Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How LinkedIn Can Help Your Career & How I Use It

Having an online presence is very important in this digital age. If having a blog or your own website doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, LinkedIn is the next best thing. I’ve known and experienced myself of finding jobs through LinkedIn or Googling people to get in touch with them or gather their past work to pitch them as applicants to recruiters. Aside from being searched online and negative and damaging information is found, the second worst thing is when zero information is found. It makes one wonder if they aren’t tech-savvy, are good at networking, or realize if it’s apparent we are now in a digital frontier.

Aside from my blog, LinkedIn, and Brazen Careerist, I do not have my own website. I’ve found those three and other tactics have served me well, especially because they are all free methods. Below are tips on how I use LinkedIn. I hope they are helpful to you as well.

1. Photo

Either have a really professional clear headshot photo or none at all. Some of the worst photos I’ve seen are people reclining in their office chairs or the photo is so far away that you can’t even tell if the person is male, female, or an alien. Photos are beneficial if you have a non-traditional name to determine what gender you are. For example, if you’re a woman but go by Chris or Alex as a nickname. For myself, people unfamiliar with Japan may not realize I’m female since Kiyomi is my first name and in Japan Kiyoshi is a common male name and they are very similar. Photos help you to come across as sharp, professional, and help put a face to the name, especially for phone interviews.

2. Job Title

Instead of your current title, use your unique selling point to better brand yourself. My title says: High-Level Assistant for Chairmen/CEOs of Sony, MGM, Fox & Fortune-ranked companies, including Exec Producers. My current title is Executive Assistant, but that doesn’t really say anything about me or ‘sell’ me enough. With the title I use at LinkedIn, you get my career re-cap and gather that I specialize in the entertainment sector, C-Level executives, and am versed in both business and creative fields because I’ve worked for Executive Producers as well.

3. Recommendations

Have as many recommendations you can from a lot of different sources so they showcase a different aspect of you. You are aiming for the 360 view. You want people who work below you, at your same level, above you, and outside your company (clients, vendors, etc) to recommend you. I also include HR executives and recruiters because I work freelance a lot and they bring me back often which bodes well.

Throughout the year, ask people for recommendations after a big project, when they compliment you, if you volunteer, or mentor someone that is relevant to your career.

Try not to write a recommendation for everyone that writes you one or it defeats the purpose. Why? If you write one for everyone that writes you one, it looks as though you just traded recommending each other as a favor. I currently have over 40 recommendations. Of that, I’ve written 4 for other people - two who have written me one, and two who have not. In this manner, the accolades are more objective.

Recommendations can be any length. I have one that is one sentence, but it is a powerful one. Others are only 2-3 sentences and I do have a couple that are quite lengthy.

When asking for a recommendation, mention how you are always sprucing up your LinkedIn profile and if they felt comfortable to write you 2-3 sentences. Sometimes I do ask them to write in 2-3 weeks or else I find they mean to do it, but never get around to it. Ask a lot of people who can give you strong recommendations because you’ll find that people are either too busy or may not have LinkedIn.

4. Summary of soft and hard skills

Include a short summary of your soft and hard skills. Because my role is very “customer service” heavy, my people skills are just as important as my core skills. Anyone can be an assistant if they have the right attitude and are fairly smart. The question becomes, are you good with people, humble, can you take requests, can you get along with the mailroom, security, other assistants, the general public, VIP, and your boss’ boss - in essence, anyone?

5. List of books

There is an option at LinkedIn to share what you are currently reading. As a bookworm, this is one of my favorite features. I follow people to see what they are reading and they follow me. Oddly, I found out that people who I have never had any contact with are following my list. This shares with people a little bit more about who you are as a person. Because of this list, a co-worker approached me and we like to talk books now!

6. Contact database

LinkedIn serves as my second contact database since they are all in one location. The best thing is, as people’s information changes, I can see their new info because they update their own email address. Or I can see the current company they are at whenever they update their profile.

7. Q & A section

The Answers section is where you can ask for advice or help ranging from tech support to general advice. I like this section because I can help others by suggesting my favorite business books to read or give advice to people still in school about internships, Hollywood, or entering the “real” world. It’s a great way to give back to the community.

8. Attachment section

LinkedIn has many features and applications where you can upload presentations or projects that you have worked on. I don’t use these features as they don’t apply to my specific position, but I can see how it can be beneficial to others to have 3 work examples uploaded.

9. Network

LinkedIn is a great way to network or stay in touch. A few people have found me through other connections asking me to join their network. I have also re-connected with former colleagues from many years ago through LinkedIn.

10. Grow your network

The key is to constantly grow your network. Whenever you arrive to a new company, add everyone you meet. When you are exiting a company, also add people. Whenever I start a new project or meet someone new, I also add them. It took me several years, but I finally grew my network to 500+ people.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You Are a Role Model Without Knowing It

As the year comes to a close and I ponder the events that marked these past 12 months, I marvel at the beauty of life despite so many signs of hardship and destruction. In always trying to see the bright side and be grateful, I look at my life and those in it for inspiration and awe. Sometimes a book can move me just as well.

