A few months ago I asked the Practically Perfect PA readers if they could complete a survey for me. The survey asked if assistants feel that having or not having a university degree has made a difference to their career path. I received so many thought provoking comments that I thought I would share them with you over two posts (this is the first post). Here are second set of results!

Have you taken other courses or gained other qualifications specifically for your career?

  • Not yet no. Obtaining funds from work to complete training in the current environment is difficult
  • Yes – some local courses as well as two certificates in specific things
  • Yes, Outlook Training and Training in Supporting a University Committee.
  • Yes. To be effective in any position you need to be on the forefront of technology and systems use so I have attended many training courses for software and technology.
  • No but I will be taking a 3 day module course on PA competencies
  • Yes – started with the basics after raising family i.e. college courses – typing, word processing then on the job training
  • The CPS certification from IAAP was a very positive step which encouraged me to finish my BA degree. I’ve attended numerous seminars in leadership, time management, MS Word, Excel, Outlook, meeting planning, event planning, and disaster recovery planning (Joan Eisendot and her website are fantastic resources) as well as is Tyler Davidson at Meetings Focus magazine/website, and freely shared the knowledge with my peers and anyone who asked.
  • Yes, I try to stay on top of being well versed in all Microsoft applications, social media, and those offered by my Firm regarding our business
  • That’s when I turned to IAAP and am currently working towards my CAP-OM certification.
  • Nope! Eek!
  • Yes I took supplementary courses in software over the course of several years
  • I have taken several courses and classes.
  • Currently studying a Personal Assistant Diploma
  • Yes I have taken numerous courses to assist with my role both internal office courses and external professional courses
  • Yes, I have taken job-specific software classes, classes to learn organizational and people skills, and took computer certification classes which I was not aware I needed coming right out of high school. Again, these are skills I was able to cultivate on the job.
  • Yes, NVQ’s in Customer Services and Business Administration.
  • RSA Teaching Diploma in Office Skillls RSA Audio/Shorthand
  • Yes, interpersonal comms, IT related courses to keep up with the changes from when I started 30 years ago on an manual typewriter!
  • NVQ in Business Administration
  • I have consistently taken various courses and training sessions to expand my skills and ensure that I stay current.
  • I did an NVQ to level 3 and have attended several PA courses to keep my skills up to date.
  • I have an NVQ in Business Administration and I have undertaken various Sage Bookkeeping/Accounts courses to further my skills, as accounts are becoming a part of a PA role.
  • I hold a secretarial certificate and have completed numerous training programmes and other courses.
  • Not for my career, only training for Microsoft Office etc
  • I’ve done all training that was ever offered, and sought out training too. I love learning, and I don’t think that you can ever know enough. I’m currently undergoing a degree at Open Uni, and it’s purely for “fun”
  • Yes. This year I will be seeking some EA certifications through IAAP and Office Dynamics in order to keep my skills fresh and relevant.
  • Only the usual Microsoft skills.
  • Only small pockets of training on very specific matters e.g. minute taking
  • I took a diploma in PA and Administration.
  • Not particularly. I did a 3 day PA course 4 years ago but that’s all. Now that I am moving into Marketing my company said they will pay for further training within PR and marketing.
  • Yes – I’ve qualified since as an ISO programme manager and auditor, a Health & Safety manager and assessor, completed various MS Office and bespoke applications courses and a facilities management course.
  • I have attended PA specific courses in the passed (Todays PA) which provided me with some great tips for different aspects of the role. Also attended general Excel/Word/Powerpoint courses
  • I have a secretarial certificate, some general non-credit courses, try to keep up on trends.
  • I have a HND from College which was more relevant to the PA role at the time when I left school.
  • No. I keep myself refreshed in basic computer skills and attend webinars and conferences on best EA practice, but no formal qualifications.
  • I have taken other courses specific to my role and am always looking to gain further qualifications
  • I did a national diploma in business administration, Assessor/facilitator training course, minute taking and many more over the years.
  • Yes, IMC, CeMAP, FPC, and IoD Executive Assistant Course.
  • Bachelor in Management
  • Business Administration and typing courses
  • Yes – NVQ in Customer Service.
  • I have taken loads of courses (1-2 days) and actually think that made the difference in me getting my current role and the girl who had the degree didn’t

Do you think assistants need a degree?

