Working With an Executive Assistant

Building a Successful Relationship

Working With an Executive Assistant - Building a Successful Relationship

© Veer
Melinda Fawver

Assign tasks to your executive assistant.

It's only been three months since Nalini hired an executive assistant, and, already, she can't imagine how she coped beforehand.

So far, her assistant has freed up an average of 15 hours a week, and Nalini uses this time to focus on high value tasks such as strategic thinking, project planning, and research. Her productivity has gone up significantly, and her stress levels have gone down. What's more, she can now leave work at a reasonable time and spend more time with her family.

Executive assistants can dramatically improve the capabilities and potential of the professionals that they work with. But, what should you look for in an executive assistant? And, if you're currently working with one, how can you make sure that you're getting the best from the relationship?

In this article, we'll examine how you can work effectively with your executive assistant.

The Benefits of Working With an Assistant

Executive assistants, also called Personal Assistants or PAs, work closely with executives and other top-tier managers. They provide high-level administrative and personal support, and, in some cases, represent executives in meetings and other business functions.

Executive assistants can dramatically improve your productivity. They take on many of your low-level tasks and responsibilities, so that you can focus on high-value work. They can also help you manage time better, lower your stress levels, and ensure that important projects or calls are prioritized.

While many assistants are based in the same office or department as the executive that they work with, you can also outsource this role temporarily, or hire a virtual assistant.

Building a Successful Relationship

To get the most from working with your assistant, you need to have a good professional relationship. The success of this relationship starts during recruitment.

Recruiting an Executive Assistant

Good executive assistants can be hard to find; and you should spend just as much time recruiting and assessing an assistant as you would any high-level manager.

Start by writing a detailed job description. Identify all of the tasks that your assistant will be responsible for, as well as the specific knowledge or skills that you want applicants to have.

This might include technical skills, such as proficiency in Outlook or Excel. You will also want to look for someone who has excellent communication and time management skills, is highly organized, takes initiative, has the ability to multitask, is professional, has good judgment, and works well under pressure.

A good way to write a thorough job description is to identify key responsibilities over a period of time. As you go through your typical workday, for example, write down the tasks that you'd like to delegate to your assistant. These tasks should be lower-level or routine tasks, rather than tasks that only you, with your accumulated experience and expertise, can do well.

Common tasks taken on by an executive assistant include the following:

  • Filing expense reports, invoices, and other routine documentation.
  • Managing correspondence (including mail, phone calls, and email) and filtering out unnecessary distractions.
  • Prioritizing daily tasks and commitments.
  • Editing or proofreading reports.
  • Managing schedules.
  • Organizing materials for meetings.
  • Scheduling and managing travel arrangements.
  • Acting as your representative in meetings or other events, and making decisions on your behalf.
  • Performing data entry.
  • Managing or eliminating interruptions from staff, clients, or calls.
  • Maintaining spreadsheets or databases.
  • Drafting memos or reports.
  • Organizing departmental or company events.

In the job description, identify how many executives this person will be working with. Will they be solely your assistant, or will they also work with other executives? If you'll be sharing time, explain how much time the assistant should devote to each leader.

Clarify Boundaries

Clarify the boundaries and expectations of the role in the job description. For example, you might need your personal assistant to perform tasks such as shopping, planning vacations, or running personal errands. Some assistants are comfortable with these tasks, while others might think that they're inappropriate.

Be clear about the type of tasks that you need to delegate to your assistant right from the start. Honesty will ensure that neither of you experience unexpected surprises later on.

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Identify Personality Traits

Your personal assistant is going to work closely with you on a daily basis. He or she may have access to your email and voicemail, and will probably be an important sounding board for tough decisions or stressful situations. As such, you must quickly build trust in you assistant: they should therefore have a personality type that fits with yours, as well as fitting in with your organization's culture.

Take time to identify the personal characteristics that you'd like your assistant to have. Do you want someone lighthearted, or someone serious? Are you looking for someone who will take initiative, or someone who will follow procedures meticulously?

