Performance Reviews for Assistants

Executive and Personal Assistant performance reviews continue to be a hot topic in the industry. Remuneration and appraisals for Assistants are a part of our career that seems to change notably from job to job.

In my first full-time job, I had quarterly performance reviews with my manager, half-yearly appraisals and at the end of every year, a full review and 360° feedback with my team.

In one role, I didn’t even have objectives.

You may think this is a terrible thing and an example of bad management. But, critically, not having a performance review didn’t make any difference to my role or my remuneration package. So why do we put ourselves through this process every year?

Some Executives I’ve worked for often have no idea what I do with my day.

They know the basics.

Assistants look after the diaries and schedule meetings. But overall, they didn’t know what the day-to-day involved was.

The main reason for this is that everything runs smoothly in the office, the stationery cupboard is always stocked, and the printer still has paper, board reports, and presentation slides magically appear on their desk ready to take to their meeting.

In their mind, it just happens, but a good Assistant is always busy working behind the scenes.

It is easy to overlook the Assistant in the office that makes everything run smoothly, especially if your manager is incredibly busy.

But do remember that Assistants are an asset to their organisation.

So you should use your performance review to shout from the rooftops about HOW GREAT YOU ARE!

This article will take you through each performance review or appraisal step for Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants. Giving you guidance on how Administrative Professionals can navigate their appraisal processes.

To ensure Assistants make the most of their review, we will start with the basics, the job description for Assistants.

We will then cover both the annual review and your mid-year reviews. Last but least, we will point you in the right direction for goal setting and objectives for Executive and Personal Assistants.

This Performance Reviews for Assistants article will cover the following:

Where do you start? Reviewing your Assistant job description

More often than not, Assistant job descriptions are sketchy at best, leaving us with more questions than answers.

What does “and anything else that might be needed” actually mean?

What are “ad-hoc duties’?

How flexible does an Assistant need to be, and what does “juggling multiple priorities” involve?

Along with these generic phrases, Assistants’ job descriptions can also be poorly written, focusing on a standard set of skills rather than real role responsibilities.

They can also list what an Assistant should achieve without providing much detail on how to do it.

In many instances, we have to read between the lines to understand the role requirements or seek clarification once we are employed in the position.

So with such generic and often vague job descriptions, how do Assistants understand what is expected of them and then meet and exceed those expectations?

Without a fundamental understanding of what our managers want from us, how can we perform well from the very first day?

Looking at our profession and the challenges we face, do incoherent job descriptions add to the industry’s lack of recognition and reward?

As I said, there are more questions than answers regarding an Assistant’s job description!

When a job description is posted, it is often based on the incumbent Assistant or the Assistant before that.

Organisations rarely start again with a job description because they mostly want someone similar. Unless the previous Assistant has failed spectacularly, the job description is not updated.

Our industry is fast-paced, and most Assistants are picking up new skills frequently. Our job descriptions do not reflect this.

Job descriptions can be helpful to Assistants when they are applying for the role, if only to help them decide if they want the job in the first place and then give a small insight into what type of questions might come up in the interview.

Once the Assistant has the job, does the description ever see the light of day again? If your job description isn’t particularly relevant to the industry, it is only used to recruit you, and you never look at it again. Well, it is not worth the paper it is written on. It certainly doesn’t help Assistants or their Executives conduct a fair and thorough performance review.

But what about a great job description?

What happens if an Assistant is given a helpful job description to recruit them in the perfect role for their current skills? It is then used to help the Assistant settle into the position and is ultimately the foundation of every performance review and evaluation throughout their career.

Would a good job description used by the Assistant’s boss to effectively manage them make a difference? Yes, I genuinely believe it would.

Assistants sometimes are not appropriately managed and can be taken for granted because they don’t know what is expected of them or their manager. In my experience, this misunderstanding can lead to a vague job description.

Suppose we can ensure the job description is relevant and is used correctly. In that case, I think that will solve many issues that Assistants and their managers have regarding the role and development of the Assistant’s career.

How do we do this?

If you have a vague job description that doesn’t describe your day-to-day activities, the first thing to do is sit down with your manager and write a new job description. Assistants should not wait until their following pay review to do this because what exactly are you being measured against if not your job description? I think a great job description for an assistant looks something like this:

  • A title that describes the role, not just a personal assistant or administrative Assistant but also the Assistant reports to and a clear statement detailing how the relationship will work.
  • A specific section outlining the job function and the purpose of the role with clear objectives.
  • A list of core skills, standards and requirements for the role, including education, experience and knowledge.
  • A list of critical duties. Along with everything expected of an assistant but also any slightly unexpected responsibilities. Does your manager want you to run personal errands? If so, it should be on the job description to avoid confusion. Tasks that take up only a tiny amount of time should still be added.
  • The responsibilities of the Assistant starting with the most important.
  • The key results expected from the Assistant. This should be measurable, achievable, and challenging so the Assistant can grow with the role.

