Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Realities of Job Hunting As A High Level Executive Assistant

If you are an admin assistant who loves your career, you probably envision yourself becoming an assistant to a VP, Director and hopefully a President, CEO, CFO, or Chairman at some point in your career. Perhaps you are already a 2nd or 3rd assistant to someone high profile and you want to run the office of your executive as you get promoted through the years. Here are some tips as your career progresses that will affect how you job hunt.

1. The lower-level admin you are the more jobs there are.

When you first graduate college or switch careers to be an admin assistant you'll find a lot of admin roles out there. Whether you are a department assistant or work for a smaller company, you will be able to find a job more easily. Once you are a high-level assistant there are really only 3-5 people you can work for at any given company because you are overqualified for anything else. Those jobs support the President, CEO, CTO, CFO, and Chairman. However, at some companies, the CEO and Chairman are the same person.

2. Your job hunt will take a lot longer.

The higher up you go on the ladder of admin roles, the longer your job hunt will take. Although your title is Executive Assistant, in reality, your job hunt will reflect that of an executive in years of experience, salary, and specialty. As as Fortune 500 C-Level Executive Assistant, you will find that your job search will probably take a minimum of 6 months. It may be longer if you are picky about your commute, field, direct boss, and if you are willing to relocate or not. It comes down to an issue of timing and a numbers game.

3. Don't get sidetracked from your life and career goals.

As you become more established and learn to network well and brand yourself through social media, you'll find that headhunters and recruiters will call you in hopes of poaching you. Even if you aren't that aggressive in marketing yourself while you have a job, it's likely that previous companies that interviewed you or HR people that you knew will remember you and keep you in their database. They will revisit their files and notes and reach out to you as jobs become available. Your former colleagues will also think of you. You'll find yourself getting calls and emails a couple of times a year if not once a month. While their offers can be enticing, make sure it aligns with your life and career goals. Think of the big picture of the life and career you want and stick with it. Penelope Trunk says the sign of a great career is having great opportunities, and saying no. Don't get sidetracked by working for that Fortune 100 company, the huge pay raise for a company whose product you don't believe in, or moving to a part of the country where you can't stand the weather.

4. Job hunt with focus.

As you are job hunting, think hard about if you want to temp, freelance, do contract work, temp-to-hire, or direct hire roles only and under which circumstance. You will find yourself having to juggle an interview schedule and working to continue networking or to not get bored. Between averaging 5-9 calls a week, doing 30 min -1 hour phone screeners, commuting 2-3 hours roundtrip to interviews all over the city, and getting requests to work for 2-3 weeks at a time or when someone goes on maternity leave, you will have to prioritize your time amidst competing requests. You'll have to debate which is more important - earning and saving money, interviewing, fun creative work and challenging projects, networking, taking time off to regroup, taking a vacation, focusing on family life, or other goals you have for yourself. In this economy, because jobs are scarce, you will have to know by what date you hope to have a job and plan for it wisely.

5. Make a decision.

At some point, you have to call the job hunt quits and make a decision. There will always be that one last call that comes in that will start an entire interview process all over again with a new company. Or you may tell yourself if you just waited until the new fiscal year, after the holidays, or some other meaningful event when more companies would be hiring, you might land your dream job then. While it's good to wait for the right role instead of taking the first job offered to you, it's not worth blowing through your emergency savings or racking up credit card debt for the perfect job.

6. Take really good notes and save them.

As you interview it goes without saying that you should be taking notes in the interview. This comes in handy for three reasons. 1) As you interview around town and get passed over for opportunities, you'll find that after a month or two, the recruiter will call you back to see if you are still interested because the first candidate was not a fit. When recruiters have to hire someone ASAP little things get overlooked - such as the person doesn't know how to use a MAC. Or they were great, but not a right personality match for their boss. 2) Sometimes hiring timelines are 2-3 months long when companies have the luxury of taking as long as they need to fill a role. When you take notes and get the 2nd follow up call a month later, you can refer to those notes to freshen up and still see if you are interested in working there among the current companies you are talking to. 3) Because the entertainment industry or any field is really quite small, in 3-5 years when you are interested in learning more or getting promoted, you can refer to your notes from previous interviews about your HR contact, who else you know that works there, the corporate culture, annual review feedback process, work/life balance, pay range, benefits package, or any other information.

