Becoming an EA to a CEO is a dream to many on the PA career ladder. To help make that dream a reality, we spoke to Elizabeth Benjamin, EA to the CEO of YouView TV, to find out how she made it to the top.
Elizabeth has worked for over 9 years in legal, charity and technology organisations, working closely with C-level executives, but her background lies in campaign management and events planning for charitable organisations. The move to the EA world was made in search of a greater challenge, and she found one at YouView. She currently aids the productivity of senior team members, including the CEO, while also overseeing a variety of company wide and team events and managing a team of PAs – on top of looking after her two young children.
What do you like the most about your role?
'I love the people I work with; they are passionate about creating the best TV experiences. I like being surrounded by talented and highly skilled people who also demonstrate integrity, enthusiasm and empathy.
For my role specifically, the focus on strategy and technology is really interesting; it’s about being a key holder of information and knowing when and how that information should flow across and through the company. On top of that, there’s an art to tasks like diary management and being able to prioritise, which I personally really enjoy.'
What qualities do you think it takes to be an EA to senior members of staff?
'Definitely a pro-active focus on giving support. You need to have a strategic mind and learn to predict ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ support is needed, and sort out the details before they are requested. This requires flawless time management and exceptional organisation. You need to be vigilant all the time and, being organised and adaptive means you won’t ‘drop the ball’ when it gets tough.
Diary management is a vital skill which requires good technical knowledge of different software packages that your company use. You have to be able to prioritise ‘what’ needs to go in the diary, as well as ‘when’ and ‘where’ it needs to go in. This requires good working relationships with all stakeholders and other PAs. Working well with other PAs will help form these relationships and will give you additional support when you need it.
Intuition: This takes time but is a given for a top EA. Get to know your Execs, learn what they like, what they don’t and act accordingly. The more you do this, the more intuitive you will become. Similarly you need to take the initiative without being asked. This allows you to be relied upon and trusted, both of which are essential for being an EA.'
What advice would you give to aspiring PAs and EAs?
'Show an interest in the business, ask questions and get involved in tasks beyond your workload. This is where you will learn and be able to add more value. Having this knowledge means that when you bring solutions to your Execs and managers it is clear that you’ve thought about the workarounds in advance.
Mentoring, networking and enthusiasm are also key. Learning from others around you will help you grow throughout your career and within your role. Ask colleagues and senior PAs for advice and help to set goals which will specifically allow you to grow. An enthusiasm to learn is contagious and will encourage you to be seen as someone who can be relied on to get things done. After all, this job is all about making things happen.
Above all though, you should recognise the value that you give to your organisation. If you do your job well, you enable others to do theirs to their maximum ability which positively impacts the company and its objectives. This ultimately saves the company money and utilises people and their talents in the best possible way.'
How has networking and collaboration empowered you in your career?
'I have organised various networking opportunities with other assistants in the industry which aim to empower PAs to network and ensure great working relationships. We should all network to increase our knowledge base, it will help us be more efficient in our roles and I honestly believe that we should help each other. It is the right and kind thing to do but you also never know where your kind gesture will lead – potentially to your next opportunity.
It is important to network internally within your company and externally within your profession. It is great to meet other EAs and listen to their journeys and experiences. This will also keep you up to date with changes in the industry.'
Finally, how do you think the role of PA/EA has changed over the years and what will it look like in the future?
'I think it is ever evolving; EAs need to be strategic thinkers. Technology is evolving in such a way that key aspects of our role will be automated – diary management, travel and who knows what else. One thing that can’t be automated is the human mind; we need to be more strategic and proactive going forward. Listen in meetings and listen to people’s conversations to determine where things are going and respond to them in the right manner. As the role of an EA evolves, we will need to put on our strategic hats to set us apart from technology in the future.
EAs are not the secretaries of the 1950s. We are contributors and our opinions matter. It is not about writing letters, emails and making tea (although there might be some of that), it’s about planning and strategy. The EA role is to assist C-suite executives to achieve the company’s objectives, and if you’re able to be proactive, organised and intuitive, you’ll thrive.'
If you’d like to discuss this interview, or want to find out more about how to thrive in your PA/EA career, contact your local consultant.