Once an Assistant is in the role and settled, a job description should be reviewed.

If you have any skills that would enhance the role, speak to your Executive and ask that they are included in your job description.

Remember, a helpful job description is a working document that can be enhanced and changed as you pick up new skills in that role.

Job descriptions can become redundant significantly if the organisation changes its strategy or switches its focus to different parts of the business.

This is particularly true of an Assistant’s job description because our duties reflect those of our Executives, the group most affected by changing strategies.

To make sure our job descriptions are relevant to our Executive’s objectives, we should review them once a year. Ideally, this should be aligned with performance reviews and objective setting for the year ahead.

Job descriptions for other professions leave a little room for staff to have flexibility in the role and for the organisation to ask more of the employee than is in the specific duties.

This is undoubtedly the case for Assistants, but I think this is an issue for our profession because it can be quickly taken advantage of. We all have to do things outside our job description, but when reviewing your document, ask that your manager be as detailed as possible. Once you know what is expected, you can add some flexibility to the position.

Adhoc Duties?

This is an excellent anecdote from Jennifer Cocoran, My Super Connector, about Assistants’ challenges with Adhoc duties.

I attended the Practically Perfect PA Annual Conference. 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.

Jennifer goes on to say:

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?

A lot of job descriptions 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?

So what can we do?

Ignoring job descriptions just isn’t going to work because they are still very much part of the recruitment process, and yes, it is super important that you study that job description inside out and back to front if you want to get in the door for an interview.

You will find all the keywords needed to get past the recruitment algorithm in that spec.

But once you’ve got the job?

Ripping up the job description and starting again is the best action. And here is why.

Job descriptions are focused on the job, not the individual performing the role. This is true across all industries; however, for Assistants, it is doing us a disservice, mainly as the role evolves to include so much more than a list of obvious tasks and responsibilities.

Along with your template, here are some things you can implement to help bring your work into sharper focus.

Tasks – Literally, everything you do

I’d love to live in a land where your unique qualities will get you a promotion and a huge bonus, and yeah, to a certain extent, they help.

But, the cold hard facts are that the Assistant tasks you take on and your results will get you the reward and recognition you deserve.

So, keep a list of everything; by everything, I mean everything you do.

All of the high-level stuff, the fantastic projects you work on, the drama you resolve, and the problems you make go away – everything.

I hate the phrase ‘ad-hoc duties’ because it suggests that all the little things we do, all those fires we put out, are somehow irrelevant.

They are not.

That is the stuff that keeps the organisation going, and we are responsible for it. So write it all down!

When it comes to your review, you will have a very detailed overview of everything you do, which is much more helpful than an old document that doesn’t reflect the current role.

Personal Brand

What are the competencies you bring to the role as an individual?

Start with the competencies in the job description you have (like being organised, being a team player, being flexible, being an effective communicator) and flesh them out.

Go deeper. What makes you outstanding in your role? What makes you stand out? What qualities do you, as an individual, bring to your organisation that make you ace your job every day?

I can understand why you haven’t thought about your brand before. You are too busy. But it is so important to know your strengths and your weaknesses also.

Take the time to do this because there is another huge reason: the onset of technology that will take over many traditional Assistant tasks.

In the next five years, you will undoubtedly see a shift in the need for Assistants who can say, schedule meetings to those who can confidentially attend meetings in place of their Executive. Who understand the business, react to their Executive’s needs, handle complex issues, and resolve difficult problems.

Detailing and understanding how you do business rather than just what you do will significantly benefit you now and in years to come.


One of the problems with a job description is the discrepancy between what you expect from the role and what is expected of you.

It is time to change that.

You need to know precisely what is expected of you to succeed in the role. If you don’t know, you need to get into your Executive’s office very quickly to find out the answers — an awkward conversation, but a necessary one.

If you don’t feel like the organisation matches your expectations, genuinely think about what you want and what is missing. It might be that you don’t have a purpose; you want more responsibilities, you want more control over your work. Whatever it is, it must be addressed and acted upon during your performance review.

Instead of a job description, it would be incredible if you and your Executive sat down and wrote a detailed list of expectations that will make your relationship work and make you successful in your role.


