Laura gained a BA (Hons) in English Language, Literature and Philosophy from the University of Nottingham. Since graduating, she has completed the APA Diploma in Personal Assistance and now works as an executive assistant (EA) to a CEO in the utilities industry.
I have been working as an EA for nearly five years at an electricity company. I've been fortunate to support some really interesting and entertaining people, which certainly makes the job enjoyable.
After graduating, I completed a two-year graduate training programme in marketing. During the programme I had to organise several PR and brand events and I soon realised that this was the part of the role I was enjoying the most. I decided that I would much prefer a career as a PA, as I wanted to put my organisational abilities to maximum use.
As a PA, fantastic organisational skills are certainly a must; you have responsibility for organising the schedules (or indeed lives) of some very senior people. In order to do this, you must not only put in place sound logistical arrangements, but you must also take responsibility for deciding which meetings and appointments are of the most strategic importance and will be the best use of your boss's time. In today's fast-paced working environment, PAs cannot defer to the boss to make decisions; we as PAs take the decisions.
My degree course definitely had relevance to my current role. The ability to communicate confidently (both verbally and in writing) is of paramount importance, as I often have to communicate on behalf of my boss, from taking calls and writing emails to creating staff presentations and constructing more formal speeches. I also think my experience in marketing helps in my role as a PA, as PAs act like brand ambassadors/PR agents to their bosses - it is our responsibility to ensure that our bosses are on message, are fully informed of all relevant developments and are acting accordingly. This could include pulling together an emergency meeting very late in the night or producing an urgent press statement.
It is vital that a PA is trustworthy, reliable and discreet as you are party to a huge amount of highly sensitive and confidential information. A part of the role that I really enjoy is acting as a confidante. Bosses will often ask for their PA's advice on business issues, and it is a huge privilege to be able to assist their thinking and consequent actions.
I also can't stress enough the importance of networking and continuous professional development. PAs have a fantastic professional body that facilitates this, the Association of Personal Assistants (APA). Undertaking professional training and regularly attending seminars ensure that I constantly update my professional skills whilst also making important business contacts. It really is true that you never know when a contact may come in useful.
I think there are a few common and outdated misconceptions about the PA/EA role. One is that it is a dead-end job that just involves typing and making cups of tea. The modern reality is that PAs can be managing important projects, teams of staff and large budgets. Once a director realises the talents of his or her PA, they are normally keen to maximise them.
Another misconception about the role is that it is low paid. A good PA that has made him or herself indispensable to their principal can be paid a very good salary; PAs in the banking sector especially can be very well paid.
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