Personal Assistant (PA)

The Job and What's Involved

A personal assistant (PA) is responsible for providing administrative support to a senior member of staff, usually a manager or director. Sometimes PAs are referred to as senior or executive secretaries, or executive assistants.

A PA works very closely with senior management. Their objective is to reduce their manager's workload, implementing systems and procedures that make business operations more efficient. This enables senior management to make the best use of their time and to delegate tasks accordingly. PAs develop an excellent understanding of how the organisation operates and of the personnel that work there.

Depending on the size and structure of the environment they are working in, their role may involve:

  • Daily meetings with their manager.
  • Organising their manager's diary and personal timetable.
  • Arranging appointments for their manager.
  • Managing their manager's workload and deadlines.
  • Dealing with correspondence.
  • Preparing presentations and written reports.
  • Organising and attending meetings.
  • Taking minutes at meetings.
  • Screening phone calls.
  • Arranging travel plans.
  • Managing an administration team.
  • Taking on some of the responsibilities of an office manager.
  • Providing administrative support.
  • Looking after visitors.
  • Organising conferences and sales meetings.
  • Doing confidential work for their managers.
  • Managing a budget.
  • Submitting expense claims on their manager's behalf.
  • Booking hotel rooms, restaurants, theatre tickets, etc, for corporate entertaining.
  • Using their foreign language skills.
  • Deputising in their manager's absence.
  • Doing project work as required by the business.

A PA usually works between 37 and 40 hours a week, often from 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Additional hours may be required to meet deadlines or attend evening events. Time may be given off in lieu.

There may be part-time and job share opportunities.

The role is office based, although some travelling may be required to attend meetings, conferences or business events. Smart-casual or business dress is normally expected. A driving licence may be useful.

Starting salaries may be around £18,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Employment opportunities exist throughout the UK, in private and public sectors, from large organisations to small enterprises. There is a considerable amount of competition for positions in some areas, for example, the arts and entertainment industries.

Opportunities are good. For some PAs with foreign language skills, there may be opportunities to work overseas or in the UK as a bilingual PA.

Vacancies are advertised in the local and national press and through specialist recruitment agencies. Opportunities can also be found on the internet on job boards.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements, although employers are likely to ask for five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in English and maths. Subjects such as a foreign language, business studies or ICT will be looked favourably upon. It is beneficial to have knowledge of office skills and some work experience.

An increasing number of candidates continue their education after GCSE/S level and go on to do a degree or diploma before pursuing a suitable opportunity. Various degree courses and diplomas are available that provide a good grounding. These include:

- Business studies
- Management
- Secretarial studies

Degree courses usually last three years full time or four years for sandwich courses. In Scotland, they last three or four years full time, or four or five years as sandwich courses. Check with individual universities for entry requirements.

An alternative to doing a degree or diploma would be to get qualifications in word processing, ICT, audio typing or shorthand through OCR, City & Guilds, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) or Education Development International (EDI), and to start work at a more junior level.

There are numerous secretarial courses offered by colleges, which may be available on a part-time and full-time basis. Qualifications include:

  • Diploma in Secretarial Administration
  • Private Secretary's Diploma
  • Higher Diploma in Administrative and Secretarial Procedures

Further details can be obtained from local colleges or examination boards.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is usually on the job. There are in-house structured training programmes that emphasise Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and career progression. The Institute of Qualified Professional Secretaries provides a CPD scheme for their members.

Some courses can be taken part time while working. A number of awarding bodies offer part-time qualifications. NVQ's/SVQ's are available at Levels 3 and 4 in Business and Administration.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A PA should:

  • Have strong interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Have an excellent command of the English language and grammar.
  • Have outstanding organisation skills.
  • Have good information and communication technology (ICT) skills.
  • Be able to work to tight deadlines and manage several projects at any one time.
  • Be able to prioritise their workload.
  • Be able to work with members of staff at all levels.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be able to use their initiative.
  • Be discreet and tactful.
  • Be honest, reliable and committed.

Your Long Term Prospects

Although there is no structured career path, a PA's skills may be transferable. Various career opportunities are possible, which include:

  • Promotion to work for a more senior manager.
  • Responsibility for a small administration team or junior PAs.
  • Moving to a larger organisation or different business area.
  • Moving sideways to work for another part of the business, perhaps in marketing or human resources.
  • Becoming self-employed and setting up as a virtual PA.

Get Further Information

Council for Administration (CfA),
6 Graphite Square, Vauxhall Walk,
London SE11 5EE
Tel: 020 7091 9620

City & Guilds, 5-6 Giltspur Street, London EC1A 9DE
Tel: 0844 543 0033

Education Development International (EDI),
International House, Siskin Parkway East,
Middlemarch Business Park, Coventry CV3 4PE
Tel: 0870 720 2909

Institute of Administrative Management,
Coppice House, Halesfield 7,
Telford TF7 4NA
Tel: 01952 797396

Oxford Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts (OCR),
1 Hills Road, Cambridge CB1 2EU
Tel: 01223 553 998

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA),
The Optima Building, 58 Robertson Street,
Glasgow G2 8DQ
Tel: 0845 279 1000

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