In a bustling office setting, it’s easy to overlook a manager’s personal assistant, but they’re often the glue that holds a company together. From organizing schedules and communicating with a range of people to anticipating their employer’s needs, personal assistants are responsible for some of the most crucial tasks in a workplace.
Although sometimes confused with secretaries, personal assistants — or PAs, for short — are focused on helping one individual get through their day. Former PA Kyle Elliott, the career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com, notes that sometimes personal assistants go beyond administrative tasks and make decisions that directly affect people and businesses.
“Being a personal assistant is a challenging yet rewarding position that allows you to support another individual with their business and/or personal tasks,” he says. “It’s fun being able to see that your work has a positive, lasting impact on another person’s life and business.”
Elliott says that if you have strong organizational skills, previous project management experience and a can-do attitude, you may be a great candidate for a job as a personal assistant.
Jessica Glazer, recruitment director at Montreal’s MindHR, also lists strong social skills, tact and the ability to multitask as traits that make for a powerful PA.
“They are the gatekeepers and know absolutely everything going on with a person and company,” Glazer says. “Don’t be fooled by the title. They know everything.”
If you’re thinking about becoming a personal assistant, or you simply want to improve your performance in the role, consider these expert tips for being an indispensable part of your company culture.
1. Be a giver
Workers with big egos may want to avoid applying for a job as a personal assistant, as this role is all about putting someone else’s needs before your own. Glazer calls it being a “giver — someone who enjoys taking care of others and loves seeing someone succeed because of them.”
That doesn’t mean personal assistants can’t get a lot out of their role — far from it! A savvy personal assistant can learn about their industry through working so closely with their manager, skills they can take with them when they decide to move forward in their career. They can also make connections, network and generally find a great deal of satisfaction in seeing how their own efforts can help their manager thrive.
2. Remember the ‘personal’ in personal assistant
Your job, at its most fundamental, is focused on helping one person do what they need to succeed. In order to do that, you’ll have to get to know them pretty well. Caleb Backe, a business consultant for Maple Holistics and certified life coach, says if you really want to excel, you need to do more than just assist your boss in their day-to-day life.
“Get to know their personality, their likes and dislikes,” he says. “This will help you to pay attention to details and become adept at dealing with unforeseeable circumstances in a way that your boss would appreciate. The general rule is: The better you know them, the less you have to ask them.”
3. Be proactive
Ask any executive what makes a personal assistant indispensable and they’ll likely say something about the ability to meet their needs without even being asked. This could be as simple as delivering a breakfast bagel at the exact right moment or preparing documents for an important meeting.
“A great personal assistant knows what needs to be done before they’re asked, and that comes with understanding your boss and their specific needs,” Backe says. “In an attempt to do this, pay attention to details. How they like their coffee, who they’re close with and who they avoid are all just minor things that can go a long way in making you a more attentive personal assistant.”
4. Keep growing in your role
Flexibility and the ability to adapt are key traits for a successful personal assistant, and these can benefit you and your employer. Being open to new tasks and new ideas will not only help you thrive at your job, but it can lead to greater job satisfaction overall.
“You’re never finished in your job as a personal assistant,” Backe says. “Make sure to take every mistake or failure as a learning curve to succeed. Observe your environment regularly to ensure that you’re growing as a personal assistant, that your planning systems are up to date and that you’re generally evolving with the position.”
5. Be a people person
You’ll likely be dealing with a wide range of people in your position, which is why interpersonal skills are key.
“Having a pleasant, likable, somewhat outgoing personality can get you places as a personal assistant,” Backe says. “Interpersonal skills, although not essential, can go a long way in this position.”
6. Look beyond the office
Personal assistants aren’t just for busy executives, and they’re not constrained to offices, either. Elliott says PAs can be hired to help any individuals.
“This may be a celebrity, business owner, busy parent, you name it,” he says.
He also notes that, with the rapid growth of online businesses, there are more opportunities than ever in online business management for personal assistants.
“Online business managers help entrepreneurs manage their business, allowing the business owner to focus on strategy, business growth and work/life balance,” Elliott says.
7. Respect your personal limits
Being a personal assistant is all about taking care of someone else’s needs, which is why it’s easy to forget your own in the process.
“It can be a highly stressful job, so remember to take care of yourself and exercise your ability to say ‘one second, ‘hold on’ or ‘not right now’ if you’re feeling overwhelmed,” Glazer says. “Better to say ‘no’ than to burn out.”