Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant: What’s the Difference?

Executive Assistants vs. Administrative Assistants

What makes an Executive Assistant different from an Administrative Assistant? Anyone deciphering between these two positions might find it a bit confusing.

The responsibilities of Executive Assistants (EAs) and Administrative Assistants (AAs) may overlap at one company and be vastly different at another company. People may use the two titles interchangeably in some professions while other fields assume that Executive Assistants and Administrative Assistants will be on completely different teams.

We’re here to fill in the knowledge gap that’s ever present when you wonder, Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant: Is there a difference? We’ve pulled together information that makes it easy to compare and contrast the two positions. Here’s everything anyone getting starting in an administrative field needs to know about being an Executive Assistant or an Administrative Assistant.

(PS – Join one of our private FB Group exclusively for Executive & Administrative Assistants. It’s a community to connect, collaborate, and share advice on how to overcome the wide spectrum of challenges you face in your role.)

Key Differences: Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant

Executive Assistants vs. Administrative Assistants: Key Differences

Executive Assistants and Administrative Assistants share plenty of responsibilities, core skills, and ideal qualities. Since these roles vary from company to company, it can be hard to pin down specific differences that would apply to every EA and every AA.

Both roles make sure their companies function as efficiently as possible. The key difference lies in the focus of each position.

  • Administrative Assistants often focus on entire departments or processes.
  • Executive Assistants often focus on specific people and positions.

Here’s some examples of what this key difference might look like in practice:

  • Managing a conference room calendar (AA) vs. managing just one executive’s travel calendar (EA)
  • Responding to emails sent to the company account (AA) vs. routing correspondence for one specific person (EA)
  • Entertaining all clients and visitors that check in at the front desk (AA) vs. taking a key client to lunch before they meet with the executive (EA)

Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant: The Job Descriptions

Executive Assistant and Administrative Assistant

Executive Assistant

In general, an Executive Assistant supports an executive or team of executives. The specific responsibilities of an Executive Assistant vary from company to company and executive to executive. Most EAs solve problems, devise business strategies, manage projects, plan events, guide communications, and so much more. Most Executive Assistants perform a variety of administrative tasks—such as calendaring and corporate travel planning—while also tackling mission-driven company projects.

Executive Assistant responsibilities include:

  • Handling payroll
  • Planning office design and layout improvements
  • Onboarding and offboarding new employees
  • Managing operations tasks, including handling employee reward perks, parking, and building maintenance
  • Directly assisting executives
  • Handling issues and updates related to technology and office equipment
  • Planning events
  • Coordinating travel
  • Scheduling and managing calendars
  • Creating reports

Sample Executive Assistant Job Description

ZipRecruiter offers a helpful sample Executive Assistant job description that lists the following duties and responsibilities:  

  • Answering phone inquiries, directing calls, and providing basic company information
  • Comfortable performing clerical duties, taking memos, maintaining files, and organizing documents. Photocopying, faxing, collating, etc., as needed.
  • Arranges travel, accommodation, itineraries, and all correspondence related to arrangements as needed.
  • Plans/organizes and implements events such as meetings, business luncheons, or client dinners

Administrative Assistant

Busy Executive Assisant

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Administrative Assistants (AA) “perform routine clerical and administrative duties. They organize files, prepare documents, schedule appointments, and support other staff.”

Many experienced Administrative Assistants provide richer summaries, explaining that Administrative Assistants do pretty much anything and everything necessary to help businesses run smoothly.

Administrative Assistant responsibilities include:

  • Managing office communications
  • Handling technology and office equipment
  • Planning events
  • Coordinating travel
  • Scheduling and managing calendars
  • Maintaining contact lists
  • Keeping the office filing system in order
  • Greeting visitors
  • Creating invoices
  • Tracking and ordering office supplies
  • Providing a health office snack station and other perks

Sample Administrative Assistant Job Description

A sample Administrative Assistant job description from Workable features the following job brief:

“We are looking for a responsible Administrative Assistant to perform a variety of administrative and clerical tasks. Duties of the Administrative Assistant include providing support to our managers and employees, assisting in daily office needs and managing our company’s general administrative activities.”

Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant: The Essential Skills

Assistant Skills

Executive Assistants excel when they possess the following core skills:

  • Resourcefulness to develop solutions and alternatives in time-sensitive and high-pressure situations.
  • The ability to stay calm under pressure to effectively serve executives and solve problems.
  • Tech savviness to be able to use all the tools of the trade to improve and reinforce processes.
  • Big picture thinking to provide executives with strategic guidance.
  • Prioritization to get the truly important things done.
  • Discretion to be a trusted resource and keeper of confidential information. Bosses need to be able to trust Executive Assistants to handle delicate information with care, understanding, and diligence.
  • Organizational skills to keep track of physical items and projects while maximizing productivity.
  • Multitasking to strategically complete important to-do items while balancing small tasks.
  • Anticipation to detect problems and opportunities in situations and relationships.
  • Emotional intelligence to interpret and act on emotions in themselves and others.
  • Communication skills to effectively convey messages to a variety of different audiences in a variety of different formats.
  • Speed and decisiveness to make the right moves in high-pressure situations.
  • A thick skin and a sense of humor to stay sane and keep a positive attitude no matter what happens.
  • Networking prowess to build advantageous and fulfilling connections.
  • Negotiating skills to make the impossible happen.
  • Analytics skills to inform key business decisions.

Administrative Assistants excel when they possess the following core skills:

  • Creative problem solving. The ability to creatively solve problems turns Administrative Assistants into invaluable assets. Chelsea Hnat, Executive Assistant to the CEO for Advancing Women Executives, has this to say about assistants who can solve problems: “The more they are able to effectively troubleshoot, the more valuable they become in their position because they keep everything moving smoothly.”
  • Proper etiquette to effectively and respectfully communicate with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Emotional intelligence  to interpret and act on emotions in themselves and others.
  • Foresight and anticipation to recognize and solve potential problems before they graduate to full-fledged disasters. 
  • Multitasking to knock out a variety of menial tasks without letting anything fall through the cracks.
  • Adaptability to shift tasks (and mental outlooks) on a moment’s notice.
  • Organizational skills to keep track of physical items and projects while maximizing productivity.
  • A service-minded attitude. Valerie Gomez, Administrative Assistant at ADP, says, This is very important. A rockstar executive or administrative assistant WANTS to serve their leader – whether the task is big or small. A strong admin knows that by helping achieve their boss’s goals they will achieve their own.”
  • Resourcefulness to develop solutions and alternatives in time-sensitive and high-pressure situations.
  • Grit to maintain composure when things go wrong.
  • Communication skills to effectively convey messages to a variety of different audiences in a variety of different formats.
  • Tech savviness to be able to use all the tools of the trade to improve and reinforce processes.
  • Big picture thinking to provide strategic guidance.
  • Attention to detail to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Prioritization to get the truly important things done.

Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant: The Career Paths  

Assistant Career Paths

Both Executive Assistants and Administrative Assistants enjoy flexible career paths. Both positions provide plenty of room for ambitious workers to create their own opportunities and blaze career paths based on goals and interests.

Executive Assistant Career Paths

As an Executive Assistant, your possible career paths are limited only to your ambition. Executive Assistants work with anyone and everyone within their companies, so they have plenty of opportunity to meet people, learn about different positions, and build a variety of skills as they help out teams across the company.

Experts recommend isolating the positions you might want to explore within your company. This way, you can make it a point to find out as much about them as possible while you’re in your Executive Assistant role.

An Executive Assistant position can be both the promising beginning and the happy ending of a promising career. Many EAs choose to stay and grow within their positions. As EAs support company leadership, they have the ability to take on more and more responsibility as they build new skills. Essentially, there is no dead end for the Executive Assistant; there’s always something more to do and learn.

Many Executive Assistants even grow into executives themselves. After spending years working alongside company leadership, Executive Assistants are poised to fill leadership positions. Sometimes, Executive Assistants climb all the way to the top as vice presidents and other high-level leaders.

Administrative Assistant Career Path

Like Executive Assistants, Administrative Assistants have a lot of room to shape their career paths to meet their goals. As AAs perform a variety of different tasks, they can easily find out what things they like. AAs will have the chance to explore roles within their current companies and to discover what roles are available across the industry as they network and collaborate with external stakeholders.

Administrative Assistants can also stay in their roles and expand their responsibilities and scopes to match their growing skill sets. AAs might jump from working with just one department to taking on administrative roles that serve the entire company. They might even move into Executive Assistant roles where they’ll serve one specific executive.

Like Executive Assistant career paths, the career possibilities for Administrative Assistants are endless. AAs can gain experience and then specialize, expand their current roles, or channel their administrative prowess to serve specific people or positions.

(PS – Join one of our private FB Group exclusively for Executive & Administrative Assistants. It’s a community to connect, collaborate, and share advice on how to overcome the wide spectrum of challenges you face in your role.)