Whether you know it or not, your life, how you live it, whether positively or negatively, acts as a beacon for anyone that crosses your path. In this way, we are all a part of the universe. It has been known that happiness can travel within a circle of friends and can affect people a few times removed. The impact of one person to another, even as total strangers is evident and scientifically documented.

I’ll give you an example from my personal life. For years, I’ve known S and her husband D. We see each other a couple of times a year, but we are not close. I know them through someone else. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve seen them a handful of times each year for about 10 years, they really would be acquaintances because that’s how well I know them. In a span of about 6 months, they have been riddled with a very serious health issue, a home renovation that went bad via a freak incident, they lived in a hotel for almost two months, they had to re-decorate again, and then another very serious illness. And did I mention they have two toddlers, but through it all they never complained and even poked fun at life and how it didn’t seem to let up on them? And either the kids were sick or they were also sick while trying to take care of each other and the family, including juggling work and life in general. I admire them, their marriage, and their attitude.

I also just finished reading Scratch Beginnings. It a social experiment where one college grad tried to ‘get out of poverty’ with only $25, the clothes he wore, a bag and tarp. Many people positively influenced his life, but the one stranger that affected him the most got a long thank you letter. It stated they didn’t know each other’s names, how their daily interaction brightened his day immensely and started it off right, how a “mundane job” really was vital to society even though he may not know it. Who did Adam Shepard write this thank you letter to? His local community bus driver.

I wrote a get well card to S and D sharing how I admire their marriage, outlook, and resilience. It was the 2nd one I had to write in 6 months so I didn’t want to say the typical ‘get well soon’ message figuring it wouldn’t suffice. So, I hoped they would appreciate how much they impacted my life by living with such grace, poise, and gratitude. They enjoyed receiving it, but probably not as much as I enjoyed writing it.

When was the last time you wrote a thank you card or a long thank you letter - not an email or a word of thanks, or not a thank you for a birthday gift or a job interview? When was the last time you wrote someone to say thank you for “being you” or “just because” or mentioned how much you appreciate them when it wasn’t a special day? Perhaps, now that the holidays are here, a thank you/love letter wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Monday, December 13, 2010

10 Tips to be a Better Executive Assistant - Part 3

Here are 10 random tips I’ve culled over the years on how to be a better assistant. This is part 3.

1. As soon as you get an email or piece of paper, deal with it.

I hate my inbox filled up with unread messages or paper. Every time I get a new mail, I deal with it immediately. I delete it, flag it to deal with later, file it to a folder, or answer it right away. If I flag it for later I at least say I got their email.

2. Gentle reminder

Whenever you have to remind someone, always state it’s a gentle reminder. This way they don’t feel as though you are mad, upset, or nagging them. And perhaps they didn’t forget, but just haven’t had the chance to do it. So if you say a “gentle reminder” it sounds more gentle!

3. State your past work history to re-establish connections or forge new ones.

Whenever I am new to an office, if I’ve worked with someone before, but they may not remember I usually speak up. This usually happens with other assistants or high level executives. Oftentimes, they have never met me, but may recall my name or my boss’ name when I mention it over the phone. I will say, “I think we may have worked together when I was in ___________’s office.” Or I will say to new co-workers where I used to work just so they have an idea of my background or to find out if we had crossed paths before. When you do this, it establishes a lot of credibility that you “run in the same circles,” have a similar background, or a solid work history. It also re-establishes any feelings of rapport since you probably got along previously. The point is also to establish yourself as a career professional if you’re an executive assistant. When many leave the job to become something else after a year, being a lifetime assistant states you’re here to stay, you “get in,” and this isn’t your first job assisting a VIP. Hollywood/LA is a very small town and there is only one degree of separation. Being a high level assistant is a whole different type of job and only other assistants in the same boat can relate. (For example, you start speaking in short hand to other assistants and it doesn’t come across as rude because it’s meant to be efficient and not waste time with small talk. In all emails with other assistants we started referring to our bosses by initials only. Or when we would place calls, because we had caller ID, instead of saying, “I have John Doe,” we would say, “I have him. Is he there?”)

4. Utilize LinkedIn, especially for the same reason as above.

Everyone should have a LinkedIn account for the online viewable recommendations alone. Aside from that, I use it for many reasons, but largely, I want to have my resume online so I can connect with people and have them learn about me should they so desire. And instead of my job title being my current one, I state it as my overall career title/unique selling point to better brand myself. I constantly add new people to my network and spruce up my profile.

5. Watch Entourage, Swimming with Sharks, and The Devil Wears Prada to gain perspective.

Granted these movies are very fiction-heavy, but at the very least, you will understand the executive assistant culture. Whenever I tell people what I do for a living, someone asks if I’ve see the above titles. And then ‘war stories’ come out sometimes. LOL I don’t divulge because I don’t have any and it’s not good to gossip.

