The Executive Assistant Guide: Skills, Courses, and Getting Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover the executive assistant career path: how to enter the field, how to grow within it, and your earning potential.

[Featured Image] An executive assistant is holding papers and working at her desk with her laptop.

An executive assistant works directly with top executives in a company or organization, fulfilling high-level administrative needs and standard assistant tasks. This career path can offer many rewards, including getting to work alongside high-level executives, serving as the point-of-contact for internal and external stakeholders, and developing skills that can transfer to a variety of other careers.

There are opportunities to enter this field in most major cities, with the largest employment levels in New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston metropolitan areas. As of May 2022, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over 475,000 people are employed in the field nationally and the median salary is $65,980 [1]. 

Who's hiring?

According to Glassdoor, top companies hiring executive assistants in June 2023 include Intuit, Bain & Company, The Connor Group, ServiceNow, and eXp Realty [2]. Companies are rated by their employees in the following areas: culture and values, diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, compensation and benefits, career opportunities, and senior management.


Keep reading to discover the different types of executive assistants and the required skills, experience, and education. 

What is an executive assistant?

An executive assistant plays a major role in a company's structure by providing clerical and communication assistance to senior executives. Working directly with these executives requires discretion and organization, as executives rely heavily on their assistant's ability to handle most communication with clients, partners, and other direct reports.

What does an executive assistant do?

A day in the role of executive assistant typically involves a variety of tasks such as scheduling, writing, interacting with others, and record-keeping. Depending on the company and executive’s needs, your duties will likely include, but are not limited to: 

  • Performing administrative tasks such as writing emails, creating memos, and drafting communications 

  • Maintaining comprehensive records and creating accurate reports

  • Completing payroll and other accounting needs 

  • Planning meetings by managing schedules and sending reminders

  • Answering the phones in a timely and helpful manner

  • Being the face of the company for anyone entering the office

  • Managing the executive's calendar, appointments, and travel details, with a key focus on organization

Executive assistant skills

In this role, organization is a critical skill, considering you'll need to file paperwork, categorize emails, and screen phone calls. Employers tend to look for candidates who can handle a large workload of varying tasks and projects. If you have a natural ability to multitask, pay attention to details, and prioritize assignments, a role as an executive assistant may be a natural fit for you.

According to ZipRecruiter's Career Keyword Mapper, the top workplace and technical skills mentioned in executive assistant job descriptions include [3]:

Calendaring and scheduling

Executives may need you to schedule meetings and appointments, make travel arrangements, and and maintain their calendars.

Communication skills

To craft emails and reports, make phone calls, and network effectively, you'll need to build strong written and verbal communication skills.

Microsoft Office

Being proficient in Microsoft Office can enable you to use spreadsheets, make presentations, compose documents, and more in your role.

Administrative support

In addition to the calendaring, scheduling, and writing skills you'll need for this role, you'll want to be skilled in other administrative support tasks such as data entry, record keeping, managing office supplies, and conducting research.

Expense reports

You may need to assist executives with tracking expenses and reimbursements and monitoring budgets, while coordinating with finance or accounting departments.  

Read more: What are Accrued Expenses? Examples, Tracking, and Accounting


When you are proactive and can make decisions independently, you help executives stay focused on their workload. To be proactive, you'll need confidence in your abilities, a high level of strategic thinking, and the ability to handle different workplace situations in terms of possible outcomes and solutions. 

Read more: Situational Interview Questions: Definition + How to Prepare

As an executive assistant, you represent both the executives and the company. Think of yourself as the "face" of the company, as you interact with customers, clients, and coworkers. In many instances, you'll set the tone for the workplace. You may even find yourself as the first line of defense when issues arise, so it's a good idea to develop strong interpersonal skills.


Read more: What Are Job Skills and Why Do They Matter?

