Becoming a CEO's executive assistant can be a bad move

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Most people with this job title are actually administrative assistants.

One of the most coveted jobs in the labor market is executive assistant to the CEO, and for good reason. It is one of the best career springboards; it shortens the path to senior management positions in the best organizations, especially for executive assistants to the CEO in large and complicated concerns. These who manage to get these jobs become the CEO's right hand and representative in the organization. They are involved in all of the most important processes in the company, and help them get moving. They attend management meetings and are exposed to all of the organization's power centers and the professional and business environment in Israel and overseas. Quite of few of them come in contact with senior leaders in the economy. The job is demanding, dynamic, powerful, and carries a great deal of responsibility. It gives people a great toolbox and experience that qualify them for senior management positions (managers of business units and deputy CEOs) via a fast track. The road from there to the CEO's chair is a well-trodden one.

Default option

What is the problem? Many people think of the job of executive assistant to the CEO as a profession. Some of them take aim at it, despite their lack of capabilities and skills for senior management positions, often as a professional default option, or because they have reached a dead end and hope to use this position as an escape. Quite a few of them are aware that they are unsuitable for management jobs, and therefore regard the position of executive assistant to the CEO as an opportunity to gain influence without managing. They are obviously wrong. First of all, good management skills are an essential condition for success in this position, even if an executive assistant to the CEO does not actually manage anyone. Secondly, this is not a position that people stay in for many years, and what they can do afterwards is unclear, since they are unqualified to be senior managers. Furthermore, most of the people who want this job do not have the right profile because they lack the necessary education and are too old.

What is the prevailing profile? Most executive assistants to the CEO are young (28-35) talented men, with a general preference for outstanding graduates of leading universities. Almost all of them have legal or financial education (a substantial proportion are lawyers, and the rest are economists or accountants, with a few being business administration graduates), and some of them also have MBAs. In most cases, it is their first or second job after their studies or internship (in leading law or accounting firms). They serve one term in the job, or two at most - an average of 4-5 years. In certain business sectors, the people hired as executive assistants to the CEO are older and more experienced. Some sectors are more inclined to hire women in this position (the banks, for example).

Education, skills, connections

It is very difficult to get these jobs: the threshold requirements are high, getting them requires connections, and there are few such positions. There are very few executive assistants to the CEO in Israel (most CEOs have no executive assistants). Almost none of the people bearing this title are really assistant CEOs; they are administrative assistants on various senior levels, including the ones who are academics. To illustrate the point, LinkedIn has 1,000 profiles of current executive assistants to the CEO in Israel, but over 90% of them are administrative assistants. The actual proportion is even higher, because few administrative assistants are listed on LinkedIn, and the ones that are listed as such are the academic ones, in contrast to real executive assistants to the CEO, most of whom have a profile on LinkedIn.

How can we distinguish the executive assistants to the CEO from those listed as such who are really administrative assistants? First of all, all of the administrative executive assistants to the CEO are women in a very wide age bracket (from 20+ to 50+). Those of them who are academics are college graduates with a variety of degrees. Secondly, in contrast to executive assistants to the CEO, who usually serve one term in the position, most of the administrative executive assistants to the CEO have served several terms in the job in a number of organizations and have worked in the profession for over a decade (some of them got the job at a fairly advanced age, following a career in other jobs, such as human resources, teaching, etc.). Where does the title of executive assistant to the CEO come from? In most cases, the organizations upgraded the job in order to attract superior and better-educated people. Sometimes the executive assistant upgraded himself or herself.

In any case, this version of executive assistant to the CEO is not a career springboard; it is a career in itself on the administrative continuum between executive secretary, office manager, and headquarters manager. It is a job title that often confers considerable power, despite the lack of formal authority.

The author is a labor market expert.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 15, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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Careers Photo: Shutterstock
Careers Photo: Shutterstock
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