6. Don’t be surprised if you’re told in not so many words who to befriend and not befriend.

It’s only happened maybe three times in my career, but I can certainly read between the lines when someone above me has told me in not so many words that someone is not their favorite person. Sometimes the reason seems valid from what little I know, sometimes the reason is not that big of a deal. As an executive assistant it’s your job to treat everyone the same - diplomatic, but firm - and be loyal to your boss and your boss’ boss.

7. Be prepared that sometimes the job description you’re given when you interview is vastly differently once you’re in the job.

I’ve heard this a lot more from other people who had very horrendous experiences. Either whoever is doing the hiring/interviewing has never done the job before, so they hear what the job is like from people who are not in the role. Or what happens is a lot of the very bad parts of the job are glossed over because they think you/a new person/things are different that there’s no reason to scare people off prematurely. Having a job description helps immensely to know what is required of you and what does and doesn’t fall under your jurisdiction. Having on-going open discussions as soon as you come aboard helps navigate your role better and negotiate appropriately during your annual review.

8. If you leave stuff on people's desk or vice versa leave a note so they know who it's from and maybe when you left it just in case.

I hate coming back to my desk with stuff on it and I have no idea who left it there. It can take me up to 15 minutes to figure it out. And in case my boss asks questions, I never want to say, “I have no idea who left it there when I was in the copy room.” If you can’t find a pen or paper to leave a note, at least email the person you left something on their desk when you get back.

9. Yes, sometimes your boss tries to avoid certain people whether they will admit it or not.

In almost every office I’ve worked in, my boss or co-worker will at times avoid someone’s call or a drop-in visit. 99% of the time, I never know why, but you’ll spot it when your boss asks you to pull them out of a meeting after 15 min or keep asking you to take a message when the same person calls 3 times in one hour. It’s not important why your boss is in hiding, only that you do as they ask without making it obvious that you are/aren’t “lying” on their behalf. Whatever their reason, trust it’s a good one. Fear not, this isn’t usually the type of situation where it goes on for a month or the rest of the year, but rather for a day or so at most.

10. Have a personal stash.

Have an extra umbrella at the office if you can. Have your own private stash of food for late nights or snacking. Just in case have extra cough drops, Band-Aids, Airborne, Tylenol, Advil, stamps, safety pins, nail clippers, lighters, straws, cash/change, or tweezers.

It’s nice to establish yourself as the “go-to” person for all things office-related and not office related. I once had the reputation in my office for the girl that had everything. You’ll be surprised how often people appreciate you offering your personal stash when they have a cold or an emergency. You can save them in the nick of time!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Happiness Interview

Gretchen Rubin’s book and blog are among my favorites. She interviews well-known authors, bloggers, or anyone that has anything to do with happiness or the search for it. Below are 9 questions she asks everyone. Their answers can be so illuminating and thought-provoking that I decided to answer them myself as if she was interviewing me! LOL I figured it would be a very good exercise in self-reflection and pinpointing my life philosophies. Here’s hoping these answers will be of help to you too!

What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Keeping busy and learning. Whether it’s volunteering, exploring new hobbies, catching up with friends, sleeping in, reading a book, or trying a new restaurant, I want to live life to the fullest. It may not be a grand or exciting life, but it is a happy, fulfilling, and productive one!

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Now that I’m out of college and have been in the real world for some time, I’ve realized that happiness means re-defining who I am, my goals, my values, my definition of happiness every few years. It’s like Madonna, now I know why she re-invents her music and who she is. From one stage ending, comes a new beginning.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Boredom is the devil’s playground. When I can’t think of what to do, which is rare, I ruminate on the past and too many if’s, and’s, but’s.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Spend out.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
During the worst of times, my mantra is: Whatever you do, don’t make it worse.

On a bad day, it’s: Always take the high road or you’ll regret it later because it’s a small world. Let it go.

For every day, it’s: Stay positive and Carpe Diem!

My favorite quote is by Helen Keller. “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (Mine is reading children’s books.)
I read. I read to laugh, to be moved, to feel validated, for knowledge.

I also write the highlights from each week and Monday nights are set aside for personal growth reading, journaling, reflection, or sleeping early.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Many complain, but won’t cultivate the discipline to change their circumstances or are too afraid.

It was very eye opening for me to learn that 1) most people prefer the certainty of misery than the misery of uncertainty and 2) procrastination is a form of anxiety management.

How you deal with your anxiety/stress and how you solve problems are key indicators..

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I’ve always felt the same level of happiness. During any periods of feeling lost or confused, I still maintained my sanity by sleeping, eating, and living well. Any time I’m unhappy, I focus on why I’m feeling the way I am and how to fix it. Avoidance and denial are never the answer.

