New Assistants / Guide for Assistants who are new to the role / Advice for a first-time Assistant

Chapter One

Advice for a first-time Assistant

We have been training Assistants for a long time. Here you will find our top tips for new Assistants learning to thrive in the role.

Starting a new Assistant role can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. We must form productive working relationships quickly, build rapport, learn new systems and hit the ground running within a few weeks (if lucky!).

Many organisations I worked in assumed I knew what I was doing from day one, which wasn’t the case.

But I was used to colleagues thinking I was the fountain of all information, so it was no surprise that a new group of people would feel the same.

There are a lot of steps you can take when starting a new Assistant role. This guide is going to walk you through the process. We will start with advice that will help prepare you for the role. So that you thrive, not just survive!

Let’s have a look at what we are going to cover in chapter one:

Advice for a first-time Assistant

I was in my early 20s when I landed my first full-time one-on-one PA role. Before that, I had been working as an account manager.

Although the two jobs had very similar elements, transitioning from an account manager into a PA role was complicated.

Ten years later, I wish I could sit my younger self down and offer her some much-needed advice! I would tell her to avoid the ridiculously drastic haircut in 2009 and maybe make better financial choices (you will always have to pay back your credit cards.)

I would also give her some tips about the Assistant role and what to expect. Here is the advice I would give myself when I first became an Assistant.

Mind reading takes practice

It does!

From the moment you started working as an Assistant, you were expected to know where everything was, how your boss liked to work, and how to organise her diary.

That was on top of working in an industry you had never even heard of before, let alone had any experience in! Instead of asking questions and having regular meetings with your Manager, you just bumbled along in the hope that you would pick it up eventually.

Luckily you are a swift learner, but it would have been much easier if you had asked a few more questions. Mind reading does come with time and experience.

Once you have that skill down, you will fly as an Assistant. Until then, ask lots of questions, be inquisitive and get as much information as possible.

The skills you developed as an administrator are the foundation you need to be a successful assistant

The not-so-great stuff you were given in your first few jobs during and after university will provide you with the much-needed skills in your role.

All the hours spent juggling multiple priorities and personalities (often found in one person) will hold you in good stead when it comes to being an assistant.

Take your training seriously

Go on to every training course offered to you and take your career development seriously.

Eventually, you will realise that the more you know and learn, the more opportunities will come.

If you make a mistake, you are not going to get fired

You don’t often make mistakes, but there is little point in fretting so much when you do.

Hold your hands up, admit you’ve made a mistake, fix it and move on. Sleepless nights and panicking will not take back the fact that you sent your boss to the wrong hotel, and trust me, they aren’t going to fire you.

They might even laugh about it!

Stand up for yourself

You know that you are being mistreated and are justifiably angry.

Sometimes you shouldn’t let things pass because you don’t want to cause a fuss. Sometimes you should stand up for yourself. Just because you are an Assistant doesn’t mean people can take advantage!

It is hard but worthwhile, and you will gain respect for it.

Think long and hard about your next career move

So what is it that you like about your job? Ah, you want the creative stuff – marketing, events and writing? So why would you take a role which does not detail those tasks in the job spec?

Oh, it’s more money, and you will be EA to a more senior director, you say?

That makes sense, but maybe it takes a little longer to mull over that job spec. It doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.

You have every right to voice your opinion

Like the right to stand up for yourself, you also have the right to express your opinion. Sometimes you don’t have an idea, that is fine; shut up and learn something!

But when you can contribute to a meeting or a group discussion, you should! You might say something no one else has thought of, and then who knows what might happen!

Be prepared

When you don’t come ready for meetings or group projects, you will be asked questions to which you don’t know the answer.

When you forget to do something, you’ll be asked about it. So do the work you need to do before any meetings. It does make life a lot easier! Oh, and write everything down.

Don’t miss out on the fun

You know sometimes you should go for that after-work drink, you should get to know your colleagues – they are friendly people.

Don’t keep yourself to yourself all the time because you think the role requires that approach. It doesn’t! You can keep your boss’s confidence but still go out and have fun with your colleagues. Sometimes your head will hurt the next day. Take some aspirin.

