Once upon a time you spotted or were presented with a Job Spec which caught your attention.  You applied for the role and after an interviewing process were offered the coveted position. I’m curious to know how the original Job Spec evolved. Job Descriptions for Personal Assistants – Merited or inherited?

I attended the Assist Conference earlier this year. During the afternoon there was a very interesting break-out session on Job Specs which had us all hooked. The lady to the left of me had inherited a 12 page job spec which had not been updated in 10 years whereas the lady to the right had a 6 page document. Mine sat in the middle at 1-2 pages in length and had not been updated in 5 years.

We all belonged to varying industry sectors but one thing became clear which united us all – we had all inherited generic job specs full of clichés rather than ones based on our actual remits and duties.

These job specs were rarely used as appraisal tools for measuring progression or performance.

Our personal bugbear on the day was the all-inclusive ambiguous phrasing of ad hoc duties as requested.  For one assistant this had meant physically unblocking a toilet.

What are ad hoc duties?

For one of my previous roles as long as I had enough diet coke and Belgian biscuits in stock for my boss I was performing my role to full effect. One consistent ad hoc duty for me throughout my career has been ‘maintenance woman’. When the printer/scanner/fax breaks down I am ultimately the person who troubleshoots and fixes the machine in question.  There is always the level of expectation that I will sort it. It is my role yet this is not listed in the job spec?

I would love to hear of others experiences with ad hoc duties…..

A lot of Job Specs tend to focus on a standard set of skills rather than the actual responsibilities.

A proficient Assistant can take on a variety of roles at any given moment.  We are the ultimate super-jugglers who have the ability to throw a to-do list up in the air and catch it in a different order depending on the situation at hand. However – if we are not willing to speak up and actively list our duties how can we expect colleagues and managers to be aware of this change in office dynamics?

Generation Y make up 50% of the current work-force.  Millennials as they are often known belong to a Show and Tell Culture.  This is a culture which embraces tooting your own horn and showcasing your productivity. I grew up in a different age where working hard and being humble were power for the course for the PA.  There was less sharing of information and limited collaboration. The modern PA must embrace the culture of 2015 in order to remain connected, current and relevant.   It is imperative to be proactive about self-promotion in order to showcase your skills, achievements and personal brand.   The role has changed and so must we.

The global tribe of administrative professionals is largely female at 98%. This means that there are over 1 billion women who are currently working in a profession that is often misunderstood and perceived as a purely subservient role.  This misconception can be partially attributed to inadequate and poorly written job descriptions.

Where to begin?

Our jobs can be hard to quantify at times so it might be worthwhile starting off by keeping a time management log of all your duties over several days to get a full idea of your all-encompassing role. Modern EAs and PAs are leaders and not helpers stuck in the old-school secretary paradigm of the past.  We expand productivity and are brand ambassadors for our bosses, company and profession.  Our job responsibilities are an essential part of the overall success of any business.  We lighten the load for executives and are vital members of any executive management team.

The Skill-set of the modern PA is a far cry from tea and typing:

  • Exceptional Communication – with colleagues, clients, suppliers, peers and the public (includes Active Listening)
  • Emotional Intelligence – the ability to understand and manage both your own emotions and your bosses / colleagues
  • Social Media Savvy – the best Assistants are all comfortable with Social Media Platforms
  • Networking – Establishing / Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships in person & online
  • CPD – Active learning in relation to both hard and soft skills
  • Project Management  – Time Management, Critical Thinking and Coordination Skills
  • Event Management – Deductive and Inductive Reasoning
  • Strategic Research – Compile data and prepare papers for consideration and presentation by executives, committees and boards of directors
  • Financial Forecasting – Prepare invoices, reports, memos and financial statements
  • Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards – for e.g. Gifts and Entertainment Policy
  • Interpret administrative and operating policies and procedures
  • Business Continuity Planning Co-ordinator
  • Supervise and train other clerical staff
  • Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others
  • Risk Management
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Human Resources
  • Multiple Hats i.e. Fire Marshall / First Aider / Learning Champion

Some of you may not even have a current Job Spec or know where to start? Please don’t sell yourself short – the role we do comes with accountability and responsibility.

Job Description Outline:

  • Job Title and Location – the title should describe the role and who you report to
  • Position Summary – What is the main function of your role and its overall contribution to your company?  Clear objectives should be listed for e.g. strategic administrative partner in daily business operations
  • Duties – Everything should be listed in order to avoid confusion
  • Responsibilities – listed according to importance
  • Educational and Experience Requirements
  • Qualifications / Skills and Core Competencies requirements
  • Key results expected – ideally SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely

There is a quiet revolution going on in offices across the world and it is coming from the most unlikely of employees.   Lucy Brazier – Executive Secretary Magazine April 23, 2105

Life does not come with a rule book.  Inherited beliefs can be limiting and self-effacing.   Let’s join the revolution and speak up and make our voices be heard. Get that Job Description updated and working for you. There are tremendous benefits to boosting your visibility and value both inside and outside the office.

An inherited generic job spec quite simply is not worth the paper it is written on.

Job descriptions for Personal Assistants - Merited or inherited?

Jennifer Corcoran is an Office Manager with 20 years’ admin/PA experience working with Senior Executives at international level. Jennifer describes herself  as a Champion of the PA Profession.

This is a guest post by Jennifer Corcoran. The original article can be found on Jennifer’s blog and you can also follow her on Twitter: @jencorcoran_pa

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  • Louise O Mahony July 3, 2015   Reply →

    Hi Jennifer,

    I really enjoyed this article. I work as an EA for a global financial IT company in central London. My role is primarily running the HR, Finance and Marketing departments here in London (I am the sole employee in London who covers these areas). I also provide EA support to the MD, Global Head of Sales aswell as providing general support to 20 staff and any visiting employees from our US, Hong Kong and Indian offices. So yes it is a far cry from making tea and typing minutes!

    However I have experienced some discrimination in my role and also a lot of smart comments about my role. When they hear I have a politics and economics degree I have been asked: ‘well why on earth are you doing this?!!!’ as if I am utterly lazy and ‘couldn’t be bothered’. Well this article just sums up some of the duties we have as an EA/Office manager aswell as taking on any duties from other departments, helping out when we can and just having an enthusiastic attitude.

    This article is refreshing and honest and I want to thank you for publishing such a piece!!

    Kind regards,


    • Jennifer Corcoran July 13, 2015   Reply →

      Hi Louise,

      Thank you so much for your very kind comments. I’m really glad that you enjoyed the blog and could relate to it. I have had similar experiences to you and even friends have said that I could ‘do more’ which was/is very frustrating.

      Hopefully in time we can all collectively dispel the old school secretary myth and get the role recognition and respect which we all deserve.

      Best wishes,

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