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What's the Difference Between a Personal Assistant and an Executive Assistant?

In this video, Alicia Fairclough, Founder of EA How To, talks about the difference between a Personal Assistant and an Executive Assistant. 

What’s the difference between a Personal Assistant and an Executive Assistant? What’s the difference between an Executive Assistant and a Chief of Staff? What’s an Administrative Assistant? Is that different? And what about Virtual Assistants? 

There is some confusion about the titles. So I’m going to break it all down for you but please know that there are a lot of organisations using titles in creative and fairly loose ways and that’s on them. 

If you’re putting a job spec together or you’re hiring right now, I highly recommend you take a look at The Global Skills Matrix that has been produced by The World Administrators Alliance. That is the best document that has been produced to break down the skills according to the roles and that is what I use when I need to put together a job description. I’ve popped a link in the video description. 

So let’s start with what a Personal Assistant is and how that is different to an Executive Assistant. 

The big hint is in the title itself. 

A Personal Assistant is involved in organising the personal affairs of an individual. This might be a person in a business or a corporate environment but it might also be a high net worth individual, a high profile personality or a business person who requires personal support. 

A Personal Assistant will often look after the needs of a family in addition to their boss. 

You can expect a PA be running household errands, organising dinners, party planning, hiring other household staff such as gardeners, booking family travel, buying gifts, making appointments, looking after the car insurance, arranging household maintenance. They’re doing things that make life easier for their boss. 

An Executive Assistant reports to an executive or a group of executives in a company. 

It’s a position that assists with the running of the business. 

Depending on the level of experience of the EA and their specific role, an Executive Assistant will be scheduling meetings, managing their bosses inbox, managing projects, dealing with vendors and suppliers, compiling briefs, preparing presentations, taking minutes, booking business travel, maintaining company documents, managing administrative teams, liaising with stakeholders and more. 

The more senior the executive assistant, the more strategic the role becomes. A great Executive Assistant understands the running of the business, is a strategic thinker and a resourceful problem solver.  

I’m going to talk about career progression for Executive Assistants in another video but I do want to address the Chief of Staff title now. 

This is a title that is becoming increasingly popular and as its popularity increases, so too does its misuse. 

A Chief of Staff is not only a right hand to the CEO but can also step in on behalf of the CEO. They might represent them in meetings, take over projects the CEO is unable to complete, help complete tasks for the leadership team, they research and understand revenue streams, create complex documents and lead strategic initiatives. 

So where does Administrative Assistant fit into all of this? An Administrative Assistant might be a role on its own but it is also often combined with being a receptionist or front of house team member. 

An Administrative Assistant will assist with date entry, filing, booking and overseeing meeting rooms, preparing outgoing mail, organising couriers, ordering office supplies. Things that help the daily running of an office. 

And then we have Virtual Assistants. 

The profession that has been growing for some time now but saw a dramatic increase throughout the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic. 

A Virtual Assistant is usually a freelancer running their own business where they provide administrative support to a range of businesses. 

Maybe it’s a small business that doesn’t have a full time administrative assistant, maybe it’s a large organisation supplementing their administrative team. 

Some virtual assistants specialise or niche and others provide a more general service. They do everything from book keeping and minute taking to social media content creation and travel planning. They perform many of the tasks Administrative, Personal and Executive Assistants do and they run their own business performing these tasks for multiple people or organisations.     

So there you have it. These are the differences between Personal and Executive Assistants as well as Administrative Assistants, Virtual Assistants and the Chief of Staff role. 

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