With the growing importance and value of the Assistant for organisations, if you want to get ahead in your career it’s time for you to grow, too.

Yes, we’re talking technical skills. But, more significantly, we’re talking about the qualities and more strategic thinking that make you invaluable to the people you work for.

Knowing the 5 key trends in the professional Assistant world, you’ll understand better where to place your CPD priorities and professional learning focus. As Lucy Brazier of Executive Support Magazine rightly says, see yourself as a talent rather than just a resource. Do not let your title dictate your worth or value.

Here are some tips and guidance for you.

Know Your Assistant Role Inside Out

This may seem obvious but, whether you’re a hired VA or employed PA or EA, are you 100% clear on your role? Are you demonstrating your true value? Are you performing at top-notch level with each aspect of the role designated for you?

Are there tasks or areas of responsibility which you could take on? Be proactive and suggest to your client or boss that they delegate that to you. Being visible and open to opportunities is an important part of the value-building process.

Understand Your Organisation

To know your role and how it might develop, it is useful to understand your organisation. Get to know its vision, mission and strategic objectives.

Does it offer a clear career path for you? Does it provide regular performance reviews or other measures to value the Assistant role? What succession planning is in place?

Knowledge is power. Do your homework, as you would if going for a job interview.

Understand Your Executive

This is a critical point for the Assistant who wants to be more effective, more collaborative and perceived as indispensable by their boss.

To make life easier for your executive and yourself, get to know them and their idiosyncrasies. Get to know how they work, how they think and how the like things done. It will allow you to work more efficiently, put forward your own ideas and suggest improvements with confidence.

One way to do this, if not already doing it, is to introduce a weekly catch-up so that the Assistant and Executive can share what’s done, what’s going on and what’s coming up.

This helps the Assistant to know their tasks and work out how they’re going to manage and prioritise their workload. It also allows the Assistant to learn to anticipate – when something comes in – what’s important for the Executive to know or not, and help ease the pressure.

The executive’s mind is going to be busy during the day, working on the visionary stuff, the big stuff. It’s the Assistant’s role to manage the nitty gritty of that for their executive.

One idea I’ve seen that I like is for Assistants to summarise at the end of each day for their executive what’s happened and what’s going on. It could be via an email or note with three, four or six bullet-points. Some Assistants also use a morning catch-up to keep the circle of communication flowing freely and flexibly.

Maybe you have your own system for this? Do let me know.

Use Systems for More Efficient Workflow as an Assistant

This is where your knowledge of platforms, applications and online tools will help. The more you can make use of technology to make your life easier, the better.

If an employee of an organisation, you may be limited to the solutions your organisation chooses to use. However, if you think there are better solutions, now is your chance to put forward the case.

If you’re freelance or self-employed as an Assistant, review what you’re using for emails, email marketing, CRM, calendar scheduling, social media management, project management and so on.

Having systems is not just about tools and technology, of course. It is also about how you work and the processes you have in place to manage all you do (including your business, if self-employed).

Review your processes. Evaluate your use of systems. Look for ways to boost efficiency and productivity – and make life a lot easier.

Nurture the Personal Qualities Leaders Value in an Assistant

The list of essential and desirable qualities in a modern Assistant is a long one. Let’s just cover some of them here:

  • Excellent communicator
  • Highly organised
  • Strong planner
  • Ability to prioritise a busy workload
  • Efficient juggler of different tasks
  • Calm (especially under pressure)
  • Confident
  • Trustworthy
  • Discreet
  • Able to manage confidential or sensitive information
  • Ability to think on their feet
  • An ‘ambassador’ for organisational values and culture

You will have strength in some of these qualities. You will have qualities or characteristics with room for growth. Where can you raise your game?

Review. Evaluate. Nurture.

Build Your Business Knowledge and Business Skills

The more you know (and how to apply it well) the higher your value as an Assistant to your clients or organisation.

Following the news and reading is a good way keep up to date in the world of business (and the sector your organisation operates within). Relevant magazines to choose from include Harvard Business Review (HBR), The Economist, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company and WIRED.

When talking training and professional development, assessing and developing your skills as a Professional Assistant [LINK to Spoke 2] is a first step. For a VA providing basic administrative and content creation services, that may be sufficient. However, if you’re looking to grow a bigger VA business or are operating as a higher-level PA or EA, you may have bigger learning ambitions.

A range of online and classroom courses is offered by Executive Support Magazine worldwide, including the trademarked Advanced Certificate for the Executive Assistant (ACEAâ).

There are other excellent training companies and programmes out there. Do your research and find what is right for you.

Master Business and Leadership Skills with a Mini MBA

For Senior and Executive Assistants who want to be at the very top of their game, studying for a mini MBA might be the answer.

The comprehensive mini MBA programme delivered by Your Excellency Limited, for example, covers Business Strategy, Stakeholder Management, Leadership Development, Marketing, Business Plans, Financial Reporting, Budgets & Forecasts, and Project Management.

This would be a significant investment in your career and personal growth. It could help you to stand out from the crowd and raise your value to your boss.

If you are an employee in an organisation, you may find there is financial support available for your professional development. If there is not, have the confidence to ask for a personal CPD budget. After all, the organisation will benefit – both short term and longer term – from what you learn to gain the qualification. The worst they can do is say no.

It’s Your Assistant Life. Grow with It.

Every Assistant is different. Some like the freelance and self-employed life. Some like to work within an organisation. Some get to experience both worlds.

For the savvy Assistant who wishes to get ahead in their career, nothing is left to chance. Think about what you want. Think about how you are going to achieve it. Think about where study, learning, coaching, mentoring or training could take you.

When you have clarity of direction and set your intentions, it’s funny how opportunities tend to spring up and be drawn towards you.

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