Accelerating your Assistant career path and progression

So many events, webinars, publications, and blogs discuss accelerating your Assistant’s career path and progression.

Career success comes in many shapes and forms and, let’s face it, is an entirely personal definition.

You could define success as having a fantastic salary, amazing job title, or office. It could be that you work in an incredible industry or have a genuinely inspiring visionary Executive.

You could 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 globally. With an undefined career path, it can be challenging for an 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 will cover how you measure your career growth as an Assistant. We will also look at accelerating your Assistant’s career path and progression despite our challenges regarding reward and recognition.

In this article, we will cover the following:

Moving from the ‘just an Assistant’ mindset

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 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 woman who ‘was just the assistant’, so I did the work to the best of my abilities but didn’t strive for more.

My confidence crisis came to a head in the unlikeliest places – I was applying for a new Assistant role.

During one particular interview with a hedge fund owner, 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 won’t 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 of 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, which 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 realised that I could do a hundred different jobs because of the experiences I had gained working as an Assistant.

I sat in meetings with Directors and the Chairman of global organisations and picked up considerable business skills many of my colleagues didn’t possess.

I had advanced IT skills, and I could build websites and write the marketing material for that website while organising the launch event! I could set my mind to anything if I had the confidence to push myself forward.


The confidence and belief in myself didn’t come overnight.

I attended many training courses and 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.

I 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!

My work was diverse, creative, demanding, fast-paced and, most importantly, never dull!

Once you start to like and develop a passion for your job, the determination to speak up for yourself is easier because you care about your work.

Big decision making

The people I’ve worked with are highly educated and at the top of their careers, 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 trusted 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.

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Reward and recognition in the Assistant industry

You are not alone if you feel you are not rewarded for your work as an Executive Assistant or a Personal Assistant!

In this video, I offer advice on how Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants can change their perspective of the role and how to receive the recognition they 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

How do Assistants get promoted?

As we have discussed, Assistants can take many different paths 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 their organisation, it is worth exploring. Why work for a company, and pour your energy and time into helping it succeed without the reward and recognition that others in the organisation are receiving?

I’ve met many very successful Assistants who have worked extremely hard to prove they can take on additional work and eventually have worked up the corporate ladder. However, they have encountered more obstacles than many 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 to Executive. How do we take those first steps when accelerating your Assistant’s 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 company’s knowledge and business acumen.

If you know why decisions are made in the organisation, you can start making choices about your everyday work following the same strategy as the Executive team.

Regarding your review, you can demonstrate to your manager that you understand and implement the company’s strategy 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.

Getting to know everyone quickly is relatively easy because of your relationship with your manager.

Most people in the company want to know who the Assistant is and how best to work with them because they work closely with the decision-makers.

Use this to your advantage.

Be the person everyone wants to know.

Be helpful, and look professional and capable. If you are approachable, colleagues will likely ask you to work with them on projects outside your usual remit.

Also, ask lots of questions and be interested in what your colleagues are doing and their work. 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 must ask for other duties, take on visible, dynamic projects, and get noticed. Yes, of course, keep on top of your day-to-day work and ensure you can support your Executive. But if you feel confident and capable, always ask for additional responsibilities.

Ask for extra work and tell your manager that you want extra work in areas that interest you specifically.

Be invaluable

This has to be your touchstone if you want a promotion.

You have to get to 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?

First, 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, and be smart and professional. Meet with your Executive regularly and tell them 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 business areas.

Flexible job titles

This is a quick way of ensuring you can move outside of an Assistant role.

When you start a new role, ask that your job title is dual purpose. For example, I was a Personal Assistant and Administrative Manager in a previous position.

This made it much easier for my Executive to justify pay increases with the HR department because I had a ‘Manager’ title.

Another example of a dual title would be EA and Business Support. Again, this title may give you more flexibility 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. That is unfair but true.

It is harder for assistants to get promoted than in 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.

How to negotiate a job title change

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 they are not taken seriously.

I once asked to change my job title to accurately reflect my work, 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, 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 true for more substantial organisations but may not necessarily include Assistants. The structure may be less rigid in smaller organisations, making negotiating job title changes a lot easier.

What are your responsibilities?

Before speaking to your Executive about your job title, you should note all the tasks you are performing and your responsibilities.

