Personal Protection: Working for Celebrities & Billionaires

Hire the right security detail with professional training

While working as an executive assistant to a high-profile CEO is difficult in itself, being a personal assistant to a celebrity or billionaire poses its own special set of problems – especially when it comes to security and bodyguards.


A well-trained personal assistant should know the ins and outs of working for the rich and famous, and when it comes to protecting one’s boss, having the right security team is essential. Billionaires and celebrities and in constant danger of all sorts, including the possibility of being kidnapped.


There are many instances in which billionaires have been kidnapped for ransom money, so very high profile philanthropists and business moguls need to take extra steps to ensure their safety. Here is a short list of considerations assistants must take when working for high net worth individuals [VIDEO]:


    • Higher the best security team: Never take chances when it comes to your boss’s safety, especially when they have children. Have a personal protection agency make an assessment of the risks and determine if 24-hour-a-day protection is needed.
    • Don’t follow patterns: A personal assistant should vary his or her employer’s routine as much as possible. When criminals “case a mark,” it makes kidnapping the celeb much more difficult if they are unsure where the VIP is going to be at any given time.
    • Take threats seriously: Billionaires and celebrities always receive death threats and each should be taken seriously. Obsessed fans or belligerent radicals may target high-profile individuals for any number of reasons, so if you identify any threat as credible, it should be reported to local authorities. Many big cities have special divisions specifically for these kinds of cases.
    • Secure the home: Threats to personal safety exist both inside and outside the home. Many celebrities have been victims of break-ins and home invasions. Be sure that the estate and surrounding property are secure with a fence and security cameras.
    • Get a safe room: Hire a company that specializes in home security. They can build a “safe room,” which essentially is like a giant bank vault. If they celebrity or billionaire does become the victim of a break-in, then the safe room will be the fortress of solitude until the police arrive.


Why Traditional Recruiting Is Fundamentally Flawed

Don’t use a flawed system to recruit assistants

Believe it or not, recruiting quality executive personal assistants in today’s job market has never been more difficult – even taking into consideration that the industry is flooded with candidates. Essentially, this is due to the fundamentally flawed system of recruiting. Because celebrities and billionaires are surrounded by sycophants, nobody will tell them the truth about their hiring methodology, especially employment agencies that are hungry for commissions. Here are a number of reasons why some employers always fail to attract the best applicants:


Hiring multiple employment agencies: It’s common practice for employers to hire a number of employment agencies. Basically, employers put a piece of meat in the middle of a room (the commission) and they let the agents tear each other apart fighting over the commission. This method is detrimental to both the employer’s reputation and their ability to attract the best candidate.


Under this flawed system, the name of the game is “speed”. Headhunters are racing to be the first one to get a resume to the employer for selection. Also, word quickly spreads throughout the assistant community that the employer is clutching at straws trying to find a candidate. When an assistant knows that 50 or 100 other candidates are up for the job, they don’t take the opportunity seriously and will often tell their agent to withdraw them from the race.


Being too rushed to find a candidate: Employer’s often tell recruiters that they are in a big hurry to find a candidate. “The sooner the better” methodology is just about business suicide for executives and celebrities who want the best of the best candidates. World-class assistants are very business savvy and are reluctant to leave an established position for an employer who is in a rush (or one that seems to be unsure about what they want).


Focusing too much on how the candidate looks: There’s nothing wrong with wanting a personal assistant that’s well-groomed and professional-looking. But CEOs and celebrities sometimes obsess on the idea that their PA should be “athletic” or need “model looks”. Employers need to understand the role that headhunters play: to fill the position based on skills listed in the job description, not to find a supermodel or companion.


What employers need to know when hiring a headhunter

Hire the right firm: Retained search firms are, by far, the best way to go when searching for elite executive assistants. The world-class candidates that have worked with celebrities and billionaires know when employers are serious about the process (and when they’re not). Hiring a retained-search firm allows the recruiter to take time in getting to know both the candidates and employer, which puts assistants at ease. Under these circumstances, an executive assistant is usually willing to risk leaving a tenured job to get a better position.


Be realistic about your job description and salary: Thrifty billionaires who want to pay an assistant half of what they are worth because of the “opportunity” and “education” they will receive during their tenure is a formula for disaster. Personal assistants who are attracted to those kinds job offers are minor league players, and PAs who have won a gold medal at the Olympics (metaphorically speaking of course) are going to scoff at those opportunities. In short, those billionaires who offer gigs like that will continue to burn through a new assistant every year.


How to Avoid Derailing Your Career

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

As executive personal assistants, we’ve all had less-than-ideal jobs that we’d soon like to forget, like working for a cranky boss or being surrounded by backstabbers and sycophants. Sometimes that work-related stress can get to us and occasionally we might lash out in a way we won’t soon forget.


Always be sure to practice emotional intelligence and not do anything that could setback your career. Here is a list of practices assistants should avoid at all costs:


Not supporting your coworkers: Don’t act petty and not support colleagues just because you don’t like the way they behave. Sure, maybe they don’t deserve the help, but keep in mind that only one thing matters at work: supporting the celebrity or high net worth individual you work for. Karma will probably catch up with your mean coworker and they will get their comeuppance, but it’s not your job to dish it out.


Not keeping your word: Personal assistants need to be true to their word. If you’ve made either a personal or professional commitment to do something, then stick to it and don’t make excuses about why you couldn’t do something. “I’m busy” just doesn’t cut it because everyone else is busy too. If you’re not sure about whether or not you can do something by a specific deadline, then just give a window in which you leave yourself a little cushion in the event you can’t deliver on time.


