STAYING AHEAD OF THE GAME – BY TRAY DURRANT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BAIN AND GRAY
The importance of training and upskilling – what employers are looking for.
It helps to consider what makes a good Executive or Personal Assistant. Fundamentally employers are looking for a combination of soft and hard skills: from problem solving, quick thinking and strategic planning to delivering a first-class spreadsheet that provides the Executive with all relevant information at their fingertips.
On the soft skills side, a positive mindset, the ability to navigate a myriad of different scenarios and conversations, to be proactive and reactive and to initiate and manage up are all the characteristics of successful senior support roles. There are many online training courses which offer individual courses of similar topics or indeed a combination of soft skills that sit alongside each other, such as effective communication and influencing skills.
Effective writing is considered amongst the most valuable and is often the most lacking skill in organisations, people are typically in a rush to get the email/report/brochure written without taking the time to gather research and know your audience, so the piece is pitched at the right level.
There are schools of though that lots of soft skills are potentially innate talents, but in reality all soft skills can be improved upon with constant development and training. It is notable how soft skills are the most crucial in the hiring process, as typically candidates on any given shortlist will have similar experiences and potentially ‘hard’ skills. Soft skills often do not appear on the training agenda within organisations, but they can make all the difference as to whether or not you are hired.
If you are in the job market now, improving your current skills base is a no brainer. It has long been recognised that self-development, in the form of reading or training is crucial to staying on top of the industry and keeps Assistants operating at the highest level. The relative ease of learning, with many courses available online these days, is likely to create an upturn in the development of skills. There is no excuse not to.
Languages too are much sought after and offer a salary premium in some industries. For those who have a rudimentary level of a language, taking a more advanced course will help transition to a position when you are capable and confident of using the language in the workplace.
Emotional intelligence is increasingly talked about and considered an invaluable skill that can improve aspects of work and home life. Being self-aware and learning how to manage your emotions and predict others leads to improved business and personal relationships. It also helps foster a positive mindset and a can-do outlook to tasks.
More specific skills that are certain to improve employability include ensuring your tech skills are up to date. Increasingly employers want advanced levels of Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel and specific mail marketing packages such as Mailchimp, web editing and content management. At Bain and Gray we tend to see roles requesting these skills at all levels from junior team roles to more senior EA roles. It is crucial to keep yourself up to date on the various packages that enhance efficiencies of the role. For some office management roles, light bookkeeping packages such as Zero or QuickBooks are demanded.
Since homeworking became our new normal, scheduling has become the mainstay of many executive and business support roles. As the business world moves to a more permanent hybrid model (combining remote and office-based working), scheduling will remain a crucial element of any executive assistant or PA role.
Constant development is a route to extend and enhance a career, and helps avoiding feeling stagnant, both personally and professionally. There is a lot of discussion around mental health in the workplace and one aspect of feeling good about yourself is to set new challenges, to keep your brain ticking over, and enhance your career as well as your grey matter.