Everyone should have boundaries at work, especially Assistants. Knowing what is acceptable for you and what isn’t is perfectly okay. Your boundaries might not fit into your office culture or the role, but that is okay. You either find a new position reflecting your boundaries or compromise.

But, have a stopping point because some jobs are not worth it.

Again, having a detailed understanding (even if it is in your mind) of your boundaries, what works for you and what doesn’t, is much more potent than a standard job spec.

Communication and Feedback

You have to communicate what you do, how you feel, your expectations and boundaries with those in your organisation that need to know – which is pretty much everyone (except maybe the mailman, who probably doesn’t need to know). You need to ask for feedback and understand what you are doing well and what can be improved.

You must have goals, objectives and plans that keep you motivated, challenged and happy.

So, now that you have taken the time to reflect on your job description. Let’s look at the 5 step approach to preparing for your Assistant performance review.

5-step approach to preparing for a performance review or Appraisal

As I have said so far in this article. Assistants must make the most of their performance reviews to gain the reward and recognition they deserve. I have put together a 5 step approach that helps Assistants prepare for a performance review.

Step One – Set up regular one-to-one meetings

Before you even get to your yearly appraisal, make sure you set up regular one-to-one meetings with your Executive in which you discuss your role. This should be separate from your meetings with your Executive to give updates on work.

The one-to-one should be for the sole purpose of discussing you. It can be easy to let your manager use this time to give you work, but you must have at least an hour per quarter to discuss your role.

You have control of their diaries, so schedule time with them and have an agenda to stick to what you want to discuss.

A performance review should not be a conversation full of surprises.

By this point in the year, you should know how your year has gone, what went well and what didn’t and what your Executive thinks of this.

Step Two – Make an effort!

Make an effort! Don’t just go through the process, thinking it doesn’t make a difference. With that attitude, it won’t – trust me!

Store all your feedback, good or bad, in a file throughout the year. It is easy to forget what you have accomplished.

Also, make a note of anything that you feel could have gone better.

If you have set up regular meetings with your Executive, none of this will be news to them, so use your examples to back up your thoughts on the year.

Step Three – Give yourself time

When setting up appraisal meetings for your manager and their direct reports, ensure you give yourself the same time as everyone else.

They may be more senior, but you deserve to have the same amount of time as your Executive as they do. Don’t squeeze your appraisal meeting into a quick 10-minute chat.

Take the full allocated time for your review.

Don’t think you are doing your Executive a favour by taking less time than your colleagues (something I used to do). You are not doing your boss a favour and certainly not doing yourself any favours.

Step Four – Ask your peers to give you feedback

One of my executives asked their senior team to provide feedback on me before the appraisal meeting. This was a great way of hearing from my colleagues, but at the same time, it didn’t reflect an accurate picture of what I did every day.

The following year I asked other Assistants to provide feedback along with mid-level managers that I dealt with on a more regular basis. This gave a more rounded view.

Gather feedback when you are working on projects. Ask those around you for recommendations and what they think of your performance.

Seek feedback throughout the year and use this to justify a reasonable appraisal. This is especially important if you do not work solely with your manager (if you are a team assistant). Come prepared with any documentation that you need.

Give feedback as well as receive it – especially to your manager! Remember, your job performance depends quite heavily on your Executive working in partnership with you. 360 feedback is beneficial.

Step Five – Be honest

Be honest with yourself and your Executive.

Performance reviews are a great place to pluck up the courage to discuss your feelings about the role.

Ultimately, the meeting is about you, so your manager must listen to how you think and offer any support they can for the following year.

As I said, there should be no surprises, but it is hard, to be honest with your boss, so if this is the case, use your appraisal time wisely. You will feel so much better afterwards.

Before the meeting, spend a little time reflecting on your performance – be honest with yourself. Do you deserve that pay rise?

If you are unhappy with your job, now is the time to discuss any problems. If you have a good manager, they will listen and offer a solution to improve your role. If not, this might give you the final push to look elsewhere.

The performance review process can be daunting, so preparing beforehand will help you get the most out of the meeting.

Make sure you stick up for yourself. It is too easy as a support team member to feel you don’t deserve a helpful review, promotion or pay rise. Still, without you, the senior members of the team wouldn’t be able to sustain their level of activity.

Remind your manager how great you are; they would be lost without you!

Assistants have to be proactive with their appraisals as much as they are with their day to do work, and only then will they get the performance reviews they deserve.

Setting out your objectives for the year

A considerable part of the Assistant performance review is setting your objectives for the year ahead. Assistants must set objectives, particularly SMART objectives, that can be measured for success.

