Accelerating your Assistant career path and progression
There are so many events, webinars, publications, blogs out there that talk about accelerating your Assistant career path and progression.
Career success comes in many shapes and forms and, let’s face it, is an entirely personal definition.
It could be that you define success as having a fantastic salary, amazing job title, or office all to yourself. It could be that you work in an incredible industry or you have a genuinely inspiring visionary Executive.
It could be that you have an enjoyable stress free job that finishes at 5 pm every day and you happily leave the office without a backwards glance.
The structure in which most professionals define their success is marked out. This is not the case for Assistants.
Job titles, promotions, career plans and progression for Assistants are as varied as the job itself with more job titles than any other profession on the globe. With an undefined career path, it can be challenging for Assistant to ask for salary increases, promotions and job title changes. Reward and recognition are difficult to achieve when other factors come into play, such as gender politics and the old stereotype of ‘just the Assistant’.
We are going to cover how you measure your career growth as an Assistant, and we will also look at accelerating your Assistant career path and progression despite the challenges we face when it comes to reward and recognition.
In this article we will cover:
For a long time I felt like I was just an Assistant who got on with the job.
I knew I could do more, and I wanted to, but a lack of confidence in my role prevented me from stepping forward.
I didn’t have the belief in my job title or really in myself to speak up. I felt my colleagues wouldn’t listen to the women who ‘was just the assistant’ and so I did the work to the best of my abilities, but I didn’t strive for more.
My confidence crisis came to a head in the unlikeliest of places – I was applying for a new Assistant role.
During one particular interview with the owner of a hedge fund, I was discussing my CV when he abruptly said “do you realise how many times you’ve said that you are just this and just that? Talking to you, I know you could do this job, but I’m not going to hire you because you don’t think very much of yourself”.
I walked away from that interview shocked and angry that a stranger had spotted my lack in confidence, but at the same time, I knew that if it were that obvious, I would have to change my perceptions of myself and my profession.
So I did, and this is how I turned from thinking I was ‘just the assistant’ to becoming a career-driven Executive Assistant!
Executive Assistant Skills
I went through my employment history with a fine-tooth comb and came to realise that I could do a hundred different jobs because of the experiences I had gained working as an Assistant.
I had sat in meetings with Directors and Chairman of global organisations and picked up numerous business skills that many of my colleagues didn’t possess.
I had advanced IT skills, I could build websites, and I could write the marketing material for that website while organising the launch event! I could set my mind to anything if I just had the confidence to push myself forward.
The confidence and belief in myself didn’t come overnight.
I went on a lot of training courses, read and listened to other Executive Assistants who had done incredibly well.
I eventually started to think that I could follow in their footsteps.
If you do not follow thought-leaders on social media, make sure you do, it does help to listen to and surround yourself with people who understand the role and the value you bring. Join Associations and networks for Assistants and attend events. These activities all helped boost my confidence and changed my mindset.
Love what you do
I realised that I liked my job a lot!
I didn’t want to do anything else because no day is the same!
The work I did was diverse, creative, demanding, fast-paced and most importantly, never dull!
Once you start to like your job and develop a passion for it the determination to speak up for yourself is easier to do because you care about your work.
Big decision making
The people I’ve worked with are highly educated, at the top of their career, and I helped them make the big decisions that moved the company forward.
Not many people can say that!
Also, you are trusted by senior people in the organisation. They wouldn’t have placed their trust in you unless they believed in your skills.
So, in the end, I made a vow to myself that I would always push myself forward and would no longer be ‘just the assistant‘
I would be THE assistant.
If you feel you are not rewarded for your work as an Executive Assistant or a Personal Assistant you are not alone!
In this video, I offer advice on how Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants can change the perspective of the role and how to receive the recognition you deserve.
I discuss the following areas of reward and recognition:
- The reasons why Assistants are not recognised or rewarded
- The challenges Assistants face when asking for promotions, bonuses and pay rises
- How to make changes to the mindset so that you can have difficult conversations and negotiate promotions and title changes
- Tips and tricks for Assistants to move their career forward
- The steps to take when accelerating your Assistant career path and progression
As we have discussed there are many different paths Assistants can take to accelerate their career progression and some, more than others, have challenges. Seeking a promotion in your current role can be challenging.
Although it is often tricky for Assistants to move up in the organisation they work in, it is worth exploring. Why work for a company, pour your energy and time into helping it succeed without the reward and recognition that others in the organisation are receiving?
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, we’ve all seen examples of Assistants who have moved on from their role into that of an Executive. How do we take those first steps when accelerating your Assistant career path and progression. Here are a few tips:
Understand the bigger picture
You may focus all of your attention on one Executive or a small team, but your role will bring you into contact with the company’s decision-makers.
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 organisation, 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.
Using your network
It is incredible how quickly Assistants can establish a network when working in a new organisation.
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 the Assistant is and how to best to work with them because they work so closely with 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 work with them on projects outside of your usual remit.
