Becoming an Executive Assistant

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Executive assistance often entails providing administrative support services across a wide clerical spectrum. Report writing support might include clerical and administrative support for information collection, requests, and documentation support. Documentation assistance typically entails typing out correspondence, executing grammatical and spell checking functions, as well as obtaining signatures on documentation. Reception functions would include receiving clients, arranging teleconferences, routing calls and scheduling events and meetings. Executive assistance may also oversee subordinate clerical staff.

An executive assistant is comparable to an Administrative Associate, Administrative Assistant, Administrative Coordinator, Executive Assistant, Executive Secretary, Administrative Secretary, Office Manager, Administrative Aide, Executive Administrative Assistant, or Secretary.

Executive assistants are expected to be proficient in the use of a variety of tools and technology. These include variety of office software from word processors, spreadsheets, databases, presentation, proprietary and publishing software.

Knowledge requirements include administrative and clerical procedures and terminology, and office management, to include coordination of resources and personnel.

Skills include active listening, reading comprehension, oral communication, written communication, time management and social perceptiveness. Problem solving and the ability to follow directions are also standard skill requirements.

Particular knowledge and skills enable the executive assistant to perform work activities in a given context. Work activities include effectively communicating with peers, subordinates and superiors. Performing administrative activities for peers, subordinates and superiors also requires particular abilities. An assistant must acquire information, establish and maintain interpersonal relationships, organize, plan, prioritize and document work.

The work context requires that the executive assistant be proficient with email, telephone, face to face contact, and be comfortable with repetitive work, that is accurate, may be structured or unstructured, and may require group interaction.

An executive assistant may acquire skills through vocational training, on-the-job experience, or an associate’s degree. According to statistics, executive assistants typically have some college but no degree. Approximately 26% have an associate’s degree, while 28% have a high school diploma.

For those interested in formal certification, there are a variety of professional associations that offer options for certification and advancement. The International Association of Administrative Professionals and the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) each offer certification programs.

In 2008, secretaries and administrative assistants held 4.3 million jobs, reportedly ranking among the largest occupations in the U.S. economy. Of this total, administrative assistants and executive secretaries comprised 1,594,400 positions.

While every type of organization employs secretaries and administrative assistants, almost 90 percent are employed in the service industry. These industries include education, healthcare, government and retail. The remainder work for manufacturing or construction industries. Job growth is projected to increase about as fast as the average. The need to replace workers shifting to other occupations or leaving this field will result in continued job growth. Applicants who are skilled with a variety of computer software applications will enjoy high demand.

The National Employment Matrix indicates that administrative assistance and executive secretaries vacancies will increase from 2008 labor figures of 1,594,400 jobs to a need to fill 1,798,800 jobs in 2018. This represents a 13% increase. The median annual executive secretary earnings is $49,290 a year. The middle 50 percent of wage earners reported income between $39,430 and $62,310. On the lowest 10 percent of the spectrum were those who earned under $32,090. The top ten percent earned above $74,970.

Among professional associations that bring executive and administrative staff together are the Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals; the International Association of Administrative Professionals; the Legal Secretaries International Inc.; and the International Virtual Assistants Association.

For additional comprehensive career information, consult the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” and their linked O*NET—the Occupational Information Network.

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