A personal assistant commonly works in the corporate or business world, but some work in other areas too. A personal assistant may work with high-ranking or well-known officials, such as politicians or celebrities. Some (typically referred to as an executive personal assistant) may be entrusted to assist a group of people, such as a board of directors.
What is a personal assistant?
A personal assistant (or PA or personal manager) works closely with senior management and keeps track of their day-to-day tasks. The tasks and responsibilities will largely depend on where and who they work for.
Discretion and confidentiality are of the utmost importance in this role. You will often have to relate to those you are assisting on a personal level and will often have access to highly personal and confidential information.
Your responsibilities will differ depending on where you are working and who with. Typically, you will be the main point of contact for those looking to speak to who you assist.
The most common responsibilities in PA jobs are:
- Arranging travel and accommodation.
- Keeping detailed notes.
- Keeping essential staff abreast of important developments.
- Keeping track of expenses.
- Maintaining office systems.
- Managing databases.
- Managing diaries.
- Organising diaries.
- Responding to emails.
- Schedule meetings.
- Screening important phone calls.
As a personal assistant, you may have additional responsibilities at different moments. For instance, you may be tasked with carrying out extensive research for projects or into different departments or advising people on high-level decisions.
A degree is not required for most personal assistant roles, but that may change depending on where you work.
You may also have an extensive amount of administrative work to complete that you require an assistant of your own.
The PA salary depends on many factors. The company you are working for, the level of the person you are assisting and the location of the company are all important factors to consider when viewing the potential personal assistant salary you can earn.
To begin with, a personal assistant starting salary is generally around the £20,000 mark. Once you have become a bit more established in the role and take on more responsibilities, you can expect to earn between £29,000 and £36,000.
From there, your salary will likely see incremental increases unless you move into a new role or have more responsibilities. It has been known for some personal assistants to earn as much as £39,000.
A degree is not required for most personal assistant roles, but that may change depending on where you work. Those working in specific industries, such as finance or medical research, may need a qualification of some kind, even if it’s a higher national diploma (HND) or foundation degree.
For those who do want to attend university, the best subjects to study are:
- Administration degrees
- Business degrees
- Human Resources degrees
- Management degrees
- Marketing degrees
You may be required to undertake specialist industry qualifications when hired. These qualifications will be taken on at your employer's discretion, but you must keep an eye out for further training and development opportunities.
Generally, graduates do not tend to move straight into a PA role. Most employers will ask you to have experience of some kind, working in an office or in the industry you are applying within.
Training and development
Initial training will be down to your employer, however, you will also need to find courses of your own. Most training will take place on the job, but it is also possible to take some pre-employment training courses.
The Institute of Administrative Management (IAM) offers many courses to undertake before you are hired. Qualifications you could take include the IAM’s Level 3 Award in Professional PA and Administration Skills or the Level 4 Certificate in Office and Administration Management from the SFJ.
Work experience with a personal assistant will be tough to find, owing to various confidentialities that could be broken.
It is recommended that personal assistants register with a regulatory body. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the IAM and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) are useful bodies to register with, as they have training and development courses, networking events, seminars, lecturers and, for those who are undertaking a continuing professional development (CPD), CPD assistance and help.
A CPD is not a requirement for a personal assistant but may be a requirement in specific industries. Generally, a CPD is undertaken by professionals working in regulated industries, however, the company you work for may ask you to undertake a CPD to ensure you comply with industry regulations.
The skills needed to be successful in this role can differ depending on the industry you work in. For instance, proficiency with numbers may not be essential in some personal assistant jobs but is greatly encouraged when working in accounting.
The most common skills needed to become a personal assistant are:
- An ability to think on your feet.
- Attention to detail.
- Brilliant organisation skills.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Excellent interpersonal skills.
- Excellent verbal skills.
- Excellent written skills.
- Fast typing skills.
- The ability to convey and receive information quickly.
These skills can be further honed through training and development. Any new skills you learn through training courses and development plans are also welcome.
Work experience with a personal assistant will be tough to find, owing to various confidentialities that could be broken. Some companies will offer shadow programmes or internships that will bring you into close contact with personal assistants, but your access to them may be limited.
Work experience for the role will largely depend on where you work. Some companies will require you to have held a similar position before applying, while others are happy with general office or industry-based work.
Typically, a company will prefer you to have experience in other work areas first. Working in an office before or having experience in some areas a personal assistant works in (such as filing, diary organisation, travel organisation and some aspects of HR) is highly valuable to employers.
Progression in your role will depend on where you are working and on your own abilities in the role. It is possible for a personal assistant to move into a senior role, where you will be responsible for managing and training junior staff members.
A personal assistant (or PA or personal manager) works closely with senior management and keeps track of their day-to-day tasks.
Generally, a personal assistant will need to change roles to move into higher positions. As a personal assistant often reports to one person, progression can be limited.
However, it is not impossible to look into other roles. For instance, you may be able to move into areas of sales, marketing or human resources, though you may need to take on a relevant qualification in these areas first.
It is also possible to work on a freelance basis. This could be providing maternity or paternity cover or working as a virtual assistant or other remote PA jobs, wherein you are not required to be in the office and can work remotely.