Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is My Career Specialty TOO Specific?

I've been reading a lot that having a specialty or a niche is very important. The idea is to be an expert or the top candidate in your field so you become the "go to" person. The last thing you should want is to be good at everything because then you aren't really good at any one thing.

My first job after college was working for a Chairman/CEO. And then I got laid off in a merger. However, even after the first CEO I was pegged as "the assistant to CEOs." So be warned - often unfairly, the first job you take out of college becomes your specialty.

After I was laid off I of course had to go look for another job. I was called in for an interview at an agency and it was the assistant that did all the vetting of the candidates. The executive basically yelled at me for showing up for the interview because he wasn't a CEO and he thought it was absurd that I would even show up for a non-CEO executive assistant position. It was a horrible experience because I waited for an hour to see him and the entire "interview" lasted about 5 minutes.

Originally, my logic to becoming an executive assistant was it was a great job, there are tons of assistants so I should always have a job, and I enjoyed the work. In hindsight, there was fault in my thinking.

1) I wanted to work in the entertainment industry which really only exists in Los Angeles or New York. I already lived in New York and it wasn't for me. So that leaves Los Angeles.

2) Now that I'm job hunting again my biggest obstacle is HR or executives see not working for a CEO is a step down for me even though I don't see it that way. I didn't choose to be an assistant to CEOs. My first two jobs found me and I went on to work for a 3rd CEO. It's been a great resume booster to work for 3 CEOs but that also meant there are only so many CEOs that I could work for, especially in the entertainment industry. All my jobs have been with major corporations or conglomerates which also means only so many exist in the world and also in Los Angeles/entertainment industry.

3) By nature, being a good executive assistant means you're good at admin work. But admin work is very vague - phones, travel, calendar, expense reports, etc. So really, being a good executive assistant translates to being good with people and having great soft skills which is also not specific. So that really comes down to, I'm good at being what you need me to be, which isn't a specialty at all.

So, I kinda fell into what I did and went with it, for better or for worse. However, I am noticing a trend in all the people who headhunt me.

- I can work for any C-level executive or an executive who has very high-profile clients.

- Despite having zero experience in other fields, I've been offered other jobs as I've proven I can hit the ground running and learn as I go.

- Hiring managers know I can work with anyone and deal with anyone because CEOs interact with all levels of seniority, various professions, and a wide array of personalities.

- They also know I understand office politics, have basic business acumen, and keep things confidential because I wasn't a personal assistant or an assistant working out of someone's house.

- If I can handle the fast pace, urgent deadlines, and ever-changing priorities of the entertainment industry, I can probably handle anything.

I've never regretted any of the career decisions I've made. I'll also be able to transition to other industries if I choose to or explore other positions. Nothing is set in stone so don't worry if you may feel your specialty might be too specific as well.

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