THE BLOG
11/25/2014 09:47 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

8 Soft Skills That Make for a Great Assistant

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If you've ever seen The Devil Wears Prada, you may believe that being an administrative assistant is a stepping stone to something greater. Though it can be a proving ground that opens doors to other positions, being a personal assistant to an executive or middle manager can also be a fulfilling career that is currently totally in vogue. Candidates may not need previous work experience as a receptionist or assistant, there are several crucial soft skills that make a candidate the best person for an administrative or executive assistant position.

Soft skills are those character traits and interpersonal skills. Character traits tend to be ingrained unlike occupational or hard skills, which are learned and honed over time. They're less what we know and more the core of who we are. While experience in similar positions may get you the interview, your ability to showcase these soft skills should get you the job.

Not everyone can be an administrative assistant. It takes a very specific set of skills to assist an executive or manager. The following soft skills make for a great assistant: time management, project management, strong communication, and active listening skills, as well as common sense, a flexible personality, attention to detail, natural curiosity and research ability.

1. Curiosity and Research Ability

An assistant with a natural curiosity and research ability benefits the executive or manager in many ways. The perfect candidate is someone who reads a lot, gathers information and builds bridges between ideas. Executives and managers dream of the kind of assistant who reads trade news, keeps him or her up-to-date, points out networking connections that should be made, and research the boss's new ideas with vigor.

2. Attention to Detail with a Great Sense of Urgency

The great executive assistant must be meticulous in all things. However tiny, details are expected never to go without notice. Assistants must pride themselves on noticing things others do not. All those arguments about work-life balance? A great assistant is the key to helping an executive or manager achieve it. When a great assistant respects his or her boss's need to balance work with their family or private life, he or she approaches the details of the boss's day with urgency and accuracy. Arrive well before the boss does, stay after the boss is gone to prepare for the next day, and work their calendar with proper planning and recommendations.

3. Common Sense

Despite what the name implies, common sense is rare. The great assistant is capable of filling in the gaps and demonstrating initiative. When given incomplete ideas, the assistant uses knowledge of his or her company and boss to round them out, all while keeping the executive informed and in approval along the way.

4. Active Listening Skills with Vision for the Future

Listening leads to learning. While most people are "hard of listening" rather than "hard of hearing," the great assistant processes information quickly and boldly asks questions to fill in his or her understanding. When an assistant understands the direction his or her boss is heading in and the strategy behind every move the executive or manager makes, the assistant will be able to have a greater impact on this growing partnership. Ultimately, the assistant will accurately anticipate what goes next.

5. Flexible Personality

A great assistant must have the ability to interact with all people. Whether you meet in person or over the phone, the assistant must build rapport. With as many unique personalities as an assistant must deal with, he or she must be able to build rapport in a number of ways. An assistant must remain flexible and patient with all people.

6. Strong Communications Skills

Communication is key. Understanding and conveying information between people is absolutely invaluable. There's perhaps nothing in the world more valuable to customers, clients and business partners than understanding and being understood. Strong communications skills could be the difference between your legacy as "The Greatest Assistant Ever" and "What was their name again?"

7. Time Management Skills

A great assistant needs to know how to prioritize and keep things on schedule because the job of assisting an executive or manager includes scheduling his or her meetings, events and other means of spending time. An executive assistant works with his or her boss to understand priorities and help manage daily scheduling so that the executive can spend more of his or her valuable time on long-term goal planning and setting.

8. Project Management Skills

As much as an assistant's ability to manage his or her time and the boss's daily operations so that the boss has time for big-picture thinking, it's incredibly important for an assistant to help bring the boss's big picture thinking to life. That means being able to help manage the projects the executive or manager is working on. Big pictures are made from many little ones. With each project, there are many moving parts and you'll be invaluable to your boss if you can help manage these moving parts. That may mean managing the deliverables assigned to all project team members or just making sure that the boss is working on the right project at the right time. It also means being able to pick up the threads of projects that have been tabled earlier but are now the boss's focus. A great assistant is one who can make his or her boss's job easier by tackling things like comparing expenses on financial statements, analyzing client trends or even simply highlighting a budget. These things make a huge difference in growing the partnership between an executive and an administrative assistant.

While the job title and description of an assistant may seem straight-forward, it can be less so in practice. An assistant's job requires the delicate use of dozens of desirable skills that people mostly notice when there's a distinct absence of them. If you've got at least some of these skills, you've got a shot at being a great assistant.

Want to find a job as an assistant? Connect with Sharon Tsao on LinkedIn.