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.