Progress over Perfection: Career Progression Tips for Every Assistant

Does that glass ceiling look familiar? For many within a support role whether you are a Personal Assistant in banking or the right hand man/woman to a celebrity, career progression within the support industry can be a difficult path to tread. However, it is not impossible.

Being an Assistant can be the greatest role in the world, preparing you for bigger things should you wish to take the leap. Unsure how to start when your to-do list is already long enough or your inbox is bursting with 1000 emails? It’s easier than you think!

Actions speak louder than words

Some of the most successful Personal and Executive Assistants we speak to, credit their career progression to simply putting their hand up and jumping into the deep end when it comes to new experiences in the office. It might be a scary thought but don’t confuse that emotion with the idea that as an Assistant, you are not entitled to be involved in the bigger picture. By default, you should always be involved in the bigger picture, with your Exec by your side.

Actions speak louder than words. Is there a new initiative at work focusing on wellness? Put your hand up and volunteer to get involved with researching brands who could support your office in embracing a healthier lifestyle. Would your office benefit from a ‘PA hub’ with those in a support role being connected on a wider scale than that which already exists? Start off by making an online network where you can stay connected and informed on relevant topics such as restaurants for client meetings that have your approval or training courses which could benefit you all.

Harness the power you have as an Assistant and showcase the positive impact you can have on the business, on your colleagues and on your Execs. You never know what opportunities could come your way next!


If there is one thing that we could all benefit from, it’s a mentor. As someone who spent ten years in a support role, I found nothing more valuable that contributed towards my personal career progression than learning from others over a coffee meeting or during a discussion at networking events.

So what is a mentor, why is it so important and how does this level of support differ from classroom training programs? Real life experiences lead to real life solutions. Identifying a mentor is all about understanding the area you wish to concentrate on in order to grow and develop your skills in real time. With the guidance and support of someone who ‘has been there and got the t-shirt’ by any method which seems fit to mentor and mentee, a 15 minute conversation over a coffee, once or twice a month can have an incredible effect on your workplace performance.

Scared to reach out to the person you feel could really add something to your skillset? The greatest compliment to be asked is for guidance and help within an area someone feels truly passionate about. Bite the bullet, you only live once!

Recognise and value your own worth

Assistants are without doubt, one of the biggest contributing factors to the success of every business in the world. Remember that famous phrase we all associate with finding our soulmate – ‘before you can be happy with someone else you must be happy by yourself first’? To believe in yourself can be harder for some than others however, before your boss and colleagues can truly value what you can bring to the table, you must first recognise your own worth. 

Think outside of the box. This is all about showing off the skills which your company already recognises but also the skills you have which are being underutilised and unrecognised.

For those Personal and Executive Assistants who have transitioned sideways into a different role in a new department, or those who have progressed into a Director role (yes it’s possible!), being confident enough to highlight the impact they have on their business has been critical to their own career progression.

Do you have ambitions to be something other than a Personal or Executive Assistant in the future? Confidently communicate with your boss your long term career plan with the company and ask for their support in achieving that success. Perhaps some people feel that this behaviour would be inappropriate but be brave, what’s more important? That you stay pressed against that glass ceiling knowing that you could achieve more? Or throw yourself into the deep end, taking on a new challenge which could one day change your job title from Executive Assistant to Executive Director?

Initiate innovation

If you have an opportunity to develop and improve an existing procedure in the office, be confident enough to offer your suggestion in your next one on one meeting with your boss. Showing initiative in process improvement will not only demonstrate your ability to think commercially but also shine a light on your dedication to the business.

In our recent article ‘5 Skills Every Assistant Should Embrace’ we touched upon being proactive rather as opposed to reactive in the workplace which many of our readers identified with.

Look at the bigger picture and where you see gaps, look to find a solution. Being involved in all aspects of business with your Exec gives you an edge that others do not. Embrace this and be brave enough to initiate innovation where you see fit. Worried about stepping on someone’s toes? No one is going to turn away change if it has positive effects but always remember, when you identify an area that is in need of improvement, always come armed with a plan that you believe will make a difference.


Networking, either you love it or hate it yet it is one of the most rewarding and valuable activities that as an Assistant we should all be involved in.

My time as an Assistant was spent building my black book of contacts across restaurants, hotels and other forms of retail/services which lead me to provide a greater level of service to the Execs I supported and further down the line, able to launch The Assistant Room.

Meeting and interacting with key contacts at companies who can add value to your daily grind will give you an advantage in ways you have never experienced before. Need a last minute table at the most in demand restaurant in town? Being on first name terms with the Business Development Manager or Head of Events might just enable you to make the impossible possible. Do you need to find a last minute birthday gift that doesn’t exist on the high street? Perhaps you could reach out to the person you met three months ago who can source any gift in existence from around the world.

Networking events are all about meeting new people and growing your personal database. If organised in a constructive and effective way by your host, you will look back and wonder why you had never tried them before.

Article contributed by Jess Gardiner, CEO of The Assistant Room

Jess created The Assistant Room after spending close to ten years as an EA to CEOs across the Healthcare, Fashion and Property industries. It is now the number one PA lifestyle magazine and has an online platform with thousands of followers from all over the world.