversations, and invoicing. An SOP can be created for anything, whether the management of an entire product or smaller things like writing blogs and creating social media posts.

The main idea behind process management is to align all the SOPs with the goals of the organization, measure each of them, and find ways to streamline them to save as much time as possible. An experienced assistant will have seen many processes and systems before so they know where things can be improved.

27. Knowledge of Unique Corporate Gifts

Many executives need to purchase branded corporate gifts, but they may not have the time to handle it on their own. That’s where a personal assistant comes in to take over the task and make sure these gifts are appropriate and appealing to the people who will receive them. This can be challenging if the gifts are for different types of clients, colleagues, and other people in the executive’s life.

Being able to come up with corporate gift ideas can help you stand apart and take one extra thing off the leader’s plate. Knowing the right companies to call and where to find unique items can help with relationships and make you even more useful as a personal assistant.

28. Emotional Intelligence

Moving back to soft skills for a bit, emotional intelligence is a must-have. This is a very important thing to prioritize as an executive assistant. It’s critical to be able to intuit and understand how the leader is feeling in different situations. When you pay attention to their needs, you understand better how to make their work more effective and easier.

In a lot of cases, business leaders don’t even know for sure that something is bothering them. A fantastic assistant with great emotional intelligence might note that the executive is in a bad mood when they have a required meeting after lunch. This is a nonverbal cue that the assistant should notice. It lets you give them space when they need it.

Of course, emotional intelligence isn’t solely about placing all your attention on the executive. You also need to communicate effectively with them and others. A big part of being a personal assistant comes down to ensuring the executive is getting things done. Knowing the right way to encourage them can lead to a different result than choosing the wrong way.

Emotional intelligence also comes into play when managing outgoing communication or working with teams of an executive. It helps you ensure everyone feels listened to and understood. It’s a great leadership skill that should be improved every day.

29. Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking may be one of the more challenging things to learn and teach others, but it can be a huge benefit for an executive assistant. Being capable of considering how a process or decision will impact the organization as a whole is a huge part of being a personal assistant.

Those with lots of experience in the position will have an intuitive understanding of the best way to analyze key factors that impact the long-term success of a company. As with other executive assistant skills, this one is all about the details and how those create a larger picture.

30. Resourcefulness

The final item on our personal assistant skills list is basic resourcefulness. This is a broad skill but is still highly important. So many of the tasks that executive assistants take on each day require the ability to be resourceful.

If you’ve perused this list of executive assistant skills and feel you have half of them, you’re already a resourceful person. This is a great thing since top personal assistants are known for being highly resourceful.

Resourcefulness means being dedicated to making things work, no matter what comes up. It’s a sense of inner confidence that you can make anything happen. Even in cases where that isn’t possible, resourceful people can find a solution that works for themselves and the executive.

Anyone excited to move into a position as an executive assistant needs to be ready to improve their expertise and work on their skills on a continuous basis. To provide strategic and administrative support, you need to have impeccable time management, communication, and problem-solving experience and skills.

Executive assistants wear a lot of hats and must be proficient in many subjects to do a great job. Knowing what skills are important lets you work on the ones that might not be perfect just yet. If you’re ready to make waves when you interview, make sure you have several of the executive assistant skills listed above. You’re sure to make a statement and prove you can handle the position.

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