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The Changing Role of a PA

1 Sep 2013

The role of a Personal Assistant (PA) has changed enormously in the last 10 to 15 years. Eden Scott's Business Support and Legal Division has consultants who have recruited Secretaries, PAs and Executive Assistants for over 15 years - they have seen the role evolve and develop, but without becoming less busy!

While there continues to be many ‘traditional' PAs with a 1:1 role (managing diaries, writing correspondence, taking dictation and dealing with confidential matters for their boss), there are many more whose role has changed dramatically through developments in new technology, working practices and working environments.

Carol Gourlay is Regional Chairman of the European Management Assistants Group, an international development and networking group which focuses on the development of Management Assistants, or the new PAs. She says that "In the last ten years it is amazing how much technology has progressed to make the life of a PA easier. In 1997 I did not have e-mail, I picked up the phone or walked over to talk to colleagues and ran a very efficient calendar and reminder system using an A4 day to a page diary and a pencil. I filed paper, typed letters and made the coffee by boiling a kettle in the kitchen using my heady responsibility as collector of the coffee boat money to ensure that we always had supplies.

I now find that I regularly have three or more electronic diaries open, am usually working in two time zones and everyone sends e-mails to create a "paper trail". Filing is done electronically and when the server crashes nothing can get done."

A PA has now developed into a support manager for multiple bosses and their teams. They screen and maintain email inboxes, manage multiple calendars and organise team travel arrangements throughout the UK, Europe and worldwide. They organise events locally, nationally and internationally and may even have to source locations for the events.  A PA now needs to have a business head as they often look after and manage team budgets, expenses and petty cash. On top of all this they are often given responsibility for confidential projects which have an impact on the company.

Does technology make the job easier? Carol Gourlay feels it does. One area where a good PA continues to leave technology in the starting blocks, however, is a knack for mindreading - some things never change!

This all means that recruiting managers now need to think differently about the qualifications and both the hard and soft skills required for the role of PA.

Is the role 1:1, supporting a team, part of the business and involved in the strategy and planning? Is it necessary to have shorthand anymore? What technology skills will be needed in the next 5 years?

The answers to these questions are different for each organisation and very much depend on the role and responsibilities. How recruiting organisations advertise, interview and assess is of utmost importance. Using a recruiter who understands the challenges of finding the right person will help - of course! 

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