How to Get a Job as an Executive Assistant: Advice From Founders Who Vet Thousands of Assistants Every Month
Most advice on how to get a job as an executive assistant leaves out a key factor that every candidate should consider. This post lays that out and provides deeper insights into how to choose the right company to work for based on your career goals.
Over the last 4 years running our executive assistant service, we’ve assessed and interviewed tens of thousands of executive assistant (EA) job candidates looking to work with our clients.
And through that experience, we’ve observed a key theme that’s essential for aspiring executive assistants to understand yet it rarely gets communicated to them:
What an EA does day to day, their room for growth within their company, and their overall career path are crucially dependent on the type of company they choose to work for.
An EA role at a small, fast-growing startup is much different in each of these areas than an EA role at a large corporation (think Fortune 500), a small business, or a virtual assistant service.
So, before you take an executive assistant job, you should first understand specifics about how EA roles differ in these various types of businesses. That way you can seek to work for a company that’s aligned with your career goals and the type of work you want to do.
That’s what we’re going to discuss in this article. Below, we’ll cover:
- How an EA role differs in 4 types of companies (startups, large corporations, small businesses, and virtual assistant services).
- How to think about which type of company is the best fit for you.
- The role and responsibilities of an EA at a high growth startup (our area of focus).
- The qualifications we look for in EA applicants.
- What to look for when pursuing a startup EA role.
- How to get a job as an executive assistant at Persona.
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How the Executive Assistant Role Differs in 4 Types of Companies: Startups, Large Corporations, Small Businesses, and Virtual Assistant Services
When sitting down to write this article, we realized that the way we define the executive assistant position is heavily influenced by the clients we serve—well funded, high growth startup companies.
The startup EA role, which we’ll discuss in more detail below, is a more dynamic position than the EA role of the past. There’s still a base of administrative responsibilities, but there’s more opportunity to take on interesting projects, learn new skills, and grow into other more specialized or senior roles.
In the other types of businesses we’ll discuss here, these opportunities are far less common. So it’s our point of view that if you’re going to pursue an executive assistant position, doing so at a startup is by far the best career move.
However, we also recognize and appreciate that depending on your specific preferences and goals, taking an EA position at one of the other types of companies may well be a better option for you.
In this section, we’ll walk through each of the 4 company types noted above, discuss the differences between them, and how you might think about which company type is best for you.
1. Executive Assistant Jobs at High Growth Startups
In addition to administrative assistant or support duties (e.g. email management, calendar management, taking phone calls, etc.), startup EAs can wear many different hats and they often lead or are involved in a wide variety of projects for the company.
For example, one day they might be asked to design a Microsoft Office PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation for an upcoming round of fundraising. Another day they might be asked to redesign an important company workflow in a project management tool like Trello or Asana. And yet another day they may be asked to create a plan to improve the company’s social media presence.
The increasingly diverse array of projects that startup EAs can work on make the position conducive to a higher level of growth and learning than the traditional EA role, which is more confined to recurring administrative tasks.
In addition, startup EAs have more career opportunities than EAs at other types of companies. Through working directly with the founder, smart and hard working EAs get to know their company as intimately as anyone in the business. And as a result, startup EAs can find themselves moving into Chief of Staff and even Head of Operations roles within just a few years.
But they aren’t confined to just operations roles. Startup EAs often touch so many areas of a business that they can leverage their experiences to go into many different types of roles in the future such as positions in marketing, project management, human resources, and business development.
This level of learning, growth, and career opportunity is simply unmatched in EA roles at other types of businesses. If you’re a motivated, driven professional looking to use an executive assistant role as a jumping off point into a career in other types of roles, seeking an EA position at a startup is a great move.
With that said, this type of role isn’t for everyone. Maybe you already know you like doing administrative work exclusively and aren’t interested in working on other complex projects. Or maybe you have an aversion to technology (used heavily by startups). Or maybe you’re wary about working in such an ever-changing environment. These are all perfectly acceptable reasons for not pursuing this path.
In that case, there are other options which we’ll discuss next.
2. Executive Assistant Jobs at Large Corporations
EAs at large corporations tend to be much more confined to the traditional role of a secretary or clerical staff. They’re hired to provide administrative support to someone in senior management and their role tends to stay largely the same day-to-day.
They manage email, schedule meetings, communicate on the executive’s behalf with other team members, and do other forms of admin work. However, generally:
- They aren’t asked to be involved with other interesting projects.
- They aren’t likely to have an upward trajectory within the company.
- They aren’t likely to work as closely with the executive.
- They aren’t likely to be asked to take part in key business decisions.
If you know you like doing administrative work, and you want to have the consistency of working with a large established company, taking an EA position with a large corporation could be a good fit for you.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who’s excited to learn and grow, or you want to have the opportunity to move up within the company, taking an EA role at a large firm likely isn’t the best path for you.
3. Executive Assistant Jobs at Small Businesses
In contrast to EA roles at large corporations, EAs at small businesses are less confined to traditional admin tasks. Their responsibilities certainly include administrative work, but similar to startup EAs, small business EAs can also wear a lot of different hats and be asked to take on a variety of different projects.
However, the nature of small businesses is that they aren’t being built to evolve and scale the way a startup is. So there generally won’t be much opportunity to move up within the company, and the room for career growth and upward mobility will likely be more limited.
If you know you like a small business environment, and you’re not necessarily looking for career growth, taking an EA position in a small business could be a good move for you. However, if you’re looking for a role with more dynamic learning and career opportunities, you’d likely be better off going the startup path.
4. Executive Assistant Jobs at Virtual Assistant Services
One shortcut to getting hired directly by a company is to take an EA position with one of the growing number of virtual assistant services on the market.
These services offer the benefits of a) working remotely and b) placing you with companies, so you don’t have to get hired directly on your own.