List the traits of your ideal candidate, and flag the three that are most important to you. You might also want to conduct a thorough personality or behavioral assessment with potential candidates.


Your assistant is going to have access to confidential and personal information. They will also be privy to information that they shouldn't share with others in the organization. This is why you need to make it clear what they should and shouldn't tell others.

For example, you might have your assistant sit with you in high-level meetings to take notes. Everything that happens in these meetings is confidential, and your assistant should understand that they shouldn't share any information discussed during the meeting.

Over time, your assistant will know instinctively what information is confidential and what is safe to share. Until then, however, you might want to outline what your assistant shouldn't share.

Structuring Workflow

Your assistant will gain a thorough understanding of your workflow if you immerse them in your role immediately. Consider having them listen in on calls and accompany you to meetings. Make sure that your colleagues understand the level of authority that your assistant will have over your workflow.

Your assistant might need additional technical or managerial training. If you can spare the time to train your assistant yourself, your relationship will be stronger and the "onboarding" will be faster.

To succeed, your assistant should thoroughly understand your goals, values, top priorities, and daily needs. This knowledge will help them successfully screen calls, emails, and meetings, so that you can focus on tasks that provide the greatest return for your organization.

Decision Making, Building Trust, and Access

Many executive assistants make decisions on behalf of the professionals that they serve. This means that, when you're first building a relationship with a new assistant, delegation can be daunting. After all, what if the assistant speaks on your behalf and makes a decision that goes against your wishes, or makes too many mistakes?

This is why building trust is so important. Start by delegating simple tasks, so that you can easily monitor how your assistant performs. As your confidence builds, increase the complexity of the tasks that you delegate, and provide feedback on their performance.

A good way of training your executive assistant to make decisions on your behalf is to use role-play. Act out scenarios that your assistant might face. Ask your assistant to speak on your behalf, as they think appropriate. When you hear the response, provide feedback. If the response is off the mark, explain what you would have said, and the thinking behind it, so that your assistant gains a deeper understanding of your values and priorities.

Last, think about the level of access that you want your assistant to have, and how you will share your calendar, email, and voicemail. You also need to determine how you want your assistant to handle access to you during times when you need to focus.

For instance, which phone calls, from which people, should your assistant let through no matter what? Which "emergency" issues are high priority, and which can wait?

These decisions depend on your role, your responsibilities, and your needs. But you need to clarify them, so that your assistant knows how to act when you're not to be disturbed.

Rewards and Compensation

Executive assistants can feel that their role is thankless. Their job is to make your life easier, and one of their most important priorities is to help you look good and achieve goals. As a result, busy executives sometimes overlook or disregard their needs.

Offer your assistant fair compensation. Salaries vary for this position, but make sure that your offer is competitive. Compare the salaries of other executive assistants in your area, or ask your top three applicants for their salary expectations.

If you're on a tight budget, consider recent business-degree graduates, or professionals with only a few years' experience; just ensure that they have the technical skills you need, and that they're highly motivated.

Compensation is just one way of expressing your appreciation for the work that your assistant does for you. You can reward your assistant with praise, or find a variety of other ways to say "thank you." Compliment them for the good work that they do, and include as much detail as possible in your praise.

Lead with kindness by giving your assistant a listening ear when they need it, or by taking them out to lunch when they're having a rough day. Remember, your assistant will have good and bad days, just like you. Show your appreciation for your assistant's valuable role, and treat them with kindness and compassion.

Key Points

Executive assistants, also called Personal Assistants or PAs, are professionals who work closely with managers and leaders. They take on lower-level or routine tasks, so that executives can use that time to focus on high-priority tasks and strategic projects.

Getting the most from your executive assistant starts in recruitment. Write a clear, detailed job description, and communicate the personal and professional tasks that you will need your assistant to do. And try to find candidates with personalities that complement yours.

Once you've found a good assistant, be clear about which information they need to keep confidential, and what they can share with others in your organization. Immerse your assistant in your role by letting them listen in on phone calls and meetings. Last, communicate your appreciation for the work that your assistant does for you.