Being a professional Assistant today requires a strong blend of personal qualities and administrative skills.

For any role, it is important to have the essential skills – such as knowing how to use Microsoft Office and 365 tools – as a minimum. However, to get ahead as an Assistant, advancing your skills will make life easier for you and enhance your prospects.

Here’s a compact guide to assessing and developing your skills.

The Classic Process for Developing Skills

Let’s keep things simple about how to get this done:

1. Review your skills set

2. Assess and identify areas for improvement

3. Get a training course or coaching to upgrade your skills and fill any gaps

4. Review each year (you can review more frequently if you prefer).

Why You Should Review and Assess Your Skill Set

Knowing your skill set – and reviewing regularly – is an important element of planning how to get ahead as a Professional Assistant and to advance your career, whether as a VA, PA or EA.

It helps you to understand your strengths, highlight areas for improvement, and structure your competencies for that next promotion, job change or pitch to a prospective new client.

The process will also help you to understand your value or worth – essential for when talking money and growth opportunities.

For now, let’s focus on assessment.

Reviewing and Assessing Your Skills

If you just wanted a basic method of skills assessment, you could start by making a list of your hard skills (e.g. IT, presentation, budget skills) and soft skills (e.g. communications, creativity, interpersonal skills).

If you’re employed by an organisation, you could refer to your job description to help with making your list. You may also have past performance reviews or appraisals that can both highlight how your skills are evolving and provide insights into whether some skills are being underused.

Some Assistants may have used aptitude tests to assess their job skills. The better quality ones usually require a fee or subscription. You will find plenty of choice if you search online.

However, another way to approach the process is to make use of a skills matrix, where much of the work is done for you.

Introducing the Global Skills Matrix

The Global Skills Matrix is an internationally recognised career framework for administrative professionals. It was created by the World Administrators Alliance with support from Lucy Brazier of Executive Support Magazine.

As with any project involving Lucy, the idea was to develop a series of benchmarks that Assistants in any country could use to help be recognised for their support role AND to demonstrate their value.

Go to the Global Skills Matrix website for your free copy. Then use it to assess your current skills and personal qualities against different levels of role.

Once you have completed your review and assessment, it’s time to consider how to close your gaps and leverage your strengths.

Let’s talk training.

Developing Your Essential Microsoft Office & MS 365 Skills

Let’s start with the technical essentials. In short, every Assistant (whatever your role or title) will be expected to know how to use Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Office – and keep up to date with developments.

Microsoft Office Essentials

The five workhorses of Microsoft Office are Word, Excel, PowerPoint Outlook and Teams. The better you know how to work your way around these powerful tools, the easier your life and the better your prospects.

When you do not have to think about how to do a task, you do tasks faster and this frees you up for other things.

Microsoft Advanced (AI Skills)

For many Assistants, familiarity with the Microsoft 365 Copilot application (an AI tool like ChatGPT) would be useful. We know AI is developing at rapid pace so learning what it can do – and how to prompt it for the best results – is probably a good investment of time and money.

Copilot is a great research and writing tool. It can generate reports, summaries, lists and content based on what and how you feed it. And much, much more. I really like it and use it a lot.

Get savvy with the MS Office Maestro

There are plenty of options around training and learning for the whole range of Microsoft Office applications, including from me. You can follow me on LinkedIn, or read my blog or newsletter for practical tips.

You could take one of my courses, read one of my guide manuals, books some 1:1 coaching support or see me ‘live’ at one of my workshops, at events like The PA Show. I’m here to help so get in touch if you need help.

Developing Other Technical Skills

Of course, as an Assistant, you will be using other tools, apps and platforms to deliver your creativity, organising powers and efficient task handling.

If you are a VA serving several clients, you may find you have to become proficient in more than one email marketing platform, CRM system, content creation tool or scheduling service – depending on each client’s preferences.

What tools do you know how to use well? Which ones give you a little trouble? Where would some simple tips or deeper training be most useful for you?

Once you’ve reviewed things you can make a plan.

Building Your Leadership, Strategic and Soft Skills for Success

Besides the technical side of being an Assistant, there are also the soft skills and more strategic skills to consider. I cover this in more detail in my blog around Investing in Your Personal Growth and Professional Development as a Modern Assistant   but it’s all part of the same review and assessment process.

Make your own list or refer to the Global Skills Matrix and see how you match up against areas such as leadership, project management, communications, corporate finance, strategy and human resources, or HR.

Do your research, look for tips and support, and consider what further training may help you. You will find plenty of interest and value in the Executive Support Magazine for starters.

For training courses and programs, you are spoiled for choice.

Co-founded by Lindsay Taylor and Malcolm Taylor, Your Excellency Limited has built an enviable reputation as a provider of accredited training programmes for Assistants who want to become the very best performers in their businesses and sectors.

Alongside a Virtual Academy, the company runs an Essential PA Programme and also offers a Mini MBA for Senior and Executive Assistants. The Mini MBA, delivered through blended learning, is for those who want to master business and leadership skills for their role.

To get ahead, keep learning and building those skills.

There is Always Something New to Learn

To grow in your career as an Assistant, your technical and professional skills will need to rise in line with your ambitions.

