The evolving role of the executive assistant

Depending who you ask, the term “executive assistant” can take on different meanings. For instance, like many of today’s traditional corporate roles, the EA position has greatly evolved, over the last few years. The EA is no longer a “politically correct” name for the “back-in-the-day secretary” whose primary focus, and function, was fetching coffee and taking shorthand notes, à la Mad Men. Rather, the executive assistant, when given the platform and support, plays an integral role in the C-suite: A consummate professional adept at operations, culture and activities that support revenue growth. 

An EA is Not a Luxury

As a former EA, and now recruiter of executive assistants and administrative professionals, I absolutely cringe when I hear these roles referred to as “a luxury.” Sure, an executive assistant will order lunch, pick up dry cleaning or grab your favorite coffee, but not for lack of intelligence or aptitude. It’s because he or she CARES and it allows you to stay in your genius zone. A good EA is a true game-changer and countless executives rely on their administrative business partner, almost, as much as they do fellow C-suiters.

So, What Can an EA Do for You? 

Here’s a snapshot:

Organization and time management: Our job is to keep you on track and foresee potential obstacles. We are multi-tasking experts who make sure your calendar is properly managed, meetings are scheduled, travel is booked and information is disseminated to the right people. We handle things with the utmost discretion and confidentiality. We are problem solvers who quickly find solutions and ensure you can move throughout the day with the confidence that someone has your back.

Meetings, budgets and communications: An EA is your right hand for strategic projects. We facilitate meetings, ensure you execute plans, organize files and assist with budgeting and reports. We will take a call on your behalf and report back with action items. Many EAs support multiple C-suite leaders, which allows consistency, and continuity, across corporate leadership functions. 

Company culture liaison: EAs are often the relationship builders of the business, serving as a representative for company lunches, or other events, when you are simply unable to be in two places at once. We are wizards at decoding, and translating, team member-to-executive language and vice versa. We keep our ear to the ground and provide feedback when there are employee grumblings, challenges or areas that need your attention. The team wants a direct line to you and the EA is a vital plank in the communication bridge.

Aligning the EA Role to Business Benefits

Competition for trusted, loyal, high performers is fierce in the world of talent acquisition and retention. Now, more than ever, it is critical to recognize, and acknowledge, the mutual business benefits for both C-levels and their EA counterparts.

I am shocked when some of my candidates perceive the EA position as a downgrade, compared to other professional roles. I see the exact opposite. There is the opportunity, and natural trajectory, to transition through the corporate ranks—if that is their goal. Where else can you have a broad, 30,000-foot view touching, virtually, every aspect of the business while also embedded, at 90 mph, in the nuances of it all – alongside senior leaders? 

For C-levels, having an EA can provide greater efficiency, better team communications and, most importantly, relief from managing time-consuming tasks and decision fatigue. The executive assistant, essentially, frees you to focus on running the business, meeting customer expectations and driving revenue. 

If you have an EA but are not experiencing the personal and business benefits, then you probably don’t have the right match. And that, my friend, is an indisputable fact.

Like any solid, good and healthy relationship, matching the right EA with the right executive is essential to success, from workstyle and personality to hours and responsibilities. When an EA and his or her executive are aligned, and leverage each other’s strengths, there’s nothing the pair can’t accomplish, and conquer, together, building each other up along the way. It’s a beautiful thing. Trust me.

Joelle Paban is a former executive assistant and has been featured in several magazines for her knowledge and expertise in the industry. She stepped out on her own and created Joelle Paban & Associates, a niche recruiting firm, in 2014. Joelle Paban & Associates offers immediate, permanent placement of well-qualified, highly coveted, executive/administrative candidates. You can reach Paban at [email protected]

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