The terms Personal and Executive Assistant are often used confusingly, and interchangeably. Reasons for this can be: because the person writing the job description doesn't understand the difference and has no personal experience of PAs and EAs; or because the company want to save money on a more expensive salary by using the 'wrong' term in the advert; or the structure of the company is antiquated (having PA's or 'Secretaries') and hasn't updated the job titles. Alternatively, it may be used to differentiate between a junior and more senior level role. Salary can also reflect the difference between a junior PA and senior EA role. According to a 2016 salary checker, an EA in London can earn between £43,215-£61,598, whilst a PA can earn between £27,090-£43,538.
A Personal Assistant can cover diary and travel management, time organisation and providing admin support (phone calls, expense, minute taking, email management), and the mysterious 'ad hoc' element in every job description. An Executive Assistant may cover all of the above, but also might have more senior level duties. An EA might have more career experience, and be more highly qualified, sometimes with languages. Often, the term EA is used in more corporate or business environments (unlike private households), to indicate a level of seniority, project management, and involvement in business strategy. EA's are usually found at the C-Suite level (VPS, CEO's, COOs, MDs, CFO's) and are likely to be more heavily involved in their Executive's role and project, often making decisions in the Executive's absence. EA's tend to help develop business relationships and are often involved with their Executive's work to a greater level.
So how can you make the leap from PA to EA? Increase your earning potential- keep yourself updated in training- whether in practical tech skills (outlook, excel, PowerPoint) or in 'soft' skills (managing upwards, chairing meetings, how to say 'no' effectively) offered by the many providers out there. Other skills like extra languages are also useful, and broaden your appeal to recruiters. Try to take on projects that allow you to demonstrate your competencies, and give you something to talk about in your next job interview. If you are due a pay rise, now is the time to start moving yourself from one salary bracket to another- it is easier for recruitment agents and HR departments to see you in 'The New Role' if you are not too far off it, salary wise. If you manage a team or multiple number of bosses, look for roles to focus more exclusively on a smaller number- EA's tend to support a smaller number of Executives as they have to give more focus and attention. If you feel that you are, in fact, already doing an EA role, but have a PA title- try speaking to your line manager/leader and HR department to get the title changed. Not only does it reflect well on your Executive in terms of status, but it accurately reflects the job you do, and can help when you decide to make your next move.
Abigail Jones is a career Executive Assistant , with almost two decades' of experience. With three degrees in the Arts, she started working at the V&A Museum, Tate, Christies, Sotheby's before moving into Healthcare, Charity, Fashion/Luxury Retail (L'Oreal) and is currently working for American Express Global Business Travel as EA to the MD.