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.


  1. I love the last tip. Thanks so much!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 26, 2012 at 7:56 PM

      Jinxhouse - Glad you liked the post and the tips! :) Thx!

  2. how do you get part 1?

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantMay 19, 2013 at 1:11 AM

      Hi Anonymous,

      To get to part 1 google 10 Tips to be a Better Executive Assistant - Part 1 and Musings of a High Level Executive Assistant. Or you can go to the left side to see the old posts. However, here is a link to see all 5 parts.

  3. I used to be an administrative assistant for some top execs at Google and your blog is just spot on!! I am looking into the admin world again and am almost cheered by reading through--all these situations are just exactly what can happen, post after post, and how to anticipate them. This would have been so helpful to find prior instead of learning these little nuances on the job. There really is an admin 6th sense. Thanks for writing, I am sure you are making the life of execs (and admins!) much better all over the country (and world!).

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 13, 2013 at 4:15 PM

      Dear Anonymous,

      Wow! Thank you for the comment! I am so glad to hear other EAs validate my experience and suggestions. It is always nice to hear from readers! Also check out my other column if you have not already.

  4. I don't mean this in a negative way at all, or to offend, but I read #2, and while it is true, I sprained my groin once by walking too fast. I had a boss before that talked and walked fast and I started to as well. So I totally get that EA's are expected to do everything fast :)

    I just wanted to comment that we can really injure ourselves as well. Also, at my last job, we were not permitted to run at all. Health & Safety policy.

    Thanks for letting me provide insight on your blog!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 17, 2014 at 2:35 PM

      Anon - Oh I love this comment! It's good to know that some offices have a no running policy, which I can understand! Sorry to hear about your injury! Yes, safety and good health above anything else! Thank you for the comment!!!!! And for being a reader! Learn something new everyday! Woohoo! :)

  5. #2 I've been criticized for running or moving too fast. It makes people uneasy I was told. I've learned to move medium paced.