As I’ve often said, your manager may not fully appreciate everything you do and may be surprised once they see all the duties listed in black and white.

Gather as much evidence as possible to support your argument for a job title change, including any positive feedback you have received.

Ask the other Assistants around you what their job titles are, 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 with work that you consider is outside of your current job title, schedule time with your Executive as soon as possible.

They may not 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 doesn’t 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 emphasises that the change will also benefit the organisation.

Be flexible to a point

Being flexible with your Executive is worthwhile once you have spoken to them about your job title. They might agree with your argument but cannot do anything until the end of the financial year, or they must 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 successfully negotiate a title change, ensure you get all of the details in writing.

A title change will affect your contract and job description, so both documents must be updated.

If you have been promised a job title change that will not take effect until later in the year, ensure you get the agreement in writing. As lovely as your organisation is, sometimes they can go back on verbal promises.

Negotiating a salary increase

Do you dread asking for a pay or salary increase even though you know you are worth it?

Assistants are often not rewarded or receive the recognition they are entitled to.

Well, that is about to change! Accelerating your Assistant’s career path and progression often means asking for a salary increase.

In this session, former PA and now the owner of C&C Search, Lucy Chamberlain, shares her negotiation tips for assistants, including asking for and receiving a pay rise.

Tips on transitioning out of the Assistant industry

As an Assistant, you know you have the organisational skills to rule the world and know your company well enough to do half the jobs if push came to shove.

An Assistant is part office manager, part senior project manager and part psychic. All skills are incredibly transferable if you decide that accelerating your Assistant career path and progression means steering yourself to another career path.

If you are sure you want to take your career in another direction, 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.

  1. Decide your dream job, even if it seems like a pipe dream, after years of being the office lynchpin.
  2. Map out the steps to achieve your goal, and be realistic. It might take two or three years to get to where you want to be – so patience is a virtue too.
  3. Finding a mentor or someone in your chosen profession to have a coffee with and get some invaluable advice helps with your motivation.
  4. 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.
  5. Chat with your Executive and tell them you are taking a night/online class and how 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.
  6. 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 help you develop in a new role rather than see you leave.
  7. Talk to your friends and family about your plans. You will need every ounce of support you can get working full-time 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!
  8. If you 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 moved into another profession, some people find it hard not to think of you as only able to do that role. Be prepared that some other Assistants may not be that supportive either. They may feel a bit put out that you didn’t want to be one of them anymore!
  9. Once you have built up your experience, preferably in your own company, 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 experiences that support your new career path. It isn’t fraud to emphasise all the positive skills that match the new career you want, and if you don’t use a little artistic licence, it could hold you back.
  10. Finally, be confident – go into that interview as though you have worked in the sector your whole career. You know you can do the job and offer this company a great employee. You can choose to talk about your time as an Assistant or 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 limit what you can achieve if you want to, and there is nothing like the first time you’re introduced to your new job title, and you are there representing yourself and nobody else.

How do you measure your career success?

People can easily compare themselves to others and see their career journey regarding how others define success.

Sure, competition is good, but when accelerating your Assistant career path and progression, you 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), we all know that you might not be delighted at work.

I’m not saying you should skip into the office every Monday with a massive grin, 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 impacts, and I think this is a great way to judge your success. When you work closely with an Executive, your job and what you create can significantly impact 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 an integral part of every organisation, and so many people rely on Them for their success. It can be hard to look back at your success when you work hard to make your Executive and team successful.

But this is such a massive sign of success – you are influential. People listen to you and value your knowledge and your words.

You are appreciated when asked for your opinion, and your voice is heard.

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 champions your success. Enjoying your work and the people you work with is a robust measurement of 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 consider when you reflect on how far you have come. If you are moving forward, you are succeeding.

If you are striving to learn and grow, you are succeeding.

Whether you’ve successfully secured a pay rise, title change or promotion or need to start a new Assistant job search, we’re here for you. We’ve provided information and resources to help you take the next step in your career and leverage an improved working environment.

Now that you have taken control of your career path take time to better equip yourself with the right skills and knowledge by enrolling in one of our online courses. From building critical business relationships with executives to understanding best job search practices, there’s a course tailored to suit your needs. So look at our Strategic Business Partner Online Course – furthering your professional development has never been simpler!