I also recently discovered Brene Brown and I love her outlook and quote. “An ordinary life is not meaningless.” I’m paraphrasing, but it’s our downfall as a nation that our belief is we must be extraordinary to matter - the smartest, richest, prettiest, most successful, sexiest, funniest, etc. This is why, in all of American history, we have never been more obese, in debt, depressed, addicted, and feeling overextended/busy than we are today.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Yes. Reading is my way of seeking new concepts or life lessons to ponder by reading memoirs. I also love reading personal growth books whether they are about business, my industry, successful companies/people, failures, or life’s tribulations. More than anything it’s also the discipline and patience to carry out actions and make decisions based on what I want out of life long-term. By taking time to think, reflect, and NOT live life on auto pilot you learn who you are, why you feel and think the way you do, what you want, what’s important to you, and how to carry out a meaningful day, week, and life. Regarding happiness, knowing who you are solves 90% of your problems. The rest is tactic and strategy to go after what you want.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Not really. I’ve always believed the best things in life are free. Money and toys can only buy you so much happiness. At the end of the day, everyone wants to do meaningful work and to feel special.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Struggling with Knowing vs Doing

Penelope Trunk wrote about meditation just recently and how everyone should be doing it because the science is there on how supremely beneficial it is. She goes on to state she used to do it and stopped although she knows how great it can be.

I initially started meditating because I knew about the facts behind the science and during my “lost” period, I figured the answer might be in meditation. I bought the most stripped down, non religious, 8-minutes a day guide on meditation that was hailed by all the major media outlets. Every week was a new set of instructions to build upon.

I meditated faithfully for the first 6-7 days. It was a lot easier than I had imagined it would be. I stopped, however, right before the 2nd week was to start and I was to build upon what I learned that first week. Part of the reason I stopped was that I could see that meditation was not the answer to why I felt so lost. I also stopped (unfairly) because I didn’t see any benefit, but how could I only after a few tries? Most importantly, it’s so hard to stick with a routine or to have discipline when you KNOW something is helpful or beneficial but you have not EXPERIENCED IT YET. I am sure I suffer from some instant gratification just like the rest of my generation.

As much as I know this about myself, science, human psychology, and human behavior, I have actually stuck to very disciplined behaviors that I still continue today. Several years ago I started to cut out caffeine and my sleep improved drastically. Already a night owl, I sleep at a more reasonable hour and I fall asleep within 20 minutes. I experimented not drinking water past a certain time before bed to prevent waking up from in the middle of the night. The few weeks I did that, my sleep was amazing. However, I didn’t continue it. I once cut out rice, pasta, and bread for 3 months and noticed the lack of sluggish feeling afterward. I get these glimpses of feeling extraordinary and experience the payoff, but sometimes it’s not worth the tradeoff. I still continue avoiding many items others consume because I see it’s worth the extra effort.

I’m contemplating picking up meditation again. My current goal is to find a way to become even more compassionate, grateful, forgiving, accepting, realistic, and joyful about my life. Like Penelope said, while I am no longer lost, feel strong, and have such inner peace, it’s the time to strengthen myself mentally and emotionally so I am much more resilient when something strikes again. A daily ritual is what I need and I’m still experimenting what I want to do. I’m going to start with Monday nights being for “reflection time.” It will be a way for me to carve out time to just sit and think, and then create blueprints for how I want to live out my life in the long-run. Any start is always good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Answering Reader Mail: Confidential Job Hunts, Raises, Promotions & Better Projects

This is my first admin job supporting a mid-level executive. I love working in admin, but I have been stuck in this dead end job for more than a few years now without a raise. I also haven’t been growing or learning anything new since Day 1 because my boss won’t give me projects. We discussed it at length and I “have” my boss’ support. However, even after taking many classes on the various programs I still haven’t gotten any new tasks. I would like to get better assignments, promoted, or get a raise before a few more years go by. How do I get a recommendation letter from my boss for a new job hunt without raising suspicion or improve my situation without my boss’ help? Thank you so much.

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for your questions. I hope I can be of some help to you.

First, congratulations on such a pro-active attitude. It’s such a shame that there aren’t more managers who are good mentors that help each individual grow and learn more in their roles. Granted, I understand that many managers are busy and it’s faster for them to do certain projects. Yet it is a waste of a happy, willing student much like yourself.

One of the best ways to get a raise is to try to ask for more responsibility and increase your skills and talents much like you did. Short of that, looking for a new job elsewhere is your second best bet. While you have a job, recruiters are much happier to steal you away to their company instead. You also have more negotiating leverage for a better salary and projects. Progressive work experience is always a smart goal.

Another suggestion to get more experience on really good projects is to volunteer during your free time. There are many admin or office type positions. Perhaps you will be able to put together documents, presentations, grants, and portfolios using Excel, Powerpoint, Word and any other databases or programs you have taken classes for. In this manner, when you go into job interviews you can bring all the sales presentations or documents you put together into a portfolio to showcase your work. A good resource for volunteering opportunities is Volunteering is also a great opportunity to network with new people who are in your field or have the same interests and skill sets as you do. I got a lot of my experience volunteering, working for free, or doing internships. I can not stress volunteering enough to spruce up your resume for when are you ready to leave your current company.

