I have just spent the last hour looking through jobs that are currently available to assistants. It has been really interesting reading all of the different job descriptions, the skills that are required and the salaries attached to different levels of the role. The first thing I noticed is that most of the positions are fairly similar. The description lists all of the core skills (diary and email management, travel arrangements, expenses etc) followed by one or two more bullet points relating to tasks designed specifically for the role (managing in-house IT software, supporting certain departments, managing social media for the organisation for example).
I remember when I was job hunting. I would get incredibly excited reading the tasks which were outside the core skills and I would imagine all of the challenges this role would provide. Looking back on it, and certainly in my later years as an assistant, I excepted the core skills as being part of the role but it was the extra stuff that got my work juices flowing. However this lead to quite a few disappointing experiences working in organisations. In some of my roles they had included more interesting tasks in the job description but they really wanted me to focus on the core work. This often made me wonder if I was over qualified or if I had too much experience?
I definitely felt in certain roles that I was over qualified. I had a vast set of skills that I had picked up through all of my previous jobs. In one role, during 1-2-1s with my boss, I pushed and pushed for more work but I could see the pained expression on my boss’s face. He had to help me feel valued in the role but at the same time I knew he would much prefer if I just did the basics and left him alone. In another role I was so fed up constantly asking for different things to do that I gave up and did what was expected of me – not much. I got pretty bored pretty quickly and left after just a year (it was a lloooonnnnggg year!)
I always say in the blog that once assistants become advanced in all of the core tasks we should push for more work, take on projects, manage staff and generally strive for more opportunities. But more often than not the feedback I receive from readers is the same – it is really hard to achieve this. Assistants can be incredibly proactive but bosses and the wider organisation don’t see them as anything more than the assistant (which really means they don’t see assistants as anything more than the core tasks we are required to do). We don’t have career paths in place, it is difficult to promote us and the majority of organisations do not have succession plans for their administrative staff. This of course leads to assistants feeling demoralised, unappreciated and ultimately unchallenged.
So I wonder if this is really down to the fact that many of us become over qualified for the role? If you think about the traditional career plan – administrative assistant or receptionist through to PA through to EA – what happens when you get to the point when you are completely comfortable with the core skills and want to take on more challenges – where do you go? If you take an accountant for example once they are qualified and have some experience the majority of them will tend to branch out into other specialities or they become project managers or they run departments. An accountant is never going to be over qualified because they don’t spend the rest of their days working on the same things they did as a rookie and they have career options. What happens to an EA who can manage a diary standing on her head? Where does she go and what work does she take on?
There is of course the other side of the coin, many assistants are happy with the roles they have. They enjoy and find the core skills challenging and don’t want to take on any more work and why should they? Then there are the assistants who are incredibly busy, have a varied role and would never say they are bored or unchallenged. Why should they strive to take on more work? They are probably bloody knackered! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.