The 10 Intangibles of an Exceptional Executive Assistant 

Do You Have Them? 

Written by: Haley Garrison

Written by: Haley Garrison

At Maven, we're all about the intangibles. In fact, we get the real skinny by working directly with the people making the hiring decisions. Connecting with senior management enables us to truly understand the company's philosophy and culture and the idiosyncrasies of the search—all the important but intangible elements that can't be found in a job description. 

One of the first questions we ask our clients is to identify the intangibles of an exceptional Executive Assistant. They quantify the qualities and characteristics of their ideal candidate, which can be dialed down to any number of things, like emotional intelligence, grit, a scrappy work ethic or a heart to help.  

As we partner with some of the Bay Area’s most well-established and up-and-coming Executives, we’ve got a pulse on what our clients believe to be exceptional. And as advocates for thousands of Executive Assistants in the Bay Area, we're able to spot an exceptional EA when we see one. Here’s what it takes to stand out in this saturated market. 

1. Assertiveness 

When supporting a high-caliber Executive, being assertive is one of those qualities that can really make or break it for you. You know how it goes – you’re supporting a Founder who’s ramping up a Series-C Startup and all you can think is, “When on earth does this wo/man sleep?” That’s where you come in: when it comes to taking initiative, providing insightful push-back or making key business decisions on your Executive’s behalf, asserting yourself is absolutely vital to your success. This might even mean telling them when they need to take a nap. Seriously.  

2. Confidence

Nine times out of ten, an Executive will say to us that they want a confident EA: someone who knows their job, does it well and feels confident taking on more. Confidence is “managing up” your Executive when necessary. It’s instilling confidence in your Executive by staying on-the-ball and never letting a detail slip through the cracks. Confidence is also an attitude; it means that some days you’re going to have to fake it until you make it, and that’s okay too. 

3. Intellectual Curiosity 

In this industry, Executives want to know that you’re hungry to learn, that you want to expand your horizons, grow your skillset and capitalize on your career. This is often how Executive Assistant roles turn into strategic partnerships – when you’re intellectually curious about the business or your specific industry, the opportunity to work on special projects will very likely fall into your lap before you know it. 

4. Adaptability 

Can you roll with the punches? Do you crack under pressure? Can you handle the complexity of a fast-paced industry with poise? Many of our Execs say they’re looking for someone who’s calm, cool and collected – someone who’s flexible and able to bounce back from hurdles. An exceptional Executive Assistant is multi-faceted, a jack of all trades when it comes to office management or personal assistant responsibilities. 

5. Problem Solver

When you break it down, any and every Executive will say they want results. They want someone who is solutions-oriented, success-driven and ready to solve problems like it’s a jigsaw puzzle. Because when it comes down to it, being an EA is putting out constant fires – whether it’s booking a last-minute flight to ensure your Executive makes a spur of the moment business meeting or making a day-of schedule change to accommodate your Executive’s shifting priorities. 

6. Personable 

At the end of the day, our clients want to work with a real. human. being. And before you utter the word "duh" under your breath, listen closely. To be an all-star, you have to understand people, you have to maintain relationships, and you have to make a personable impression on clients and the people you work with. You are an extension of your Executive, which means that when you remember to send a baby gift to a potential investor or ask a business partner how their vacation to Maui was, it reflects positively on your Executive, and might even lead to a big deal.  

7. Grit 

In every aspect of your role, your Executive wants to see that you are strong-willed. Grit shows that you have courage, strength, character and passion for what you do. Treating your work like you have skin in the game shows that you’re committed to persevering through any obstacle. 

8. High EQ 

Emotionally, you get it. Relationships are your thing. You pick up on social cues, you recognize different personalities and you can adjust your communication accordingly. When it comes to making a judgement call, your Executive is confident in your ability because you have a pulse on every factor. 

9. Supportive 

An exceptional Executive Assistant, no matter how experienced, successful, prestigious or award-winning, must be willing to roll up his/her sleeves and lend a helping hand when needed. Having a “no task is too small” attitude, a strong work ethic and a servant heart shows that you appreciate the very nature of your role. When you look at the foundation of the EA role, it was designed and intended to meet the needs of others, and your mentality should be the same. 

10. Trust

Above all else, trust is essential to any partnership – especially one of this stature. When asking our clients to provide us with their must-haves, most everyone finishes off their list by telling us they need someone dependable, reliable, committed, honest, confidential and trustworthy. Whether it’s having access to confidential documents or ghost-writing on your Executive’s behalf, this is a highly personal role which requires an incredible amount of trust. And with trust, you are no longer kept in the “Executive Assistant box,” but rather considered an invaluable asset, confidant and partner. 

If you feel that you resonate with the qualities above, we encourage you to leverage these intangibles to your benefit. These are the touch points you want to convey when interviewing, and these are the traits you want to highlight when giving specific examples of your work ethic and experience.  

Being exceptional isn’t something you’re born with or something you can gain overnight, but with mindfulness and a little practice, you’ll find yourself leaping milestones in your EA career.