You are never going to enjoy the ‘boring’ stuff

Photocopying, scanning, writing correspondence on behalf of your boss, and all of the other ‘boring’ jobs are part of the role.

They are not going away, so focus on the good stuff – get good at the things you love. Ultimately, you’ll be asked to do the fun stuff much more often. Shout from the rooftops about the things you are good at. Then shout a bit louder, or at least until they pay attention.

20 ways to impress your Executive

20 Ways to Impress Your Executive

The worksheet gives you 20 ideas to elevate you in the Assistant role.

Meeting Agenda for Assistants and Executives

1:1 Meeting Template

The template you need to maximise the time spent with your Executive.

5 things to do when starting a new Assistant role


Ask what Office Technology your Company uses before beginning the position, keep up to date, and develop your knowledge of the latest office gadgets and technology.

The Internet is a great learning tool. Once you start in the role, if you are using a new system for the first time, attend some training or have some time to research best practices online. If this system is fundamental to your role, you must ask for the time to become a total whizz.


Ask for help and keep asking. If your immediate colleagues don’t know the answer, seek out established Assistants in other areas of the company to ask for help. Keep a record of everything that you have requested. It might help other Assistants when they join the organisation.

Also, make sure that you look on the intranet for information, any reports or documents the organisation might have for new joiners, and HR for anything relating to your career development.


Meet your counterparts by scheduling a lunch, coffee, or after-work get-together. This will help build a strong network you can use continuously.

If it doesn’t happen automatically, make sure that someone in your team shows you around the office and introduces you to people.

You will have to do this yourself if this doesn’t happen (quite often, it doesn’t).

Walk around the office and say, ‘Hi, I’m the new Assistant working with … I wanted to introduce myself so that you know who is supporting … now’. Not easy, but it sets you off on the right foot as a proactive Assistant.


Be proactive about talking to your Manager. Have clear goals in mind for what you’d like to achieve in your role.

Be assertive about what you need and what you can offer.

They are getting to know you and what you can do. Be diplomatic, you don’t want to tread on any toes, but you certainly can let your colleagues know that you are the expert in this area and have mad skills!


Don’t doubt your knowledge! Even if you are an experienced PA, sometimes a new role can be daunting. Give yourself time to understand the new processes – and remember. No one can know everything by the end of the first day!

So, these five things to do when starting a new Assistant role will help you make a real splash in your new organisation.

Remember that you were hired because of the skills that you have, your fantastic personality and the qualities you bring to this new role.

They are lucky to have you!

Starting a new Assistant role and what you need to know

My excellent friend and fabulous Executive Assistant, Stacy Price, shares her thoughts on starting a new Assistant role and what you need to know.

We’ve all started a job and had the ‘I wish I had known sooner’ moment. I have had five jobs over the past 12 years and am an experienced new joiner. But when I started a new role four months ago, my experience counted for nothing!

It seemed that being the ‘go to’ person meant I should be up to speed on company policies and procedures, office etiquette and in-house systems as soon as I started.

Within my first week, I was asked and expected to assist the team with various admin tasks using systems I had never used or had training on.

Although my colleagues had been there longer than me – years! – I was made to feel that I needed to know, even though they didn’t!

I had to adapt and do it quickly to keep up with the fast pace and never-ending questions. Have you ever been in a situation where you were worried about asking for help?

I decided enough was enough and could not bury my head in the sand. I was new, and I had questions that needed to be answered.

Even though my team members didn’t know the processes, I searched for other PAs in the overall department and invited them to a ‘get to know each other’s lunch.

At last, the ice was broken, and I no longer needed to search for the answers myself. I had peers to whom I could turn.

I also felt far less competent due to the systems that the company used.

It had not occurred to me that a large organisation would use anything other than Microsoft Outlook!

But as diary management can count for a large part of your role – and it was 80% of mine – you have to take matters into your own hands.

I spent my evenings on Lotus Notes Help and the Internet researching the Dos and Don’ts to get up to speed with this new system. While researching the Internet, I found an ‘I Hate Lotus Notes’ Support Group, which I found amusing.

