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What it really takes to be an EA

What it really takes to be an EA: 500 top EAs have their say
They are the invisible glue behind every executive, but what does it really take to be a successful Executive Assistant (EA)? Recruiting experts Hays Office Support interviewed 536 top EAs face-to-face to determine their DNA.

“More than ever, today’s EAs are balancing an ever-increasing list of responsibilities,” says Jason Walker, Regional Director of Hays in New Zealand. “No longer a dictation-taking secretary who makes coffee or collects dry cleaning, today’s EA operates as a true partner with extensive responsibilities.

“They hold a certificate or higher qualification, have advanced computer software skills and quickly grasp the latest technology. They possess advanced written and verbal communication skills and accountancy knowledge.

“Added to these technical skills are a suite of soft skills. A top EA is a professional and collaborative gatekeeper who has their executive’s confidence and trust. An efficient problem solver, he or she is resilient, highly organised, remains calm under pressure, listens, and knows when people genuinely need access to their executive. She or he is flexible, and above all works as a partner with their executive to deliver the required outcomes on time – and with a smile on their face.

“But they do all this almost invisibly, and that’s the final piece of their DNA; they make their executive as efficient as possible by offering support and not craving the spotlight for themselves.

“That’s why the top EAs can earn up to, and in senior positions can exceed, $120,000 and why, despite mobile devices and online calendars, they remain essential to an executive’s success,” says Jason.

A top EA’s DNA:

Technical skills

• 63 per cent of EAs hold a Diploma or Certificate.
• They consider continuous skills development to be their biggest professional challenge; they are often the go-to expert for tech issues and are expected to have the answers instantly.
• 67 per cent said communication skills are amongst the top three skills needed to be a good EA.
• Their written and verbal communication skills are of the highest professional standard in order to prepare written documentation and be credible to all levels of an organisation.
• Their accountancy skills allow them to crunch numbers on a spreadsheet, report on expenses, analyse budgets and prepare statistical reports.
• They can successfully manage a project.

Soft skills

• 71 per cent of EAs said organisational skills are needed to maximise their and their executive’s productivity.
• 42 per cent said prioritising deadlines is one of the top three skills; the EA role is a busy one and there is no time to waste. They have to work efficiently.
• They are collaborative; 37 per cent of EAs said their relationship with their boss is a partnership.
• 71 per cent said professionalism helps them succeed; what they say and do is seen by others as a reflection of their executive.
• They are flexible problem solvers.

Other attributes

• Trust is essential; 47 per cent of EAs said their relationship with their boss is strong, professional and based on trust.
• 35 per cent said relationship building is one of the top three skills needed to be a good EA.
• They keep calm under pressure; the job is demanding but top EAs do it with a calm can-do attitude.
• 35 per cent have people reporting into them and therefore need good people management skills.
• 31 per cent nominated resilience as the personal characteristic that helps them succeed.

Read more:
In their report ‘What it takes to be an EA’, Hays Office Support explore further the qualities that make a great EA. They share the common characteristics of the 536 interviewed EAs to identify exactly what it takes to succeed in the role. If you’ve entered the administration profession with the aspiration of becoming a top-level EA, Hays’ report also provides insights on how you can develop your skills to reach your goal.

Profile of our EA interviewees:
Of the 536 EAs interviewed face-to-face by our recruitment consultants between April to June 2014, 30 per cent currently work in the Government sector, 13 per cent for a not-for-profit, 20 per cent for an ASX/NZX listed company, 12 per cent for a non-listed company, 9 per cent for a construction or property organisation and 3 per cent for an accountancy firm.

36 per cent work for an organisation with over 1,000 staff. 14 per cent work for an organisation with 501 to 1,000 staff, and 24 per cent work for an organisation with 101 to 500 staff. The remaining 26 per cent work for an organisation with up to 100 staff.

47 per cent are EA to a Chief or Executive level professional, 21 per cent to a General Manager or Head, 19 per cent to a Director or Partner, and 3 per cent to a Senior Manager.

Hays, the world’s leading recruiting experts in qualified, professional and skilled people.

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