Preparing for Life After a Personal Assistant Career and Other Resources
The career of a personal assistant has a limit. Being beholden to one person on a full-time basis is time-consuming and stressful. Even if a personal assistant practices good self-care and really enjoys the intense lifestyle, the fast pace, numerous responsibilities, and changing requirements become too much at some point.
While it is possible to have your own life complete with a spouse and children while working as a personal assistant, it takes a great deal of organization and patience. Your family needs to be understanding and tolerant of your consuming career, as well. Your work responsibilities will, at times, interfere with plans, parties, vacations, ball games, outings, and special events. This can be difficult to deal with, and after a while it begins to wear on everyone involved.
Some personal assistants make enough money and/or are clever enough to set themselves up for an early retirement. Remember, the average full-time personal assistant gets "burned out" after about 20 years. This may seem like a long time, but the years will pass quickly, so begin planning right away if early retirement is your goal.
Even if your focus is not early retirement, you need to consider your options for your professional life after your PA career has run its course. Fortunately, your professional experience can open many doors, as well as ready you for a new career.
Your Valuable Experience
A career as a personal assistant can make you extremely valuable in a wide variety of industries. What may seem like a job filled with frenzied activity to outsiders is actually a wealth of information and a great "life school" opportunity.
If you're unsure about "life after PA," rest assured: Your personal assistant experience would still have value. Years of working closely with unique individuals under unusual circumstances have given you the opportunity to study people, up close and personal. Think of it as a very long psychology field study in human behavior. You've spent your professional career (thus far) handling temperamental or irrational bosses, responding to "emergencies," planning last-minute engagements where certain individuals must not be seated together, salvaging the unsalvageable, fixing the unfixable, and keeping all of it to yourself. If you've been observant and integrated what you've learned, you'll know how to read and analyze others' behavior. You'll also have a proven track record of keeping confidences and managing difficult interpersonal interactions. Such skills are valuable, no matter what business opportunities you choose.
The Business of YOU
Many personal assistants choose to strike out on their own and create their new career from the ground up. Being your own boss can be even more demanding than working for someone else, but at least you have the final word in all decisions!
Starting your own business, whether it's based on products or service, can be a risky proposition. It creates its own type of stress, and working for yourself does not guarantee a steady paycheck, especially when you first start out. If you feel the risk is too great, you may be more comfortable taking a paid position with a company (we will discuss this in the next section).
For those braving a solo business venture, there are several moneymaking ideas to choose from. A personal assistant's greatest strengths are knowledge and experience, and individuals considering a personal assistant career can use all the information they can get. Authoring a book with tips and advice about working as a professional PA is one way to put all you've learned to use, and make some money for it, too.
If writing sounds profitable, but a "how to" book doesn't appeal to you, consider writing a "secrets of the stars" book. This is a more questionable route to take to publishing fame; if you violate any NDAs you've signed for past employers by naming names, you will probably be sued and possibly lose all rights to your material. Even if your employer is deceased, you should still respect the non-disclosure agreement, particularly if family survives your former boss. Some NDAs include clauses specifying that nothing be disclosed even after the employer's death. Even if your NDA has no such clause, "long lost" family members tend to come out of the woodwork when there's a profitable lawsuit to engage in, so you're best to stick to generalizations if you choose to write an expose'.
Some former personal assistants take the entrepreneurial path, starting their own personal assistant training course or traveling on a lecture circuit. Some former PAs have learned some valuable "life hacks" from their employers. A personal assistant to an investment banker, a venture capitalist, a savvy businessman, or a self-made billionaire is in a perfect position to learn some valuable lessons and gather some very useful information about investing, money management, and business skills and philosophy.
Smart, savvy employers can be a source of motivation and inspiration (imagine being Stephen R. Covey's personal assistant!). If you enjoy public speaking and your life has been changed for the better thanks to lessons you've learned and ways you've grown during your personal assistant career, you may wish to become a motivational speaker. A motivational speaking career might begin by giving a few "limited attendance," free or low cost speeches to test the impact of your material and delivery. As you develop and refine your presentation, you can expand your audience and increase your fee. Eventually, you may even develop a course manual or other materials to add more value and depth to your program.
If your knowledge is extensive and your experiences widely varied, you may wish to create your own personal assistant training course. Some former PAs have done so, offering their courses online and through in-person training sessions or seminars. You may choose to include a discussion panel consisting of assistants (or former assistants), employers, or both, or bring in "special guests" to discuss their areas of expertise. Bear in mind that the more people you include in your production, the more pockets you'll have to fill in exchange for their time, so you may want to limit your guest speakers, or use pre-recorded panel discussions or animated presentations.