Whatever your goals, having a clear understanding of your skills strengths and skills gaps is important. Review and assess where you are now. Identify what you need to do in order to leverage your strengths and close those gaps. Then find the training, coaching, mentoring or support to help you achieve your skills objectives.

The better you know how to do your ‘bread and butter’ tasks, the more time you have for personal, professional and career development. There is no limit when you put your mind to it. Where do you want to be in two, three or five years’ time?

Until next time.

Shelley Fishel - The MS Office Maestro

I find Shelley’s training easy to follow and the very best thing is that you can do it all at your own pace and revisit modules if it doesn’t quite sink in the first time round! I have learned so much from her training and continue to do so! She is responsive to my questions and I learn something new with each module. I find Iam hardly ever having to Google or YouTube information now, so it really is saving me time in my work day. Time that can be better used by learning more about the business I operate in!
Thanks Shelley!

Tracey Whitehouse – Executive Assistant

I have been following Shelley on Linkedin for several years, and always loved her hints and tips. In May of this year, I had the opportunity to recommend Shelley as one of our workshop speakers at the annual HMC Heads’ PA Conference in Sheffield.

On receiving the brief Shelley quickly produced content for two IT Microsoft Skills Workshops covering nuggets from Outlook, Word and Excel. Shelley then delivered (virtually) these two fantastic workshops to over 60 PAs at our conference.

From initial enquiry to delivery Shelley is the consummate professional and it was my pleasure to have had the opportunity to engage with her.

I would have no hesitation in recommending Shelley to any individual or group.

Michaela Fletcher – Heads PA

Shelley is THE guru on all things Microsoft.

I love Outlook, use it every day, and think I have a pretty good understanding of it. But every time I attend one of her sessions I learn a lot more. Her knowledge is remarkable. And she delivers her knowledge in a really clear, engaging way.

Thanks Shelley

Kathy Soulsby

I have just spent less than an hour at one of Shelley’s presentations and my mind is truly blown! I thought I was fairly proficient in Outlook, but I had no idea it could do so much more! So many time saving tips and shortcuts to help me – I can’t wait to get stuck in and implement them all! Thank you Shelley – I would highly recommend!

Hayley Rose – Executive Assistant -Dalcour Maclaren

Shelley joined us for the annual HMC Heads’ PAs conference in May 2023, where she delivered two hands-on practical IT skills workshops for over 60 PAs in attendance. Both sessions were warmly received by all participants, and from a personal perspective it was an absolute pleasure for me to work with Shelley both offline in the extensive prep phase ahead of the sessions, and online during the day itself – sharp in subject knowledge, flexible in content delivery and everything executed with a really affable manner and “can-do” approach throughout. I would recommend her services wholeheartedly.

Gareth Johnson – Leader GRE Education

Heads PA Conference

The session was well structured and the explanation was very clear. It was amazing how Shelley managed to squeeze so much info in just one hour and a half! Colin’s support and contributions were also very valuable, and so were “Virtual Veronica”‘s. Thank you for a most interesting and useful training session at the Miss Jones Virtual Summit!

Laura Carizzo- Royal Norwegian Embassy in Argentina

I haven’t used PowerPoint in 20 years, this has really boosted my confidence.

Lyn Parker

Course is packed with so much valuable information in a easy-to-understand and follow language, even for a complete beginner. I can respect the fact that sometimes it’s very hard for an expert to break the information down to basics. but Shelley has done it brilliantly. I was sure that I knew quite a bit but Shelley has proven me wrong even at the very beginning of the basics of PowerPoint. Lessons are short and precise which allowed me to easily transfer the new skill into practice without being overwhelmed and to carry on adding on more with each lesson. I had so many ‘Aha!’ moments and for most of them I couldn’t believe I used to pay graphic designer to do it for me, now, thanks to Shelley, I am looking forward to creating, designing, converting my presentations all by myself!

Iva Freeman – Vertex Human Capital

Shelley was very thorough and knew a lot of tip’s for using Teams, thank you 🙂

James O’Connor – Cavannah Homes

Very informative, constantly getting everyone in the meeting involved, loved every bit of it!

Dylan Teal Hopkins – Cavannah Homes
Fantastic and informative training and great to see all of the exciting functions with Microsoft Teams.
Laura Rigby – The Apprenticeship College
Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.
Leigh Dowling – Innuous

Microsoft Teams One to One Training Session

Shelley was approachable, easy to work with, and agile with answering questions to apply the session to my specific needs

Melissa Marshall – Present Your Science

A course on Outlook had been on the top of my list when Shelley asked VA’s what they wanted to learn. It was a real case of ‘so that’s how you do it’ or ‘I never knew that’. I have to say that I learnt so many great tips it has definitely improved the way I work in Outlook and my inbox is looking colourful and organised and I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my clients.

Jacqueline Leake – JLeake VA Services – Outlook

A great course with lots of examples and step by step instructions. I can now confidently create infographics and as a bonus, I learnt a lot of new PowerPoint functionality that will enhance all my PowerPoint work and save me so much time.

Jessica Bailey – Integral Resource

I really like Shelley’s courses. She has a clear and easy to follow teaching style. In ‘How to Create Fillable Forms’ I’ve learned about the functions of the Developer ribbon which will mean I’ll be able to create a bespoke Returns Form for a client who has an online shop

Freya Henderson – Virtual Office Orkney