  • Not always, it depends on the roleposition. You don’t need to have prior experience in a desk job either I believe. Everyone can type in some way now and use microsoft office. High standard of customer service and the ability to work under pressure in a busy environment and be flexible and adaptable is key.
  • No! But it helps enormously if one wants to succeed in the public service.
  • Obtaining a degree is always a good investment for your career.
  • No, just experience. Many of the necessary skills you can’t teach in a classroom.
  • Not necessarily. I feel that if you’re straight out of highschool and get into EA line of work, provided the company you’re working for sees value in you they will then pay for your degree – in which case I hope that we are all working for a good company that will support you in your career choices.
  • Every situation is different and I think it depends on the industry you work in. If you are expected to know about a specific industry or style of management then yes a degree would be necessary – but in most cases you only need to know what your direct support wants you to know and you can only learn that on the job from them.
  • No, I don’t think it is necessary. I do think they have to have a willingness to continually learn, and you definitely learn how to learn in college. I also think the admin needs some education about their industry and business in general. This can be obtained as they are working. College type classes in business, accounting, technology, writing, etc would be extremely helpful.
  • It would be great if there was some sort of standardisation in the industry. But nothing beats experience!
  • No, however, English A-Level an advantage ie. communications
  • No – a little common sense (amongst other skills) goes a very long way!
  • No, experience is the best teacher. If you can get a mentor n(within or outside of your company), that might help also.
  • No but an English type of degree may come in handy.
  • Not necessarily, but training for sure and ongoing training as well. I continue to take courses, seminars, and webinars to keep my skills and knowledge of the field relevant.
  • Not necessarily, although many graduates coming through the ranks do. I think drive, bition, excellent organisational skill and emotional intelligence are also key.
  • I don’t. It can’t hurt but unless you’re an executive assistant and brining in top dollar, it doesn’t seem worth the student loan debt. I’ve never let not having a degree hold me back.
  • While I do not think they need a specific university degree, I do strongly believe they need to be educated in a lot of areas to become experts in their field. Being a PA covers a lot of topics that range across the board – from being a celebrity PA to working as a PA for a construction company or a law enforcement agency. To succeed, it’s up to the PA (with or without a degree) to be knowledgeable and always be willing to increase that knowledge.
  • I think it helps, they need common sense more though.
  • No – but they do need good qualifications.
  • Not if you’re a PA, but if you are involved on the business side as an EA, yes
  • No – many of the skills we have can’t be taught through a degree. Such as time management and organisation – although as I mentioned above I did hone these skills at university.
  • No, its not necessary but in my case it definitely helped fast track me. I have many friends who work in admin, who are struggling to get into senior admin, which they consider below my position.
  • Nowadays, assistants are not there to pick up the phone and serve coffee… Assistants need to know about technology, law, accountability, communication.. a bit of everything so that they can be the rigth hand of the boss. Also, it also gives sucha a good impression of a boss who has a helpful PA who everyone would like to have
  • I do not, however I think a degree is necessary to move into a management role. A two-year degree is definitely a plus.
  • Not necessarily. If I had children who were coming up to the age where they could go to University, I would probably recommend against it due to the money factor but I still believe degrees are the preferred educational requirement.
  • Depends on the assistant. Common sense and practicality, along with willingness to absorb and use as much information on the job goes a long way towards performing well as an Assistant.
  • I think it is helpful to get the life experience that comes along with a degree. However, I find that common sense is probably a more needed skill than a degree.
  • Depends on the level and the industry. Personally, I think everyone would benefit from further study, regardless of job role.
  • I don’t think it’s essential. Some parts would put you in good stead, but it is only through experience and getting to know your boss and their foibles that you can get a good working relationship and be good at your role.
  • If you have a research element to your job, then I would imagine a relevant degree could be helpful. If you are a ‘pure’ assistant, then I think practical experience and skills are far more useful.
  • No, but I think that they have to love to learn, there is always something new, cutting edge and helpful to be learned in our role. Not just for us, but for our bosses.
  • No but I think organisations think assistants need a degree
  • I personally don’t think so. It does not take a rocket scientist to organise a diary or manage an an inbox, events etc
  • I feel that a third level education is required, and a business diploma in the main gives a good grounding. However if aiming for an Executive Assitant role, then I’m sure a degree related to the industry of desire is a definite must.
  • It depends on the role. I a true Executive Assistant, right-hand person rather than a PA and as well as personal assistant duties, I act as a Business Assistant too managing large special projects, carrying out industry research and participating in new business develoent activities.
  • I normally hire assistants with a degree or relevant PA experience
  • I think that a degree would definitely help those who want to get in to a PA job immediately, as opposed to working their way up. But i do believe that experience is just as beneficial
  • Perhaps its because I don’t have one, but I find that experience is worth much more in this role as you need to be good at so many different things in order to juggle everything you are asked to do
  • Not necessarily. There are life and academic skills that you will of course develop at University, but I believe being an assistant is about experience and dealing with situations first hand.
  • I think a degree provides life experience and helps with general outlook and softer skills, so to that end I think a degree helps with any career.
  • Not really (and I actually think this of almost all professions) BUT they do need targeted training. Unfortunately, this is a little bit of a chicken and egg situation as you’re not sure which training to go for until you’ve worked in the job but getting the job requires some form of training experience.
  • No more than any other job, I think in any role you can work up if you work hard and once you have experience education is irrelevant.

Have you ever witnessed assistants treated differently because of their educational background?