However, “virtual assistants” are often perceived as grunt workers and are hired by companies to handle repetitive administrative tasks like data entry into Excel spreadsheets or filing expense reports. They don’t tend to be seen as team members who can be tasked with leading interesting projects, be involved in decision making, or get considered for more prestigious roles within the company.
If you’re just looking for some light part-time assistant work, the VA route might be worth looking into. But for most people, we don’t recommend it. Pursuing an executive administrative assistant role at any of the other company types would likely yield a better opportunity for you.
In the rest of this article, we’re going to focus on the startup EA role because that’s our area of expertise and the role we hire for. Specifically, we’re going to look at the roles and responsibilities of the startup EA, the qualifications needed to be selected for a startup EA position, and what to look for when reviewing potential companies to work for.
The Role and Responsibilities of Executive Assistants at High-Growth Startups
The typical executive assistant job description consists of things like scheduling meetings, managing communications, making travel arrangements, and doing research on behalf of high-level executives. And as we mentioned above, these types of responsibilities remain true in the startup EA role.
However, the startup EA’s role and responsibilities also extends beyond these traditional tasks. In our own job postings, we break down the role to encompass the following:
- Communications: Manage email, communicate on an executive’s behalf and alongside them with company staff members and key stakeholders, draft company memos, etc.
- Scheduling and time management: Manage an executive’s calendar, schedule meetings, schedule appointments, resolve scheduling issues, balance personal appointments with work meetings.
- Project management: Manage the CEO’s to-dos, ensure they stay up to date and on track with their key projects.
- Business operations: Help create, organize, and improve on internal business processes and standard operating procedures.
- Marketing and social media management: Create and schedule social media posts, monitor engagement metrics, respond to comments, help grow overall online presence.
- People operations: Manage employee onboarding, assist in the employee recruitment process (e.g. reviewing resumes and cover letters for certain criteria), manage payroll, etc.
- Strategic planning: Work with the company leaders to define and come up with plans for new products, initiatives, and services. Project manage some or all of these new company programs.
- Client services: Handle important interactions with clients. Provide ideas and feedback about how to improve systems and processes.
- Special projects: Manage a wide variety of unique projects depending on what your executive needs. For example, our EAs have worked on things like web design, video editing, workflow design, building data sets, and more.
As you can see, startup EAs have the opportunity to learn and engage with the inner workings of nearly every aspect of a business. This is a large part of the allure for many of the people who come to work with us. Often, learning about business is one of their key motivations for pursuing the job. And there are few opportunities better than a startup EA to do so.
The Qualifications We Look for in Executive Assistant Applicants
Most of the articles online that discuss EA qualifications break them down into 4 categories: education, certifications, past experience, and skills.
Let’s look at each.
It’s true that you don’t have to graduate from college to be smart and capable of doing well in an EA role. But the reality is that c-level executives want their assistants to be college educated. EAs become a direct representative of the head of the company, and having a college education instills confidence that they’ll be represented well.
Specifically, EA applicants are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t have to be in business administration—completing any serious degree program shows diligence and dedication.
If all you have is a high school diploma or associate’s degree, it’s likely that you’ll need to pursue further education if you want to become an EA at a leading company.
In our experience, we’ve never seen a connection between certifications and ability. We don't find them to be something that executives are looking for. And we also don't believe that certifications meaningfully bestow the experience necessary for somebody to do better in an EA role. So we don’t look for certifications or place much weight on them.
The same thing applies with past experience. A lot of employers think that past years of experience in an assistant or administrative role is a necessary qualification for an EA position, but we disagree. In fact, we feel that oftentimes no experience is good experience. We simply look for people who are smart and driven and have the generalist traits and abilities that make great assistants.
A lot of employers emphasize the need to have specific skills for a position. They look for “hard skills” such as email skills, scheduling skills, and spreadsheet skills. From our standpoint, these types of skills can be picked up on the job and are a distraction from what really matters.
However, we believe that soft skills like organizational skills, interpersonal skills, and communication skills are much more predictive of on-the-job success.
We tend to think about hiring from the perspective of these types of soft skills and generalist traits and abilities. Specifically:
- Problem Solving Ability: How smart is an applicant? Can they figure things out in new and complex situations?
- Key Character Traits: Are they organized, reliable, detail-oriented, etc.?
- Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? Do we feel they can communicate on an executive’s behalf or alongside them with key people (team, board members, investors, business partners, etc.)?
These are the core abilities and traits we evaluate candidates on and hire for.
The one other key area we look at is tech savviness. The work of startup EAs involves working with a lot of different software programs. And executives want to feel confident their EA can pick up and gain competency with the software tools they use to run their business.
You don’t need to come into the job with past experience using the specific tools startup executives use, but you do need to have a general familiarity with using tech and be able to quickly learn how to use new tools.
What to Look for When Pursuing a Startup EA Role
So how can you go about your job search to actually find startup executive assistant positions?
Here are a few pieces of advice:
- Look for tech or tech-enabled companies.
- Look for startup companies that have raised funding (this indicates companies are growing, have a need for EA positions, and will have room for growth within the company).
- Look for companies that offer fully remote positions (many tech startups allow employees to work remotely).
- Look for companies that have a modern and up-to-date website.
- Look for companies with great marketing and of course a great product or service.
These signals indicate that the EA role you apply to will have the qualities and opportunities we’ve described throughout this post.
How to Get an Executive Assistant Job with Persona
If, after reading this post, you feel like, “Yes! This is the type of role for me. I want a startup EA position that’s dynamic and has great career opportunities.”—we have good news.
We’re hiring EAs for our executive assistant service, and we work primarily with high growth startup executive teams.
To get started and see if you’re a good fit for us, apply today to learn more about our full-time EA positions.