What to Look for in an Outstanding Executive Assistant
To tell the truth, most executive assistants wear so many hats that it’s difficult to pinpoint a concise list of “required” skills. Though several job functions are similar on paper to those of an administrative assistant or secretary, in reality the executive assistant is far more than office drone labor. A top-notch one needs to have a strong understanding of the company and its work and a highly nuanced set of skills and strengths. Here are the top attributes to seek out when hiring your next executive assistant.
Given the plethora of tasks an executive assistant balances, it should come as no surprise that organization is a must. From managing schedules and travel arrangements to preparing reports to supervising junior employees, a capable executive assistant needs to have a strong organizational system, attention to detail, and grasp of multitasking.
Look at keywords in a résumé/cover letter, past experience showcasing organizational abilities, and a candidate’s approach to the application and interview. Better yet, ask about their organizational methods during the interview – if they can’t explain their organizational methods, chances are they don’t have very strong ones.
In many ways, an assistant is a sort of human telephone wire. He or she is responsible for conveying messages and information both within the company and externally to clients and business contacts. In fact, the executive assistant often takes on the role of the public face between a top executive and clients or other employees. As such, he or she must be able to communicate in a direct, articulate, and professional manner.
Luckily, how a candidate communicates before, during, and after the application process can be a good indication of how they’ll communicate in the office. Keep an eye out for keen listening, an ability to convey information clearly and accurately, and a straightforward yet respectful and professional attitude. In addition, deft writing skills and note-taking abilities are a major asset.
One of the chief differences between an executive assistant and an administrative assistant or secretary is that the executive assistant takes a more active part in overall company operations and business dealings. In other words, he or she isn’t simply there to answer the phone and make copies. A degree of initiative and leadership is therefore vital to success in the role. You want an executive assistant who is self-directed and able to act independently, take initiative, and anticipate and solve problems and employer needs without being asked.
In addition, determined resourcefulness is key – in short, a “get ‘er done” attitude, a willingness to tackle problems without hesitation and follow through to a solution no matter what. Past leadership and management experience provides a good clue to identify candidates up to the task, as does considering how proactive, creative, and organized they are in their application and interview.
4. Time management
Despite the myriad crucial tasks executive assistants juggle, they don’t have any more hours in the day than the rest of us. And on top of managing their own time and to-do lists, they’re also responsible for keeping track of the boss’s schedule. An ability to efficiently yet tactfully manage an executive’s time and tasks, prioritize, and flourish in a fast-paced environment is therefore a requirement.
A few traits to keep an eye out for: efficiency, decisiveness, flexibility, and an ability to meet deadlines and deal with pressure. Past experience should showcase these strengths, as should the application process itself, and posing hypothetical situations can also be useful in determining whether an applicant is a good fit for the office.
5. Computer skills
Given the ubiquity of computers today, this is a bit of a given, but it’s worth mentioning all the same. In addition to proficiency with word processing software and spreadsheets, executive assistants need to be familiar with email, calendar, and file-sharing systems; statistical software; databases; and often desktop publishing software. Equally important, a skilled executive assistant will be adept at tech troubleshooting – “assistant” often ends up translating to “IT aid” – adaptable and resourceful with new methods, and eager to learn.
Last but certainly not least, we might add a rather ambiguous final category deemed “executive assistant attitude.” In short, a truly top-notch executive assistant needs to be able to support the boss and roll with the punches, no matter what.
This means a perpetually professional, respectful, and helpful attitude, a willingness to be on-call and take on any task with gusto, a level-headed attitude and ability to stay calm in a crisis, and unwavering discretion, responsibility, and trustworthiness. In addition to the skills listed above, it’s quite a list, and certainly not easy to fulfill, but these are the hallmarks of someone made for – and most likely to succeed in – an executive assistant role.