Common Misconceptions between Corporate and Private PAs & An Insight into the Life & Duties of a Private PA
As someone who worked for a long time as a Private PA for a large Family Office, often people’s perceptions of what a Private PA does can be quite warped and wrong.
As a Private PA typically some of the most common things I have been told are that I must have spent less of my own personal time working, that I must be more free in my working pattern and that it must be like working in an office environment, just in a Household or Family Office…
I can honestly say that all of the above couldn’t be further from the truth if it tried! The role of a Private PA is unlike any other role.
It is completely dependent on the Client and how they are personally, this will be the deciding factor on how involved or uninvolved you are, how close you get to them and what your responsibilities could reach or span out to.
The role of a Private PA is unlike a Corporate PA in so many ways…
A Corporate PA would have to be slightly flexible in their hours, would have a completely different working environment with many more official lines and procedures, whereas working in a Private set up, the lines can be blurred. In a lot of cases there is no HR department within the Private environment, so your attitude to work must be open minded and extremely flexible. Your private time is partly dictated by the Client, as and when they need assistance, no matter the time and day, within reason you are expected to be available absolutely. A Private PA could become an extension to the family in that they become the liaison for most situations, travel arrangements, diary management, bookings, reservations, purchases, returns, personal shopping, travelling to different destinations for various reasons.
Your approach needs to be positive and willing, enabling you to achieve the highest standards possible and to always have a ‘can-do attitude’ – no duty is beneath you! In a lot of cases you have to muck in when needed; from project managing renovations & overseeing contractors to make sure they meet their deadlines, to sourcing interior solutions, sourcing staff, removals, cleaning or sorting food/bedding. Different Clients will expect different things, but the most successful candidates are the ones with a great healthy approach to doing whatever needs doing to get the job done.
Sometimes when I explain this to prospective candidates, they are shocked, they can’t believe it! They sometimes respond with… “Are you sure…?” And I respond “I have lived this role… this is my background and my insight that I am passing to you.” Flexibility is key!
You could be at a family dinner on holiday abroad and get a call that you have to answer and then action – irrespective of the fact you are on annual leave. In these cases the Client will not want to hear that you are on leave and therefore can’t deal with it, because in their eyes, you are their PA and should be able to accommodate them regardless.
There are many examples one can use to explain how readily available one needs to be for these types of roles, especially when dealing with UHNWI Families – the better you are at your job the more the client will expect from you.
Relationships and contacts are key to any successful management of a Client’s lifestyle or Family Office. You are in most cases the bridge to the Client for external staff/contractors, so functioning relationships are of maximum benefit to the Client. Transparency and clarity are a great way to maintain these. Even when you have to crack the whip, you can do so in a charming, direct, informative but diplomatic way. This approach will 99% of the time get you the results you need in order to meet any deadline set. In most situations, people will be professional and amenable to people who are the same. It’s just human nature.
Personality is equally paramount to the success between Private PA and Client. As you are generally working between office and household, you are working in their own personal space and sometimes the environment can be reflective of what the Client is going through personally and professionally, so one’s approach needs to be appropriate to the situation. If your personality doesn’t mesh well with the Client’s, this can potentially be a recipe for disaster. As I tell all of my candidates, your CV will take you 50% of the way, your personality will take you the other 50%.
There can be great difficulty for PAs who have a corporate background trying to cross over into Private, because they have no insight into the Private world. This is why most Clients will not want a Corporate PA to work in a Private Household / Family Office. Unless in some cases they have had a dual split role of 50% Private and 50% Corporate, when these candidates will have more of a chance of being hired to work within a Private set up.
What I do advise all of the Corporate PA’s who approach me looking to make that cross over, is that you have to widen your search. A boutique agency may not be the most successful way, because the Clients can afford to be very particular in their criteria. However looking in Country Life magazine, searching through private adverts from Clients directly, local newspapers, The Lady magazine and sometimes Gumtree, where there are Clients who don’t use agencies, who are on the lookout for a good PA who has the organisational skill set and may not be too concerned as to whether the prospective candidate has Private experience.