Instead of trying to rely on only your boss for a recommendation letter, keep in mind the value of the 360 view. Recommendations can come from other executives that you work with, people on the same level as you, people below you, vendors, clients and anyone that worked with you. The point is to have many different people, in different roles, in different levels to vouch for your work ethic, talents, skills, and character. Perhaps you’ve assisted visiting executives or consultants, helped out other assistants on a team project, or have a long-standing business relationship with a vendor, catering manager, or florist for all the office luncheons, birthday parties, or special events. In this manner, you can get really good recommendations from people who know you well in a team environment.

I suggest starting with LinkedIn to get recommendations along with traditional letters. Your LinkedIn profile can be public, there is an option to also print out any recommendations people write, and the glowing remarks can be as short as 2-3 sentences or much longer. Also remember to ask a few key people for permission to list them as a reference on job applications for more in-depth references. HR will usually call 2-3 people for a quick phone chat.

The best way to ask people for LinkedIn recommendations is shortly after any major special project or whenever they compliment you. Email them saying you’d love 2-3 sentences if they feel comfortable commenting on how you did x, y, z on the __________ project. This helps refresh their memory and you’ve provided most of the details that they only have to write their glowing remarks. Also be sure to ask all and as many people as you can. People are busy and you’ll find that only a small percentage of those you ask even have LinkedIn or will actually feel comfortable writing something.

Asking for recommendations is something you should be doing all-year round, just like networking. And constantly learning new skills and gaining a wide range of knowledge is vital to getting to the next step. You want to have your ducks in a row before you get laid off or want to find a better job. Happy job hunting and keep me posted!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Now What?! Reflections on Professional Milestones & Aging

I’ve always known age to be a critical factor in succeeding, working, and being in showbiz - even before I was an adult. I purposely started early and I hope I logged my 10, 000 hours like Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers. Now that I’m a “real” adult, how I define success, how my thinking has shaped who I am, and all the changes I went through are starting to become apparent. This is what they must mean by enjoying the aging process! :) I’m really starting to enjoy adulthood by seeing how far I’ve come and what I will continue to learn about myself.

I started working at age 12 babysitting. At 14, I was a waitress where people thought I was 18. At 16, I was a journalist and on local television as on-air talent and doing voice over work and teaching ESL to scientists, doctors, and children. My bosses and clients always marveled at how young I was, eager to learn, able to be around people at least twice my age. When I was in college, people thought I was a decade older based on my demeanor. By the time I hit Hollywood, being so young was obviously in my favor. One look at me and my resume and you could tell I was a go-getter, hungry, and would hustle tempered with enough work experience to get caught up to speed rather quickly. All my hard work at part-time jobs, internships, and self-awareness paid off.

I worked for CEOs, well-known companies, and had a diverse overview of showbiz ranging from radio, print, television, film, marketing, and event planning. It felt good to be the youngest person in the office. Although I was very junior, I took pride in the fact that I was there, allowed to observe, soak in the daily grind of well-respected executives, and assist them. In showbiz where anyone would kill for your job and even do it for free, I knew how extremely lucky I was to “just be an assistant” and have down-to-earth supervisors. I loved it and still do. At that point in my life, a great majority of my success and identity was based on being the youngest person. I got my foot in the door early. I was given access. I would experience things most people never would. However, what happens when you are no longer the youngest person?

At some point, you realize the next young batch of go-getters are right behind you. I noticed this when other younger, newer assistants would come to me with questions and I began mentoring them. It was great to help them and to know that I was no longer the newbie assistant with the worst paycheck. But of course, helping others and money, isn’t a healthy lifelong marker for being happy and being fulfilled. And I certainly wasn’t unhappy or unfulfilled. Constant change, reinvention, and growth are the key to sustained happiness and emotional well-being. It’s just that now that I’m older, I can see myself back then with fresh eyes and observe my way of thinking a little more objectively.

From being the youngest to earning a good paycheck and being able to help others, my sense of accomplishment then came from being headhunted by Oprah, Apple, major cities across the nation, and having recruiters checking in with me periodically. When people seek you out to fill a position, you know you are on the right track. However, life and success not reflected upon wisely can just become a non-stop treadmill of external validations and false happiness, which brings me to the present. How will I gauge success and happiness for the next 5-10 years when youth, good money, stability, and progressive work experience are under my belt?

I have always lived my life mindfully and have tried to live it with balance. In the beginning, I wanted phenomenal work experience and to convey my great work ethic to have a strong foundation for my career. I became a workaholic. I was an independent adult. Then I wanted stability and comfort. Once I got that I sought work/life balance. Now that I have what I’ve worked toward all these years, I contemplate what I want my life to be in this phase. In some ways, I’m having to restructure my life from scratch and reassess all my values to fine-tune old ones. I’m sure it’s obvious why I’m at this point in my life; I just had a birthday.

