- PA work in EA is probably more impactful, slightly better paid and in much higher demand than you thought
- Indications of personal fit: support mindset, organised, conscientious, detail-oriented and big-picture-oriented, communication skills, social skills, non-judgemental, discreet (and sometimes: proactive, creative, flexible, okay with some disorder)
- Add yourself to a public PA directory here, sign up for private consideration here, and apply to relevant roles here
This post aims to help you decide whether or not to do Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant, or similar work in EA, whether that be part-time or full-time, remote or in-person, short-term or long-term, contracting or employed (from now on we will simply refer to all of this work as ‘PA work’ for ‘a client’). We provide information on a range of relevant considerations, ask for more information in the comments, and share relevant links if you decide to try to look for work as a PA.
Over the past four months, 92+ EAs have asked Holly for help finding a PA (mostly for ~5 hours a week), despite the existence of many non-EA PA agencies.
People often worry about the opportunity cost of hiring EAs for roles that could be performed just as well by non-EA professionals. But while some tasks can be just as easily delegated to PAs outside of EA, benefits of EA PAs include:
- the high levels of trust and collaboration that come from value alignment and sharing a community (especially useful given the access often granted to personal details, private work, and personal lives)
- shared cultural/professional norms (e.g. very clear, info-dense, honest communication; being highly goal-oriented; using Bayesian thinking)
- EA domain knowledge (landscape, concepts, jargon, history etc) and network
Some of these aspects can be developed about as quickly as an EA can develop PA-specific expertise, but some take much longer and are not guaranteed. For example, we can imagine that being value-aligned is not necessarily something you develop on the job, while domain knowledge can be acquired relatively easily.
Of course, it won’t always be the right call to hire an EA over a non-EA. But we think that PA work at least deserves to be on the table for many of you. You can make your own decision about how best to spend your working hours in your own individual case in terms of skill-building, networking, immediate impact, enjoyment etc and we try to provide some relevant info below.
In our experience performing these roles ourselves for 7 EAs (and being an accountability partner for 7 others), we estimate that a good full-time fit generally boosts the client’s productivity by ~10-100%.
It’s high-variance - depending on factors such as how skilled the client is at delegating, how much relevant experience the PA has etc - but we thought it would be useful to give at least a rough estimate of what can be achieved with a good fit.
If you’re sceptical, it may be that you haven’t considered some of the most valuable tasks that PAs can do like:
- Providing motivation and perspective by helping the client figure out what and how to prioritise
- Doing inbox, calendar, and task management, e.g. through triaging incoming emails, scheduling meetings, and providing a summary of the day’s most important tasks
- Making disruptive or aversive tasks easier by doing it yourself or setting up accountability systems
For the 5 public ads for full-time PAs that we’ve noticed in EA over the past few months that list starting salaries, the average has been £50,600 (lowest: £30k to £47k; highest: £57k or £77k).
The rate offered for part-time PA support has varied between £0 and £77 per hour, with £20-40/h being common. The amount varies according to factors such as: number of hours needed, amount of disposable income (most part-time work seems to be paid out of personal pockets), and skills required beyond those needed for typical Virtual Assistant tasks (e.g. data entry, basic Googling).
This is not a role for big egos. Without a support mindset - being content and motivated by aiding someone else to achieve their goals - you’ll struggle to perform this role well. It’s important to be realistic about how comfortable you’ll feel in a role that’s centred on saving and managing the time of another person. But if you find directly empowering others fulfilling, it can be a relief to find such an opportunity in EA (where paths to impact are often indirect with long, if any, feedback loops).
We think that other important traits include:
- being organised (or at least able to keep others organised) and conscientious (driven to do tasks well and take obligations seriously)
- the ability to see both the small details (e.g. paying attention to deadlines and the important small print) and the big picture (figuring out what the overall end goal is, and focusing on achieving that)
- communication and social skills - this is important both for communicating well with your client so that they understand and trust your recommendations and that you’re doing the work well, but also when dealing with other stakeholders, e.g. the client’s funders, collaboration partners, or target audience
- depending on how involved you become in your client’s life and work, being non-judgmental and discreet, as you may have access to e.g. their email and private information
And then depending on the needs of your client and your preferences/skills, these roles can lie anywhere on the spectrum between ‘Lots of chill and unchallenging admin work’ and ‘Lots of creative, proactive, flexible, generalist work.’ In some roles, perfectionism is a virtue; in others, while an urge to bring order to mess is important, an 80-20 level of order is generally what’s called for and you need to feel comfortable with some amount of untidiness and uncertainty. Either way, the work is normally pretty varied.
We don’t generally find prior experience to be as useful as the traits listed above, but we think that experience in the following can serve as good practice and as indications of personal fit: operations; management/coaching/teaching; research assistance; community-building.
Some of you will be happy in your initial role(s) for a long time, honing your craft in a way that’s tailored to a particular individual(s) over many years. Some will soon be keen to move on to other PA/operations roles. And some will see their first role as an entry-level, cause-neutral stepping-stone to fairly different kinds of work elsewhere in the community.
We encourage you to consider which of these paths seem most likely to you before starting a role. Then you can communicate this with your client and design things such that working with you is net useful to them even if you leave after a short while (don’t focus the first 3 months on onboarding if you think there’s a good chance you’ll move on after 6 months).
Questions for readers
- What else excites or worries you about these roles?
- If you’ve worked with or as an EA PA, can you share (publicly/privately/anonymously) a sense of how productive that working relationship has been? Or how long it took to become net useful for the client? Any advice on getting better results?
- Can you share any experiences with using non-EA PA agencies?
- Do you have questions for us based on our experiences so far?
- Eirin at EAGxOxford (2022) - her background, what Executive Assistants (ExAs) do, how they provide value, relevant aptitudes, ways to practice, next steps
- Tanya Singh on the 80,000 Hours podcast (2018) - relevant aptitudes, pros and cons of EA ExAs vs non-EA ExAs, impact, enjoyment, career progression, and more
Add yourself to a public PA directory
Add yourself to a private PA directory
If you don’t want to list yourself publicly or you want to submit additional information privately, complete this Expression of Interest form; your response will then be taken into consideration when people contact Pineapple Operations for support with hiring a PA.
Apply to open positions
- Our World in Data ExA to the Director (deadline 24th April; more info here)
- Longview Philanthropy ExA to the CEO (deadline 15th May or sooner)
- Encultured AI OEA & PA (deadline not stated, listed in March)
- ALLFED Senior PA (deadline not stated, listed in March)
- Convergent Research ExA (deadline not stated, listed in March)
- Liv Boeree & Igor Kurganov ExA (deadline not stated, listed in February)
- The Bulletin ExA/PM (deadline not stated, listed in February)
- Daniela Amodei & Holden Karnofsky PA (deadline not stated, listed in January)
- PA and other Operations vacancies in longtermism updated regularly here
We are grateful to Chana Messinger for feedback on this post. All remaining errors are typos.