The world of professional Assistants appears to be in growth mode: rising numbers, expansion of role types and increasing levels of responsibility.

More bosses, leaders and organisations are beginning to fully recognise the value of their Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant or Virtual Assistant to their work, cause or business.

These are reasons for encouragement and to give your career path some thought. To stand out in the profession requires a confident blend of personal qualities, technical skills and adaptability.

The Changing Role of the Professional Assistant

The modern-day Assistant may operate under different titles but their work increasingly stretches beyond the traditional administrative role.

Today you will see many different job titles in the field across the globe, including the most popular: Personal Assistant (PA), Executive Assistant (EA) and Virtual Assistant (VA). You might also see roles described as Management Assistant, Administrative Assistant, Administrative EA, Project EA, Personal EA, Virtual EA, Business Administrator or even Chief of Staff.

Regardless of the title, the roles can be very similar. The job is about providing core support, either to an entrepreneur or other individual, or to one or more executives within an organisation.

Typically no longer just covering basic administrative tasks or acting as a gatekeeper, the modern Assistant can offer essential – and even strategic – support to business owners and boards.

The Responsibilities of the Modern Assistant

The professional assistant has sometimes been called the ‘Swiss army knife’ for any organisation. It reflects the multiple ways they help. Take a VA, for example.

The Modern Virtual Assistant

Is someone who can take on many delegated tasks for a client, such as:

Dealing with phone calls, email management, diary and calendar management, scheduling meetings, data entry, market research, bookkeeping, client relations, travel planning, content creation, social media management, graphic design, video editing, basic website maintenance, event planning and coordination, inventory, HR tasks and transcription services.

The VA can work from anywhere. And, as flexible working and hybrid working have become the norm, some PAs and EAs may also find themselves operating remotely some of the time.

The Modern Personal Assistant

A PA may carry out some of the administrative tasks associated with a VA yet is probably seen as more of an organiser and manager – for example, managing the diary, emails and databases. The PA may also create documents, write reports, prepare presentations and manage projects.

Entrepreneur and creator of The Diary of a CEO podcast, Steven Bartlett, said of his PA in a 2022 appreciation post on LinkedIn: “… assistants/personal assistants don’t get the credit they deserve for the critically important supportive work they do for executives… I genuinely can’t fathom where I would be without you.”

The Modern Executive Assistant

A PA typically supports an individual or business owner, an EA tends to support one or more executives on the board or C-suite, typically the CEO.

Whilst the roles can share similarities (and some PAs even describe themselves as EAs) the EA is likely to be more of a business partner to their executive, rather than an organiser. An EA may even have authority to make delegated decisions.

Harvard Business Review  summarised the role like this: “EAs who work for C-suite executives are referred to as the right arms to leaders, the backbone to companies, and the face of the company culture. They are the eyes, and ears, and the glue of the organization.”

The Qualities and Characteristics of the Modern-Day Assistant

Today’s professional Assistant is likely to be able to demonstrate important qualities for supporting success.

To Get ahead as an Assistant, you will be an excellent communicator, able to work with people of all levels, inside and outside of the organisation. You will be highly organised, a good planner, and able to juggle and prioritise many different tasks with efficiency and calm.

Every Assistant is expected to be savvy in technology for communications, team collaboration and project management. Think Microsoft Office, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, Slack and calendar scheduling apps.

Entrepreneurs and executives want someone who is trustworthy, discreet and can think on their feet. It helps if you are both creative and analytical, a team player and a leader, agile and adaptable.

The Assistant role may also require you to be a strong negotiator (with vendors or service suppliers, for example) with an ability to see issues before they become bigger problems. An assistant may also be expected to act as an ambassador or role model for the organisation’s vision, mission, values, principles and culture.

Choosing the Most Suitable Assistant Role for You

There are many different kinds of Assistant working around the globe today.

If you are more of an administrator, organiser and content creator, a VA role may be your preference. This also has the advantage of being able to work remotely from home.

If you like the idea of working 1:1 with an entrepreneur, celebrity, business owner or other individual – and are motivated by personal development and growth [LINK to spoke 4] – becoming a PA could be just the ticket for you.

If you have strong administrative skills and a good grasp of business, the project management and strategic side of the EA role might appeal more.

Think of your role less like a ‘job’ and more as a point in your professional career path. Updating your skills, growing as a person and understanding the value of what you do will help you move forward.

Conclusion

Busy people and overloaded organisations tend to need support – which is great news if you are an Assistant.

The range of roles and responsibilities the savvy Assistant can take up is expanding. No longer just an ‘admin person’ but more likely to be regarded as the glue that keeps everything together. There are numerous opportunities for the VA, PA and EA to shine.

The best of the crop make themselves indispensable to their boss or executive leaders.

What do you think?

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