The term ‘business support’ can be quite a broad term but in general terms, jobs that fall under the category ‘business support’ are roles that provide administrative support to a business. Typical roles include; PA, Secretary, EA, Team Leader and Secretarial Manager.
A career in Business Support requires a large variety of transferrable skills that, if used wisely, can open your door to pretty much anything. Here is a breakdown of some of the typical roles we recruit for in Business Support and how these job roles can help you progress your career.
Admin / Office Support / Office Administrator
These different job titles typically all apply to the same role. This is a very good first role to start with it will give you exposure to a wide range of administrative duties which will give you a broad skill set and enable you to pinpoint which areas of administration you are most interested in.
Before taking your first role in admin, I would strongly advise that you take some time to research 1) what industry you want to be in and 2) what job you want to do later down the line, then choose your team/sector wisely.
If you want to be a PA you can pretty much choose any industry but it really helps if you are interested in the work the team you are supporting are doing. As you progress in your career, some firms will require specific experience in a similar firm (legal, for example) so it’s advisable to start working in a firm that works in an area that interest you as early as possible.
My best advice at this level is: don’t be afraid of hard work. The most successful administrators are those who nail the basics and aren’t afraid to muck in and prove themselves. You may have studied in the field but now is your chance to prove you can do the work. The harder you work at this stage, the more credibility you will gain and these worlds can be small so you never know who you will be working within the future.
Junior Secretary / Junior PA
This is now the time you will reap the rewards of your hard work as the administrator. It is important to remember that some companies will have more administrators than they will Junior Secretary / PA roles that they can promote into so the more you prove yourself at that stage, the better your chances will be of getting selected for promotion over one of your colleagues.
Now is your time to shine! As a Junior PA, you will be able to hand over the general office run around crown to someone else and will be given the opportunity to put all those skills you have previously learnt into practice.
In this Junior PA role, you will get your own team to support. Who are normally at a junior level in their career too, so this will ease you into supporting your own team at a manageable pace. This role is normally a stepping stone and people don’t tend to stay at this level for very long as, in time, you will start to take on ad hoc support for more senior people in your team which will give you the confidence to move up after a year or so.
Secretary / PA
Again, two different job titles for the same role. My best advice would be to not read too much into job titles and always focus on the duties you will be asked to perform. These roles can be completely different or the same in different companies so it’s pointless focusing on titles alone.
In this role you will now have your own team to support and you will do anything and everything needed for that team, from document production to PA management, so this is where those prioritisation skills will be put to the test. You will usually support a higher allocation of sometimes up to 12 fee earners, including 1 or 2 senior people, and will provide admin support for the rest. Sometimes you will be required to support at quite a high level for the whole team, this just depends on the demands of what that team needs.
Some firms do not have this level and cut straight to an EA level role. As a Senior PA, you tend to find the workload can be fairly similar to your PA workload, although usually you will be given a smaller allocation, consisting of senior people in the business, or sometimes a head of department.
A Senior PA will often have junior administrative staff working under you, so you can delegate the more administrative tasks to them. The senior people you will be supporting will usually expect you to run their work lives, or personal lives for them, so this role will tend to be heavily involved in diary management.
EA / Executive Assistant
If you have got this far you know this job is for you so now’s the time for the sexy stuff!
The EA role in a business (although again sometimes this can still be called a PA role, as I mentioned earlier, stop reading into titles) tends to be at a maximum allocation of 1:3. Sometimes it will be 1:1 although this is becoming increasingly rare as allocations getting higher to cut costs but you normally find if you have a high allocation they don't all need you.
The workload will be focused around heavy proactive diary management, gatekeeping and ensuring that your fee earners individuals are in the right place, at the right time, at all times! You will act as their eyes and ears. You will be given full autonomy to run internal projects that the person you are supporting doesn't have time to do and usually become their right-hand person with everything.
When someone says they want to be a PA this is normally what they are referring to but remember you can't jump straight into this as if you don't nail the 'small stuff' first which is ultimately most important stuff, otherwise you will trip and fall miserably. These EA roles can be incredibly demanding but also incredibly rewarding. You will gain invaluable sector experience as you will always pick up some of the work they are completing so this is a great opportunity, if you have an interest in what they are doing, to look into roles of that nature.
Secretarial Coordinator / Team Leader
This is a route you take from a PA/ EA if you develop a passion for management. These roles tend to lead on naturally from a Secretary / PA role as you will have already developed the skills of delegating! Usually, you can become a Coordinator whilst looking after your own team, but you will also take on the responsibility of managing the workflow for the more junior team members and get involved with developing and mentoring them.
You can then progress from this to a Team Leader who will continue to manage workflow but will also start taking on training appraisals and disciplinaries, working closely with your manager to ensure the team is working efficiently. This role can sometimes be a dual role where you will both support the Head of Department and manage the workflow or in some firms, you will be a sole team leader and have your own team to manage. Again, it just varies from company to company.
Secretarial Services Manager / PA Manager
To become a Secretarial Services Manager or PA Manager, you will usually need to have at least 3-5 years’ experience as a Team Leader who solely focuses on managing the secretaries and doesn't have a fee earner to support.
In this position, you will be managing the Team Leaders and ensuring they are best equipped to manage the day to day management of the support teams. You will be more involved with change management projects, internal structures and will be a decision maker for the strategic business projects. From here you will naturally develop onto Operations Manager and Director level.
As you can see, there is plenty of opportunity to progress your career in Business Support. Once you get to the stage of PA you will usually know what it is you have an interest in and people tend to go in one of two directions; either supporting a fee earner at a senior level or start working towards people management.
If you are stuck on what you want to do in life, my advice is to pick an admin role in a sector that interests you and the rest usually figures itself out. If it doesn't, then your admin skills are still likely to serve you well in whatever career you might decide to pursue.
This article was written by Jessica Ramsey from Ambition.
Ambition is a leading, global, boutique recruitment business serving specialist markets in London, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Here in the UK, they focus uniquely on professional services recruitment, giving them unrivalled expertise in this area.