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The Difference Between a PA and an Executive Assistant

When trying to assess our recruitment needs, or indeed plan our own career paths, the distinctions between specific job titles can get a tad confusing. In the case of a Personal Assistant or an Executive Assistant, the roles vary quite broadly in their scope depending on the company or individual that the roles serve, and exhibit a great deal of overlap. Despite the variation seen in these positions, there are several specific distinctions that we can examine to help you ensure that you recruit exactly the right candidate for your professional needs, or are aiming for the perfect spot as you plan your career progression.

 

The Balance Of Skills

The markers of the difference between the roles of a PA and EA can be observed in the emphasis placed on areas of their skill set, although we can also trace the difference in the patterns of what type of professional might hire a PA or EA respectively.

The role of a PA generally places emphasis on organisational and administrative skills. Their role could act in support of a variety of people, from business professionals to media personalities or private households. The PA will act to lift menial tasks from the shoulders of their employers, allowing them to focus more on their goal-oriented endeavours. These duties will include things like keeping track of scheduling, confirming appointments, booking travel and accommodation, and fielding communication on their employer’s behalf. They may well correspond with associates, maintain financial records and perform filing duties. A PA’s skill set will draw focus on attributes such as attention to detail, computer literacy, professional manner and exemplary organisation, and while they would certainly be expected to be pro-active in their role, the position can be defined as a more reactive role as they carry out tasks as steered by their employer’s day-to-day needs.

An EA, on the other hand, will certainly possess all of the above skills, but will also require a honed capacity for management. EAs are generally found in the service of more senior figures within larger business structures; such as CEOs and Managing Directors. In addition to having a functional hand on all aspects of organisation and scheduling, an EA may well run projects on their employer’s behalf, act in a supervisory capacity towards teams below them, and even step in, fulfilling the role of their employer in meetings or making decisions as circumstances require. In this sense, greater responsibility rests on the shoulders of an EA and the role can be considered highly pro-active as they are given more autonomy to drive decision making and direct others.

 

The roles of a PA and EA generally places emphasis on organisational and administrative skills.

 

Areas In Which Both Should Excel

It is clear to see that a PA or EA must possess outstanding efficiency and organisation!

Digging a little deeper, we can see in further detail the qualities each type of assistant should possess, and begin to identify the traits and experience to look out for when recruiting for these roles.

At the forefront should always be strong communication. Any professional assistant, be they a PA or EA, can only serve their employer fantastically if they are able to efficiently communicate ideas and crucial information to that employer and listen carefully to instruction. Their professional etiquette, manner and presentation will often deliver the first impression to clients and associates so their ability to represent the brand or identity of their employer is key.

A strong level of adaptability is always beneficial, as a PA or EA will often have to make decisions or change plans on the fly. Unexpected circumstances are something that can never be entirely avoided! Keen instincts for crisis management and a clear idea of when to resolve issues themselves or promptly raise awareness with their employer will help to build a strong relationship of trust. Defining these boundaries is something that an employer can consider as foundational work when recruiting a new assistant.

 

Qualities Specific To An Executive Assistant

When looking to recruit an EA, or aspiring to become one, some experience in middle management, or demonstration of the qualities associated with this type of position, can offer a strong springboard. The clear ability to excellently follow leadership while also demonstrating leadership skills themselves will be of great use. A passion for working with others, developing co-workers and assertively delivering results indicate a candidate that will find great reward in an EA position. An understanding of business structure and performance will also indicate a person who can hit the ground running, quickly grasping the goals and needs of your business.

Because of the flexible nature of these two positions, many professional assistants may fall somewhere in the middle, and their title can be simply a case of semantics. In many cases, this distinction is not so important, but recognising an assistant who is acting in a capacity more indicative of an EA can be beneficial to both employer and employee alike. A sense of progression often creates higher morale and increased productivity. Ultimately, defining a line within this sliding scale is at the discretion of the employer, but hopefully, we have offered some insight into understanding the difference between these two indispensable roles.

May 17, 2019

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