Being an Assistant: Launching Pad or Dead End?

Last Updated Sep 2, 2009 7:49 AM EDT

The pros and cons of being an assistantThe last few weeks on Entry-Level Rebel have seen plenty of posts on what grads who fail to find their dream job should do as an alternative. Today the blog CAREEREALISM sticks up for a decidedly less glamorous route than finding wildly successful people who will let you work for them for free. What about the good old fashioned idea of getting your foot in the door as an assistant? Is this a sure way to waste your energies on filing and correspondence and rise slower than a thermometer in Alaska, or a valuable route to industry knowledge and a broad range of valuable skills? CAREEREALISM weighs in:
Professional assisting comes in all forms and is in needed in every field. Whatever your interests, you can find assistant positions that can put you in direct contact with an experienced individual in the field.... It's highly likely... you can quickly become a top-level assistant and the right-hand person to a high-powered executive.
Besides offering you contacts and a launching pad into the career of your choice, working as an assistant is usually decently paid (compared to internships and freelance work at least) and, as it often doesn't stray out of the 9-5 boundaries, can leave you time to develop your own projects, according to CAREEREALISM.

But what are the downsides? The ability to jump from assistant to pro varies by field -- even the best paralegal will never get promoted to lawyer without going back to school, and an administrative assistant at a newspaper is unlikely to be sent out to report on late breaking news -- so be realistic about where an assistant job can and can't get you. Of course, much also depends on the character of your boss. Is he a nutcase? Will she treat you as an up-and-comer to nurture or an underling to berate? And for that matter, what's your character -- will you find it soul crushing to make coffee or are you the type that can handle a dull gig with a steady pay check better than the ups and downs of freelance or internship work?

What do you think: is a job as an assistant usually a launching pad for career advancement or a comfortable but uninspiring dead end?

(Image of old fashioned assistant by Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.