How to Become an Executive Assistant in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for an executive assistant. Get the facts about education, key skills, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Administrative Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Executive Assistant?

An executive assistant 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. Your duties may also include supervising clerical staff and preparing documents.

Consider the information in the following table to determine if a career as an executive assistant is right for you.

Education RequiredHigh school diploma
Key SkillsInterpersonal, organizational, and writing
Job Growth (2014-2024)-6% for all executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants*
Median Salary (2015)$53,370 for all executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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 2014 that 776,600 people were employed as executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants (www.bls.gov). By 2024, employment is expected to decrease 6% to 732,000, the BLS stated. This decrease is due to the fact that managers in organizations are now completing the duties that executive assistants usually complete.

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.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in a similar career may consider becoming a secretary or receptionist, which requires a high school diploma or postsecondary training. These professionals work in a variety of settings, and must also be highly organized and have good communication skills. Job duties for both secretaries and receptionists may include answering phones, greeting visitors, scheduling appointments and answering phone calls.

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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