Practically Perfect PA has an in-depth article on SMART objectives that all Assistants should read when thinking about their objectives and goals for the year.

These free templates will help you stay on track throughout the year. Included in this bundle are the following:

  • A List of SMART goal and objective examples for Executive Assistants, Personal Assistants and Administrative Assistants
  • A SMART objectives template for Assistants to set their performance goals
  • Goal setting worksheet for Assistants to work through with their Executive during the performance review meeting

Once you have set out your SMART objectives, it is also essential that you think about your Executive’s objectives.

For Assistants, you must know your Executive’s goals for the rest of the year.

There are several reasons this is important: here are just a few:

  • Understanding what motivates your Executive is a crucial aspect of the Assistant role. If you know what drives them to succeed, you can support them in achieving their goals.
  • Your objectives should be aligned with their goals. For example, if they have a strategic plan, something like ‘increase awareness of brand x’, you should have a practical objective, like ‘organise a launch party for brand x.’
  • If you know the areas your Executive focuses on for the rest of the year. You can prioritise your workload so that tasks relating to these areas are completed first. Your manager will thank you for this one.
  • You can also prioritise meetings, tasks and emails relating to these critical areas. Again, if you know what is essential to your Executive, you can use this information to enhance your role.

Your Executive might be a little taken aback if this is the first meeting you have organised to discuss their objectives, but it is well worth having. It also makes you look proactive and willing to support their needs.

SMART objectives and goal-setting template for Assistants

Objective and Goal Setting Bundle

Ace your next preview with this fantastic bundle of SMART objectives and goal-setting templates.

Ten questions to ask during your annual performance review

Before leaving your Executive’s office, ensure you have requested the following questions during your Assistant performance review.

Asking your Executive to answer these questions will give you the scope and information you need to succeed in the role and the year ahead.

  1. Are there specific skills you’d like to see me develop?
  2. What are the next steps in my career and this role?
  3. What would you like me to achieve by our following performance conversation?
  4. How are you going to measure my success in the future?
  5. What are you thinking about regarding pay raises or promotions, and what can I do to get there?
  6. What two or three things should I focus on in the next quarter to help me grow and develop?
  7. What are your objectives, and how should we align them with my goals to better support you?
  8. What could I do differently to support you better?
  9. What timeline did you consider for our next informal check-in or formal review?
  10. Is there anyone else in the organisation you think I should receive feedback from?

Getting to grips with your mid-year review

You may think that a half-year review isn’t a big deal, but for Assistants, the chance to discuss job performance, objectives and rewards should be taken seriously.

We don’t often spend that much time with our Executives talking about ourselves, and we have to grab every opportunity to discuss our role.

So here are my 6 top tips for your mid-year review.

Make sure you have a mid-year review

My first tip is relatively straightforward, right?

No, it can be difficult for some Assistants to have a mid-year review.

An annual review is usually linked to pay raises and bonuses, so most Executives will conduct a review at the end of the year for their Assistants because HR needs the paperwork.

Mid-year reviews are often seen as a ‘nice to have’ or utterly unimportant, so it is put off or forgotten altogether.

As I’ve said in this article, the remarkable thing for Assistants is that we have control of our manager’s diary to schedule a mid-year review.

I can’t stress how important it is to have two reviews per year at the very minimum.

The Assistant role is challenging. It is even more complicated if you have no idea what your manager thinks of your performance.

Don’t rush the review

Assistants should have the same amount of time dedicated to their review as any other staff member.

It is easy to think we can squeeze our review into a 20-minute catch because we don’t think it is that important or because we see first-hand how busy our managers are.

Remember that your role only functions if your manager is happy with your performance. If issues need to be addressed or processes that could work better, the mid-year review is the perfect time to discuss them and move forward.

What objectives have you met?

I’ve been seriously guilty of shoving my yearly objectives into a drawer, forgetting about them until the mid-year review, and then stressing that I haven’t met any of them.

Sometimes, when you work in a role as demanding as ours, time doesn’t allow you to evaluate your performance.

That is, unless firefighting is an objective, and usually, it isn’t.

Forgetting your objectives as soon as the paperwork is signed isn’t productive or helpful for career progression.

If you are in a similar situation leading to your mid-year review, dust off your objectives and look at your accomplishments over the last six months. You might be surprised at how much you have done.

Are there any objectives that can be achieved relatively quickly if you dedicate a little time to them? For example, if you have a training objective, can you book yourself onto a course before your mid-year review so that you have something to tell your manager during the discussion?

There are other factors you should consider when reviewing your objectives.

