Virtual Executive Assistant or Virtual Assistant? How the Roles Compare

So, you’ve decided it’s time to get help within your business – but who do you really need to hire?

There’s some understandable confusion when it comes to identifying the differences between a virtual executive assistant and a virtual assistant. Sometimes people use the terms interchangeably, but in reality, the roles are quite different.

Here, we’re breaking them down:

Who the role serves

As a general rule, Virtual Executive Assistants will support an executive, whereas a Virtual Assistant will often take on tasks to support the whole team.

As an executive, you’re getting a deeper level of service from the Executive Assistant as they generally have much more experience in the role and are capable of working more autonomously. They tend to become masters of anticipating your needs – you’ll think of something and find they’ve already taken care of it. In contrast, a virtual assistant tends to need a task list to work through – that means you need to have the bandwidth to create their list of tasks.

The mindset of the role

An assistant enjoys having that task list to work through so that they can check it off for their manager by the end of the day. Basically, this means they tend to be very task-focused, which is great if that’s what you really need!

Sometimes you need a little more than focus on getting through a list of tasks, though. A Virtual Executive Assistant comes with what we’d describe as more of an “executive mindset.” This means they don’t just stick to the task list you have to prepare; they create their own to-do lists based on what they know of your needs. An Executive Assistant understands your various goals and can prioritize to help you achieve them. 

The mindset of the role tends to come with experience. Many Executive Assistants started out as Virtual Assistants and honed their craft over time. They learned what makes the role most valuable to the company and what initiatives to take to advance toward goals. 

True Executive Assistants have chosen this role as a career. They’re interested in advancing their careers and achieving a high level of expertise. A career Executive Assistant usually wants to remain with you, to grow alongside you. They are professionals in their own right and when they interact with executives, it’s usually on the same level as them, a sort of peer support.

On the other hand, the Virtual Assistant role is often seen as a stepping stone toward something else. For this reason, the role can be more transient as people gain experience and move on. This isn’t true for all, of course. Some find that checking items off a task list is where they really excel and that’s where they want to stay.

Virtual Executive Assistant
A virtual executive assistant is a professional in their own right and provides a higher level of service Click To Tweet

The tasks associated with the role

Before we look at more of the detail in terms of tasks, a key distinction between the two roles is that a virtual assistant will require a much more detailed explanation from you, whereas a Virtual Executive Assistant tends to not need as much hand-holding. Again, it’s a difference in terms of years of experience and mindset.

An executive assistant is usually an expert in project management. This differs from an assistant who focuses on task management. The executive assistant has a firmer grasp of the bigger picture and has an overall higher level of skills than an assistant. They manage all the moving parts and follow up where necessary to keep things on-schedule. For this reason, they are also usually paid more.

In terms of detailed tasks, we can give some examples. While an assistant might print your meeting materials or perhaps format them for virtual presentations, an executive assistant can draft and prepare all of your meeting materials. They have the deeper level of understanding to anticipate what you need to say and how you need to say or show it. During the meeting, an executive assistant will take notes, prepare actionable items and distribute them after the meeting. An assistant is not usually involved with the actual meeting at all.

Both roles can manage calendars, although an executive assistant will usually manage their executive’s calendar in detail, whereas an assistant might manage a shared calendar for a team or department. The executive assistant also usually has the authority to manage the executive’s calendar more directly. They might put buffers between meetings or move things around to accommodate last-minute requests or phone calls. Executive assistants also usually have expertise in planning and booking travel, including having some autonomy in terms of budget, whereas a virtual assistant doesn’t usually have this level of access.

Importantly for executives, an executive assistant can act as a gateway between other people and themselves. Executive assistants can often resolve issues, reducing the need for the executive to get involved. On the other hand, assistants don’t usually problem-solve as part of their roles. They might take a message, but they’ll pass that on for someone else to return an answer.

The relationship with the executive

While a virtual assistant tends to be more of a “task taker,” doing whatever is asked of them, an executive assistant doesn’t operate in this way. An executive is still their boss or employer, but they don’t automatically have a deferent relationship. 

You can expect as an executive that your executive assistant isn’t afraid to speak up. They’ll ask questions, give you feedback, challenge you and have high-level conversations with you. They can spot gaps and anticipate what may be missing from what you’ve shared. Your executive assistant will have the experience to back this up and to take a more strategic role.

A virtual assistant is obviously still a highly valued part of your team, but they don’t tend to take this higher-level role. They’ll take instructions from you and generally won’t question at a strategic level. 

Overall, you might describe the relationship with the executive assistant as more of a right-hand or thought partner to their executive, whereas a virtual assistant will very much be in the “boss/employee” mindset.

Virtual Executive Assistant

Who do you need on your team?

Who is it that you really need to hire? Will an executive assistant or a virtual assistant be best to suit your needs? It all comes down to those important distinctions between the roles.

If you need someone who will simply get on with a list of tasks and for whom you have the time to prepare such a list, then a virtual assistant is probably your person. Top virtual assistants do an excellent job of managing their own time and ensuring that your critical tasks get completed.

On the other hand, if you need some more strategic help, someone who can fill in any gaps themselves and who doesn’t need a lot of hand-holding in order to be able to get work done, an executive assistant fits the profile. For your part, you will need to be prepared to work to build a relationship with your executive assistant so that both of you feel comfortable and get into the groove of working together. You will need to be prepared to offer feedback, and to receive feedback from your executive assistant. In return, you get someone who is intuitive to your needs and can help you grow in your own role.

Worxbee executive assistants

Here at Worxbee, we provide highly skilled executive assistants who can work with you under whatever system you use. This is an important distinction to make too – some assistant companies will require you to work with their own system.

We’ve found some of the very best executive assistants with impressive backgrounds. For example, we have some who have:

  • Worked as an office manager and EA for a marketing agency supporting Coca-Cola. This included work such as proofreading their annual report.
  • Been the Executive Assistant to Steve Case, the founder of AOL.
  • Been EAs for people in the boardroom of Fortune 100 companies.

If you’re ready to explore how an executive assistant can help you, take a look at our website here to get started.

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