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.