  • Experience has always been rated first.
  • Oh yes, definitely. Indeed, I’ve seen people who are excellent PAs get treated less well than people who have degrees but no ‘ability’ in the business world.
  • It all comes down to experience. I see and feel that at times, early on in my position, I was treated as a newby (which I was). It wasn’t until I managed to prove myself in busy and stressful times that people treated me with a higher regard and bece more reliant on with – within and external to my team.
  • I wouldn’t know how had a degree and who didn’t.
  • No, but I hear “I JUST an assistant” a lot.
  • At a previous employer, an Admin had just achieved her BSBA and applied for a Project Manager position. She was flatly told by HR that since she started at the company as an Admin ( years prior), if she wanted that large of a position step-up, she’d have to leave the company and go elsewhere.
  • Degree or not, we are all treated the se for the most part. Many colleagues still have that “she’s just a secretaryadmin” mentality which I try to dispel every single time!
  • Not in my experience.
  • In the agency I work for, executives tend to think those with degrees have more experience, knowledge and more influence over those who don’t. I strongly disagree with their thought processes. It doesn’t take a college degree for one to be more “experienced” than another. Experience in itself I think brings more value than a degree. Having – years experience vs. freshly graduated with a clean crisp degree – (while important) should not be considered more influential.
  • Not so much their educational background but in relation to how they speak and how they present themselves – definitely
  • Usually, those who have attended schooluniversity behave differently than those who have just taken a course, differently meaning they behave better, they are well mannered… My impression is that since university is a longer period of time, you learn a few more things tan a course that is for a year.. Being treated differently around your superiors means either get attention and being invited to lunchdinner and also means not counting with you in any public event. When someone talks loud or makes a scene, it is normal that bosses don’t count with that person when there is a public event, instead if you bring a good image to the company, being respectful etc, then it’s more likely you attend these kind of events. I want to make a note on education. Education is not only scooluniversity, it is also how you were raised because people tend to do what they have seen in their home…
  • No – but sometimes i see the surprised look on faces when I tell them I have a degree in Media and Communication
  • Colleagues are ‘surprised’ when I point out I dont have one.
  • On paper yes…during the application process they just get tossed aside.
  • Absolutely, like a fly on the wall. Only there to support the ones who do the real job!
  • I believe that an executive looking for someone who is more of a business partner would be looking for someone with significant business acumen and a degree to back it up. It really is dependant on the requirements of the executive.
  • I know I get paid more because I have a degree, and I know I’m worth it. Must suck for those PA’s that have been in a company for years, only for me to come along and be younger, and earn more and get promoted ahead of them. But, that’s due to the employer- if they want a degree background or not. If getting a degree is what sets you apart from the rest of the job seekers, then I’m willing to use it.
  • I’m lucky. At the company I work for, if ytou work hard you get rewarded regardless of educational background.
  • Not assistants specifically but people in general yes, I guess having a degree is more desirable..
  • No, never. It’s a non issue in my current place of work. Capability, efficiency and willingness to learn are all more valuable.
  • Not as far as day to day work is concerned; i.e., you are not treated better or worse depending on your level of education. I will say that in general, expectations are higher if you have a university degree. You are chosen for more complex projects and your input is given some weight.
  • Unfortunately yes. I grateful that I have not experienced this personally.
  • No from the companies I have worked at.
  • I was told numerous times I didn’t have a degree so I would not earn as much and not get roles. I’ve also been told I didn’t have the social background for a role as the gentlemen wanted a socialite for an assistant who could get him places. Another executive wanted a pretty girl to attend client dinners. At the end of the day it’s all about what the executive is looking for. My employer specifically requested an Australian because I won’t cry when he has a tantrum! Therefore I believe assistants can be treated differently for many reasons not just education.
  • Yes – thankfully it hasn’t happened to me though.
  • I find that without having an academic background, the opportunities for further career develoent in high performing companies can be limited. However, very much depends on the individual
  • Some more opportunities in moving up to other positions.
  • No, but know of a friend who had no degree and got offered a lower salary.
  • Not necessarily because of their educational background. More down to the calibre of manager and if they recognised the potential the PA had. Some PAs where I work only want to sit and type documents andor be attached to the audio machine. They are very attached to their PA title but don’t want to do anything other than secretarial duties. Unfortunately, that can rub off on the rest of us who like to be stretched and challenged. Equally there are senior managers with top notch PAs who don’t know how to use them to their full potential or will not delegate even the smallest task and so are using them to just book travel etc. A waste of their talents!
  • Yes, I have heard the quote, “we can’t ask her to do that, she’s got a degree”. Doesn’t stop me making the tea though!
  • Unfortunately, yes. More than education though is language. Bilingual assistants get preference and higher pay.
  • Not in South Africa
  • I work at a university and have found that some PhD’s treat people with anything less than a doctorate as if they were illiterate. Others realize that the administrative staff are the ones to keep happy!
  • No not at all – in fact PAs who have a sensible and organised mind to contribute to their bosses’ work are as valued as anyone else in the business

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