What Separates a Good Assistant from a Great Assistant

There are quite a few reasons why some assistants excel at their job, are consistently recognized, get promoted, and make a lot of money. The myriad of skills that pop into my head include:

  • Excellent writing skills,
  • Professional demeanor,
  • Attention to detail,
  • And quite a few others.

It’s not a set list by any means and there is no perfect person for one job. There’s just a perfect storm of capabilities and attributes that combine to make someone very hirable.mistake-3085712_1280

But there is one skill that I think put some assistants a head above others and, unfortunately, is usually not something that can be found out during an interview process.

I’m talking about actions taken when a mistake happens and how proactive they are.

When someone makes a mistake, the knee-jerk reactions are usually to

  1. Lie to try and cover it up or buffer how bad the mistake was,
  2. Blame someone else,
  3. Shift responsibility (this doesn’t need to be in the category of blaming someone else – you can also impute technology).

The worst thing is losing face in front of a client or employer and that’s what happens when a mistake is made. It’s embarrassing, and usually worst-case scenarios are thought of which makes someone more inclined to not take responsibility.

What separates a good assistant from a great one is how they handle the mistake. This is a little different from other positions because an assistant is coming from a place of trying to help someone in a very personal way. This is our job – we assist someone, usually with sensitive details. When an assistant makes a mistake, it could have large, overarching consequences (think about if a flight was not changed as requewarning-27899_1280sted and a CEO misses their meeting, or a driver was given wrong directions on where to take an executive and they end up somewhere completely different).

A good assistant will not lie or shift blame. They will take accountability for their actions and apologize.

A great assistant will apologize and hold themselves accountable – but then will go one more step to show how proactive they are. They will repeat back to you what they did wrong so both people are on the same page and then list how they will remedy this mistake, so it will not happen again in the future.

Instead of saying, “I’m so sorry, this will not happen again,” the assistant will say, “I’m so sorry, this is my fault because I did [x] when you asked for [y]. In the future, I will make sure to [a, b, c] so that a situation like this will not occur again.”

Not only does this show the client/employer that the mistake was recognized, but it also gives them the reassurance that there have been actionable steps taken so the circumstances will not come back to haunt them in the future. There is no need to over apologize (something that is hard to refrain from; I’ve been guilty of it) as that will only remind them of the failure.

This seems like such a small thing, but I know from experience, it’s easiest for me to say “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” They know you’re sorry…there’s no need to repeat that. The best thing to do is show you are contrite, but also take the steps necessary to ensure it will not happen again.


Feel free to share (no judgement!) your worst mistake and how you handled it!