Another entrepreneurial career opportunity is offering part-time and/or remote personal assistant support for individuals who need occasional or limited assistance. Clients may hire you for a certain scheduled number of hours per week, for overseeing specific tasks or special projects, or for assistance during extensive travel. Assistance of a remote nature may involve checking and answering emails, functioning as a liaison in your client's absence, answering calls, scheduling appointments, arranging travel, creating correspondence, communicating with your client's employees, or placing orders. While you are still working as a personal assistant, the stress level is lower and your working hours and client load are solely at your discretion. Remote or part-time assistants usually charge by the hour; some may charge different rates for different tasks, based on complexity and commitment.
After spending years surrounded by successful people and having unique experiences, you'll probably have a good idea of what actions and attitudes increase personal value and success and what thoughts and behaviors deplete energy and sabotage efforts. These are confusing areas for people from all walks of life. Sometimes, people just need a little guidance, a cheerleader to help them acknowledge and celebrate their positive life choices and avoid choices and situations that will delay growth or interfere with their personal progress. This is a job for a life coach.
Believe it or not, people will pay for a support person to encourage them and steer them toward positive and empowering choices or situations. A life coach draws upon their own experience, observations, and knowledge to guide and encourage their clients. There is no set guideline for fees, and the job does not require any specific degree or training, although some life coaches have degrees in psychology, business, interpersonal relations, or philosophy.
Years of managing social events the wealthy will give you loads of exposure to event planning, catering, household management, and party-equipment rental. Although there are numerous businesses already in existence for such needs, it is possible to find – or create – a niche all your own.
Perhaps you've noticed a lack of certain types of cuisine on local catering menus, or there aren't many corporate event planners in your area. These vacancies create a perfect opportunity for a new career for a retired personal assistant.
There are online linen rental companies, but if your work area is remote, such services might not be available, thereby creating another perfect local business opportunity. House management is another possible choice, as is caterer, house- or pet-sitter, in-home caregiver, or estate manager.
Your own venture may begin slowly, but with consistent effort and dedication, forging your own path is not only possible, it is rewarding, as well.
Careers Working for Others
In the previous section, we mentioned working as a personal assistant in a part-time, remote capacity. While this is definitely less stressful, there is still the responsibility of carrying the entire burden for the business on your own.
There are agencies that specialize in remote and part-time personal assistant services, particularly in London and other international hubs. Even though working for a company is not technically being your own boss, the company you choose to work for may offer the option to choose your own schedule or be "on call" during certain days and/or hours. Such flexibility, combined with getting a regular paycheck, can be very appealing, particularly if you would rather not take the financial risk of having complete responsibility for your income.
Several of the business opportunities outlined earlier are also opportunities for employment with other companies; catering, event planning, and equipment rental businesses are usually happy to hire experienced, well-rounded individuals who know many aspects of the industry.
Another career area where personal assistant experience can be useful is human resources. Human Resources professionals utilize skills and information gleaned from education, observation, and experience. A degree in psychology, business, or human resource management can come in handy when pursuing a career in human resources, but it is not always necessary.
Human resource staff members often have the ability to move up in the department, particularly within a large organization. Very large corporations typically have a dozen or more HR professionals, from the department heads, to supervisors, to basic representatives. Education can be helpful when trying to get into the industry, but it is not mandatory.
Other Helpful Tools
Remember the database we encouraged you to build and the contact table we suggested you create? Your post-PA career is a great time to delve in to this information and use it to your advantage.
If your contacts are varied enough, you'll have several options to choose from when considering your next career. Catering contacts, for example, might be useful if you're looking for employment in that field.
Your database goes with you when you change employers, increasing your value to your employer and providing you with a good network of contacts for all situations. It increases in value as you build it, so make sure to keep it updated and complete.
Training and Workshops
Although there is no university degree offered for personal assistant work and a lot of a PA's skills come from experience, information is available to help add to, and build on, your knowledge and skills.
Training and workshops can be found online, and many take place online, as well. "How to" books and workbooks can be purchased through online sources, but if you prefer an "in person" experience, there are many former personal assistants who've turned their career knowledge into a second career for themselves. Learning from someone who's "been there" can be very useful; they can provide real-world insight into the field and are able to tell you what to expect on your first day and beyond.
Some workshop presenters, like the founder of The Celebrity Personal Assistant Network, Brian Daniel, also offer private consultations. Workshops and consultations both on- and off-line vary in content and cost, so do some research into any training or education programs prior to committing, especially if the commitment is long-term and/or costly. You'll want to start with introductory courses if you're new to the career, although taking a "refresher" course after a short time in the field might be helpful, too. You may find a solution to a problem you've been unable to resolve on your own, perhaps get some new time-saving or organizational ideas.
