Most of the advice on how to decide between a personal assistant (PA) or an executive assistant (EA) can be summarized as:
“If you want help with personal tasks—grocery shopping, travel planning, appointment booking, etc.—hire a personal assistant. If you want help with business administrative tasks—work email, scheduling meetings, bookkeeping, etc.—hire an executive assistant.”
However, this advice fails to acknowledge other key factors that executives should consider when making this decision.
For example, it doesn’t factor in who pays for the assistant. Personal assistants are typically paid by the individual, whereas executive assistants are on the corporate books. It also doesn’t consider that personal assistants are confined to personal life tasks, whereas executive assistants can help with both business and personal tasks.
These are non-trivial factors that every executive should weigh in their decision making process. And these are what we’ll discuss in this article.
Below, we’ll cover:
- Basic definitions and key differences between personal and executive assistants
- More detail on these key factors that executives should consider when making their decision
- How our executive assistant service works for those who feel an EA is the best choice for them
If you’ve been wanting an assistant but haven’t had the time to hire one, click here to get started. You can try an assistant for a month or two and see how you like it. For testimonials from our clients, check out our homepage.
The Key Differences Between Personal and Executive Assistants
Despite having spent the last 3.5 years speaking with hundreds of entrepreneurs, startup founders, and senior executives about their needs for an assistant, even we have a hard time defining what a personal assistant is.
What Is a Personal Assistant?
Most people (including us) tend to define personal assistants as assistants that help their employers with strictly personal tasks.
Others define personal assistants as business-focused assistants for mid or lower level management (the equivalent of what executive assistants are for senior management). In the US, we don’t define personal assistants this way, but it’s an alternative definition to be aware of.
There’s also a variety of elite personal assistants (what you might think of as “the billionaire CEO assistant”) which are assistants that do everything under the sun for their employers. They’re deeply embedded in all aspects of both their personal and professional lives.
For practical purposes, most executives should think about personal assistants as assistants for their personal life. They’re not paid with corporate funds and they help executives manage personal tasks such as:
- Booking appointments
- Personal calendar management
- Managing reservations (restaurants, events, etc.)
- Personal travel planning
- Ordering grocery deliveries
- Placing Amazon orders
- Running personal errands (if they’re a local in-person assistant)
- Research (e.g. What are the best gyms in the area and their pricing? What are the best things to see on your trip to Italy? What are good gift ideas for in-laws?)
Personal assistant positions require a generalist skill set including basic communication skills, time management skills, internet literacy, and character traits such as being organized and reliable. They don’t tend to require a college degree, and they generally aren’t thought of as being long-term career positions.
Historically, PAs have been in-person assistant roles, but since a majority of what people need can now be done remotely, more and more people are utilizing virtual assistant services for their personal assistants.
What Is an Executive Assistant?
We define the EA role as assistants who are hired to take business-related tasks off executives’ plates so that execs can spend more time focusing on their core competencies and driving better results for the business.
EAs are paid by the corporation, and they’re typically college educated, serious professionals, pursuing long-term career paths.
The basic executive assistant job description includes responsibilities such as:
- Email management
- Calendar management
- Data entry (e.g. maintaining Microsoft Excel spreadsheets)
- Arranging business travel
- Other administrative tasks (e.g. bookkeeping, taking phone calls, etc.)
While there’s a lot of overlap in the skill sets and qualities required for personal and executive assistant work, the dynamic business context in which EAs work requires a more advanced level of problem solving ability, communication skills, and project management capabilities.
As such, finding a high-quality EA requires a more thorough vetting process to ensure candidates can keep up and perform in a fast-paced business environment (more on this below).
So, how should business owners and executives think about making a decision about which type of assistant to hire?
As we mentioned above, there’s more to it than the typical advice of: if you want someone to handle strictly personal tasks → hire a personal assistant. If you want someone to handle primarily business tasks → hire an executive assistant.
Executive Assistant vs. Personal Assistant: How to Choose the Right One for You
Executives deciding between an EA and a PA should also consider the following 3 things:
1. Their Motivation for Hiring a Personal Assistant (When Leaning Towards a PA)
Consider the following 2 camps of execs leaning toward the personal assistant route:
- Those primarily motivated by a desire to not have to do personal life tasks.
- Those primarily motivated by a desire to free up more time to focus on work (by way of reducing time spent on personal life tasks).
Both cases can be true. If you’re in the first camp, a personal assistant likely is the right choice for you.
But for those in the second camp, if your primary motivation is to free up more time to focus on work—that’s a problem that can be solved by both types of assistants. And in fact, an executive assistant can be a more effective solution for those in the second camp, because while a personal assistant will free up more time for you to work in general, an executive assistant will free up more time for you to work on what’s most important.
If you’re in the second camp and you opt for a personal assistant, you’re still likely going to be stuck doing a lot of the rote administrative tasks that will keep you from focusing on your core competencies and driving better results for your business. Whereas if you opt for an executive assistant, you can spend more time on the work that only you can do—the work you really want to do.
2. Personal Assistants Are Paid Off the Corporate Books. Executive Assistants Are Paid On the Corporate Books.
As we mentioned above, in general, executives who hire personal assistants pay for their services out of their own pocket because the assistant isn’t contributing directly to the business. On the other hand, executive assistants are on the corporate payroll because they’re hired to spend their time primarily focusing on business-related tasks.
While the cost of a personal assistant is typically less than the cost of an executive assistant, they can still be a hefty annual out of pocket expense. The pros of saving you from doing basic personal tasks may not be worth it.
So, especially if you’re in camp 2 described above, this is a factor worth weighing heavily because an executive assistant can likely free up more of your time—to be used however you’d like, whether that’s in your personal or professional life—while being paid for by the business.
3. EAs Can Help with Personal Tasks, Too
Lastly, while EAs are hired to focus primarily on business-related tasks, in many cases, EAs will help their employers with basic PA tasks, too. A full-time EA will typically have some additional time in the day that they can spend helping you order groceries, plan an upcoming trip, make some online purchases, etc.
While a PA will typically be confined to strictly the personal area of your life, an EA can save significant time for you in your professional life, and a bit of time for you in your personal life, too.
Leaning Towards Hiring an Executive Assistant? Here’s Why You Should Try Persona
If you find yourself thinking that an EA will be the right choice for you, we encourage you to reach out to us about our executive assistant service. We’ve spent the last 3.5 years developing a thorough and rigorous vetting process that allows us to identify and hire legitimately world-class EAs—which, as it turns out, aren’t as easy to come by as you’d think.
We’ve written extensively about why this is, and how we approach hiring differently than recruiters and other assistant services.
To learn more about our process, these three articles are a good place to start:
- The Process to Hire Executive Assistants is Broken. Why We Started Persona to Fix It.
- Why You Shouldn’t Use a Recruiter for Your Executive Assistant
- Why Most Virtual Assistants for Startups Fall Short (And How to Find a Great One)
How Our Executive Assistant Service Works
If you’re interested in working with one of our executive assistants, you can try it out for a month or two and see how you like it. We have no long term commitments.
Here’s how to get started with us:
- Step 1: Complete our form to let us know your needs.
- Step 2: If you’re a good fit, we’ll set up a call to discuss our service with you.
- Step 3: Our team will hand pick an assistant who we think will be a great fit for you based on your needs.
- Step 4: Our talent team will guide you through the onboarding process over 2-3 weeks.
- Step 5: For a flat monthly rate, you get a world-class assistant that equates to a full-time employee (40 hours of remote work per week, with no long-term commitment needed).
If you’re ready to try an executive assistant that can be truly transformative for your business, click here to get started. For testimonials from our clients, check out our homepage.