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Executive assistant salary & career outlook

Executive assistants are essential parts of practically every successful company. By providing elite-level administrative support for managers, directors and other top enterprise officials, a skilled executive assistant contributes in multiple ways to the smooth operation of an office environment. These professionals might also be known as personal assistants or executive secretaries, but the basic job functions should remain the same.

Tasks may include conducting research, reviewing incoming documents, preparing reports and keeping various schedules in order. Because executive assistants may supervise clerical staff or handle a significant amount of inter- and intra-office communication, individuals with excellent social, organizational and computer skills are likely to be the best qualified candidates.

Other duties might include making travel arrangements, planning special company events and meetings and maintaining digital libraries. At some companies, they may be in charge of composing, proofreading, or finalizing official office documents. Most successful executive assistants have a broad base of knowledge and constantly learn new competencies to enhance their skills and value to their employer, and getting formal administrative assistant training can help them grow professionally.

What's the job outlook?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections indicate a relatively steady job market for executive assistants between 2012 and 2022, forecasting little to no change nationally in employment at the executive level. Candidates who combine computer skills, managerial experience and a strong history of relevant work experience are likely to have the best job prospects in coming years.

However, the national numbers don't tell the full story. Although the number of jobs in the U.S. as a whole might remain steady, there is significant growth (and decline) when it comes to individual states. According to labor data from Projections Central, opportunities for executive secretaries and assistants will grow the most in these states between 2012 and 2022:

  • Florida: 14.5% projected growth (7,360 new jobs)
  • Indiana: 13.1% projected growth (1,570 new jobs)
  • Utah: 12.4% projected growth (830 new jobs)
  • Alaska: 11.3% projected growth (400 new jobs)
  • Colorado: 7.4% projected growth (1,220 new jobs)

How much do executive assistants make?

Executive assistant salary expectations can vary significantly depending on your geographical region and the industry in which you are employed. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for executive assistants nationwide was $51,870 in 2013, but those working in certain states can make up to 30 percent more than the national average for the position. Here are a few of the highest-paying geographical areas for executive assistants in 2013, along with the mean annual salary reported for each region:

  • New York: $66,050
  • Connecticut: $60,730
  • New Jersey: $60,610
  • Washington, D.C.: $58,740
  • Maryland: $58,680

The downside of those comfortable salary figures comes with the average cost of living in the areas where they're offered. Those five highest-paying areas each fall easily within the 10 most expensive regions listed on the Council for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index (COLI), with New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia ranking among the top five.

Here are a few cities in the U.S. where mean 2013 executive assistant salaries match up more favorably to their region's standing on the June 2014 COLI:

  • Huntsville, Alabama: $54,290 mean annual salary; 6th most affordable state
  • Abilene, Texas: $56,060 mean annual salary; 15th most affordable state
  • Columbus, Indiana: $53,180 mean annual salary; 3rd most affordable state

What are the first steps toward this career?

Strong computer skills, which can be obtained through computer training classes online or on a local campus, are a must for executive assistants in today's high-tech offices. While entry-level administrative and clerical jobs may not require formal education beyond high school, candidates for executive-level positions are often encouraged to have at least some formal postsecondary education.

Taking even a few online courses — particularly in such areas as project management, bookkeeping, business communication and advanced office software — can make all the difference to employers. Start by comparing local schools to see what online and on-campus executive assistant training might be available that suits your needs.

Sources:
1. Cost of Living Data Series: Third Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development, http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm
2. Long Term Occupational Projections for Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
3. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436011.htm
4. Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-2015 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Office-and-Administrative-Support/Secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm