Executive assistants to CEOs are the people behind the scenes ensuring the company’s leaders are set up for success — making their role critical l to the daily ongoings of the organization.
Between supporting their CEO with tasks like project management, they go beyond the typical administrative tasks that a personal assistant may encounter. They can help their CEO work through critical issues such as upcoming mergers and organization structuring.
While a CEO executive assistant’s job description might have some overlap with that of an administrative assistant (writing memos, making phone calls for the chief executive, scheduling events), the contemporary EA job description can be complex, requiring a variety of skills and responsibilities.
Below, we'll take a closer look at the job description for the modern executive assistant to the CEO role, including educational requirements, salary ranges, roles and responsibilities, and key skills.
Educational Requirements for Executive Assistants
While some CEO executive assistants require only a high school diploma and a vocational school certificate, a move to the C-suite requires additional years of experience.
However, enterprises are increasingly seeking CEO executive assistants with at least a bachelor's degree. It’s also not unusual to find CEO EAs with master's degrees, business degrees, and even PhDs.
This is because today’s EAs to C-level executives provide much more than day-to-day executive support. With the right educational background and skills, they can also be valuable strategic partners in helping CEOs steer companies toward their objectives.
How Much Do Executive Assistants to CEOs Make?
The average salary for a standard executive assistant to the CEO (or similar senior executive) in the U.S. is $60,361 with a median 57% of CEO EAs between the $56K and $141K range, according to the most recent data from Comparably. However, keep in mind that the range of salaries for CEO executive assistants varies wildly depending on factors like industry, geographic location, and experience.
How the EA Role Has Changed Over the Years
An executive assistant to the CEO is much like an air traffic controller if you look at people, systems, and schedules as airplanes. They help reduce the inherent complexities of the office environment, making it easier for chief executives to do their jobs better.
But CEO executive assistants do much more than just provide administrative support to chief executives. CEOs rely on them to operate as essential business partners that help carry out the organization's strategic initiatives. Today’s EAs even provide more supervisory responsibilities and have valuable input on issues directly affecting the enterprise. This is a considerable expansion of the executive assistant's traditional role and requires a solid understanding of business and high emotional intelligence.
Several factors have contributed to the evolution of the executive assistant role.
At the top of the list? Technology.
As technology has become more sophisticated and integral to everyday office operations and workflow, C-level EAs are expected to have enhanced technical expertise.
The pandemic also further changed the role. Between the labor shortage, its impact on talent acquisition, and the shift to remote and hybrid work, EAs were challenged with much greater responsibilities, including devising and implementing new ways to keep offices up, running, and connected.
Roles and Responsibilities of an Executive Assistant
EAs handle a variety of administrative tasks. Successfully completing these tasks mandates not only a requisite set of hard skills but also critical soft skills, such as problem-solving, communication, time management, intuitiveness, and the ability to think outside the box.
While every day may bring new and different challenges for a C-Suite EA, general EA roles and responsibilities include:
Managing the CEO's Schedule
CEOs have busy and demanding schedules. Their EAs are responsible for organizing their boss’s calendars of internal and external meetings and events, including resolving issues, making travel arrangements, and more.
But calendar management isn’t just about scheduling. It is ultimately the EA's responsibility to ensure that CEOs are where they need to be when they need to be there. EAs must also factor in necessary downtime, personal commitments, and their CEO’s specific scheduling preferences into the calendering process.
Handling Critical Communications
In addition to handling basic communication-related tasks like answering phones and providing information, EAs to CEOs and other executive team members are responsible for coordinating executive outreach and cultivating external relationships through tasks like drafting correspondence, preparing agendas, generating budgets, and other materials for board meetings.
They also liaise with senior management teams, board members, and other higher-ups on behalf of the CEO. This takes more than strong written and verbal communication skills; it also necessitates the ability to interact with many different people at all levels with confidence and competence.
Keeping Records of Corporate Documents, Records, and Reports
EAs to the CEO are responsible for maintaining effective systems and processes for simplified document management. While the shift to digital systems may have eliminated some of the difficulties associated with dealing with physical paperwork, new challenges have arisen pertaining to managing digital documents.
In fact, 58% of professionals cite finding online files and documents as a “top-three problem.” While this issue would impact productivity at any level, it’s especially untenable in the C-suite, where decision-making happens quickly.
Managing Confidential Information
Because CEOs operate at the organization’s highest level, they’re also privy to sensitive matters requiring the highest levels of confidentiality.
CEO EAs will routinely participate in discussions and decisions directly impacting their organizations’ global operations. Honoring confidentiality, using discretion, and practicing good judgment are all integral to success in the EA to the CEO role.
