When you are recruiting an executive assistant for a senior company leader or c-suite executive, you may be seeking a business partner EA - one who provides top-level strategic support and insights to act as your chief of staff.
But what qualities do you need to find an executive assistant who performs at that senior level? It’s important to define precisely what you are looking for, ideally before you begin your search for an executive assistant. So today, I’m outlining the key skills to look for to find your next high-performing executive assistant.
Before we begin: you’ll notice that skills like time management, organisation and diary management aren’t on this list — and that’s because while those skills are highly necessary for any executive assistant, I’m treating them rather as a given. Any EA will have those skills, but the outstanding, senior-level high-performing EA will also possess the additional qualities outlined below.
You need someone who can act on your behalf from time to time, so they need to maintain a high degree of competence. Professionalism is about meeting the high standards expected of someone who is acting as your representative, consistently achieving high results, both publicly and behind the scenes. The executive needs to trust that the office operations will be managed to a high standard, regardless of whether they’re personally in attendance. Professionalism breeds trust, and executives want to feel completely confident that their EA can conduct themselves to a high standard at all times.
A senior executive assistant will be privy to the inner workings and machinations of the organisation and will have access to a raft of confidential information about staff, salaries, projects and all manner of private company information. While others in the organisation can be free to chat about the latest gossip, a senior EA must be a vault, never allowing a single piece of confidential information to pass through. Maintaining the strictest confidentiality breeds trust, and an executive assistant acting as a senior business partner can’t perform in the role without trust. This means the EA must not only be utterly discreet at all times, but also demonstrate an understanding of why it matters so greatly.
A senior-level EA will be regularly liaising with the upper echelon of company management - CEOs, board members, other top c-suite executives and external senior stakeholders. So, it’s vital that an executive assistant can hold their own, feeling confident in speaking and liaising at this senior level. Business partner executive assistants are valued because they have a voice. So they should feel confident and capable about making contributions and sharing their point of view. Therefore, confidence, and the ability to manage any nerves that may arise when performing at a senior level is an important quality for executive assistants of this level to foster.
Busy executives don’t want to dictate to executive assistants about tasks to complete. Instead, an EA should be on the front foot, anticipating needs and proactively taking the initiative to implement tasks such as moving along projects, updating stakeholders, recommending tactics and any manner of priorities. With an executive assistant who has plenty of initiative, executives can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their EA will spot any problem or situation and take the necessary action without waiting for instructions. This self-starting approach is highly prized among executives and is often the key quality that makes the difference between the strategic and administrative executive assistant.
The presentation of an executive assistant includes their communication style, manner, tone of voice and appearance. It’s important to create a professional impression by dressing the part of a senior member of the executive leadership team. Beyond that, it also comes in attention to detail for written documents, pitches and presentations. A senior strategic EA will have an eye for a typo, troublesome formatting or poor style in written documents and email correspondence. Additionally, an executive assistant at this level should be a confident and articulate speaker, able to convey points with precision and present at meetings with ease.
Understanding the perspective of others, especially their executive, is a key skill of the senior executive assistant. People with empathy tend to be able to tap into the emotions of others and connect with them in a relatable way. As a representative of the company liaising with senior stakeholders, both internal and external, it’s therefore very necessary for the executive assistant to be highly empathetic. A strategic EA will use that empathy to read body language, perhaps knowing when to feed back insights to the executive about people’s reactions, motivations or state of wellbeing. This skill can be highly valuable to any executive who wishes to connect on a deeper level with staff, other company leaders and important clients.
Beyond empathy is the ability to converse with people from all walks of life. Making others feel comfortable and relaxed is a skill that is often innate, but can be honed with practice. The value of making others feel heard, recognised and supported is an important quality for any leader, so their EA should also have the same people skills. Using active listening and having an open demeanour can naturally make others feel comfortable. Considering other points of view and being able to anticipate questions they may have or problems they may raise will help executives be prepared for all kinds of everyday office interactions.
Complementary skills to the executive
A good partnership between executive and EA flourishes when each has the skills to complement the other. For example, a retiring yet analytical CEO may benefit from a more open and accessible EA. Whereas a dynamic, creative leader may need a more efficient, organised executive assistant who can keep them focussed on core priorities. It’s about partnering as a team and supporting each other to focus on what they’re best at. This quality varies between leaders, but it’s something I always consider when hiring executive assistants for Australia’s top employers.
Altitude EA can help find the ideal candidate. Contact Anastasia on 0421 16 55 96 or list your vacancy with us today.