As I celebrated, friends and co-workers joked I will forever be 20. Odd that they chose 20, not 21. I still get mistaken for being 16 and have for the past few years. I’m short, I have a baby face, and I stay out of the sun. I guess I look very youthful, not even I’m-21-I-can-buy-alcohol-youthful, but slightly younger. The cashier at Fresh & Easy said I’d be carded forever.

Except now that I’m no longer 20 and find myself in the adult world among peers, I worry the youthful look will work against me. I’m researching volunteer opportunities to help adults re-write their resumes or teach teens technology. I’m afraid my babyface will offend older adults and have them question my skills. I’m afraid the teenagers will not take me seriously either because I will look their age or not command their respect. And not knowing what the “best” age is in showbiz, Los Angeles, and in life, I’ve now taken measures not to date myself to avoid the question of how old I am completely. I removed the year I graduated from my resume and LinkedIn. I don’t correct people if they assume I might be a different age. I’m mute on the whole subject.

So I will have to ponder a little longer how I will re-define success, happiness, balance, and being a well-rounded individual. I will have to re-organize my priorities, social life, and my precious hours of free time. I will have to have a better understanding of myself and my goals. And I will have to strike the balance between using my babyface to its best advantage while fully utilizing all the self-awareness and life lessons I have today. It is a time for re-birth. How interesting and dare I say, fun, it will be! ;)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

7 Tips for Being Lost

It’s been a couple weeks now of feeling lost. My plan to accept I didn’t have the answer only worked for awhile. At some point, the mild annoyance started to creep back into my life. To cope with it, I looked outside myself, half knowing the answer would not be in the new hobbies I tried, to bring more joy into my life, nor the more in-depth conversations I would have with my dear friends for comfort. However, the solace of knowing I was fairing pretty well, was not alone, and had new ideas to self-reflect upon at least made me feel as I was not thrashing around aimlessly. I was trying, even if I wasn’t succeeding. The realization that this would not be the last time of feeling lost began to dawn upon me. That every few years, I would wonder and question what my life was about. The journey is still just beginning. Even though the answer will most often not be given to me directly, each successive step leads me to the next one, which will eventually lead me to my answer. And it’s in taking the first ‘wrong’ step that will lead me to the next ‘wrong’ step that will eventually get me closer to where I need to be. So if you really think about it, none of them are wrong steps at all. Each step is a tiny clue or hint that leads and informs the next action. This is what helped me get out of being lost.

1. Mourn whatever it is you are sad, angry, disappointed, or confused about.

2. Once you mourn that, see if you still feel sad, angry, disappointed, or confused. If you are still feeling unsettled were you mourning and working through the right thing or do you have many things to address in succession?

3. Keep repeating the cycle of mourning different things you need to until you get to the point where you are either tired of feeling like crap or you feel strong enough to act and solve your problem.

4. Take baby steps to seek out your answer. You can start by trying new hobbies, socialize with old and new friends, truly relishing what you know for sure you like and enjoy. Write out your thoughts. Sit and think, self reflect, and work through your thoughts for 15 min or an hour a day.

5. Watch Steve Jobs’ or Oprah Winfrey’s commencement speeches. Watch Randy Pausch’s the Last Lecture and read the book. Watch Team Hoyt’s video set to the song I Can Only Imagine. Watch the PBS documentary This Emotional Life by Daniel Gilbert. Watch movies.

6. Start reading books that will answer the questions you have or help you feel validated and less alone in the situation you are in. One of the best books I just discovered is M. Scott Peck’s THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED. These may also help you: Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and Falling Apart in One Piece by Stacy Morrison.

7. Once you have more clarity and can think straight, have the courage to face your fears and solve your problems while getting enough sleep and exercise and not self-medicating. Almost anything can become a self-medicating defense mechanism - overeating, drinking, drugs, shopping, gambling, avoidance, or denial. As long as you are coping and functioning in your daily life for the most part, that may be all you can do that day. And that’s okay. :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

10 Tips to be a Better Executive Assistant - Part 2

Here are 10 random tips I’ve culled over the years on how to be a better assistant. This is part 2.

1. If your boss’ door is open, listen in so you can anticipate their needs.

As an assistant, you normally sit right outside your boss’ office and should be able to hear their conversations. I always usually half listen in as I’m working. When I do listen in, I hear my boss and his colleague wonder when Comic Con is or when one accidentally spills a bottle of water. Then, I’m able to bring in the information they need on a piece of paper without interrupting their meeting or a roll of paper towels and a new bottle without being asked. Being a good assistant is about knowing what they might ask for next and saving them that step of actually asking you. If their meeting is confidential, your boss will close their door so don’t worry. And whenever you listen in, the only time you should react or show you are listening is, is when it is work related and they need help. This means, even if you hear them have small talk in the beginning and one of them cracks a funny joke, you should not be laughing out loud a long with with them! Just laugh to yourself!

