Kaylyn McKenna

Administrative support professionals are the backbones of offices and business overall. They keep everyone organized and provide detailed support across a number of industries and departments.

Two of the most common administrative support roles are administrative assistants and executive assistants. These job titles are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably, but while they do both fall under the administrative professionals umbrella, executive assistants and administrative assistants do have different job duties and purposes.

If you’re looking to expand your administrative team, but not quite sure how to categorize your role, keep reading to learn how to differentiate administrative assistant vs executive assistant work. We’ve also laid out an overview of other common similar job titles to help you ensure that you’re advertising administrative roles correctly.

What does an Administrative Assistant do?

Administrative assistants handle administrative tasks such as scheduling meetings, answering phone calls, bookkeeping, sending faxes, and filing documents. They often support a specific department, but in small businesses, it is not uncommon to have more of a generalist to provide administrative support across several areas.

Administrative assistant duties typically include:


  • Answering and routing phone calls and taking detailed messages for staff members.

  • Performing basic bookkeeping duties such as paying invoices and reconciling expenses.

  • Scheduling appointments for staff members and leaders as needed.

  • Organizing files in physical and/or electronic office filing systems

  • Handling confidential information with care.

  • Greeting clients and office visitors.

  • Performing clerical duties such typing, proofreading, dictation, and data entry.

What does an Executive Assistant do?

Executive assistants support the company’s executives. Top executives like CEOs and CFOs often have a dedicated executive assistant that supports them individually. Though sometimes an executive assistant will support multiple senior executives or the entire executive team if it’s a smaller company with a more limited budget or less complex support needs.

Executive Assistant duties typically include:

  • Calendar management for executives.

  • Making travel arrangements for executives when they attend conferences, have client meetings, or engage in other business travel.

  • Filling out expense reimbursement requests on behalf of the executive.

  • Communicating with stakeholders on behalf of the executive.

Executive Assistant vs. Administrative Assistant: Key differences and similarities

Whether you’re hiring for an open administrative role or evaluating career options, keep these key similarities and differences between administrative assistant and executive assistant jobs in mind.


As you can see from the job duties detailed above for each role, there is a solid amount of overlap in the day-to-day functions of each role. The main difference between the two is whether those administrative duties are primarily centered around an executive. Admin assistants can provide administrative support to executives from time to time, particularly at small businesses or nonprofits where an executive may not have a dedicated executive assistant. However, executive support isn’t meant to be an administrative assistant’s primary duty.

Compared to administrative assistants, executive assistants provide a higher level of support to executives and have greater ownership over the executive’s calendar, email inbox, travel plans, and projects. An executive assistant often owns the functions of scheduling and inbox management for the executive, to the point that executives often require all scheduling to go through their executive assistant and will only add personal items like doctor’s appointments to their calendar themselves. Administrative assistants, on the other hand, may pass along messages or help schedule team meetings but don’t typically take on ownership over another person’s calendar and messages.

Required skills

There is a lot of overlap between the two roles when it comes to the required skill sets. Both executive assistants and administrative assistants need to have the ability to perform administrative duties, perform some degree of calendar management, and demonstrate basic computer skills and experience with Microsoft Excel. They’ll also need to have similar soft skills such as excellent time management, problem-solving, decision-making, and interpersonal communication skills.

One consideration is that administrative assistant positions often come with some degree of specialization. A legal administrative assistant will need different skills than a sales administrative assistant or a healthcare administrative assistant. It’s a versatile role that can encompass a wide range of functions.

It’s also worth noting that working as an executive assistant requires a special set of soft skills. Working with executives can be challenging, and acting as the gatekeeper of that executive’s time and schedule can also create some difficulty. A lot of people don’t enjoy or excel in executive assistant work because of the interpersonal dynamics, which is why a great executive assistant is such a huge asset to business leaders.


According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a notable pay discrepancy between administrative assistants and executive assistants. Executive assistants and executive administrative assistants in the US had a median wage of $65,980, as of the most recent May 2022 report. Legal administrative assistants had a median wage of 48,780, and general administrative assistants had a median wage of $41,000.

This is part of why it’s important for employers to properly differentiate between administrative assistants and executive assistants. Both roles perform important duties that support your business operations and should be compensated properly. Properly labeling positions that you are hiring for will help you ensure that you are paying a fair market rate for the role, and that you’re hiring competitively.

Organizations sometimes misclassify executive assistants as administrative assistants and that may lead to inaccurate salary research and benchmarking when setting the compensation range for a role. If you’re looking for someone to provide executive support, be sure to provide a salary that is comparable to other executive assistant roles in your region and industry rather than basing compensation research on administrative assistant salaries.


When hiring an administrative assistant or executive assistant, prior administrative experience is typically requested. Many people begin their careers as administrative assistants and use that experience to transition into executive assistant roles.

Some administrative assistant roles may be entry-level and open to those who have just completed school or are looking to transition into an office role from retail or customer service roles. Other administrative assistant roles, such as those requiring more specialized skills like legal administrative support, may require several years of work experience. There are often senior administrative assistant roles available that require the ability to perform more complex tasks and may have some supervisory duties.

Both roles typically require a high school diploma or above. It’s not uncommon to see an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree requested. There are also certifications available for each role, but these are not typically required. Programs such as Professional Administrative Certification of Excellence (PACE) and Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) can give candidates a boost for either administrative assistant or executive assistant job opportunities.

Other common administrative job titles and roles

If you’re hiring and don’t think either of the roles explored above sounds exactly like what you need, consider these other common administrative roles.


Receptionists may perform several of the same duties as administrative assistants, but their job tends to focus a bit more on the front desk or front office area. A receptionist or front desk manager role generally entails answering phones, greeting visitors, checking people in for meetings and appointments, and keeping the lobby or waiting area well-organized.

Common job duties of a receptionist include:

  • Provide phone support for the main office line.

  • Check visitors in for the entire office and let the applicable team member know when guests or clients have arrived for them.

  • Keep the entryway and front desk tidy.

  • Receive package deliveries and mail.

  • Assist with outgoing mail or deliveries as needed.

  • Regularly respond to emails and schedule appointments.

Office Manager

An office manager role focuses on supporting and overseeing your office operations. This role will still perform administrative assistant or receptionist duties like greeting visitors, processing mail, answering the main office phone, and general administrative duties to support leadership.

Where the role differs is that Office Managers also partake in more strategic activities for the workplace like creating and refining office policies and procedures and building the office culture through activities like company lunches and office team bonding events. Office managers also often supervise other team members such as office assistants or front desk staff. They may also oversee a budget for office supplies, stocking the kitchen, and office support labor.

Common job duties of an office manager include:

  • Developing office policies and procedures.

  • Ordering office supplies and overseeing the upkeep and repairs of office equipment.

  • Greeting visitors and checking them in.

  • Providing administrative support to company leaders.

  • Answer phone calls and take messages.

  • Supervising additional office support staff if applicable

  • Planning office activities such as lunches, team building activities, or holiday events.


The term secretary has largely been phased out in favor of titles like administrative assistant or executive assistant. If you’re looking to hire a secretary or exploring it as a career path, consider whether the explanations and job duties described above for administrative assistants, executive assistants, office managers, or receptionists may be a stronger fit for what you have in mind.

Though the term is still used occasionally in certain fields. It’s rarely seen as a standalone title now but you may see titles like legal secretary, unit secretary (in hospitals or medical facilities, or school secretary.

The job duties associated with secretary work include:

  • Keeping updated and accurate records.

  • Answering and routing phone calls or taking messages.

  • Preparing documents or letters.

  • Performing typing and data entry duties as needed.