How to Become an Executive Assistant in 5 Steps

Executive assistants provide support services, usually to high-ranking individuals within a company or other organization. Learn more about job duties and the steps needed to enter this profession. Schools offering Administrative Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Executive Assistant?

An executive assistant is a secretary who provides a range of support services to administrators, usually those at a high level in a business or other organization. In this job, you'll manage schedules and make travel arrangements. You might also organize and prioritize letters, emails and faxes, as well as control personal and phone access to an executive. You may also supervise lower level assistants, attend meetings, conduct research and prepare reports, letters and financial statements. Filing, ordering supplies and basic bookkeeping may be among your duties as well, but you tasks typically have less clerical work than other secretaries.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

High school-level courses in English, computers, economics and mathematics provide general knowledge that you can apply in an office environment. In addition, some schools have programs that teach typing and other office administration skills. Any expertise you can develop with productivity applications such as word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software is especially helpful.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Ideally you would have a degree in a field related to your employer's business, but a bachelor's degree in business administration will prepare you for office work in the widest number of settings. Programs acquaint you with the major functions that support a business organization, including accounting, finance, human resource management, information management and operations management. You will learn to use computer technology, analyze and solve business problems and communicate effectively with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Step 3: Gain Employment

Government agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, corporations or any private company large enough to require an administrative hierarchy are your potential employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2008 that nearly 1.6 million people were employed as executive secretaries and administrative assistants (www.bls.gov). By 2018, employment was projected to growth 13% to 1.79 million, the BLS stated. Opportunities will arise from an ongoing need for workers with interpersonal and communication skills.

Step 4: Obtain Certification as an Executive Secretary

You have several certification options once you've established yourself. The International Association of Administrative Professionals offers two options, the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) and the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP). To be eligible, you need at least two years of experience. The CPS and CAP exams test your knowledge of organization and planning, records management, financial functions and human resources.

If you're an executive assistant at a law firm, your options include the Professional Legal Secretary (PLS) from NALS (formerly the National Association of Legal Secretaries) and the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) from Legal Secretaries International. You need three years of experience to be eligible for the PLS exam, which tests your knowledge of written communication, office procedures, law and ethics. The CLSS credential requires five years of experience and passage of an exam in one of six specialty areas - civil, criminal, business, intellectual property or probate law.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Rising to an executive assistant position will require some time and initiative on your part. Develop proficiency with the company's software and learn as much about its operations, customers, competitors and industry as you can. Take part in workshops, seminars and other training opportunities that help you hone your communication skills. Demonstrate competence in the tasks you're assigned.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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