Also, ask lots of questions and be interested in what your colleagues are doing and the work they do. Ask how their work contributes to the overall success of the team and your Executive’s involvement.
Ask for additional responsibilities
As the saying goes ‘everything is figureoutable’. If you want to fast track your Executive career, you will have to ask for other duties and take on the dynamic projects that are visible and get you noticed. Yes, of course, keep on top of your day-to-day work and ensure you are available to provide the necessary support for your Executive. But if you feel confident and you are capable – always be asking for additional responsibilities.
Ask for extra work and 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 and valuable.
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 it is achievable.
How do you do this?
Well firstly know everything there is to know about your immediate work, your Executive, your team and your other colleagues. Understand how everything works and where everything is. That is the fundamental level of being invaluable.
Next, you have to know your worth and communicate it regularly. 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. Meet with your Executive regularly and let them know precisely what you are doing to support them and the organisation.
Once you have mastered this, you will be invaluable to the company as an Assistant, and they should see that you can be valuable in other areas of the business.
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 role 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 Executive to justify pay increases with the HR department because I did have a ‘Manager’ title.
Another example of a dual-title would be EA and Business Support. Again, this is a title that may give you more flexibility with which to negotiate pay raises and promotions.
Remember it 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, that is half the battle. The next stage is to work hard and stand out, so that your employer recognises your potential and worth to the company.
Negotiating a job title change can be a scary prospect but it is worth doing if you are an Assistant taking on more responsibilities and your title does not reflect the shift in workload.
It can be particularly daunting for those in the Administrative sector who feel that they are not taken seriously in their chosen profession.
I did once ask to change my job title to accurately reflect the work that I did only to be told by my Executive and HR department that it didn’t matter what title I had because the work was the same across the board. It would be completely different if I were, for example, a company accountant taking on the work of a CFO – if that were the case, the argument would be given more consideration.
But the argument is similar.
An Administrator taking on the work of an Executive Assistant who is a strategic business partner is a massive jump in terms of duties, and the job title should reflect that position, along with the
There is a link between job titles and pay increases, and this is a hurdle that can be difficult to get over for Assistants. When you are thinking about accelerating your Assistant career path and progression, here are some tips which I hope will help you successfully negotiate a job title change.
How are your organisation’s job titles structured?
The structure of your organisation can make negotiating a job title change challenging.
Many job titles are associated with pay grades and reporting lines.
This is generally the case for more substantial organisations but may not necessarily include Assistants. In smaller organisations, the structure may be less rigid, making job title changes a lot easier to negotiate.
What are your responsibilities?
Before speaking to your Executive about your job title, you should make a note of all of the tasks that you are performing and the responsibilities you have.
As I’ve often said before, your manager may not fully appreciate everything you do and maybe surprised once they see all of the duties listed in black and white.
Gather as much evidence as possible to back-up your argument for a job title change, including any positive feedback you have received.
Ask the other Assistants around you, what are their job titles, and what are their duties and responsibilities. Do they match what you do?
When should you make your request?
The easiest time to discuss your job title is around your mid-year or annual review.
If you are swamped in work which you consider is outside of your current job title schedule time with your Executive as soon as possible.
They may not be able to do something until your review period, but at least you have brought your concerns to their attention.
Is it a benefit to the organisation?
If you have an administrative title (or even a Personal Assistant title) and you are managing the CEO’s calendar, this isn’t going to make your CEO look particularly professional.
Changing your job title to Executive Assistant will increase your authority and in turn, ensures your Executive and your organisation have that level of support. When negotiating a job title change emphasis that the change will also benefit the organisation.
Be flexible to a point
It is worthwhile being flexible with your Executive once you have spoken to them about your job title. They might agree with your argument but are unable to do anything until the end of the financial year, or they have to go through a process with HR first. Remain flexible and give your manager the space to do what they need to do to make your job title change happen.
Get everything in writing
Lastly, if you manage to negotiate a title change successfully, make sure you get all of the details in writing.
A title change will affect your contract and job description so both documents will need to be updated.
If you have been promised a job title change but it will not take effect until later in the year definitely make sure you get the agreement in writing. As lovely as your organisation is sometimes they can go back on verbal promises.
Do you dread asking for a pay or salary increase even though you know you are worth it?
Very often, Assistants are not rewarded or receive the recognition they are entitled to.
Well, that is about to change! Accelerating your Assistant career path and progression often means asking for a salary increase.
In this session, former PA and now owner of C&C Search, Lucy Chamberlain shares all of her negotiation tips for assistants, including asking for and receiving a pay rise.
As a Assistant you know you have the organisational skills to rule the world and actually know your company well enough do half the jobs in the place if push came to shove.
An Assistant is part office manager, part senior project manager and part psychic, all skills that are incredibly transferable if you decide that accelerating your Assistant career path and progression means steering yourself on to another career path.
