Not surprisingly, what assistants do is not exactly clear to others. There are a few reasons for this. First, we don’t promote ourselves correctly. Then, there is the issue of too many different titles. Some research says that there are over 150 variations of what we Assistants do. And the last reason has to do with our ability to adapt. If we don’t master a skill that is asked of us – we make the effort to learn it. And so, Assistants’ profiles are never the same, never fixed and never standard.
Over the last 10 years I figured out the most important distinction that is indisputable and extremely clear: corporate vs private assistance!
I love this topic as this makes a huge difference in the way the assistance is performed. It clarifies the needed competences, reveals required skills and most of all it defines the way the relationship is between the employer and their PA.
Whether you are an executive or the assistant, it’s good to be aware of the specific differences between the two universes which inhabit the two assistants. One is not better than the other – they are just different and they fit differently.
AREA OF EXPECTATIONS
Here, it is expected of a PA to be the perfect fit to the needs, more than in business. In the private sector it’s all about personal needs being fulfilled and even more so… the understanding of them! Usually the understanding needs to go further than practicality as the PA will be involved in more personal settings and dealings. It doesn’t make it less demanding, because the PA needs to have more of an overview as to what’s going on professionally.
The HOW is usually more important than the WHAT here. Most private clients don’t really care about what needs to get done in order to get them what they need. It just needs to be done effortlessly (for them), absolutely timely (they tend to accept delivery issues in business, but privately they want perfection) and it needs to fit their habits (as that is what keeps them sane and grounded in this crazy world). The over-delivery is so much more appreciated here and surely easier to achieve.
Also, there is more flexibility required and the fashion of outcomes might vary way more often than in a business setting.
Expectations in business settings are mostly focused on practical outcomes. There are a few exceptions, as always, but the majority of corporate Assistants are focused on the tasks and timetables. The WHAT is leading here, followed by a pretty preset HOW. More rules, agreements, processes and methods – the workload is primarily guided and predictable.
AREA OF COMMUNICATION
A Less formal communication style is the key difference here. The issue with this form of communication is that it’s sometimes less coherent, because you only get a glimpse of the total picture. The PA needs to be on top of other events in the life of the employer to make sense of why they ask a certain task to be done. Here, the PA usually needs to filter the tasks from within the story they get. If you are lucky, the private employer might share a goal with their PA and it’s up to the PA to figure out what needs to happen along the way.
Private Personal Assistance is the most human approach to our profession, even somewhat emotional. The notorious personal ‘click’ is crucially important here.
Corporate PAs get their orders and conversations in clearly guided ways, based on predefined business goals and projects. It is ‘safe’ to ask for explanations and PAs have other people to go to for more insights or help. There are company guidelines to refer to, which is beneficial in some situations. Your communication will always have a business styling to it, sometimes reserved or even ‘undressed’ of any emotions. It needs to fit both of your personalities.
AREA OF VISIBILITY
The visibility and presence of Private PAs have two extremes. The PA can fulfill the role of a BFF and be there around their employer 24/7, or it might be just the opposite (invisible and remote, but ever online and present at the beck-and-call). This part needs to fit your personality and clear agreements need to be set up front. Locations may vary from a home office, second homes, public places, planes or boats, or any other location that your employer might want you to be at. Traveling and flexibility is a given here!
Usually, a corporate PA needs to be in the office when her exec is there. A 24/7 character is not a prerequisite, but sometimes needed in busy times. Again, the presence is relatively predictable.
AREA OF SKILLS/TALENTS
Private PAs need to adapt to a lot of skills and professions. Although there is a certain room to delegate some tasks, Private PAs resemble more of a do-it-all butler. Incidentally, the way modern day butlers are trained is astonishing. Being a PA is just one of their responsibilities. In some cases, diverting to such an all-round butler is the way to accommodate the needs of a private employer.
Although skills and talents in a business setting are more focused on certain office related tasks, the level of perfection and mastery is often the key leading prerequisite. And so, if a PA is extremely good at something, a corporate position with focus on their super skills is the best fit. As for executives, you cannot demand certain skills from your PA if it has never been on the job description. The PA can try to adapt to the request, but in most cases a delegate will have to be found to fulfill that certain demand.
AREA OF TIMING
The main difference is that Private PAs often operate in 24/7 mode, or at least that is expected in cases of emergency (which might happen every day). The work-life balance is a challenge here, but it can also be very satisfying to help out and be very proud of being in the position to be there for others.
Corporate PAs usually can delay a task until the next ‘in the office’ moment. Usually they are not even notified of any tasks that have just come up during off hours. The unfortunate result is that the PA might feel overwhelmed when coming into the office on Monday and ending up in the middle of a crisis, being extremely short on time to get some others tasks done.
AREA OF RECRUITMENT PROCESS
Private PAs are usually recruited by word of mouth (heavily relaying on the experiences of the people you ask for a referral) or by elite/exclusive private services agencies. Be aware that this is a ‘small’ world… so the image and positioning here is everything. I call this ‘soft profiling’, as what/who you are in the eyes of the recruiter and your previous employer might not be visible on your physical resume.
Corporate PAs are usually recruited by specialized agencies, but also by a mainstream recruitment platforms. The competition here is brutal, especially in these tough economic times. Corporate PAs needs to find a way to stand out ON PAPER!
Remunerations vary enormously. There is no strict distinction between those two Assistants’ universes. Some senior Private PAs might earn less than a junior corporate PA in Silicon Valley. It all depends on the industry, celebrity status (which actually means you earn less!), personality of the employer, the variety of tasks required or the track record of the PA.
In most cases it’s all about how the PAs sell their services and strengths and to whatever degree the employers see their benefits. But that’s for another post…
By analyzing these specifics, executives can make informed decisions on how to select and what to expect from their PAs. For Assistants who want to make the switch over to the other side or develop further, to become a hybrid, this is a great way to know what to work on next.
Finding your fit consciously might be easier if you know what you need and want in terms of a vantage point!