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!


  1. Re: #8, what do you do when people keep leaving things on your chair instead of your inbox. I find it really annoying. Would love to hear some advice. Thanks!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 17, 2014 at 6:36 PM

      This is a bit harder to "fix" since we can't control other people. The best you can do is gently and kindly remind people 2-3 times and if it doesn't work, you tried...

  2. I got frustrated once and just sat on the papers that were left on my chair ... lol. I think the annoyance is the perception that we'll make it a priority if it's left on our chair when actually I just glance at it to make sure it's not from my boss, and then it goes in my "in-tray!"

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.June 18, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      LOL I agree with everything you said. It's so true! I do the same thing too.

  3. #10 is me! At one business we actually had a company stash for visiting guests (hairspray, cuff links, anything you might have forgotten to pack)- and they were always blown away. I love being the person who can solve these minor catastrophes.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstAugust 27, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      Anonymous - That is so great to hear! Thank you for the comment! It's always great to be able to "save" people. :) They are always sooo thankful. Thank you for being a reader.

  4. Thank you for all the great tips! Number #10 reminded me of the stash/"emergency kit" that I have in my office. My kit also has: dental floss, hair ties, instant stain remover, safety pins, QuickFix tape and greeting cards for different occasions.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstJuly 28, 2015 at 9:39 PM

      Yezz15 - I am glad you liked this post. It's good to save and help people! Thank you for being a reader.