Playing a supporting role |
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Playing a supporting role

Published on Thursday, 08 Apr 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung

The popular image of a personal assistant - as portrayed by Hollywood - is of a poorly-paid, badly-treated employee routinely berated by their bosses as worthless and performing soul-destroying tasks, such as picking up the dry-cleaning for the employer and walking their dog.

But the truth tends to be embellished to fit the silver screen. Joyce Yam, senior consultant for Page Personnel, says that the main role of a personal assistant is to provide secretarial and business support to a senior executive. "A personal assistant supports their manager by taking on all administrative responsibilities, so as to make their manager's job as easy as possible," she says.

The term personal assistant is often used interchangeably with other titles such as executive assistant, who tends to serve senior executives and are better paid, and secretary, who performs more clerical or administrative duties and are rarely involved with business projects. The tasks handled by a personal assistant can be quite similar to those performed by the other two, depending on the seniority of the employee and the company's practice.

In the investment sector, where the demand for personal assistants is increasing as firms recover from the downturn, they manage hectic diaries and high volumes of correspondence for executives. In smaller firms, personal assistants take on administrative duties such as managing office space, human resources and book-keeping.

More senior personal assistants play key roles in moving business projects from initiation to completion, responding to correspondence on their manager's behalf, attending business meetings to provide translation or even add insight, and preparing presentations and reports.

They also contribute to the investment cycle by organising roadshows and other events to assist with fundraising and investor communications, and conduct preliminary market research.

Technical and soft skills are important

  • Most personal assistants in investment firms begin their career in a similar role in banks or other financial services companies – although industry experience is less important than technical and soft skills. Junior personal assistants usually support a group of executives before moving on to assisting senior executives on a one-to-one basis. They may then transition into an office manager role, supervising the administrative functions within a firm.
  • The average salary range for personal assistants, with 5-10 years’ experience, is between HK$30,000 and HK$40,000 a month. Junior personal assistants can be paid HK$15,000 while senior ones can be paid HK$45,000 or more.
  • Many personal assistants are university degree holders, and it is increasingly common for those seeking growth in their careers to pursue qualifications that are relevant to their daily work, such as in accounting, marketing, event management, business administration or translation.

Chemistry is key

  • Chemistry – between themselves and their immediate managers – is the most important element in the success of personal assistants. This is because a personal assistant and their manager typically work very closely, spending a lot of time together, often sharing office space and travelling together.
  • Excellent personal assistants should have a positive attitude to provide a calming presence if their managers are under stress. They should also be proficient at multitasking and flexible to deal with often high volumes of demands from their bosses and last-minute changes. Finally, they need to be proactive and anticipate what their managers want even before they are aware themselves.

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