Being impatient with your boss: Celebrities, billionaires and high-profile executives can have very demanding personalities. In fact, to put it mildly, they can be quite eccentric. But that’s no reason for executive assistants to lose their cool. Avoid playing any game in which you feel you must prove to your boss they are wrong (even if they are).


Being unprofessional around coworkers: Sometimes personal assistants become a little too comfortable at work and start picking up bad habits like bad-mouthing colleagues, being late, missing deadlines or ranting in emails. Never become too cozy because your overconfidence is a career-killer. If you’re telling friends or coworkers that “this place would shut down without me,” then you’re living in a delusional state. Rest assured, no matter how talented, effective and hardworking you are, the company won’t close if you’re not there – they can live without you. If make too many mistakes at work and do get yourself fired by your celebrity boss, then you’re sure not to get the valuable recommendation for the next job.


Interview with Celebrity Assistant Bonnie Low-Kramen

Bonnie Low-Kramen & Olympia Dukakis


Bonnie Low-Kramen is the former celebrity PA to Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis. With 25 years of experience working at Olympia’s side, I thought it would be helpful to pick her brain.


With 25 years of experience working as an assistant to an Oscar-winner, how would you say the business of celebrity assisting has changed over the years?
When I first started working with Olympia Dukakis in 1986, we had no computers or cell phones or fax machines. The technology is certainly the biggest change in the landscape of working as a celebrity assistant. The deadlines were pretty intense then and now they are even more so. Some assistants carry one, two, or even three cell phones and sleep with them by their side.


Celebrity assistants always needed to be “on call” 24/7 but now it is literally about instant access. Assistants need to make a concerted effort to create boundaries that work for everyone. It simply isn’t possible to sustain a lifestyle where you are always “on.” It’s draining physically and emotionally and is a formula for failure. The best assistant/celebrity relationships are based on mutual respect where boundaries exist and are honored.


More celebrities than ever before are utilizing recruiters to help them find assistants. In addition, salaries have never been higher.


What are the most important qualities for being successful as a personal assistant to a celebrity or high net worth family?
Given the delicate nature of working with celebrities and high-net worth families, it is vital to exhibit discretion and confidentiality. It is important to have a thick skin and an even temper in order to handle a multitude of varied personalities. A sense of humor comes in very handy too.


How is being a personal assistant different from an executive assistant?
One of the main differences is in location. A Personal Assistant typically works out of an employer’s home, and an Executive Assistant typically works out of an office or corporate environment, but even these general guidelines don’t always hold true anymore.


What is true is that there are FEWER differences than there used to be. Executive Assistants weren’t always on call 24/7 but now many are. Both positions are a do-whatever-it-takes kind of job and this most definitely applies to working as a Personal Assistant.


Both positions require personal responsibilities such as gift-buying, travel planning, and handling personal matters for an employer’s family. That said, there are still many companies that do not permit Executive Assistants to be involved in personal matters for their employers.


What is the most misunderstood concept about being a celebrity PA?
People outside the business believe that working as a celebrity PA is glamorous all the time and that an assistant hangs out with famous people as friends. On average, these things are true 10% of the time. Being a celebrity PA is hard work with long hours and requires advanced skills to keep things running smoothly.


You must have seen some amazing things during your career. Any stand-out situations you can share?
Standing on a glacier in Alaska with Olympia. Having a private jet pilot turn around to us and say, “Ladies, can we leave now?” Talking politics with Michael Dukakis. Meeting and talking with Meryl Streep at the People’s Choice Awards. Seeing Jack Nicholson puzzling out who the heck I was! Having Olympia introduce me at my son’s Bar Mitzvah before I sang “The Secret of Life.”


What services do you offer assistants who are looking to update their skills or advance their careers?
My passion and commitment is about empowering the world’s assistants through education. To that end, tech expert Vickie Evans and I offer a two-day “Be the Ultimate Assistant” workshop in different US cities plus Toronto and London. Coming up are Los Angeles (Sept 20-21) and London (Nov 17-18.) Vickie and I also offer customized corporate training inside companies and we have done this at Starbucks, MasterCard, and Campbell Soup to name a few. I also offer one-on-one coaching/mentoring in all areas of an assistant’s career including finding new work, preparing for an annual review, and handling difficult people and situations. For more information:


How Social Media Can Destroy Your Career (Infographic)

Know how you are perceived online


For years we’ve been hearing about “fired over Facebook” stories, yet an overwhelming number of candidates continue to ruin their careers by representing themselves poorly online – and this goes for men and women of all ages and career stages.


If personal assistants and executive PAs hope to advance their careers, then extreme caution needs to be embraced when it comes to managing one’s image online. It seems exceptionally ridiculous that applicants say they have “attention for detail” when they engage in such destructive, career-ending behavior.


Reppler conducted a survey of human resource professionals from a variety of fields and published some alarming statistics – namely that 91% of recruiters are going to check candidates’ online presence at some point during the screening process.

Just some of the situations that recruiters see include:


    • Social media updates saying you’re hung over or hate your job/boss
    • Ridiculous profile handles with racy or immature content
    • Emphatic political rants (with or without profanity)
    • Gossipy or pop culture updates about your favorite or most-hated star


While the internet can be very harmful to one’s career, social media can also be very helpful for a job search — if used properly. In fact, using social media to land a job helps candidates tap into the hidden job market. If, for example, an executive personal assistant wants to work for a celebrity or high-profile celebrity, then LinkedIn is going to be a powerful tool because the best jobs usually aren’t posted online. And if they are, then candidates will have to compete with hundreds of other applicants for the same position.


Strong experience isn’t enough to get a job in today’s market ultra-competitive market.

Assistant Resources

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