If you are sure that you want to take your career in another direction, then it takes patience and determination to make it happen.
Here are a few tips on how you can take steps to transition out of the Assistant role.
- Decide what your dream job would be, even if it seems like a pipe dream after years of being the office lynchpin.
- Map out the steps it would take to achieve your goal, be realistic it might take two or three years to get to where you want to be – so patience is a virtue too.
- If you can, find a mentor or someone in your chosen profession to have a coffee with and get some invaluable advice, it helps with your motivation.
- Take advantage of being in a relatively well-paid job and decide to invest that money in the training you need – it is worth it when you finally have that new job title.
- Chat with your Executive and tell them that you are taking a night/online class and how you think the training will make you a better employee. They don’t need to know you will use it as a ticket out of there; they may even pay for it! If they do pay for your training, it may commit you to work at the company for some time, but it is worth it if it gets you one step closer to your dream role.
- Start looking around your current company for gaps in teams that you think you could fill – use the kudos and credit you have built up over the years to transition within the company before you brave the outside world. Most employers don’t want to lose a great employee and would instead help you develop in a new role than see you leave.
- Talk to your friends and family about your plans. You will need every ounce of support you can get working a full-time job, and studying weekends and evenings. You need a supportive partner who doesn’t mind you crying when you’re tired, and you want to watch TV instead of studying!
- If you do transition into a new role within your current company, be prepared for some people struggling to take you seriously or genuinely being rude. People don’t like change, and if you have been an Assistant and move into another profession, some people find it hard to not think of you as only being able to do that role. Be prepared that some of the other Assistant’s may not be that supportive either. They may feel a bit put out that you didn’t want to be one of them anymore!
- Once you have spent some time building up your experience, preferably in your own company, then it is time to spread your wings and get a new job. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself on your CV. You can tweak your history to highlight all the experience that support your new career path. It isn’t fraud to emphasis all the positive skills that match the new career you want, and if you don’t use a little artistic licence, then it could hold you back.
- Finally, be confident – go into that interview as though you have been working in the sector your whole career. You know you can do the job, and you are offering this company a great employee. You can choose to talk about your time as an Assistant, or you can talk about being a project manager with some Assistant elements, choose what you feel comfortable with and what will get you the job you have been working towards for so long.
Life is long and just because you have been in one career, as the world’s best Assistant, for several years doesn’t mean you cannot make a change if you want to.
The skills, patience and fortitude that come with being an Assistant will stand you in good stead in any new role and make you a fantastic, very employable person.
Don’t put any limits on what you can achieve if you really want to and there is nothing like the first time you’re introduced as your new job title and you are there representing you and nobody else.
It can be so easy for people to compare themselves to others and see their career journey in terms of how others define success.
Sure competition is good, but when it comes to accelerating your Assistant career path and progression, you really should take the time to determine what success means to you. Here are five questions you can ask yourself that will help you measure your career success.
Are you happy?
Or in other words, how do you feel on Monday morning? If you start to get the work fear on Sunday night and by Monday morning you are ready to resign (and this happens every week), I think we all know that you might not be very happy at work.
I’m not saying every Monday you should be skipping into the office with a massive grin on your face, but you should feel a sense of expectation for the week ahead and some excitement about your work.
Are you making an impact?
For me, this is so important. It can be so disheartening when you put real effort into your work, and it just falls into the void.
I know I’ve achieved something when the work I create has an impact, and I think this is a great way to judge your success. When you work closely with an Executive your job, the things you create can have a significant impact on your Executive and the wider business.
Assistants are in a great place to influence and create impact. It doesn’t have to be world-changing, sometimes the simplest things can make the most significant difference.
Are you respected / valued / listened to?
Assistants are such an integral part of every organisation, and so many people rely on Assistants for their success. It can be hard to step back and look at your success when you work so hard to make your Executive and your team a success.
But this in itself is such a massive sign of success – you are influential. People listen to you and value your knowledge and what you have to say.
When you are asked your opinion, and your voice is heard, you are appreciated.
Do you have strong working relationships?
It is a great feeling when you walk into your office, and the people around you genuinely care about you.
It adds something to your career success when you work with people you care about, and they champion your career success. Enjoying your work and the people you work with is a robust measurement for success.
How far have you come, and what have you learnt?
What are the lessons you have learned along your career path? What skills have you picked up?
How do you react to failure, and when do you challenge yourself? These are all additional questions to think about when you look back on how far you have come so far. If you are moving forward, you are succeeding.
If you are striving to learn and grow, you are succeeding.
If you follow our steps and manage to secure a pay rise, title change or promotion – congratulations! If you are moving into an Executive Assistant role, we suggest you read our in-depth article on how to build a strategic business partnership with your Executive.
If your negotiations didn’t quite meet your expectations, don’t worry, we have you covered. We also have a comprehensive guide on starting a new Assistant job search.
We also have an online course that covers everything you need to know to suceed in the Assistant industry and move your career forward.