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.