Monday, August 16, 2010

Answering Reader Mail: What Do Employers Look for in High-Level EA Candidates?

“I came across your blog while surfing the net for information on high-level executive assistants. There wasn't much information out there. I found your blog very helpful. I have some experience as an executive assistant for mid-management, but I am starting to apply for jobs that support high level executives, such as CEO, Chief Counsel & managing partners. Can you tell me what they are looking for besides experience?

I am being considered as a potential candidate because I am bilingual, have a paralegal certificate and masters degree in financial analysis. Beside being a junior level EA and having multiple administrative support jobs in the past, I am not sure how I can present myself as a capable and competent EA.

Do you have any suggestions/advice for me? Thanks.”

Dear MJ,

I’m glad you enjoy my blog. I hope I can be of some help! It’s always nice to get questions from my readers! Since you asked 3 different questions, here is my advice for you.

5 Things Companies Look For Besides Experience:

Besides looking for experience, a lot of companies are looking for the right fit. Whether it be personality, management style, corporate culture fit, and likability, there’s a reason why people would rather work with someone fairly competent with a great personality versus an amazing assistant that is a Debbie Downer/etc. So how does this translate to you?

1) I’ve always found it extremely helpful to be and communicate that you are experienced, but willing to learn, be humble, and fine with doing the mundane tasks or dirty work. The goal is to be well-rounded in all aspects. If you’re afraid you’ll only be picking up dry cleaning all day, you can state what you are looking for by saying, “My background has been as an executive assistant, where 90% of my workload related to the office and 10% was personal business handling x, y, z.” Keep in mind this most likely doesn’t mean you’ll get out of picking up lunch or making coffee on occasion. In interviews I’ve said that I’ve worked for introverts and extroverts and my job is to conform to the needs of my boss. I state my job is to assimilate to what already exists at the company and to be team player and to do what is best for the company because without the company, I wouldn’t be here. So bring your experience, wisdom, and people skills to the table, but have a “I’m green, hungry for the job, I’ll hustle” attitude as well. The reality of being an EA is that while the phones, calendar, and travel are essentially the same in every office your boss and your team are always unique people with their own work styles and needs. First and foremost, your job as an EA is to master working with many different people in a customer service role, and the admin work is actually secondary.

2) Another suggestion is to be happy about working with all levels of staff from the security guard to the executives and treat them all well. This means when you show up for the interview you are courteous to everyone. Your interview starts even before you shake hands with anyone or answer an interview question. It’s not uncommon to hear others’ weighing in on what they thought of you. If appropriate and true, during the interview process, you can mention you take the time to have lunch with other assistants, interns, or other co-workers just to understand them better as people, the office environment, and pick their brain for advice. The point is to communicate you realize you are “the face of the office/company” and will ensure to put your best foot forward in all scenarios.

3) Communicate you navigate office politics well and understand seniority. This can be illustrated during the interview portion as you see fit. For example, when I’m asked how I got started and to explain my work history, I always want to tell a great story. I mention how I worked for all my CEOs because I was recruited away as a temp. I point out the only interaction I had with many of the CEOs were through their assistants by delivering memos. And they noticed that I would come in, drop off the papers, and leave. But what did this illustrate? I wasn’t there to say hello, get in “good” with the higher ups, network, or gawk at any famous people that might have been there. I was there to do my job; I didn’t loiter. And what I’d end up hearing was, the CEO’s office noticed me because I was there to do my job and only do my job. I wasn’t there to socialize or go out of my way to point out I was a temp to try to get a full-time job. I wanted to do my job well for whatever it was they hired me to do. My goal as temp was to be asked back as a temp repeatedly - that’s it. Proving I was a good temp, proved that I would be a good full-time employee.

4) As appropriate, illustrate you understand how vital discretion is. It’s perplexing to me that even during interviews, I’m actually asked point-blank if I’m very discreet and won’t share confidential information even though my career obviously illustrates I’ve been trusted and referred by some very credible people. I have even been asked about how much I socialize at work. I answered that while it is nice to have friends to go to lunch with occasionally, I mention how I was groomed the same way by all the CEO’s offices where one never knows if they befriend you at the office for hidden agendas. So I state I don’t talk about work with anyone just to be safe.

5) Learn to never say no.
One of the best traits as an executive assistant is that you never want to say no. When asked a question or a request, you want to either have the answer or get to it immediately. Exhaust all resources. One of my toughest assignments was when I had less than 24 hours to find a new location for an all-day recruiting event. The difficult part was between the 3 hour time zone difference and finding out late in the afternoon meant I really had less than a couple of hours to actually take care of it all. Luckily, I did! Phew!

3 Things To Demonstrate To Present Yourself As A Capable and Competent EA:

1) Show you have supervised others even if interns or 2nd assistants and your jobs put you on a path to constantly learn and grow

2) Have really good problem solving stories for your interview

3) Bring a portfolio of your work on Powerpoint presentations, Excel documents or legal documents that demonstrate your mastery and skills

3 Miscellaneous Suggestions and Advice:

1) When asked why you want to be an EA and how long you plan to stay, have a really good honest selling answer on why you enjoy the work. A good executive assistant is hard to find, one that will stay more than a year is even harder. It also is very helpful to have many credible referrals and recommendation letters from people that give a 360 view of who you are as a person and a professional. I often turn these extra documents in before my first interview or bring them to the interview. I also always bring many copies of my resume, cover letter, and recommendations. I've actually been interviewed panel style with4-6 people in one room.

2) Brand yourself and your specialties well from cover letter to resume to your LinkedIn profile and your entire online presence. I've actually been headhunted by my LinkedIn profile alone. I also always have the link in my email signature. Think of your unique selling point, it should be one sentence long. Mine is:

High-Level Assistant for Chairmen/CEOs of Fortune-ranked companies, including Exec Producers

3) To take your career to the next level aim by being the 1st or sole assistant to a C-Level executive at a small, but reputable company or 2nd assistant at bigger, well-known place.

Keep in touch, ask more questions, and good luck on your journey!

No comments:

Post a Comment