Interview: Becoming An Executive Assistant
14 March 2017
There is something of a stereotype when it comes to understanding what exactly a PA – or the more modern role of an Executive Assistant - is. It conjures up notions of a woman who is willing to collect her MD’s dry cleaning, sort out his lunches and jot down a few meetings in a diary.
But today’s Executive Assistant is so much more than that.
We caught up with Denise Irvine, a recently placed Executive Assistant at Scottish Golf, who had previously worked in the same role in both the Rio Olympics and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. It’s safe to say she’s capable of more than sorting out teas and coffees.
Her career as an Executive Assistant has enabled her to travel the world. She spoke to us about how this more modern job title fits in in the work place.
“It can be so much more than a 9 to 5,” she said. “It’s all about setting your own goals and really self-motivating. If you push yourself, you will achieve more and your career can really go places. In my case, literally – I went to Rio.”
“As you might expect, someone who is really methodical, strategic and organised will make a good Executive Assistant. In my case, I didn’t really know what personality type I actually was until I started pursuing these roles. But if you look at how you are in your personal life – for instance, I’m always the one my friends and family look to to organise days and nights out – it might give you a clue.”
So what of her day-to-day? If Denise isn’t just organising board room space and sending birthday cards, what does the modern Executive Assistant do? She explains that there is a hearty mix of everyday admin tasks and some really interesting insights work.
“Diary management and responding to emails makes up a fair part of the every day. Your Executive should be able to go to meetings or networking events and you should be able to pick up on correspondence on their behalf and reply to things as them.
“This is why it’s key that you build up a good working relationship with your Exec and that you understand their rhythm – so you can accurately reply to things on their behalf.
“But I’m also expected to deal with more pressing issues. For instance, I can lead senior management meetings or make decisions about any problems they may present to me. I’m also involved in planning, budgeting and strategic thinking. I am very much involved in policies and procedures. If I see something that I can put together and implement to make the business better, there is a level of trust that I am equipped to do that.”
Denise also emphasised the importance of getting involved in the admin side of the job, too. It might not be as glamorous as jetting off to Rio, but she insists that certain types of tasks can be invaluable.
“Do the more mundane tasks to the best of your ability because it will help in the long run. For example, doing a seating plan or organisation chart will help you get to know who does what. It’s a great way to really learn how a business flows.
“You should also commit any key dates to memory. For me, because I work in Scottish Golf, there will be events for the Open and the Masters and so on. I need to know if my Executive is expected to attend any of these. He should be represented at key occasions.”
Another key responsibility of the modern Executive Assistant – and a crucial difference between this role and the stereotype of the PA – is the expectations of networking. It’s a really good idea for Executive Assistants to build up a solid network of their own peers and get their name out there for being a dependable and responsible employee.
“Networking is essential – make your own contacts and be introduced to as many people as you can. Make sure you represent your Executive in the best light possible. It’s really key to get to know people as you never know when you might be able to reach out to them.”
Clearly, the role of the Executive Assistant is much less passive than the traditional notion. This is as much about making a career for yourself as it is about providing support.
“Absolutely, it’s a career,” says Denise. “Being an EA can allow you to move in to a more operational role later in your career as it gives you a really broad vision of a company as a whole. You’re involved in so many elements across the operation that you get a full understanding of the business and the way it works.
“That’s why it’s a much more strategic role than a traditional PA – and perhaps why we are now seeing more men work as Executive Assistants.
“It’s all about your personality and how far you are willing to go. If you really go above and beyond, like I did, the rewards are there. Your commitment will take you a long way. But it’s up to the individual – do they want to be a PA or do they have the strengths to become an Executive Assistant?”
Denise was placed in her Executive Assistant role at Scottish Golf by Jackie MacGregor of our Professional Services team. If you would like to speak to Jackie about developing your career, click here to see her contact details.
Written By Mary Palmer