How do assistants get promoted? Before we start, here is a brief history of my career to date – After University I landed my first job as a Team Administrator at Deloitte, after a year and a half I left to join the Institute of Chartered Accountants where again I worked as an Administrator and Assistant to a department manager. Having worked in that position for a few years, I was promoted to Account Manager and then a few years later made redundant. I then moved into technically my first official role as a Personal Assistant to a company Director at Lloyd’s Register where I stayed for some years. I then left Lloyd’s Register to work for three Board Level Directors (COO, CFO and Company Secretary) as an Executive Assistant and now I work for the COO of an Insurance company.
So why I am I telling you this? Well as you can see over a ten year period technically, I have only ever been promoted once from the position of administrator/assistant into another and different type of role. For any other profession this would be quite unusual, but for assistants, I do think it is pretty standard. Regarding my career, I have had to leave a company to enhance my skills, choices, salary and overall career progression.
How do Assistants get promoted?
So if we do want to progress in our career how do we do this without resorting to leaving the company we work for? I must admit I do think it is harder for assistants than many other office workers because many seem to have the perception that we don’t want a career and are happy doing the job that we do and that is that. I’ve met a lot of very successful assistants who have worked extremely hard to prove that they can take on additional work and eventually have worked their way up the corporate ladder but have encountered more obstacles than many of their colleagues because of their assistant job title. So we know it can be done but how do we get promoted and can we make it to the top of the career ladder? Here are a few tips on how to get there:
Understand the bigger picture
You may focus all of your attention on one manager or a small team but your role will bring you into contact with the company’s decision-makers, and you are privy to their conversations and how they come to make decisions. Ensure you listen to these people and build up your knowledge of the company and also your overall business acumen. If you know why decisions are made in the company, then you can start to make choices about your everyday work following the same strategy as the executive team. When it comes to your review, you can demonstrate to your manager that not only do you understand the company’s strategy you are implementing it into your work by thinking strategically and this depth of knowledge will be impressive because unfortunately, they might not think an assistant would consider the bigger picture.
Use your network
One of my favourite parts of being an EA is that on arrival at a new company it is relatively easy to get to know everyone quickly because of your relationship with your manager. Most people in the company want to know who you are and how to best get on with you because you are the gateway to the decision makers. Use this to your advantage, be the person everyone wants to know, be helpful, look professional and capable. If you are approachable, it is more likely that colleagues will ask you to help them with work outside your usual remit. Also, ask lots of questions and be interested in what your colleagues are doing because remember networking is a two-way process! We have lots of great advice on networking here.
Ask for additional responsibilities
This comes with a caveat – firstly you need to be perfect when it comes to your primary duties, and this has to be all the time. If you aren’t capable of doing the simple stuff correctly, you will not be trusted with more challenging work. Equally, you can’t neglect the everyday assistant stuff just because you are taking on more interesting tasks. If you disregard the basics people will notice and they might think you aren’t coping with the additional responsibilities. Once you have mastered your standard job description, do ask for extra work and also tell your manager that you want extra work in areas that interest you specifically.
This has to be your touchstone if you want a promotion. You have to get to a point where your company does not want to let you go because you are invaluable. In other words, it is in their best interest to keep you happy and fulfilled in what you do, I know this is easier said than done but I do think it is achievable. How do you do this? Well firstly know everything there is to know about your immediate work, your manager, your team and your other colleagues. Understand how everything works and where everything is. That is the basics of being invaluable.
Next, you have to prove your worth. This could take some time but get the basics right (all the time), ask for more work, ask lots of good questions, be smart and professional.
Once you have mastered this, you will be invaluable to the company as an assistant, and they should hopefully see that you can be valuable in other areas too.
Flexible job titles
This is a quick way of ensuring you have the flexibility to move outside of an assistant role. When you start a new job ask that your job title is dual purpose, for example, in a previous position I was Personal Assistant and Administrative Manager. This made it a lot easier for my Director to justify pay increases with HR because I did have a ‘manager’ title. Another example of a dual title would be EA and Business Support. Again a generic title may give you more flexibility with which to negotiate pay raises and promotions. Remember it quite often doesn’t matter how good you are at your job if you are boxed into a particular grade or role. Unfair but true.
I do think it is harder for assistants to get promoted than other professions but if we keep believing in our worth and abilities, this is half the battle. The next stage is to work hard and stand out so that your employers recognise our potential and worth to the company.
Helping you with your Assistant job hunting
If you find that a promotion is not going to happen and you decide to look for a new role. We have a few resources on Practically Perfect PA for Personal Assistants who are job hunting. We have a great CV template, a covering letter example and a whole eBook on preparing for Perfect PA role.