Personal Assistant (PA) Job Description
Job description of Personal Assistant (PA)
Learn Life and Management as a Celebrity Personal Assistant (PA)
Tips from The Experts: How Can I Be the Best Personal Assistant (PA)?
When people hear about my experience as a celebrity personal assistant, most think one of two things: 1. Wow, cool! You got to work closely with a celebrity! 2. Do you have any horror stories à la The Devil Wears Prada? While it is cool to work alongside someone well known and respected in their field and I do have my fair share of scary stories, I like to remind people that being a personal assistant takes a certain unique set of skills. You have to be incredibly organized, detail-oriented, and on top of everything—always.
Here are some of the strategies that the best personal assistants practice and can work wonders in your everyday life.
You are never going to be able to manage that growing stack of papers unless you set up an organization system. Yes, there is an initial time investment where you will have to spend an hour or two sifting through the stack, sorting health insurance papers from work documents, etc., but this is a onetime thing. File everything in clearly labeled manila folders or envelopes. The next time you have paperwork, don’t start a pile to be dealt with at a later time. Immediately put the document in the properly labeled folder. It takes two seconds now rather than another two hours later!
This same technique can be applied to your email inbox. Create a system for managing emails that works for you. Here’s mine: I have a bunch of folders that pertain to specific aspects of my life: finances, fitness, health, recipes, etc. When I’ve responded to an email, I delete it, or if it has useful information that I may need to refer to in the future (say image guidelines from my editor at MyDomaine), I move it to the relevant file (“MyDomaine” in this case). Emails that I still need to answer are left in my inbox.
Lists are an essential
Lists are an essential part of every personal assistant’s life. There are daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists, contact lists, and inventory lists. When it comes to managing them, Google is the best resource. It’s my preferred method of storing information because it can be reached from any computer anywhere in the world. If you send a lot of emails to the same groups of people, make a group in your contacts, such as Immediate Family, Extended Family, A-List Friends, etc. Then you won’t have to type out everyone’s name in the email field each time; you can simply send it to the whole group. Build a master Google spreadsheet with all of your passwords and log-ins. Create inventories of groceries and home goods. Each time I go to the grocery store, I print out the inventory and circle the items that need to be purchased. Same goes for a Target.
Google Calendar is another crucial tool. Put everything on your calendar: appointments, meetings, reminders, birthdays, etc. I often refer back to the calendar to cross-check bills (did I really go to the doctor on this day?) or figure out what I was doing on a certain date. It’s also helpful for managing work and social events. Seeing all of my weeknight activities on the calendar a couple of weeks in advance reminds me to make arrangements or otherwise prepare for certain events.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but when my boss is talking, I’ve got a clipboard with blank pages in one hand and a pen in the other. I’ll take vigorous notes of everything that is said, then later translate those notes into to-do lists or add them to the big project list.
Even if your schedule is hectic and your day-to-day tasks change constantly, try to establish a few routines. They offer some comfort that can help alleviate stress. Even if it’s something trivial like “every Tuesday I go to Whole Foods” or “every other Thursday, I go to Target,” some stability in your workday makes you feel productive and keeps you focused on the task at hand.
Answering a large quantity of emails is tedious, and if you find yourself writing the same sort of emails over and over again, set up a signature for it. For example, if you’re always asking for a mailing address, create a generic signature that says, “Hello blank, we would like to mail you a blank but can’t find your mailing address on file. Can you please email it to me as soon as possible?” Then when writing the email, all you have to do is choose your address signature, fill in the blanks, and hit send. This works well if you have to deal with a high volume of RSVPs.
Being a personal assistant means that you know everything about someone’s personal life, but they probably know very little about yours. There’s also little to no work/life balance when a person essentially depends on you to do everything from remember their passwords to email travel information to their family. This sort of relationship is fragile, and oftentimes the personal assistant gets the short end of the stick. Mean texts, emails, and voicemails are common, but good PAs don’t take them personally. They know that nine times out of 10, their employer is upset about something that has nothing to do with the assistant or the job the assistant is doing. Learning to apply this same mind-set to your work and personal relationships will make you stronger and more relaxed!
Being a personal assistant means that you know everything about Boss
- Always think ahead. Ask yourself, What's happening next in my manager's life, and how can I prep for it? "I love it when my staff makes my life easier," says Emma Bengtsson, executive chef at Aquavit in New York City. "I'm preternaturally happy when the walk-in fridge has been organized for the day without [my] mentioning it." When she was an assistant, Amy Peck, now the chief culture officer at SoulCycle, developed a Sunday-night habit of reviewing her boss's schedule for the week ahead. "I'd ask myself what facts she might need, like the time, location, dress code, other attendees, and what research I could do to help her walk into meetings like a hero." Peck then summarized the information in her boss's online calendar and handed off background materials in a labeled folder that could be read en route.
- End the day on a high note. Consider what more can be done at the end of the day before retreating to check your texts for the evening's social plans, adds Christine Kovner, PhD, a professor of geriatric nursing at New York University College of Nursing. "In a home-care setting, that might mean a nurse aide taking a patient's vital signs before the visiting nurse arrives or laying out patients' medications for review," she says.
- Keep it classy/ Be discreet with insider info, including on social media. "Violate your boss's trust and your career could come to a screeching halt," says Anita Bruzzese, author of 45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy. "One legal assistant I know carried a file with her wherever she went, even to the break room. If someone tried to gossip, she would gesture at the file and say, 'Sorry, I'm supposed to be taking care of this. Got to go!'"
- Get your hands dirty. A great assistant is never too cool to fix a paper jam, make a Starbucks run, or do whatever dues-paying tasks are required. Showing others that you're a hard-working team player will lead them to give you more strategic work, says Alexandra Levit, author of They Don't Teach Corporate in College. "The better you are, the more quickly you'll get promoted out of it," she explains. (But you don't want to be pigeonholed as a helper elf just because you're a woman, cautions Bruzzese. Be wary of taking on office housework that male coworkers at your level are not doing.)
- Be a buffer. Making your supervisor's day go smoothly means prioritizing tasks and, yes, people for him —which calls he should take, when he can be interrupted, and whom to decline politely. "You're the gatekeeper and the filter," says Rachel Terrace, a senior vice president of brand management at Beanstalk. "Ask for a VIP list with names of people who always get time." Carving out time for personal matters — like knowing when to block off his calendar for his kids' school performance — will also impress.
- Learn to bounce back. Everyone has bad days, including your manager. She might have a migraine, be thinking about a fight with her husband, or have screwed up in a way that will upset her own supervisor … and then you came into orbit. "Assistants will often be on the receiving end of a variety of boss frustrations, which is why you can't take them all personally," Levit says. Think of it as practice for when the criticism actually isfor you. "People who try to implement suggested changes rather than making excuses master the learning curve faster and become invaluable," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
- Make allies everywhere. Ask for tough-to-access things in a way that makes others want to help you, says Joanna Marcovici, a marketing executive in Toronto. "An assistant asked me for box seats at a sports event — not for hosting clients, but for a kid's party — and she did it so nicely, I actually wanted to deliver." Show an interest in other people's lives. "Ask them, 'How was that product launch the other day? That vacation to Peru? Your cat?'" says Marcovici. Then move into a sympathetic remark that reinforces you're on the same team. "'I know how hard you guys work. You must be ready for a break.'" Rather than seeing gate-keepers as roadblocks, see them as contacts — people who might be helpful when it's time to find the next job.
- Help your boss look thoughtful. Your manager probably cares about icing-on-the-cake details but has a limited amount of time to see them through. You can help her be as conscientious as she really wants to be. Offer to reply to long-outstanding emails or ask your boss if she'd like you to send some flowers on her behalf to an ill or bereaved colleague. "A great assistant acts as an ambassador for the vibe their boss wants to present to the world," says Caroline Webb, a former McKinsey partner and author of How to Have a Good Day. Those small touches will reflect well on your employer — and on you.
Learn How to Stay Organised as a Personal Assistant.
Modern personal assistants have come a long way from secretaries working in typing pools. These days, a personal assistant is more likely to be involved in making key decisions, even managing budgets. Personal assistants now work with chief executives and, in some cases, perform roles on their behalf.