No executive can carry out all his or her responsibilities alone. It’s not just that the sheer volume of work is too much for one person to handle; it’s also the fact that some of your work likely falls outside of your skillset or is just a waste of your valuable time — this is especially the case for administrative work.
Most executives solve this problem by hiring an executive assistant. However, to make the investment worthwhile, it’s crucial that you choose someone who is capable of carrying out a wide range of tasks and can keep up with your fast pace.
What Is an Executive Assistant?
First of all, what does an executive assistant do? That often depends on who the assistant is working with, as no two executives have the same needs. Whoever they work for, though, executive assistants provide high-level administrative and other types of support. This can include communicating with customers, conducting research, receptionist services, and even running personal errands.
Although an executive assistant’s duties are similar to those of a personal assistant, the two roles are quite different. A personal assistant works with just about any professional who requires support. An executive assistant, on the other hand, only works with executives. This is an important distinction because it means an experienced executive assistant has an understanding of business environments and is able to provide more specialized support.
To carry out his or her duties, an executive assistant needs to possess a number of crucial skills and qualities.
1. Communication Skills
At the top of the list is communication skills. An executive assistant needs to be able to communicate with coworkers, subordinates, clients, suppliers, and anyone else in contact with the executive. This includes both written and spoken communication. The executive assistant must be able to convey a message in clear and concise terms to prevent misunderstandings, represent the executive in a professional manner, and maintain good relationships with other professionals.
A large part of the job for many executive assistants in writing letters and memos. Even if the assistant only writes drafts, the copy needs to have excellent spelling, grammar, and punctuation to minimize the amount of work left for the executive.
As for oral communication, the executive assistant should be both confident at speaking and a great listener — particularly when hearing customers’ concerns or complaints.
2. Emotional Intelligence
Key to great communication — in addition to success in many other aspects of the role — is emotional intelligence. An executive assistant who has good emotional intelligence knows how other people are feeling by paying attention to non-verbal cues. The assistant uses this information to tailor a message appropriately.
3. Organizational Skills
It’s impossible for executive assistants to stay on track unless they have excellent organizational skills. Executive assistants need to manage two calendars: their own and their employer’s. These need to be in sync, free from double bookings, and (in the case of the executive’s calendar) take personal commitments and preferences into account.
An executive assistant also needs to be able to decide on priorities and shift items around as soon as something new arises. A personalized system and a tidy workspace (both physical and digital) are good signs that an assistant is well organized. A major red flag, though, is an executive assistant who claims to be a multitasker. Almost no one can multitask, and any assistant who tries will probably fail, resulting in poor-quality work, mistakes, and lower productivity.
4. Time-Management Skills
Organizational skills are only useful when executive assistants also know how to manage their time. Your executive assistant should be aware how much time each task requires and quickly learn to adapt if your working style is different to what he or she is used to. In addition, executive assistants need to be disciplined at sticking to their schedules, which means knowing how to avoid falling prey to distractions and procrastination.
It’s only worthwhile having an executive assistant if you find someone you can trust with confidential matters. Discretion is something experienced executive assistants should have perfected over the years. They know who it is appropriate to share information with and when to ask their employer for the go-ahead. An executive assistant who participates in workplace gossip or shows anything other than utmost professionalism in the workplace is likely to be indiscrete.
6. Tech Skills
In the business world today, it is impossible to be tech savvy — and this goes for even traditional industries. At a minimum, your executive assistant should be proficient at using the leading tools and software for project management, workplace communication, event planning, and storing contact information. If you need to use any software the assistant is not already familiar with, your executive assistant should be able to quickly learn how to use the tool.
7. Passion for Learning
Ideally, your executive assistant should be passionate about learning much more than just tech. A commitment to picking up new skills and refining current ones will enable your executive assistant to keep up with your changing needs and support you over the long term.
You’ll have a much better experience if your executive assistant exudes positive energy. This is important because the positivity will have an effect not just on you but on everyone else around. Other professionals will feel welcomed and optimistic, which makes them more likely to be creative, productive, and innovative.
The top executive assistants are able to maintain their positivity even when times are tough. This is critical because work as an executive can often be stressful, even when you have the best support. Executive assistants who keep their cool can make a huge difference when there are serious problems to solve or tight deadlines to meet.
The best executive assistants don’t just support you through the tough times: they take an active role at managing your problems. They are exceptional negotiators and know how to deal with the most challenging situations in a diplomatic way to keep everyone happy. Most importantly, though, they use their negotiation skills to help their executives get what they want.
10. Teamwork Skills
You need an executive assistant who is able to collaborate with you and others at your company on a variety of tasks. This requires great teamwork skills, including knowledge of how to coordinate different personalities and the skills to see results when working with new people.
Similarly, you need an executive assistant who is able to work alone without much guidance. If your assistant is asking questions all the time, you’ll get barely any more done than you did before.
12. Critical Thinking
Whether working in a team or alone, your executive assistant should demonstrate excellent critical thinking skills. This could mean anticipating an issue before it happens and taking steps to prevent problems. An executive assistant should be flexible and be able to come up with creative solutions. The best assistants of all are able to think fast to cope with any issues that crop up and have the skills to develop strategies to execute long-term projects.
13. Networking Skills
Although your executive assistant will mainly carry out routine tasks, there will always be some surprises. For instance, you may need to gain contact with someone in another organization, acquire tickets to an exclusive event, be one of the first people to try out a new service, or do something else that’s not readily available to the general public. This requires your executive assistant to network.
Bear in mind that just opening accounts on many social media platforms and websites is never enough. Your executive assistant needs to be active — always forming connections and developing relationships to the point that he or she can ask for favors and receive referrals. This requires time, effort, and — above all — skill.
Remote Executive Assistant
In the past, executive assistants would also work with their employers at the office. Today, with more people working from home, it has become popular to hire a remote executive assistant. The advantages of this include that the executive assistant can work a flexible schedule, there’s no need to provide office space for your assistant, and you can even hire someone from abroad to reduce costs.
You also have the chance to go a step further and contract a virtual executive assistant from MYVA360. Rather than hiring someone to work for you full time, you can request just the hours you need. Plus, you’ll eliminate the time-consuming hiring process: we’ll match you with someone who has the exact executive assistant skills you need. Best of all, if your executive is ever unavailable (such as for illness or vacation), we’ll pair you with someone else, meaning you’ll never fall behind with your work.
Request your free trial to experience a full workday with a virtual executive assistant.