As an executive assistant, it’s great to be known as a specialist. Perhaps you’re known as a leading EA in the technology, finance or medical field. Building your extensive knowledge of the industry, the stakeholders and the leading organisations can help considerably advance your career.
But what happens when you are ready for a change?
Many top-level EAs spend years growing their craft and learning the industry of their niche. Once they realise those goals, they may be ready to seek their next challenge. Often a change of industry can be the ideal next move. Transitioning to a completely different sector brings on exciting new opportunities for established EAs to learn, develop and grow.
Is it difficult for executive assistants to transition between industries?
It can be daunting to consider making the leap from a comfortable safe workplace into an unknown new industry, working for a new company and a new boss. The voice of doubt in your mind might be telling you it’s safer to stick with your current industry. Or perhaps it’s saying that no one will hire you due to your lack of expertise? I’ve seen first-hand many executive assistants successfully transfer between industries — so let me reassure you that it can be done.
The most successful transitions take a strategic approach
Having worked as an EA myself, and also spending decades recruiting executive assistants for Australia's top employers, I have enjoyed seeing many executive assistants successfully make the switch.
The best way to undertake a move of this magnitude is to use your brilliant executive assistant planning abilities like you would a project for your executive. This means creating a plan of action and implementing it to the best of your ability. You could start by:
- researching new industries that appeal to you
- exploring why those sectors interest you — do they align with your values, personality or beliefs?
- understanding if you need any particular qualifications — and doing the study if necessary
- connecting with relevant recruiters and following top companies
- following thought leaders in potential industries to get up-to-date with the market
- attending seminars, events or workshops related to your target industry so you can learn as much as you can
Your skills are transferable
A vast proportion of your considerable executive assistant skills are transferable to your new industry. Administrative tasks such as diary management, meeting preparation and reporting are similar no matter what the industry. You’re likely to be highly organised, practical and efficient — another skill that any employer would value. And strategic savvy, stakeholder liaison and providing a good dose of common sense and a listening ear for your executive will also be highly appreciated by any employer. It’s true, some employers do insist on industry experience. But demonstrating your knowledge of and enthusiasm for your target industry may be able to get you on the shortlist of potential candidates.
If your current employer has any connection to your desired industry, you should make the most of it in your CV and cover letter. Later, in discussions with recruitment agents, you can again focus on that connection. For example, if you've worked in construction you may be dealing with developers and designers, thus giving you a chance to leapfrog into those sectors. Otherwise, you can highlight your personal interest in health, not-for-profit or creative industries. You can use your CV, cover letter and initial interivews to make that connection as strong as you possibly can.
It takes patience
If you are truly serious about making a move to a new industry, patience is key. Investing your time deeply researching and understanding the industry you’re keen on is a wise move. It will show to a potential employer how serious and dedicated you are about transitioning. Plus, if you are deeply educated, you’ll gain a true understanding of what the industry is like better preparing you for when you do eventually make the leap. (Or you’ll do your research and change your mind — which is far better than making a change you regret later.)
Recruiters are often a valuable introduction
If HR managers are quickly reviewing CVs, they may gloss over yours and quickly reject you due to your lack of experience. However, a recruitment agent will be able to make the case for why you should be considered, and persuade the employer that your transferable skills are applicable to the new role. So connecting with recruiters can be invaluable. Identify the key recruiters in your market sector and reach out to them to demonstrate your interest. Proving your enthusiasm by showing you’ve done your research (or gained a relevant qualification) can impress on them how seriously you take this next move.
Connect with EAs in your target industry
Who better to tell you what the industry is really like than the person with your dream job? I know first-hand that leading EAs in many sectors are more than willing to mentor and share their insights with emerging candidates. You can make a connection via LinkedIn and politely ask for a quick phone call or Zoom chat. If you don’t mind the occasional rejection, this tactic can be highly beneficial. These connections may be the first to know if there are new opportunities opening up at their workplace or others in the industry — and may be in a position to recommend you. They can also guide you on the skills you need to develop to make your CV as attractive as possible to potential employers in the industry.
Know how to sell it
If you’re lucky enough to be considered as a candidate, be aware that you may be up against others who do have the industry experience you lack. So it’s up to you to highlight those transferable skills. Confidence matters a great deal here. If you believe they’ll never hire you due to your inexperience, you’ll present that way. On the other hand, if you believe that despite your lack of knowledge you have brilliant skills to offer, you’ll show up with a more determination to show off your considerable expertise. It’s not about bluffing or ‘fake it to you make it’ — just knowing how to present yourself in the best possible light and highlight those transferable skills.
If you’re an EA seeking a change in industry, get in touch
As a specialist executive assistant recruiter, I’m always seeking candidates for high-level EAs for Australia’s top employers. I’d be pleased to discuss your career objectives, so please get in touch or connect with me on LinkedIn.