I’ve asked this question to a lot of people over the years – and get different answers every time. Answers such as:
- A PA supports just one person, whereas an EA can support multiple
- A PA is more junior to an EA (suggesting that there is some kind of career jump to EA from PA)
- A PA works for a private household or for some kind of celebrity, whereas an EA supports people in business
Firstly, you can be a PA to multiple people. I have had PA roles in the past where I have supported more than one person. Going forward, PAs supporting just one person seem to be getting fewer and fewer. Companies cut costs and the technological advances in the areas where PAs work (such as diary management and travel booking) make things less time-consuming. This then frees up our time to either do more involved tasks, or to support more people – whatever the company needs.
I think there can be an argument for hierarchical differences between a PA and an EA. This is probably really only really because it’s possible to be a PA to an EA, but not normally the other way around. In a normal office environment, one could argue that an EA is more senior to a PA, but it really all depends on the organisational structure of that company. I’ve personally never worked anywhere where it was possible to be promoted from a PA to an EA. I would love to talk to someone who has experienced this, to understand a little more about how it worked and whether the day-to-day functions actually changed post-promotion. Please drop me a line if you have an opinion on this! I would love to hear from you.
Giving someone a title based on the company they work for is sightly an alien concept to me. I’ve come across plenty of PAs in business – specifically financial services – as well as EAs who work for charities or government organisations. You could probably argue the fact that if you work for a private household, then you are more likely to be a PA rather than EA, but that’s probably more down to the nature of the job than the company or person for whom you are working.
Historically, PA roles tended to include personal work. Perhaps you might have had to arrange the travel for your Exec’s partner. Or there’s the stereotypical tasks such as getting lunch or picking up dry cleaning. As companies streamline their businesses, I find that this happens less and less. Even more so now that there are companies who can pick up and collect dry cleaning from your desk, etc. There is less and less need for PAs to carry out personal tasks. Although I do know that this does still happen a lot!
Both titles can be anything they need to be. The main differentiation is the requirements of the company and person/people they are supporting. I personally wouldn’t really see any difference between the two if I were looking for a role. There are far more important things to consider when looking for new role than the title you might have. These days, support functions are so varied in their day-to-day tasks and roles that trying to list the differences between the two is pointless. In my eyes, a PA and an EA can be exactly the same thing. But on the counter, you can get two PAs who have completely different functions.