  • Are the objectives still relevant?
  • Has your role changed in the last six months?
  • Do you need new objectives for the rest of the year?
  • Are the objectives too challenging or not challenging enough?

These questions can and should be raised during your mid-year review.

Print off supporting documents

If you have received any nice emails or feedback from colleagues or clients, bring the evidence to your mid-year review.

You are not boasting or showing off. You are merely giving evidence that will support your performance.

Managers are often accused of not understanding the role, and I often hear assistants say that their managers do not know what they do.

Here is an opportunity to show them what you do and how well you do it.

Look forward to the rest of the year

Split your review into two sections that cover the last six months and the rest of the year.

Review how you have been performing and look at what is coming up over the next six months.

This is an excellent time to look at your managers’ objectives for the rest of the year and how you can help support them.

This is also an excellent opportunity to ask for more work if you are not being challenged or support if you have too much work.


The mid-year review is a great time to reflect on your performance and overall feelings towards your role.

You must be honest with yourself and with your manager. It is also necessary that they are frank with you too.

I don’t suggest you tell your manager you hate your role, and you hate them – as much as you would love to, brutal honesty will not get you a pay rise! Instead, if you are having issues or are unhappy, discuss the problems with your manager constructively.

Before the review, note what has worked over the last six months, what you have enjoyed and what hasn’t been working and what can be improved.

Come prepared for the meeting, take a deep breath and speak. Perhaps they were unaware of the problems and just needed to be told.

If you are delighted and love your manager and the role, tell them that too! Who doesn’t like to be told they are a good boss?

Mid-year reviews are an essential element of your career development.

After six months, you can check your progress through your objectives and goals and make any necessary changes.

If you are unsure what to discuss during your mid-year review, here are ten questions you can discuss with your Executive. These questions will help you flesh out what you have achieved and what you need to work on for the rest of the year.

Ten questions to ask during your mid-year review

  1. What has been going well for the last six months?
  2. What can be improved for the next six months?
  3. What am I doing that is most helpful for you?
  4. What can I do to make your job easier?
  5. Are there any additional projects or work areas I should look at over the next six months that are not part of my current goals and objectives? – This could lead to more growth (if you have performed well over the first six months).
  6. What are your goals and objectives for the next six months, and how can I help you achieve them?
  7. Are there patterns in my work that I could change for the better?
  8. If you missed any of your goals for the first two quarters of the year, what can I change so that I hit all of my goals for the rest of the year?
  9. Are there things I could do that would make our relationship better?
  10. If I stay on course with this level of performance, what salary and bonus should I expect next year?

Giving and receiving feedback

Lastly, I want to talk a little more about giving and receiving feedback in this article.

Most advancements in our careers and lives come from difficult conversations. Still, we are never taught how to have these conversations, manage them, and deal with the people we communicate with.

Giving and receiving feedback at work can often be considered difficult conversations. But it doesn’t have to be; if presented correctly and with the right intentions, feedback is a beautiful thing that can help move us in the right direction.

For Assistants, giving and receiving feedback is critical.

We have to keep an open dialogue with our Executive so that we know the partnership is working effectively, which means we also have to give and receive our Executive feedback.

This is hard, providing feedback to the person that runs the team? Department? Division? Organisation? Yup!

It is part of the role, and again, if given constructively and with the right mindset (and timed correctly), it can help improve your role and, ultimately, your career.

I want to share ten fantastic resources (books, articles, and online courses) that will help you give better feedback at work to people of all seniority levels.

Great articles and blog posts


Online Courses

Giving and Receiving Feedback for Management and Leadership

Giving Helpful Feedback

So what’s my favourite tip from all of these resources?

I like the idea of being teachable, from the ThriveYard article,

Of utmost importance is your ability to recognize your shortcomings or weaknesses and the willingness to do something about it.

At times we might have our internal sirens blaring warning us that we are headed on the wrong path and feedback serves as a red traffic light or a stop sign to alert us that we are headed down the wrong path.

Demonstrate the desire and understanding to change course and to move to the correct road. Even though at the moment of impact, receiving critical feedback can sting since it feels bad to be told that you don’t measure up, yet we need the reality check to jump-start us back into realignment.

Look at the big picture on what went wrong and ask yourself what you could have done better and what you can do better moving forward.’

I also like the idea that the more feedback you get, the more you want. It becomes part of your everyday experience at work.

What next?

Before you head off to think about your Assistant performance review, remember to read our SMART objectives article and remember to download our bundle of FREE templates and guides for setting your SMART objectives.

Originally published 14th December 2011, updated 4th February 2020.