The Differences Between Personal and Executive Assistants

While people often use the terms interchangeably, the roles of “executive assistant” and “personal assistant” vary greatly. If you are looking to hire an assistant, the preceding qualifier you use in your job title will set the expectations for whoever applies to the opening, so be sure to know exactly what you are looking for before you advertise the job.

The roles vary depending on the organization and the supervisor, but here are some basic differences between personal and executive assistants.

Executive Assistants Definition

Executive assistants (EAs) typically report to high-level executives in larger organizations. They play an important role in supporting the executive team and managing some of the day-to-day operations of the business, allowing c-level execs to focus on larger issues.

Duties of Executive Assistants: 

1. Serving as a gatekeeper for the c-suite

They will screen calls, open email and mail, and turn away door-to-door vendors to protect a c-level exec’s time.

2. Scheduling appointments and meetings

EAs control an executive’s calendar to prevent scheduling conflicts. They schedule meetings, speaking engagements, travel dates and other appointments. Not only that, but assistants also actively update their bosses by way of detailed, by-the-minute itineraries that indicate any changes to plans.

3. Being the point of contact

They serve as the face of the executive team, working with managers, other employees, consultants, vendors, investors, shareholders, the board of directors and more. They will represent executives during meetings and industry events and will often field calls on behalf of the executive team.

4. Ensuring compliant record keeping

They are typically responsible for establishing a digital and paper filing system in addition to ensuring that the company complies with all legal requirements when it comes to paperwork.

5. Researching

EAs are often called upon to complete research concerning their company’s markets, products and competition. In addition, they often must compile and analyze data, verify the information and create executive summaries for their bosses that quickly and accurately brief everyone on the information.

6. Writing and creating materials

They prepare reports, write speeches, create PowerPoint presentations and more for the executive members to use for both internal and external presentations. In addition, they will write, edit and proofread letters, emails and memos, as well as transcribe meeting minutes.

7. Planning events

Such events can range from business lunches to large company parties. EAs will make all of the travel arrangements, book locations, and research and hire vendors for the event.

8. Protecting confidential information

EAs gain access to confidential information, including budgets and financial data, reports concerning mergers and acquisitions, business strategies and employee compensation packages. This information can be just as important as a trade secret, and EAs are responsible for ensuring it is protected.

9. Managing the office

EAs are often responsible for controlling office supply inventories and computer equipment. In addition, they will often supervise clerical staff. More than that, they are equipped to step in and run things when their boss is unavailable.

Qualifications of executive assistant

Most organizations require an executive assistant to have a bachelor’s degree in English, math, accounting, human resources or business management, or to at least have plenty of experience as an assistant. Large corporations often require a master’s degree or MBA. Companies also look for EAs with strong technical, organizational and communication skills. Finally, EAs should possess a friendly, professional disposition and strong people skills.   

Personal Assistants Definition

Much like EAs, a personal assistant (PA) is responsible for managing the daily life of his or her boss. One very important distinction, however, is that PAs tend to work for just one person, while EAs often support an executive team. Executive assistants typically work for an organization, whereas PAs often work for authors, artists, celebrities and sole proprietors.

While EAs tend to focus on the business, PAs often handle personal appointments and will travel with their boss as needed.

Duties of Personal Assistants: 

1. Covering administrative duties

Like EAs, PAs will file papers, order office supplies, manage databases and implement procedures and policies.

2. Communicating for their boss

PAs answer phones, respond to emails and serve as gatekeepers for their bosses. They will also communicate with employees, vendors, partners and more on behalf of their supervisor.

3. Making business arrangements

They’ll schedule and prepare for meetings, secure a location for the meeting, order food and create all presentation materials. In addition, they make all travel arrangements and often accompany their bosses on trips.

4. Scheduling

PAs control their supervisors’ calendars. They schedule all meetings and ensure that their supervisors know where to be and when.

5. Planning social functions

Unlike EAs, PAs play an active role in the personal lives of their bosses. They might be called upon to plan a party or celebration, including finding a venue, vetting and hiring caterers, creating a guest list, finding and mailing invitations, etc.

6. Handling personal business

PAs might do everything from picking up a supervisor’s suit at the dry cleaner to dropping his or her kids off at school. 

Qualifications of personal assistant

For the most prestigious jobs, employers often expect PAs to have a degree in English, business, public relations or management. Previous clerical or administrative work is typically required.

Adaptability and flexibility are critical skills since PAs often have to plan their lives—including their personal lives—around their supervisors’ schedules. Like EAs, strong interpersonal, technical and communication skills are sought after. 

Regardless of the type of assistant, it’s important that he or she is an attentive listener and able to execute instructions independently without needing to be repeated. And while it isn’t expressly necessary, an assistant with a complementary personality to your own may ensure a longer, happier and more productive relationship.


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