Assistants are the people who do the “heavy lifting” for their managers and peers. They perform a wide array of tasks on behalf of their superiors, from arranging travel and meetings to managing projects and team members. They may be tasked with a variety of duties, but the primary responsibility of all assistants is to support their manager in achieving his or her goals.
Assistants help to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible, responding to crises as they arise and making sure that nothing keeps their manager from delivering on his or her commitments. In short, they’re there to make sure that everyone keeps moving forward.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be an assistant and what it takes to become one yourself.
Assistant Job Duties
Assistant jobs may include a wide range of responsibilities depending on the industry, including:
- Answering and routing calls and emails
- Preparing reports, presentations, memos, press releases, and other documents for management review or approval
- Organizing and managing calendars, meetings, and events for executives and management staff
- Resolving customer issues or complaints via phone or email, if necessary
- Preparing financial statements and maintaining records of bills to be paid
- Organizing and maintaining files and documents, including reviewing documents for accuracy and filing, as needed
- Greeting visitors and directing them to meeting rooms as appropriate
- Maintaining and operating office equipment such as copiers or printers
Assistant Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for assistants is $44,904. The top earners are making over $80,000 per year. Those earning higher wages tend to work for the entertainment industry.
The employment of assistants is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. This is due to the increasing demand for administrative support as new businesses continue to be created as the economy grows.
Assistant Job Requirements
As an assistant, you may be required to have certain qualifications, including:
Education: Assistants are not required to hold a college degree, but most employers prefer at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Some employers might also require candidates to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a related field like business administration or communications.
Training: An employer will provide an assistant with training and on-the-job experience. The first step of this training is to teach assistants how to use software and other applications used within the department. Assistants often work side by side with senior assistants, and they can learn hands-on skills from them as well as practical knowledge about the company and job responsibilities.
Certifications: While certification programs for assistants aren’t common, some may choose to become certified in specialized areas. The Professional Administrative Certification of Excellence (PACE) is one such certification. They may also seek certifications in areas such as marketing, project management, social media, and event planning.
The following skills are required for this job:
Good communication skills: It is essential to be able to communicate effectively with people at all levels of the organization.
An ability to organize work: An assistant must be able to keep track of many different tasks and projects, prioritizing them in order to get the most important ones done first.
Knowledge of office procedures: The assistant must have a working knowledge of office equipment and office systems. This includes knowing how to use word processing software, spreadsheets, databases, and other office equipment.
An ability to follow instructions: As an assistant, you will be responsible for following the directions of your boss. If you do not understand a direction, you should ask questions until you do understand it before proceeding with the task. Failure to follow instructions correctly can result in wasted time and resources as well as mistakes that could negatively impact the business’s reputation.
Ability to learn quickly: An assistant must be able to learn new information quickly. This can be achieved through either formal training or on-the-job experience.
Attention to detail: You must be able to pay close attention to details in order to avoid making mistakes that could cost you money or time.
Assistant Work Environment
Many assistants work in offices, where they might be surrounded by computers, fax machines, phones, and other office equipment. Because their work is often very detail-oriented, they spend much of their time sitting at desks.
The hours for an assistant can vary widely depending on the employer and the industry. Some assistants work regular business hours; others work nights and weekends to accommodate their managers’ schedules.
Assistant Career Advancement
As assistants gain experience in their field, they may advance to more senior roles with greater responsibility. For example, an entry-level assistant may become an executive assistant or an office manager.
Assistant positions are varied in nature, and they usually provide good exposure to a large number of areas in the business. Therefore, assistants have the opportunity to think about which departments and roles they would like to work in, and they can develop their skills accordingly.
Assistants who stay with the same company and learn all they can about it, rather than pursuing opportunities at different organizations, may find more their loyalty, performance, and learned company knowledge rewarded with advancement opportunities. It is not uncommon for assistants to move into sales, customer service, finance, and management positions.
Here are three trends influencing how assistants work. Assistants will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
The Rise of the Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants (VAs) are becoming increasingly popular as businesses look to hire people who can work remotely and manage various projects.
This role is especially valuable for companies that do not have the resources to hire a full-time assistant, but still need support with administrative tasks like answering emails, scheduling meetings, and handling paperwork.
Virtual assistants also allow individuals to pursue more flexible work arrangements that may be more accommodating for those with children or those who want to continue working part-time while studying for a degree.
Artificial Intelligence and Automation
As businesses begin to automate and use artificial intelligence to perform tasks once done by humans, office assistants will be forced to shift their roles.
For example, intelligent assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa can answer simple questions or perform basic tasks, freeing up office assistants to take on more advanced projects.
Emphasis on Teamwork
As business leaders move away from the “command and control” model of management, there is an increased emphasis on teamwork within organizations. This shift has made it increasingly important for assistants to develop skills that are necessary for working in teams—skills like strong communication, collaboration, and leadership abilities.
How to Become an Assistant
1. Planning Your Career Path
Being an assistant requires you to have a flexible schedule, excellent time management skills, and an ability to multi-task. The role of an assistant is a great fit for people who are detail-oriented and enjoy supporting others. Because this position requires a high level of confidentiality, it’s important to ensure that you will be comfortable in a professional environment before pursuing a career as an assistant.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for assistants highlight their ability to multitask, organize details, and work well with others. The job description should specify the exact duties that you will be responsible for, so that you can tailor your resume accordingly.
It’s important to list any transferable skills that could be relevant to the position–these may include event planning, personal assistant duties, or administrative work. When describing previous work experience, include specific details such as the kind of equipment you used, how you worked with other people, what materials you organized, etc.
To highlight your communication skills and ability to multitask effectively it can help to provide information about instances where you were able to meet tight deadlines or how well you worked under pressure.
3. Applying for Jobs
Building a strong professional network is an essential step in landing a job as an assistant. Start by reaching out to people who work in similar positions and learn about the different roles that assistants can play. Try to build connections with people you meet at conferences, networking events, and by volunteering your time for organizations you care about. Once you’ve built a broad professional network, it’s time to hone in on your target job. Search job listings and talk to people who currently work in the industry to find out what a typical day looks like for someone in your desired role. Once you have a solid idea of what your potential employer is looking for, you can prepare a resume that highlights your transferable skills and experience, as well as develop an elevator pitch that clearly defines why you’re the best fit for the job.
4. Ace the Interview
The interview for an assistant position is intended to learn about your personality and how it matches up with the company you’re applying to. This means that when asked a question, you should give a fully-developed answer that shows off your personality and your professional abilities. Be sure to talk about why you will be a good fit for the company and the job.
The interviewer will also want to learn how you handle stress and pressure and what level of interaction you can handle with other people in the office or in outside environments. Know what questions to expect at an assistant interview before arriving at the interview. If the interviewer asks, “Give me an example of when you had to work under pressure,” you will be ready with an example.
It’s also important to show your best side during this type of interview. Executives may ask very direct questions about your past history and accomplishments. Make sure that your skills and experience shine through loud and clear and you present yourself in a positive light. It’s also important to show that you are interested in growing professionally with this company by asking questions about opportunities for advancement within the organization.