How to Earn Six Figures as a Personal Assistant
Forget all those Devil Wears Prada stories you hear about beleaguered and belittled personal assistants whose lives are consumed by ego-maniacal tyrants paying them pennies per hour. There plenty of interesting jobs out there with kind-hearted, wealthy people who are willing to pay more than $100,000 per year, plus bonuses, gifts and perks, to someone they can trust with their children, credit cards, social security numbers -- basically with their lives.
If you're responsible, resourceful and thick skinned, "personal assistant" might be for you.
Don't let the "assistant" word throw you. You would be no one's personal slave. "It's incredible how much power assistants have. They are the gatekeepers" says writer/director Steve Morris, whose film on the subject, aptly titled The Assistants, was just released. The film borrows from his friends' and colleagues' real life experiences as assistants in Hollywood. He says it's no stretch for assistants to be managing investment portfolios, accepting or rejecting scripts and making crucial casting decisions.
Yes, they're sometimes asked to do menial tasks ranging from the humiliating to the humdrum, and many are expected to be available 24/7, but the more the employer trusts you and the more responsibility you take on, the more employers are willing to pay. They don't want to have to find someone new and re-train them. They don't want to share their secrets with someone else, and they don't want their children/spouses/pets to have to form new bonds.
It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it
The downside to being a Hollywood assistant, according to Morris? Aside from having to be available at all hours of the day and night, most entertainment industry assistants don't want to spend their lives helping someone else achieve their dreams -- they have dreams of their own to pursue.
"That's what my film is about," he says. "A lot of people move to L.A. because they want to be actors or writers or directors or producers, and end up getting a job as an assistant to pay the bills, make some contacts and learn about the industry. Then they wake up one day, in their mid-to-late 20's, and ask themselves, 'who am I?' Do I want to be someone's assistant for the rest of my life, or do I want to accomplish something on my own? How much am I willing to sacrifice for it?"
It's a question just about everyone asks themselves at one point in their lives, no matter what their career. But you don't have to move to LA to find the answer or be a personal assistant. Brian Daniel has fulfilled his dreams and his bank account by assisting the uber successful, and now he's showing others how to do it.
On beyond Hollywood
"I made a career out of being a personal assistant by working for celebrities and high net worth individuals (including Johnson and Johnson and Royal Saudi families)" he says. "I now run an outfit that places personal assistants and estate managers with high net worth families."
And there seem to be more of these jobs available than ever, according to Daniel, "With the rise of the super rich, the demand for career personal assistants is high. And they don't have to live in New York or LA -- there are high net worth families living all over the U.S. There are over 1000 billionaires in the U.S. There are about 50,000 U.S. households that have net worth between 50 and 500 million." He points out that even in places like Grand Rapids, MI, there are incredibly successful people who started Amway and Steelcase. You'll find the wealthy everywhere.
The more money they have, the more complicated their lives become, and the more they need someone they can trust to help them manage everything. He says it's not uncommon for them to pay their assistants $150,000 and up, and to even hire assistants for their assistants. "It's a misnomer that you work really hard at this and only get paid $10 an hour," he said. Of course those types of jobs are out there, but you don't have to take them.
Helping to give away millions
Paige Bilbrey, an executive/personal assistant for a philanthropist committed to using her family fortune to bring the fine arts to everyone, couldn't be happier about her career choice. She gets to learn every day from some of the most successful people in the country, and she facilitates charitable giving. "I love my job!" she enthuses.
Hailing from Sun Valley, Idaho, she began her assistant career at age 18, when she moved to Los Angeles to become one of several nannies for a celebrity. "I wanted to move out of Idaho and go to the big city, but I never would have been able to support myself and live in such a beautiful home if I hadn't been in the service of someone else," she says. She then got a job as a floating temp job at a production company, and after that, she was qualified to be an invaluable personal assistant to anyone in the entertainment industry. She knew how it all worked.
At this point in her career, the glamor of Hollywood and celebrities is not as enticing as the opportunity to learn and make a real, positive difference in people's lives. Those are among the main reasons she's made the choice to work for a philanthropist, although she's had plenty of celebrity offers.
Amazing perks -- but you have to earn them
Daniel also says that serving as a personal assistant can be incomparable to any other profession. When he was working for the Royal Saudi family, he stayed in the finest suites in the best hotels all over the world, and always flew either first class or in luxurious private jets, eating and drinking the most expensive food and wine the world has to offer.
He was also under intense pressure. He would work 12-17 hour days, seven days a week, and go for months without a day off. His duties as their Executive Personal Assistant included being in charge of other subordinate assistants, drivers, maids, nannies, security personnel, estate managers, cooks, and groundskeepers. He also traveled with them everywhere to make sure their stays went smoothly.
After about two years of this luxurious but taxing lifestyle, Daniel decided to take a break, move back home and start The Celebrity Personal Assistant Network, through which he places others in similar positions. But he'll still take on the occasional short-term stint with distinguished CEOs, A-List celebrities, and high-profile families.
What you need to succeed as a personal assistant
Daniel broke into this world by starting out as a personal trainer at a posh Beverly Hills Gym. He then took a job in the front office of The Beverly Hills Hotel. When high profile professionals in the entertainment industry began offering him jobs, he couldn't resist. "This is one of the few fields where you don't necessarily need a college education to excel," he says, noting that he doesn't have one. Neither does Bilbrey.
So what qualifications do you need exactly? "A thick skin, more than anything," Daniel says, noting that you'll be with these people so much you can't help but see them at their worst. And sometime, since you're always there, you're the most convenient one to blame when something goes wrong.
But you also must be consummately discreet, dependable, resourceful and proactive -- anticipating your client's needs and any potential mishaps well before they happen. You must be able to handle intense pressure and think on your feet and out of the box. You also must be a true care-taker and be service oriented, and have classic administrative skills.
And above all, you must be flexible, which rules out most people with close family ties. You could go for weeks without seeing your significant other or children, and even if you don't live on your your client's premises, you will doubtless be called up in the middle of the night to attend to their needs.
Daniel is single, and Bilbrey, who is 40-years-old, has no children and is married to an understanding and supportive husband who has many professional obligations and interests of his own.
Being a personal assistant is certainly not for everyone, but if you think you might have what it takes, Daniels invites you to contact him via his website, FindCelebrityJobs.com. He says he actually knows of more openings than appropriate people to place in them, because not everyone has all the right qualifications to be what he knows is a good personal assistant.
Whether you become a personal assistant as a career choice or a way to break into your chosen profession, it might not be a bad move. The story of Pepper Potts, although she's part of Iron Man legend, is not so outlandish. She began as Tony Stark's personal assistant, and ended up running the entire company.
According to Daniel, Bilbrey and Morris, that doesn't just happen in the movies.
Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want. Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets. Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.