Spotlight: The Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants
What image comes to mind when you hear “celebrity personal assistant”? Someone basking in the reflected limelight as they stroll down the awards ceremony red carpet alongside George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston? Or maybe a tortured minion working for the famous and real-life version of Miranda Priestly (“The Devil” in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA)?
YII caught up with Kimberly McFarland, Vice President and Board Member of the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants, to find out the real story about the job and get the scoop on their ultra-cool professional organization.
YII: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us. We’d like to start out with some questions about being a personal assistant. As someone who has known many, many personal assistants, in addition to having been one yourself, you’re in a unique position to lend some insight to those on the outside.
YII: What are the qualities that make a great personal assistant? The number one quality is loyalty. Also, dedication. And you have to be able to think of things for your boss or your client before they would even think of them. Possess the willingness to go above and beyond, to be a go-getter and not take no for an answer. Last but not least, you must have a memory like an elephant…it is imperative in this industry.
A lot of things you are going to do are extremely challenging. Often, I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I know I’ll soon figure it out. Lastly, you must always have a hospitable mindset because you are taking care of your client or your boss and you must always remember you are working for a person, not a company.
YII: Conversely, what sorts of people don’t end up being very fulfilled and successful in the field? If you’re in it for your own professional gain, for example, just trying to get contacts or run into the right person to help you, you’re not going to be successful because you’ll always be thinking about yourself and not the well-being of your boss, which should be your primary focus.
What is the most satisfying part of being a CPA as a career path? Supporting and helping others in their personal lives and careers, helping them achieve their goals and aspirations. Even though you are in the background, you do share in their successes and that’s extremely fulfilling!
What is the most challenging thing about being a CPA? The pressure of being so meticulous in all that you do in an effort not to make errors. And the thought of disappointing your boss or client. You should always go over everything with a fine-tooth comb to make sure everything is perfect. After you’ve been in the business a while, it gets easier, but you always want to anticipate potential hazards and fix them. You also have to think for everyone else working with your boss or client and help them avoid hazards as well.
What was the inspiration for starting the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants? The association was founded in 1992 by Jonathan Holiff. He saw a need for people to get together to network and help each other. Because of the nature of the job and the confidentiality involved, it’s not easy for people in these positions to get support and trade resources.
How many members did it originally have and how many does it currently have? It stared in his living room with just a few members and now is over 150.
What is the criteria for membership? In order to become a member, you have to have worked as a full-time celebrity personal assistant for at least a year. In terms of celebrities, it can be a high-profile dignitary, politician, businessman… a celebrity in their own field.
Applicants submit a letter of reference on official letterhead by a superior (who also works with the celebrity) usually a business manager- a bio and press coverage of them, as well as three other business references. And, of course, a copy of their resume and signed non-disclosure agreement.
The membership fee is $150/year for LA-area residents and $75/year for those a 75 mile radius of Los Angeles.
What does membership involve? I assume monthly meetings- what happens there? We have monthly meetings with speakers who provide professional development to the attendees, such as experts on fashion or career coaches. We also have charities come and do presentations, in case our members or their employers are looking for an opportunity to work with a charity. It’s also our way of giving back. We meet at venues that are helpful to us in our jobs so that we can recommend to our boss or client, to out-of-town members or to others from our sister organizations when they come to Los Angeles.
Other membership features are job bank access, a membership directory, and an email request system ( if members need resources quickly). Also, we do a wage survey about our industry and offer a best-of-the-best service directory and a message board within our association website.
What is the biggest misconception people have about being a celebrity personal assistant? The biggest misconception is that it’s a glamorous and fun job. It’s not always fun. It’s work! We do the work no one else wants to do or no one else can do. There are some perks, but it’s extremely challenging because you are responsible for running someone else’s life.
Also, people think that being a personal assistant is low-level, gopher work. The reality is that it’s not just getting someone coffee or doing each step as it’s fed to you. The job is a series of puzzles and you have to figure out every piece quickly with little or no direction.
What is the best way for someone who wants to be a personal assistant to break in? I fell into it by default. I was in a database for a headhunter as an executive assistant and she told me she was looking for someone for a position she had to fill. It wasn’t until I tested and she looked at my results that she told me what the job was. I got the job five years ago.
To anyone who wants to be a CPA, I would suggest networking and seeking out work for entertainment companies, working with an agency or management company, for instance, or seeking out a position though a headhunter. I think just general experience as an executive assistant would give you the basic skills you need to do this job.
YII would like to thank Kimberly for taking the time to talk to us. For more information on the career path and on joining the organization, visit the website for Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants.
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