Other types of business training seminars or motivational workshops offer programs that are useful to a personal assistant, as well. Don't discount the value of a seminar based on its title. Even if the subject matter is marketed toward a career group different from yours, it can still be a useful experience. At first glance, a day-long workshop on designing and creating fully-functional sewing and craft rooms in tiny spaces, complete with storage and adjustable work tables, seems like information far removed from any you've ever needed as a personal assistant -- until you remember that half-sized, walk-in closet in your apartment you've been trying to turn into a user-friendly home mini-office, and suddenly the "tiny craft room workshop" sounds useful.
Even though you want to keep your eyes, ears, and mind open to opportunities for information that comes your way, you'll want to avoid wasting time and money, too. Sometimes, the material presented will be below your skill level, in which case it's better to save your time and money for a higher-level opportunity. Find out what professionals in your field deem worthwhile by reading online reviews about seminars, course presentations, and other learning materials.
If you're looking for a more "formal" education, many community colleges and trade schools offer courses or certificate programs in secretarial, office, business, or computer sciences. Some have campuses, while others exist only online; some have both virtual and physical facilities.
While the days of literally pounding the pavement seeking employment are more or less over, it's still important to have a well-crafted, appropriate resume. Services and online tutorials can help you polish and tailor your resume to best suit your specific career goals. There is a wide abundance of online resume-builder websites available for free, and most word processing programs have built-in resume templates, as well. Basically, your resume should be neat and brief (no longer than one page), containing information relevant to the position you're applying for.
Employment search engines are popular with job seekers in all professions. Most of the more well-known employment sites, including indeed.com, LinkedIn, and Monster.com, have searchable pages dedicated to personal assistant positions. There are also job websites dedicated to PA positions – the aforementioned Celebrity Personal Assistant Network provides networking opportunities for established PAs and clients (website: findcelebrityjobs.com).
There are also "headhunters" who, despite the ominous-sounding title, aren't out for blood at all. A professional headhunter "hunts" for top employees in the targeted job field, whom they then recruit on behalf of prospective employers. Rather than the predatory, employee-stealing "bad guy" persona the title implies, modern headhunters act as a sort of liaison between prospective employers and the professionals they wish to hire.
Networking and Support
Even though personal assistants don't have union representation or structured pay scales, they do have several professional organizations worldwide that offer networking opportunities and, perhaps more importantly, safe places to let off steam after a hard day at an all-consuming, isolating, frustrating, stressful job.
Various organizations exist worldwide for professionals in the personal assistant, executive assistant, and virtual personal assistant careers. In the United States, the ACPA (Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants) has been in operation since 1992, and is composed of personal assistant professionals and others in similar upper level positions. They have a Facebook page, as well, and the group offers links to tutorials, articles, humorous anecdotes, and insights for its members.
The ACPA is a non-profit organization that expands its definition of "celebrity" to include anyone in the public eye, as well as individuals celebrated for excellence in their field. The organization's objectives are to function as a professional development source, to provide valuable services and programs, and to function as a networking forum. Prospective members must have been working as a personal assistant for one year to qualify for membership, or be currently working for a celebrity. Services offered by this Los Angeles-based group include monthly guest speaker appearances, resume referral, quarterly newsletters, and access to industry study results.
In New York, personal assistants rely on the New York Celebrity Assistants organization for networking and information.
In the United Kingdom, the non-profit organization for professional PAs is the Association of Celebrity Assistants, or ACA-UK. Founded in 2004 by professional personal assistants, ACA-UK is a resource for assistants working with film, television, theater, fashion, business, arts, and sports celebrities in the UK. The group is member-only and confidential, and provides a place for personal assistants to meet, share ideas and advice, exchange information, and employment postings.
Both "live" personal assistants (PAs) and virtual personal assistants (VPAs) can find support in The Association of Personal Assistants.
Along with these organizations, many others exist and operate worldwide. All provide opportunities for working personal assistants, executive assistants, household managers, executive secretaries, and other high-level support personnel to exchange information, ideas, and "war stories" while networking within a discreet, safe group.
In the U.S., organizations for PAs and those in similar support careers include: the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA); the Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals (AEAP); Coaches, Authors, Speakers Professional Assistants Association (CASPAA); The International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA); the Virtual Association for Administrative Professionals; the American Society of Administrative Professionals - (ASAP).
UK Groups include: Association of Celebrity Assistants; the London PA Network; VA Assist U; The PA Club; SORTED (http://www.sorted-pa.com/); Scottish PA Network; PA-Prive.com; PA-Assist.com; International Association of Virtual Assistants; the Global PA Network; European Management Assistants (EUMA); Association of Personal Assistants (APA).
London-based personal, virtual, and executive assistants can join an exclusive online club called Miss Jones, which offers links to events, job postings, shopping, calendars, articles, information, and more. The site also provides members with recommendations for dining and accommodations.
There are also trade magazines and publications available, such as Executive PA Magazine and Executive Secretary Magazine. Personal Assistant Magazine, an online publication, is available on wordpress.com, and
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- Business Etiquette at a Cocktail Party
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