For ideas on the social and emotional skills that may enhance your performance as an executive assistant, watch this video from UC Davis's Professional Skills for the Workplace Specialization:

How to become an executive assistant

When looking to enter into an executive assistant role, start your job search by reflecting on your career goals, including the kinds of companies you'd like to for and the industries that interest you. Here are some steps to follow:

1. Get an education.

An entry-level position in this field usually requires a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. It's not uncommon for some executive assistants to have either an associate or bachelor’s degree. You may find in your job search that companies in the medical, tech, and legal industries require additional training in industry-specific concepts and procedures.

Here are some examples available at Coursera:

Read more: How to Earn a Microsoft Excel Certification (+ Why You Should)

2. Gain relevant experience.

You may start as an office assistant, secretary, or administrative assistant to advance to an executive assistant position. These roles provide key work experience needed to move into an executive assistant position. This job is dependent on your interpersonal and organizational skills, which should develop over time through relevant work experience.

Read more: Office Management Careers: Skills, Qualifications, and Salaries

3. Get licenses and professional certificates.

Beyond work experience and education, licenses and professional certificates in different fields may help demonstrate your competency and increase your earning potential. Here are some offerings on Coursera for you to consider:

In addition, here are some credentials specific to the executive assistant role:

  • The Advanced Certificate for the Executive Assistant is a five-day intensive training program accredited internationally by Qualifi, an official UK government-regulated awarding body. During the five days, you will learn practical skills and a deeper understanding of operational business needs.

  • The Certified Administrative Professional Certification is offered by The International Association of Administrative Professionals. You'll need an associate or bachelor’s degree or two or three years of relevant experience to qualify for this certification. Four years of relevant experience will also qualify you in lieu of a college degree. Once you are deemed eligible, an exam is required to demonstrate your knowledge. 

4. Apply for executive assistant jobs.

When you're ready to apply for executive assistant jobs, register on career sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed and get notified of new job openings. Read each executive assistant job description carefully to get a sense of what employers are looking for and the qualifications you'll need. Prepare for upcoming interviews by researching the companies, reflecting on your experience, and

Here are some resources to support you in your job search:

In your job search, you may come across job titles that are similar to executive assistant. These roles could provide you with a valuable starting point to gain experience needed for an executive assistant position. *All average US salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of June 2023. It includes the average base salary and additional pay such as profit sharing, commission, and bonuses.

  • An administrative assistant is similar to an executive assistant but usually less specialized. Tasks often include scheduling meetings, screening phone calls, managing deadlines and projects, and preparing travel itineraries. The average annual salary in the US is $41,711.

  • An administrative officer tends to work for an entire office as opposed to assisting one person's day-to-day needs. This involves stocking paper and supply needs, managing payroll, working the front desk, and additional general office needs. The average annual salary in the US is $51,214.

  • An administrative manager is a managerial role in companies that require a team of administrators to run smoothly. Larger organizations will tend to have a team of administrative assistants or clerical aids. The administrative manager is responsible for the entire team as well as training new administrative assistants. The average annual salary in the US is $56,692.

Career advancement for executive assistants

As you gain more experience as an executive assistant, consider career advancement opportunities, including:

  • Working with C-level executives

  • Getting a job with a larger company that offers more room to grow and higher pay

  • Becoming an executive yourself  

At all junctures along your career path, consider the factors that may determine your earning potential, including location, education, skills, and experience. Research BLS data and information from career sites, when negotiating your salary and setting income goals. For example, the metropolitan areas with the highest average mean salaries for executive assistants are [1]:

  • San Jose, CA: $122,610

  • San Fransisco, CA: $103,500

  • Bridgeport, CT: $88,390

Explore an executive assistant career with Coursera

If you’re interested in building your organizational and communication skills, then a career as an executive assistant could be your next career move. To develop these skills, consider some of the courses offered on Coursera, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Improving Communication Skills course or the University of California Davis’s Professional Skills for the Workplace Specialization. These, along with other courses offered on Coursera, offer personal and professional growth opportunities in the workplace. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants," Accessed June 6, 2023.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.