Providing ongoing administrative support to a company director or a more senior figure within an organisation, a personal assistant (PA) assists with daily duties and helps to reduce workload.
Largely responsible for the efficient running of large and small businesses alike, the tasks of a PA can be challenging and wide ranging.
The services of a PA can also be called upon by celebrities, politicians and figures in the public eye. In these instances, being a PA can involve managing both their private and working lives.
Salaries are largely dependent on experience and location. You could expect starting salaries to be in the region of £18,000 - £25,000 a year. Within larger organisations, this figure could increase to £30,000 - £40,000.
- Take instructions provided by manager and complete required tasks.
- Screen and handle telephone calls and manage enquiries.
- Manage post, emails and faxes, issuing responses where possible.
- Act as a main point of contact.
- Organise diaries and book appointments.
- Assist manager with meetings and arrange logistics, such as travel and accommodation.
- Undertake research and produce documents for meetings.
- Take minutes at meeting.
- Produce letters and, if necessary, reports on behalf of your manager.
- Oversee office procedures.
- Perform other administrative and ad hoc duties, such as filing and photocopying.
Some PAs may also be required to:
- Oversee some aspects of finances, manage an office team and supervise project work.
- Manage personal diaries and undertake other non-work related errands.
- Recruit and train other staff members.
The qualifications required to become a PA can vary greatly. However, in most cases, you will normally be expected to meet the following requirements:
- 5 GCSEs including English and Maths (Grade C or above).
- IT proficient.
- Short hand and audio typing skills are advantageous.
- Basic knowledge or fluency in other languages can be favourable.
- A recognised qualification in secretarial or administrative skills. These can include:
- NVQ Level 2 or 3 in Business and Administration
- OCR Higher Diploma in Administrative Procedures
- City & Guilds Advanced Diploma
- Higher Professional Diploma in Business Administration
- Excellent organisational skills.
- Ability to work in an efficient and effective manner.
- Good timekeeping skills and ability to meet deadlines.
- Ability to remain calm under pressure.
- Strong communication skills, both written and spoken.
- Adaptability and flexibility. Certain jobs may require longer working hours during busy periods at short notice.
- Ability to multi task.
- Determination - you may need to get a job done with little time!
- Ability to use initiative.
- Ability to build good relationships - you will be the main point of contact for many clients.
- Ability to delegate when necessary.
- Ability to exercise good judgement.
PAs are normally office based and typical working hours are between 9am and 5pm. This can vary depending on the role and the company. Busy periods may require flexibility and you may also be required to work nights and/or travel with the job.
Recruitment agencies should be able to advise on part time, flexitime and temporary positions.
A higher education degree is not essential to become a PA although, in these instances, you will normally need at least two years' previous experience. Temping offers the opportunity to gain invaluable experience and can be combined with a part time secretarial course.
Further information on secretarial courses available in the UK can be found on the following websites:
Alternatively, contact your local further education college or other secretarial schools in your area.
‘On the job’ training is usually provided by employers, although relevant work experience may be essential for more senior PA positions. Some companies may even offer apprenticeship schemes, which enable employees to learn and earn whilst undertaking professional qualifications at college. Apprenticeships can take between one and two years for completion.
Visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk for further information.
Personal assistants can work in large, small, public and private sector organisations.
For local jobs, visit your nearest recruitment agencies which specialise in PA and secretarial jobs. Alternatively, local Jobcentres can provide information on vacancies in your area.
After developing your knowledge and gaining experience, there may be scope to transfer your skills within another area of your current employment or to become the PA to a more senior figure. A promotion may require additional support and you could find yourself managing a team of assistants.
If there are no opportunities for progression within your current company, you may want to contact larger organisations in your area regarding vacancies.
It is also worth considering further qualifications as these may improve your chances of promotion. Find out whether any internal or external courses are offered by your current or future employer which could further your development as a PA.
Abigail Lamb, 24, has been a personal assistant to the partner of a high-profile party planning company in London for the last two years. Here she explains what it’s really like:
“Before working as a personal assistant to a party planner, I gained experience as an exhibition co-ordinator for an art gallery. This gave me the key organisational and decision making skills which are crucial in my current role.
“At the beginning of a typical day, I check the diary to refresh myself about what the day holds. The team are often managing and co-ordinating several events at the same time so it is critical that I manage my time well and prioritise my workload. From the moment I step into the office, I check my emails. I need to be aware of any last minute changes which may affect an event, such as complications with suppliers, and handle any issues which arise.
“The rest of the day largely depends on what events are taking place - I could be office based or out on-site. Previous Royal and international events have involved arranging security lists for the staff and organising logistics, such as travel and accommodation. Before an event, I am also tasked with researching suitable venues and producing quotes. This has its perks - the last time I was required to do research for a party, I was given £1000 to spend in Hamley’s toy store!
“Being a PA constantly presents new challenges and I have been provided with other amazing opportunities, such as being flown to Marrakesh on a private charter plane! My job is full of weird and wonderful surprises and no two days are ever the same. It’s also great if you are sociable and like meeting new people. But, it can be demanding too...
“The responsibility of a last minute problem can fall on your shoulders and it is important that you are prepared for all eventualities and remain level headed. As a PA, you are required to think on your feet and use your initiative on a regular basis. Communication is also vital. Keep copies of all important correspondence received and sent to prevent any issues which may arise over miscommunication.
“Essentially, to succeed within this role, you need to be organised, efficient, diplomatic and calm under pressure. In most cases, you are also the first point of contact, so you need to be a good communicator and discreet with confidential information. In some instances, you may need to accept criticism but remain confident in your abilities. Don’t take unfair criticism personally, especially during stressful periods. If a task seems impossible, be assertive and accept help when necessary. Be prepared to delegate to get a job done and thank people for their efforts. The smallest gesture can make the biggest difference.
“Remember to enjoy the job, create a positive working environment and have fun! Working occasional long hours may be required but this shouldn’t be expected on a regular basis without reward.
“After gaining experience as a personal assistant, it may be possible to transfer to a different role within your current organisation or work for a larger company. Personally, I love the variety and creativity of working for a party planner. I’ve also become quite accustomed to travelling in style!”