Written by Nanette Hebdige
Do you rock-star your PA job? Ever wondered how a PA to the uber wealthy keep their principals’ happy and is successful at it? The term personal assistant has become part of everyone’s vocabulary. Many believe that being a PA is effortless and a task that can be performed by practically anyone.
It’s important to know that a PA is vastly different from an admin or an EA, which are roles mostly based out of corporate enclaves supporting C Suite execs. Many are wanting to venture into a PA realm and there are countless things to take into consideration to make yourself absolutely indispensable.
Off the bat, the PA role is very diverse and unlike any other position. It’s multi-faceted, complex and embraces a combination of a many moving parts because it’s a blend of various positions rolled into one. It’s demanding so you better be bringing your A game to rock star your job and become irreplaceable.
You’ll be asked to manage, arrange and handle anything from business to personal. Keep in mind that the more tenure you’ve got invested in the service industry, the better suited you’ll be. That doesn’t mean that newcomers can’t venture into the PA arena. Just ensure you’ve taken these points into consideration and apply them daily for success.
BE A BULL DOG ON GUARD
Start by being a bulldog as a gatekeeper. With throngs wanting to slip by and get a few minutes with your principal, it’s imperative to be crystal clear who’s allowed in and who isn’t. As your time solidifies and you get acclimated with their lifestyle, you’ll know who’s of importance and can interrupt at any time. Create a “Do not disturb” list and at the start of each day, find out if there are any expected calls or meetings that aren’t already on the calendar. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, because knowledge is power, and you’ll have to learn to be firm but diplomatic in deflecting those unwanted and persistent interruptions. Your principal will not only thank you, but that’s basically one of the main reasons why you get up in the morning and breathe.
It’s rare that you will receive any concise info from your principals, as they’ve retained you to think independently and efficiently, without much training or hand holding. So what that means is – you better figure it out.
You’ll have to learn how to be a mind reader, think on your feet, anticipate every step, prioritize tasks and have complete follow through. Does that sound like you? You’ve been hired for your excellent judgement, mental quotient and decision-making skills, because your role in life is to manage everything that is a distraction to your boss. 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 every instruction given so there’s no room for error, especially when creating appointments and travel arrangements.
KEEP IT PERSONAL & IMPERSONAL
By personal I don’t mean be a chatter box making it about you. Unless you are asked, your answer to “how was your weekend” should be brief and cheerful. Since every principal has their own unique style and needs, discovering pet peeves, preferences and absolute necessities is crucial – so keep it personal to THEM. Additionally, don’t gossip about other staff or carry on about your dog, your bae or the last episode of Game of Thrones or Highlander. Keep your drama at home – don’t bring it to work and seriously refrain from personal texting and phone calls.
COMMUNICATION AND TRANSPARENCY
Everyone has a preference regarding how they want to be contacted or kept informed. Text, email, phone call? Know their personal times – are they early birds or do they keep vampire hours? Ensure your info is spot on, current and be brief, without rambling or being overly verbose. Additionally, if you are working on specific projects, ask how they want to be updated on the progress. This will show them you’re uber organized and you’ll be even more valued ensuring your success. Remember the same goes for who you’ll be reporting to – COF or the estate manager.
BE FLEXIBLE LIKE AN ACROBAT AT CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
Most assuredly you’ll be required to be available after hours and some weekends. That’s why these jobs come with a 24/7 mentality and you have to be ready for those 12-14 hour days and even be on call when you’re winding down your day. You’ve made yourself indispensable, so you’ll have to be adaptable. These will include last minute changes, which you’ll have to handle on the fly, doing them effectively, usually with little time parameters. Here is where a PA’s role is more demanding 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 done will go down the toilet because your principals will change their minds and do a complete 360 on you.
COMMUNICATE LIKE A PRO
Your personality is key here. You’ll be interacting with other household staff, family office, vendors, VIP’s, family members, friends, celebrities 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 poised individual, because as the gatekeeper, you are a direct extension of your employer. Hence your poise and professionalism has to shine through in every situation, no matter how complex or how weird. Your verbal and written communication skills will be tested. 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 holidays.
BE A-OK TO CROSS TRAIN
Along with the 24/7 mentality, there are many tasks that will be thrown your way that may not necessarily require assisting the principals, so don’t grumble. You may have to support family members, guests, the EM or COS by supervising many household duties, such as managing to vendors, project management regarding renovation or construction, be a nanny on the fly, take Rufus to the vet, staff scheduling and at times event planning for in-home or outside events. You’ll probably be running errands, be a personal shopper, wrapping gifts and at times act as chauffeur. So, if you’re going to go by a “job description” this isn’t the job for you.
