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Spread Your Wings - From Administrator To PA!

02 Jun 2022

Emma Anglim

A Personal Assistant’s job can be incredibly challenging and involve long hours and multi-tasking at its best. But it can also be incredibly rewarding.

An administrator’s job is easy to define; lots of different tasks but all within a particular skillset and with set hours. A Personal Assistant’s job on the other hand, well that’s an entirely different scenario. It can be incredibly challenging, involve crazy hours and tasks that you’ve never done before all while using your own skills and connections to make things happen. But it’s precisely these reasons why many administrators want to become a PA.

How To Become A PA

Most Personal Assistants will admit that they became a PA by sheer hard work and some luck. The reality is that it’s up to admin staff to develop those relationships within their organisation. They need to demonstrate their willingness to work hard, their reliability, the flexibility to work across a variety of teams as well as the ability to make things happen. Shadowing an existing PA and filling in for them when they’re on holidays is one way of getting noticed and having your skills recognised.  Working your way up means understanding the key elements of a PA role before you go into the actual role itself.

Key Skills Of A PA

  • Organisational skills: Heads of functions and directors rely heavily on an efficient assistant who needs to be as reliable as a Swiss watch. Scheduling meetings (in-person and remote), prioritising work and calls, handling correspondence (emails and post) in a timely manner, diary management (often of multiple directors), minute taking and documentation are all part of a PA’s duties. They need to be able to reach people, find files, access information at the drop of a hat so great organisational skills are essential for any PA role. They also need to be calm, practical and level-headed at all times.
  • Discretion: A PA has access to confidential and business critical information as well as details on the personal lives of the directors. This means that anyone in this role has to be incredibly discreet, hold confidential information close to their chest and have the utmost integrity. It sometimes can mean withholding calls or putting particular calls straight through as well as being extremely careful with files and passwords.
  • Time management: Time is of the essence when it comes to a PA’s duties. Getting presentations done within tight deadlines, having all documentation ready to go at the appropriate times and prioritising assignments is key to being a successful PA. There is always a last-minute trip or changes in the diary to accommodate. However, time management of a PA can mean working long hours to adapt to multiple time-zones if you’re trying to schedule meetings for global offices so be aware of that before you apply to any PA role.
  • Energy/Presentation: An ideal PA has a “can-do” attitude and is a pleasure to be working with from their boss’ point of view. They also are the gate-keepers to their boss and deal with both colleagues and clients every day so they need to be firm, yet polite and be able to work with people at every level within the organisation.
  • Taking the initiative: As a PA, you need to anticipate your director’s request. Plan their week/month ahead and ensure that you cut off problems before they get to the director if at all possible. This may mean taking the initiative and changing plans to overcome these bumps in the road.
  • Technical skills: An excellent PA says “I know how to do that”. Someone with ambitions to be a PA says “I’m going to learn that”. From MS Powerpoint & Excel to organising Zoom meetings, from operating shared Google calendars to setting up new phones, a PA’s technical skillset could be endless. Watch other colleagues to see how they do it, take courses regardless of whether they’re certified qualifications or online “how to” tutorials. Staying current on technology is vital for any Personal Assistant.

Personal Assistants rarely have boring jobs. They cater to a wide range of requirements, going beyond normal hours and duties on a regular basis. If you’re not afraid of hard work and want a challenge in your professional life, then maybe the life of a PA is for you!

Emma Anglim is Head of Brightwater’s Business Support division and recruits PAs and administrative staff for a broad range of clients.