2. Run or walk fast wherever you go.

Time is always of the utmost importance and hustling is one of the best traits an assistant can have. I always make it a point to either actually run or walk fast whenever I am in the office. If my boss summons me to his office I actually run the 7 feet to his desk. When the phone rings and I have to find my boss, I run to locate him. Around the office, a colleague always jokes with me that whenever she runs, she calls it “I’m doing the Kiyomi.” The amount of time you save by actually speed walking or running to get something is enormous. It also states you take your job seriously and understand that every task is of the utmost importance and has urgency.

3. If you want to complain, offer a suggestion at the same time, better yet 3 suggestions.

I think most workers view their supervisors as psuedo-parents since they assign you work, give feedback, and are authority figures. Our entire lives were spent being shaped and guided by those who oversee us. First it was our parents, then our teachers, and then our college professors. It’s how we operated for the first 20+ years of our lives so it is understandable that we might see our bosses in this way. However, at work, you are there to work. And your boss has a lot on his plate answering to his boss, board members, or clients. He barely has enough time and attention span for his own job and overseeing his department/colleagues that when you present him with a problem that he probably didn’t even know existed, he has even less of a clue how to fix or solve it than you do, not to mention the time. This is why I advise that if you have a complaint or a problem you should also have 3 good suggestions. More often than not, your boss’ role in the company is as a leader, visionary, and strategist, not so much one who actually carries out the work. He will most often oversee, guide, and a grant approval. This is why you offering suggestions helps get the ball rolling toward actually implementing a solution.

4. Name-drop effectively on behalf of your boss.

Sometimes you will be in a situation where you need to name-drop on behalf of your boss. Say, if you need to make a dinner reservation at the hottest spot in town. It works to be kind instead being snobby about it. I name drop as a last resort. When I call a restaurant, I ask for a reservation first and if they say they are too packed, I respond in an almost embarrassed tone and say the following.

“Oh... I’m actually calling on behalf of my boss, Mr X. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, he’s the CEO of ________. He really loves your restaurant and wanted to have a dinner meeting there.”

That usually seems to work. If not, at least you tried.

5. Will this be complimentary?

When you work for a well-known executive, you will be told about certain products or services. If you know the offer is legitimate, sometimes you wonder if they are trying to sell your boss something or if they are giving it for free. To ask without sounding cheap, the key phrase is, “Is this complimentary?” Keep in mind though, unless you know the person or company very well, everything comes at price. The only time I use this phrase is if my boss bought something, the product was faulty, and the business offers to right a wrong. I might ask if the return shipping will be complimentary/refunded.

6. Label phone extensions “Lines 1, 2, 3, 4”

If your boss’ phone has multiple phone lines, mark them numerically instead of their separate extensions. When the phones are ringing off the hook and 2 are on hold, you’re on one line, and the other one on hold is for your boss, it’s much easier to say, “Grab line 1.” I’ve worked in other offices and we had to say “the top line” or “the bottom one” or “the 2nd to the last one” and it’s just too many words to say.

7. Lend books or movies out or share whatever hobbies to foster good relations.

I’m a big fan of reading and movies so I always like to lend my books or DVDs to executives and other assistants. I even knew one co-worker who would share his Neftlix DVDs with people at work! After he watched it, he would give it to someone else to watch and made sure they sent it back in afterward. Wow!

8. You have a great vendor when they bend to accommodate you.

Often as an assistant, you have to use outside companies for flowers, birthday cakes or lunches. The best vendors are the ones that will go the extra step by offering to go out and buy whatever they don’t normally have in stock or who will go the extra mile. Reward them by constantly using them. It’s very hard to find good vendors. I’ve been able to have restaurants deliver to us when they normally wouldn’t or have them actually go out and buy special china and platters for a big lunch knowing they could always use it again with us or another client. They will also start doing what good businesses do, not charging us for another set up fee or replacing free of charge items that through no fault of theirs or ours were damaged. Here’s a small, but powerful example. We were having a catered lunch with dessert. Unexpectedly the weather turned sunny and bright around lunch time. In the short 15-20 minute ride over the chocolate desserts melted all over the other desserts on the big platter. Upon arrival, the driver and I discovered this when the food was being unloaded. The driver rushed back and brought a new dessert plate and then said ALL of our desserts would be free because of the small mishap. This was no one’s fault and the dessert wasn’t cheap. But they were willing to eat the cost. They wanted to let us know they valued our business and would go the extra mile to keep us happy. Even when things weren’t their fault they would fix it. You’ll find that a mutually-beneficial relationship starts to develop. I went to eat at that same restaurant on my day off one day and brought a friend. Although it was packed they recognized me and sat me right away! Anytime I find a new restaurant I like, I make it a point to bring all of my friends there too.

9. If you work at a big company, are new, or work for someone high profile, people you've never met will already know your face and name somehow.

