Written by Nanette Hebdige
A personal assistant is vastly different from an admin or executive assistant, which are mostly based out of corporate enclaves and handle tasks that support C suite executives. Many are wanting to venture into a personal assistant realm and there are countless things to take into consideration if you want to make yourself absolutely indispensable and excel at your position.
Off the bat, the PA role is very diverse and unlike any other position. The role is multi-faceted, complex and embraces a combination of various moving parts because it’s a blend of various positions rolled into one. It’s a demanding position and you have to bring your A game.
You’ll be asked to manage, arrange and handle a vast array of tasks from business to personal for your principal(s). Keep in mind that the more tenure you’ve got invested in the personal service industry, the better suited you’ll be. That doesn’t mean that newcomers can’t venture into a personal assistant arena. Just ensure you’ve taken these points into consideration and apply them daily to become la crème de la crème.
You will rarely receive any concise delineation from your principals, as they’ve retained you to think independently and efficiently, without much training or hand holding.
You’ll have to learn how to read your principal’s mind, think on your feet, anticipate every step, prioritize tasks and have complete follow through. You’ve been hired for your excellent judgement and decision-making skills, because your role in life is to manage everything that is a distraction to your employer. You can’t procrastinate or be reactive. Instead, write everything down (carry a tablet or a notebook everywhere), be ultra observant and get to know their management style. Repeat any instructions that have been given so there’s no room for error, especially when creating calendar appointments and travel arrangements.
COMMUNICATION AND TRANSPARENCY
How do they think? And more importantly what method of communication they prefer (email, text, phone call) and with what frequency. Keep your principals informed on how you’re handling tasks – their completion date and ongoing progress on projects. This will show them you’re uber organized and you’ll be even more valued ensuring your success.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
Don’t be surprised if you’re required to be available after hours and weekends. You’ve made yourself indispensable, so you’ll have to be adaptable. There will be last minute changes which you’ll have to handle on the fly, doing them effectively, usually with time parameters. Here is where a personal assistant’s role is more hectic and stressful than most. And you’ll have to do this graciously, with patience and develop thick skin, as some of the work you’ve already done will be for naught. Your principals will change their minds and do a complete 360 on you.
DEVELOP EXCELLENT INTERPERSONAL/COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Your personality is key here. You’ll be interacting with other staff in the household, family office, vendors and a vast array of individuals via phone, email or in person. You have to be affable, courteous, outgoing, and agreeable. Your communication skills need to reflect a well-mannered and calm individual, because you are the gatekeeper and a direct extension of your employer hence your poise and professionalism has to shine through in every situation, no matter how complex. Your verbal and written communication skills will be tested, and proper phone and email etiquette needs to be observed at all times, even dealing with personal correspondence, written invitations for parties and gatherings, as well as for holidays.
ADAPTABILITY TO CROSS TRAINING
Along with the 24/7 mentality, there are many tasks that will be thrown at you that may not necessarily be assisting the principals. It will be supporting any family members, guests or staff. You may be asked to handle and supervise many household duties, such as speaking to vendors, project management regarding renovation or construction, pet care, staff scheduling and at times event planning for in-home or outside events. So, if you’re going to go by a “job description” this isn’t the career for you.
BE A MASTER ORGANIZER AND SET PRIORITIES
As a norm you’ll be handling both personal and professional assignments, so it goes without saying that you’ll be handling your employers’ calendar, correspondence, scheduling and appointment setting. Making lists and availing yourself of project management software will make your life easier. Keep all your calendars in sync for schedule awareness and set reminders. There will be also complex travel arrangements, which you’ll have to coordinate or liaise with an Amex Centurion card concierge; packing and unpacking as well as traveling with the principals, staff members and their family. If your employer is a lady, she may even ask you to manage her Real-Real and Amazon accounts for purchasing, credit card reconciliation and budgeting. You’ll be running errands, be a personal shopper, wrapping gifts and at times act as chauffeur. You may be in contact with corporate admin or executive assistant as needed. So, the key is not to procrastinate and set priorities; take a time management class, you will thank yourself you did.
RELIABILITY, TRUSTWORTHINESS AND HONESTY
You are your employer’s right arm (hence a 24/7 mentality and availability). Creating trust and being versatile is key, along with your problem-solving and good judgement abilities. At times your decision-making skill will be tested when your principal won’t be available to provide instructions. So common sense and knowing the needs and preferences of your employer will be vital, as this will make you indispensable. Be honest and own your mistakes. Nobody is perfect and when you’ve omitted or forget something they will appreciate your honesty.
Get familiar with Google docs, Google Calendar, Evernote, Dropbox and your principal may request you utilize a project management software such as Asana or Trello which are crucial for organization, prioritizing, task assignment and completion.
DISCRETION, LOYALTY AND CONFIDENTIALITY
You’ll be acting on your employer’s behalf, so being reliable as well as exercising complete confidentiality regarding their life and activities is essential. You’ll have to exercise discretion and not divulge anything, as you will be privy to their personal information, including their whereabouts and undertakings. What your principal requires is honesty, reliability and good judgement and there can’t be any breach of trust with regards to their affairs and their privacy.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Read as much as you can and be in the know from a cultural and social standpoint, because a fundamental aspect in your position will be acting as concierge. Here are some suggestions to file under your belt.
Keeping up with social media and be in the know of the hippest and newest – restaurants, hotels, bars, spas.
Learn what your principals enjoy. Familiarize yourself with the latest theater productions, concerts, opera, dining, museums, golf courses, private clubs and travel destinations.
Keep a list of preferred restaurants and choice hotels with a detailed spreadsheet of previous destinations and favored accommodations in case they require rebooking with contact info and travel dates.
Find out if there are spas and ask if appointments need to be booked for their stay when travelling.
When booking travel – private or commercial, know their preferences for seating assignments and know menu preferences along with wine pairing and cocktails.
Ensure there are flowers and champagne at hotel suites or whatever is the usual standard.
Have a good understanding for fine dining, wines and spirits, knowing preferences for certain liquors, champagnes and ensure they are available at the bar or restaurant you are making reservations.
Develop lists for limo and town car companies, in case it’s required at their usual destinations and take note of their favorite drivers.
Develop a good rapport with the house/estate managers and chefs, as you will need to develop a close affinity to their wine selection, drinks, food preferences or allergies.
Ascertain the purpose of their trip and what wardrobe options will be necessary.
Ensure any specific medications are packed and have them filled prior to departure.
Be aware of anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions for family and close friends and gift choice selections.
Pets – know their vets, schedules, groomers and walkers as well as any medications they require even if the pet(s) are traveling with the principals.
Keep detailed contact lists and update them periodically – vendors, family members, emergency contact info, staff contacts, services, credit card information, school info, doctors, etc.
Create a wardrobe maintenance schedule for different seasons and become familiar with other residences and what items are kept in those households.
Develop spreadsheets delineating renewal dates and place alerts on your calendar – DMV tags, boat registrations, passport renewals, visas, vehicle maintenance schedules, insurance policies and driving license expiration dates.
In closing, these are just some basic requirements, as there is a plethora of attributes that come into play as a Personal Assistant. Every role will be as varied and distinct as the principals you work for. No two days will be alike, so when you establish yourself and gain tenure in your position, your daily activities will come as second nature.