Executive Assistant: How to Become an Executive Administrative Assistant

Research the requirements to become an executive administrative assistant. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as an executive administrative assistant.

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Executive Administrative Assistant Career Requirements

Executive assistants fulfill administrative duties for leaders of public and private organizations. They may process financial reports, take phone calls, set up meetings, make travel arrangements or supervise other administrative staff members. Becoming an executive assistant requires strong communication, organizational and computer skills. Earning a high school diploma and gaining experience is the most common way to prepare for this career. Some executive administrative assistants also have college degrees or have completed some college-level coursework. The following table summarizes the basic requirements for executive administrative assistants.

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma*; an associate's or bachelor's degree is required by some employers**
Degree Field No specific field is required, but coursework in general office and computer skills, as well as English, is helpful*
Certification Certification is not necessary, but it may be helpful for career advancement*
Experience Varies; 3-10 years of administrative experience is desirable**
Key Skills Writing and time management skills, social perceptiveness, coordination and communication skills***
Computer Skills Knowledge of accounting software (QuickBooks), database software (Microsoft Access, RefWorks), enterprise resource planning software (SAP) and word processing software (Microsoft Word) may be required***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **International Association of Administrative Professionals and Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals job postings (July 2012), ***O*Net Online.

Step 1: Complete Basic Career Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aspiring executive assistants may get their initial training in a variety of ways. It's possible to learn the necessary office skills through vocational education programs offered by high schools and technical schools, or through associate's degree or certificate programs offered at community colleges. Some employment agencies also provide office skills training.

Success Tip

  • Learn in-demand software programs. Employers may look for employees with practical experience using specific software programs, like Microsoft Access and Word. Applicants should be prepared to outline their experience with frequently used software applications.

Step 2: Attain Administrative Experience

Before advancing to an executive assistant job, it's common to gain experience in a lower-level administrative position with less responsibility. Administrative assistants in entry-level roles tend to get some on-the-job training that can facilitate advancement.

Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

This step is not required to qualify for all executive assistant roles, but a bachelor's degree is preferred or required for some higher-level positions. Since the career paths for executive assistants are fairly flexible, this step can be accomplished before, after or in conjunction with the second step. Employers don't typically require job candidates to hold a degree in a specific field, so long as they have the necessary experience; however, a degree related to a potential employer's industry may be viewed favorably. It is unusual for colleges and universities to offer 4-year degree programs in office administration, but courses in English, business, computer science and accounting are generally offered.

Success Tip

  • Get experience. College students who think they may want to work as executive assistants should not expect that their degree alone will land them a job in this field. Experience is essential, so a part-time job or internship in an administrative setting could prove invaluable.

Step 4: Obtain Professional Certification

While it is voluntary, professional certification may help lower-level administrative assistants improve their knowledge and skills, which can subsequently help them earn promotions to executive roles. The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) offers the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) and Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) credentials, which require passage of 3-part and 4-part exams, respectively. In order to sit for either exam, candidates must have a bachelor's degree with 2 years' experience or an associate's degree with 3 years' experience; those without degrees need at least 4 years of administrative experience to qualify.

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