I was not alone!

So much of what we do is automatic, like riding a bike, so using my PA skillset helped me in those initial months. Being proactive and organised made coping easier in situations that could have developed into confusion and panic.

It was not the tasks at hand that were of concern, as I could do these with my eyes closed, but learning and understanding new systems and processes were time-consuming when I had strict deadlines to adhere to. An Assistant should have excellent judgement and initiative when required; seeking help from established Assistants in the company is an excellent example.

Assistants are increasingly assuming responsibilities that were once reserved for managerial staff. So the pressure to maintain these expectations while trying to learn and make an impression in a new environment is tough. I started feeling far less competent or lacking skills than I had thought.

I had moved from a role where I felt first-class and appreciated, and now I felt ordinary.

For me, this new role has been an excellent learning experience. After four months, I am knowledgeable about the organisation’s processes; I have created a new joiner guidance pack to share my knowledge.

This pack is now provided as training and orientation for all new staff into our team to ensure a seamless transition into their new role. I also created a questionnaire that I provide to all new joiners. As a result, there are fewer questions on how to complete a process, and people are generally feeling more informed about the workings of the team.

So whether you are an Administrator, Executive Assistant, or Personal Assistant, here are some of my top tips from the ‘I wish I had known sooner’ mouth.

I hope this helps you when starting a new role!

Ask what Office Technology your Company uses before starting the role, keep up to date, and develop your knowledge of the latest office gadgets and technology. The Internet is a great learning tool.

Ask for help and keep asking. If your immediate colleagues don’t know the answer, seek out established PAs in other company areas.

Meet your counterparts by scheduling a lunch or after-work get-together. This will help build a strong network you can use continuously.

Be proactive about talking to your Manager. Have clear goals in mind for what you’d like to achieve in your role. Be assertive about what you need and what you can offer.

Don’t doubt your knowledge! Even if you are an experienced PA, sometimes a new role can be daunting. Give yourself time to understand the new processes – and remember; no one can know everything by the end of the first day!

How can Assistants add value in the workplace?

One of the essential requirements for Assistants is using your skills to add value to their organisation.

I used to struggle with this during my career as an assistant.

Sure, I worked on projects that contributed to the organisation’s success, but I had many skills that were not used because nobody knew I had them, and I didn’t proactively promote them.

It took a while, and a thoroughly excellent boss, for me to gain the confidence to promote my skills, to go into meetings and say, ‘actually, I can do that’.

The first time I was given a project outside my usual role was nerve-racking, but I did an excellent job (saving my organisation a lot of money). From there, I had more confidence in my toolkit; my colleagues and my Executive did. This meant I got much more exciting work and could add value in different areas.

The story’s moral is that Assistants have a considerable amount of skills and can add value in several areas within the workplace; we need to have the confidence to promote ourselves.

Let’s look at areas Assistants can add value.

This article from Eat Your Career suggests six ways to add value, and I think it is a great place to start for assistants. The six areas are:

  1. Save money
  2. Make Money
  3. Improve the efficiency of a process or procedure
  4. Improve the quality of a product or service
  5. Fix an existing problem
  6. Prevent a future problem
Saving money and making money.

Assistants work with suppliers regularly and can easily research and suggest new suppliers, saving the organisation money. Every year it is well worth reviewing all your suppliers and renegotiating your contracts.

You will inevitably save your organisation a little money, and potentially you could save them a lot.

Making money for your organisation is a little trickier. Well, maybe not. You save your Executive a lot of time.

The time that they spend building relationships with existing clients and making new clients. So effectively, you do make your organisation money.


Not many of your colleagues can say that!

However, if you would like to make money for your organisation in a more traditional way, think about networking. There are many opportunities for assistants to network through industry events or specific assistant events.

While attending these events, thinking about how your organisation can benefit others is always worthwhile. What can you sell at these events?

This is how your Executive thinks while attending networking events, and you should act the same.

Improving the efficiency of a process or procedure.

Again, this is an area that Assistants can ace. We are heavily involved in our organisations’ day-to-day processes and procedures.