BECOME A JEDI AT ORGANIZING AND SETTING 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, which will become your BFF. Keep all your calendars in sync for schedule awareness and set a ton of self reminders (it helps if you have the memory of an elephant). There will be also complex travel arrangements, which you’ll have to coordinate yourself or liaise with an Amex Centurion card concierge; packing and unpacking, as well as traveling with the principals (learn to throw your luggage together in 30 minutes), staff members, family and prepare Rufus for travel. You’ll be in contact with corporate EA’s as needed. So, the key is not to procrastinate and set priorities. Take a time management class, you’ll thank yourself you did.
BE RELIABLE AND HONEST-ABE
You are your employer’s right arm. 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 their needs and preferences will be vital, as this will make you indispensable. Be honest and own your mistakes. Nobody is perfect and when you’ve omitted or forgotten something they will appreciate your honesty. Don’t let it happen again, though.
BE A TECHY NERD
Get familiar with Google docs, Google Calendar, Evernote, Dropbox. Your principal or the COF may request you utilize project management software like Asana or Trello which are crucial for organization, prioritizing, task assignment, accountability and completion.
WHAT WAS THAT?
You may be privy to private conversations because let’s face it, it’s hard to turn a deaf ear when people are talking in your vicinity, and some people are loud. However, it’s in those conversations, you may be able to gain information on special celebrations and upcoming events to ask if there’s a need for gifts, likes and dislikes. Your little black book will prove invaluable, in this case an excel spreadsheet. Preferred restaurants to book/avoid, favorite/unpopular foods, allergies, fave flowers, diets, allergies, current hobbies/sports (of your principals, family members and guests), specific drinking preferences, with alcohol or brand of water. Familiarize yourself with previous travel destinations – i.e – ensure you have retain and file all the details from the previous Bora-Bora trip in case it has to be duplicated exactly. You get the idea.
BE LOYAL & BE A TOMB
Since you’ll be acting on your employer’s behalf, being reliable as well as exercising complete confidentiality regarding their life, business dealings 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. You better believe that many a valued and long term employee has been sacked for blabbing out of context. Remember that Confidentiality Agreement and NDA when you came on board? There was a reason you had to sign that.
Depending on the industry your principal is, stay abreast of current news so you are in the know. If your principal is a lady and likes dabbling on the Real-Real, know the latest MIU-MIU, Manolo Blanik, Prada, Hermes or Chanel fashions that become available and let her know. You may be asked to do the research from now on, but that will give you a more personalized edge. And you may be in charge of the Amazon accounts for purchasing, credit card reconciliation and budgeting.
Know when the opera is in town, what restaurants have received new Michelin stars, the latest Broadway shows, concerts and where’s the next Super Bowl.
And read everything in sight from a professional, cultural and social standpoint, because another fundamental aspect in your position will be acting as concierge. Remember knowledge is power.
Last minute notes:
Keep up with social media and be in the know of the hippest and newest. Restaurants, hotels, bars, spas.
Learn what your principals, their family and guests enjoy and dislike. 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 concierge contact info and travel dates.
Find out if spa appointments or special services need to be booked for their stay when traveling.
When booking travel – private or commercial, know their preferences for seating assignments as well as menus, wine pairings and cocktails.
Ensure there are flowers, fruits, champagne/wine, preferred water at hotel suites or whatever is the expected standard.
Have a solid understanding for fine dining, wines and spirits, fondness 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.
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.
Know all anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions for family and close friends and gift choice selections.
The secret life of pets – know vets, groomers and walkers. Special diets as well as any medications they require even if they are traveling with the principals.
Keep detailed contact lists and update them often – vendors, family members, emergency contact info, staff, personal services, credit card information, school info, doctors, etc.
Create a wardrobe maintenance schedule for different seasons and closet rotation and become familiar with other residences and what items are kept in those wardrobes.
Develop spreadsheets delineating any renewal dates and place alerts on your calendar for DMV tags, boat registrations, passport renewals, visas, vehicle maintenance schedules, insurance policies and driving license expiration dates.
In closing, these are just some basics, as there is a plethora of attributes that come into play as a PA. 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 become second nature.