In “The Assistant Economy,” Dissent Magazine analyses the privileged and idiosyncratic career path of “personal assistants” who serve a single high-profile professional, often in a creative field, in a job that often provides no direct promotion opportunities (a movie director can’t train you to replace them) but plenty of indirect ones. Here are a few practical tips.
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To get hired, get aggressive.
These idiosyncratic jobs often aren’t advertised publicly. If you want to assist a famous artist, writer or director, find any way to interact with them. New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik found his assistant when she approached him after a reading. As White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove hired an assistant who had organised a seamless visit for him to the Harvard campus.
Unfortunately, this approach gives a hefty advantage to those who attend elite universities or grow up with family connections. If you’re lacking both, you’ll need to find ways to distinguish yourself, and keep an eye out for any potential employers visiting your area for talks or conferences.
Be ready to do anything.
Here’s an advantage for the less elite applicants: Emphasise your willingness to do any task, such as running personal errands (which you’ll inevitably be assigned anyway). Assistants get breathtaking access to the inner workings of creative industries, but only because they have to handle all the attendant details. This includes a lot of managing your boss’s ego.
To move on, get aggressive again.
The personal assistant role is an unusually dead-end job, since it’s unusually closed off from the larger workplace, and since the manager is at the top of the field, not one rung up the corporate ladder. It’s in an employer’s best interest to keep the assistant around forever, and some will get very selfish about it. So when it’s time to leave, you need to do the work of finding your next step.
The Assistant Economy [Dissent]