Unlike an administrator who tends to look after a team, a personal assistant (PA) typically carries out administrative work on behalf of one individual. This individual is usually a manager or executive in a commercial, not-for-profit or public sector organisation. The role of a PA is to free an executive’s time from organising and administrative tasks so that they can spend maximum time on strategic tasks. Responsibilities typically include:
- acting as a first point of contact: dealing with correspondence and phone calls
- managing diaries and organising meetings and appointments, often controlling access to the manager/executive
- booking and arranging travel, transport and accommodation
- organising events and conferences
- reminding the manager/executive of important tasks and deadlines
- typing, compiling and preparing reports, presentations and correspondence
- managing databases and filing systems
- implementing and maintaining procedures/administrative systems
- liaising with staff, suppliers and clients
- collating and filing expenses
- miscellaneous tasks to support their manager, which will vary according to the sector and to the manager’s remit, eg completing some corporate governance reporting (to ensure that the business is being run properly and complying with legislation and regulations) or conducting research.
It is also possible for a PA to work for a wealthy family or individual, instead of for a corporation. If this is the case, the work of the PA may also cover home or personal life maintenance tasks, such as ensuring MOTs are up to date or hiring cleaners.
The job title for this kind of role, and its seniority, will vary according to the employer. In some organisations, the job titles ‘personal assistant’ and ‘executive assistant’ are interchangeable. In others, an executive assistant is more senior than a personal assistant and will take on more responsibility, such as some corporate governance or team organisation work. In some organisations, a PA role is an entry-level job; in others, it requires a great deal of experience and is paid accordingly. Depending on the employer, too, a personal assistant role may be combined with that of an administrator or it may be a more senior position to which administrators can progress.
Note: a traditional title for a personal assistant job is 'personal secretary', but this is now seen to be an old fashioned term and used only rarely.
As mentioned above, any organisation across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors can employ personal assistants, as can wealthy individuals or families. Organisations may employ PAs directly or through a specialist recruitment agency.
Therefore, vacancies can typically be found via jobs boards, specialist recruitment agencies and via national and regional newspapers (in print and online).
No formal academic qualifications are required as standard, although some employers may require candidates to have A level/highers and a small minority may prefer degrees. If degrees are required, a degree in a communications, technology or business subject may be advantageous.
Employers sometimes require previous experience of administration or personal assistant work: often two years. This experience can often be gained via temping, which can, in turn, lead to permanent work. It is possible to complete a secretarial course or diploma online or via further education colleges.
- Discretion and trustworthiness: you will often be party of confidential information
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Good oral and written communication skills
- Organisational skills and the ability to multitask
- The ability to be proactive and take the initiative
- Tact and diplomacy
- Communication skills
- A knowledge of standard software packages and the ability to learn company-specific software if required.