One of the oddest things to me was that very often at work, people I never met always greeted me by name and would strike up conversations with me. At first I thought it was someone I had spoken on the phone with, but never saw face to face. However, the longer I worked there, I realized it wasn’t that. Almost anywhere I worked, people would know me because I was in such a visible office or that I sat in a very visible area. I had no idea everyone became familiar to me without my knowledge. It still continues to this day where the new person is not so new anymore, but they are new to me and forget to introduce themselves and they just carry on as if we are best friends so I feel awkward saying, “I don’t know your name!” LOL At one event, someone actually claimed we knew each other and had previously met. I knew for a fact that was not true because when they said when we had met, I actually hadn’t even been working there yet! I didn’t disagree, but I did realize that was more of a case where they insisted they knew me because they thought it would beneficial to them. Although there was nothing I could actually help them with.

10. Always have a suit jacket on hand or an extra change of work clothes.

I worked in a really casual office where everyone wore jeans, t-shirts and flip flops. One day my boss forgot something and asked me to drop off paperwork at her important business seminar. I knew everyone would be dressed up and luckily, I had my handy black suit jacket. Once I threw that on over my t-shirts, jeans, and black sneakers, I actually looked more business casual. Or if you were to spill something on yourself, you can’t work for a CEO and present yourself in that manner. So this where extra clothes come in handy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Tips to be a Better Executive Assistant - Part 1

Here are 10 random tips I’ve culled over the years on how to be a better assistant. This is part 1.

1. Yes, No Boxes

Since I’ve worked for so many Fortune 500 CEO’s, I’ve actually been coincidentally groomed the same way in all the offices.

Whenever my boss would receive snail mail or an invitation, we had a pile or folder that either needed his signatures or we needed an answer from him. This is where the Yes, No Boxes come in handy.

For example, if my boss was invited to a movie premiere, I would take a post-it note and write:

You are free this evening. Would you like to attend?
____ Yes ____ No

This way it would take my boss 2 seconds to mark his decision. Easy. Sometimes the CEO would add a note underneath like, “See if I can also bring my children.” We would ask for +3 guests instead of just +1.

2. Only give a max of 3 choices.

This is probably pretty self explanatory. Whenever presenting any options, give no more than 3 choices. Presenting too many options just overwhelms and confuses people and makes them indecisive. It would be good to make the choices inexpensive, medium, or very expensive or whatever spread of variety is possible. If asked for restaurants, choose one seafood/sushi, one steak, and one general/American cuisine.

3. Money/gifts contributions etiquette

When it comes to donating money to causes, gifts, or anything else where a lot of people are also pitching in, don’t be shy to ask how much everyone else is contributing. The person to ask would be the other assistants or discreetly ask the person collecting the money. The goal is to solicit enough information so your boss or CEO either contributes the same amount as everyone on his level or slightly more, whatever is appropriate. The goal is to make sure he doesn’t contribute less than everyone else.

4. Answer the phone so the caller only needs to say yes or no.

Whenever I answer the phone and I know who it is or know it’s not a cold call, I try to make it easiest on the caller. Instead of this conversation happening:

Me: ______’s office.
Caller: It’s Jim. Is _________ there?

I say this:

Me: ________’s office. Hey Jim. Let me see if I can find ________. Hold on.

5. Bake cookies, cupcakes, or any homemade gift during the holidays if you can’t afford at $10-$15 gift card from iTunes, Starbucks, or Jamba Juice.

In the past, one of my executives would burn a CD of holiday music and gave those out.

6. Print out your boss’ daily schedule and put in by your desk.

This helps immensely so your boss doesn’t have to check their schedule via their smartphone or walk back to their desk. It also helps when discussing with colleagues when they should stop by again to see your boss. If you’re like me, you always have about 10 different screens open on your computer which makes it a hassle to find the right one showing the calendar and then resuming your task.

7. Meet other assistants from other companies that you work with over lunch or coffee.

Every now and then, if I find myself working a lot with a particular assistant, I ask them if they’d be open to meeting for lunch. Sometimes I go to their office or they come to mine. It’s always nice to get to know them as people and it makes for a better working relationship since you can understand their role, their boss, and how they as clients fit into the bigger picture.

8. If you need to interrupt your boss in an important meeting or when they are on the phone, pass them a note.

In all the offices I’ve worked at, passing a Post-it note with large legible writing is the best way to get your boss information or to ask a question. The reason why writing it down is better is for confidentiality reasons and to not interrupt the meeting/call by talking. You will find that most often, the meeting will continue on around you or the meeting will stall only for 5 secs.

Before you enter the room, knock, then walk straight to your boss. Show them the note and wait for them to nod or shake their head, say they’ll call back, answer yes or no, or follow you out of the office. Then exit as quietly as you entered.

9. Answer every email/request right away even if only to say you got it and keep you posted on answer.

It’s helpful to give them an ETA on your answer and encourage them to check back with you frequently if they so desire.

10. When someone is asking for your help or has a request, write down everything they say and repeat back the information.