If there is an area you think can be improved, it is well worth speaking to your Executive about making changes. Sometimes, it is worthwhile just making the change – if you can – and tell your Executive after that my friend is proactivity!

Improving the quality of a product or service.

First, you need to understand what your organisation does to improve product or service quality.

Business acumen is vital for Assistants, but many of us probably do not know our organisation’s ins and outs. What are the top products, who are the clients, and what services does your business offer them? Once you understand what your company does, you will know to participate in conversations about the market and make suggestions.

You have regular contact with your Executive and access to reports and documents so that you can add value in this area.

Fixing an existing problem, preventing a future one.

Assistants are natural problem solvers. Most of us will have this skill in our toolkit. We are well placed in the organisation to see and prevent future problems. Just think, how often are we called upon to sort out the problem with the photocopier?

Our colleagues come to us with all manner of issues, so why not take the time to solve them so they don’t happen again? This really can add value to the organisation and aid productivity.

Assistants add value every day.

Often without really knowing it.

We are hugely valuable to our organisations. We have so many skills that can be put to good use.

Most Assistants will have a good understanding of the technicalities of the role but may struggle to understand what their Executive expects from them. This is an important subject for Executive and Personal Assistants because we must have an effective relationship with our managers. Understanding and meeting their expectations is vital to succeeding in the role. In this session, Nicky will talk through 5 different methods to help you manage and exceed your Executive’s expectations.

How to thrive, not just survive as an Assistant

Let’s face it, we all know that sometimes you can have the best day at work when you feel on top of the world, and you are high-fiving your teammates and CEOs… and sometimes you want to throw your resignation at the first person you see in the office and run as fast as you can out of the building.

We all have ups and downs, but sometimes in any role, you can feel that you are not quite getting the motivation you once had. You are just not feeling it. You are surviving, getting through the days and looking forward to the weekends.

You are not thriving, which is something that you need to be feeling at work.

We can’t all be Miss Motivated daily, but you should be excited about your role and what you must accomplish most days.

So this is a blog post about how to thrive at work and make the most out of your role.

How to thrive, not just survive as an Assistant.

Surround yourself with motivated people

This shouldn’t be hard for an Assistant because we engage with all senior staff members, which should theoretically be the most motivated staff in the office!

These are the decision-makers and leaders; you can feed off their energy and motivation. In turn, spend less time with people who zap your time and energy. If you have genuine friends at work, this tends to increase your motivation too.

Spend time with the people you like in and outside of the office.

Be brave and challenge yourself

It can be easy to live in your comfort zone, and it is lovely in there, but challenging yourself and doing things that require courage will help you grow personally and professionally. Take on the projects that make you a little nervous, challenge your skills and put you outside your warm and happy place.

I always ask myself, ‘what is the worst that will happen?’

Usually, the answer is that I will be embarrassed and who cares about that apart from me? No one!

Be proactive

I write a lot about it on Practically Perfect PA, and I always return to it.

For Assistants, being proactive rather than reactive is such a strong skill, and it really will lead you to thrive in the role.


Because you are not just doing the work people ask you to do, you create your role, work on your projects, and add value where you see it.

This position is much better to be in as an Assistant and will lead to more opportunities.

Set objectives

Nothing is more satisfying than seeing something through and completing a goal you have set for yourself. It is an incredible feeling.

It can be easy for Assistants not to set objectives because we are so busy helping others with their goals. But, to thrive in the role, you must have your monthly, quarter and year goals and objectives.

You need to know where you are going, what is expected of you, and how to grow in the role.

Click here to download our SMART Objectives Template.

Starting a new Assistant role can prove daunting, yet it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience as you grow and gain more responsibilities.

Additionally, making an effort to make meaningful connections, build strong relationships with colleagues and study the workflow of the organisation you are employed with – all of these factors prove instrumental in ensuring a successful transition into your new role.

Take advantage of resources that can assist your journey is vital, such as our Assistant Essentials Online Course. All the best techniques and tips are under one umbrella! Step out in confidence and stay focused on your goals as you adjust to your new role as an assistant – you got this!

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Next Chapter:

Key Soft Skills for New Assistants
Chapter TWO