Continuing To Provide Administrative Support
The new executive assistant to the CEO is a long-term collaborative partner. As such, they may take on higher-level work and special projects like organizing and editing PowerPoints for sales presentations, doing research to prepare for an upcoming merger, or helping to write up an analysis of competitive threats.
Despite these increased responsibilities, CEO EAs must still provide varying levels of administrative support to the CEO, including preparing reports, handling correspondence, and scheduling meetings.
6 Skills a CEO Executive Assistant Must Have
When you start searching for an executive assistant to your CEO, it's crucial to know which hard skills you want in a candidate. For example, most EA searches prioritize detail-oriented and organized candidates with good communication skills. However, it's essential to also hire for soft skills, such as the ability to anticipate needs.
Here are six top skills it's critical for a CEO's executive assistant to have.
1. Ability To Stand in for the CEO During Non-Critical Meetings
A CEO’s time is precious and in great demand. EAs with the knowledge and judgment to make decisions in their stead are of great value. Instead of spending time at a less critical meeting, CEOs can opt to send highly competent executive assistants as their surrogates.
2. Confidence To Support, Empower, and Stand Alongside the CEO
Knowledge and intelligence can only go so far without the confidence to apply them in real-world settings. An executive assistant must be assured enough in their abilities to work alongside a CEO with lots of high-profile and important responsibilities.
3. Anticipate Needs and Preferences
An executive assistant to the CEO should have an exceptional ability to anticipate the needs and preferences of the chief executive. This means not constantly relying on the leader's direction, but having the foresight to predict and plan.
The best EAs see and address problems before they arise.
For example, a proactive EA will avoid scheduling an early call the morning after a long week of exhausting travel. They will also know to send a reminder text or email directly to the CEO the day before an appointment instead of relying on the CEO's calendar invitation alone.
All CEOs are different in how they think, communicate, function, and process information. Developing this skill means learning to think like their CEO.
While it can be helpful for CEOs to communicate their preferences for decision-making and information-sharing to the executive assistant, the CEO can't merely say, "This is what I would do," and leave it at that. Rather, it is more important for EAs to understand the preferences and processes that drive decision-making.
Executive assistants who cultivate this skill have the potential for empathy, critical thinking, and a desire to understand others. In documenting these processes as they learn them, they’ll create valuable organizational knowledge for future reference while also internalizing the chief executive's preferences for themselves.
This advanced understanding also supports EAs in effectively speaking and acting on the CEO's behalf, thereby allowing them to serve as the chief executive's stand-in. (See #1.)
4. Scheduling Expertise
Every business has an endless number of things that must be scheduled so that it can run efficiently. This includes appointments, meetings, deadlines, presentations, and Zoom calls with investors and shareholders.
That's why a rockstar executive assistant to the CEO must have impeccable organizational and scheduling skills. This skill allows them to strategically organize meetings, events, and tasks to optimize the CEO's time and keep productivity at high levels. By doing this, they prevent the CEO from getting so overwhelmed that it interferes with their essential job responsibilities.
An executive assistant knows exactly what the CEO is dealing with, along with what's critical to their success (and, just as importantly, what’s an impediment). They keep the CEO focused on high-priority activities so they can delegate the rest.
This means that in addition to just scheduling people into open slots, the EA also serves as the supreme gatekeeper.
Because of all the people vying for the CEO's attention, the executive assistant must precisely zero in on who the CEO wants or needs to see and who they don't. CEOs usually empower their administrative assistants to pare down this massive number by giving them criteria for making these tough decisions.
A CEO trusts that their executive assistant will be able to perform effective scheduling triage — that they'll have the keen business acumen to prioritize the essentials to optimize demands on their time.
Finally, executive assistants give CEOs helpful reminders about important meetings and events. The executive assistant also ensures the chief executive is prepared with all the documents and information needed for the meeting.
5. Proficiency in Creating Systemized Processes
A set of highly systemized procedures and processes can save time and promote efficiency. The best CEO executive assistants are adept at creating, sharing, and enforcing their procedures to boost organizational effectiveness.
6. Integrity and Confidentiality
As discussed earlier, a CEO executive assistant has access to sensitive and personal information. They need excellent integrity and a well-developed sense of discretion to protect the organization and stakeholders.
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Where CEO EAs were once considered purely administrative roles, their evolved nature now makes these individuals a key part of the leadership team. As such a pivotal type of executive support, it’s critical for companies to choose mission-driven, conscientious EAs who can not only provide support, but help leaders motivate downstream employees.
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