7. Be prepared to have 5-10 meetings for one job.

When you are a high level executive assistant, you will be asked to meet with many different colleagues and HR people. It is not uncommon for you to also meet with some of the people you met with already for a 2nd time. You may do a 30 min phone interview with 3 different HR folks and then will be asked to meet with at least one of them before meeting an array of assistants, senior level management, and your actual boss. And because executives are constantly traveling for weeks at a time, it may take a month or three just to finally meet everyone. This is part of the reason why your job hunt will take so long.

8. Have a large stock of thank you cards, stamps, and pre-printed address labels at all times.

Since you are meeting with so many people, you'll go through a box of thank you cards in no time. And if you come to know the name of the receptionist, security guard or anyone else who helps your job interview process send them a thank you card too. Sometimes, they will indirectly have a say about you as a candidate. It might be a subtle comment after you leave on how nice you were. You can buy inexpensive yet great thank you cards at anywhere from Target to TJ Maxx.

9. Be honest.

Often, you will be asked where you are in your job hunt, how close you are to getting a job offer, and where else or what other roles you are interviewing for. They are asking to gauge the situation and how much time they have to consider you as a front runner. It is wise to be honest, overall, but also be realistic and avoid going into specific details since things always change. Everyone is busy. Just because you have a business trip coming up or other pressing issues or diverging interests, it is highly unlikely they will re-route their travel or business schedule to accommodate your life. If companies really like you, even if you take another job offer, they will always be open to considering you again.

10. Be open.

Although it's great to know who you are and what you are looking for, be open to possibilities. Instead of saying no to an opportunity or believing you know something, ask for more information and details. When you say no, all communication stops. If you say you're willing to negotiate for the right role, at least talks can continue. You can say no at any point of the interviewing and hiring process, but there is only one time to say yes, at that's at the very beginning.

Monday, July 11, 2011

10 Tests Administered During Job Interviews

In my career, it's not often that one is tested during a screening process or for a job interview. However, I have noticed a lot of private companies or companies that value exceptional talent and have a great interview process do test their applicants. Surprisingly, it has only happened to me a handful of times, but I think it's worth mentioning. It may become a stronger trend to narrow down qualified applicants. I'm shocked more companies aren't doing this in general. Here are the 10 types of tests I've encountered during my job hunts. The first five are pretty common, the last five are rather new.

1) Typing

This test is fairly typical for most admin roles. You are seated in a room at a computer and either have one minute or 3 minutes to type. This test is to gauge how fast you type and how accurately you type. You are given the text and you type it as well as you can. It's pretty self explanatory as there are fool proof instructions given before the test starts.

2) Word

This test is usually multiple choice on a computer as well. There are thirty questions that go from easy to hard. It's given to understand how well you know how to use Word. It starts off with a question of opening a document, saving it, printing it, and editing text, enlarging text to doing mail merge, making labels, and inserting a graph. Sometimes, just by the way the question is worded you can figure out which menu to look under to find the answer even if you don't know.

3) Excel

This test is also given on the computer as well. It tests how well you know how to use Excel. There are usually 30 questions. It will ask you to open a document, write a formula, highlight certain columns, how to insert a row, and other tasks.

4) Powerpoint

This test is also given on the computer as well. It will test how well you know how to use Powerpoint. It will ask you 30 questions ranging from starting a presentation, adding a slide, moving the slides around, inserting an image, etc.

5) Behavorial Role Play

Aside from asking behavior questions to gauge how you would act in certain situations relating to office politics, getting along with difficult co-workers, or how to solve problems, I've interviewed at places where I had to role play certain situations. The hiring manager would give me a hypothetical scenario that would be the worst possible incident at work to solve. Then, I would verbalize to the hiring manager as if they were the client/board member/etc on what I would say. The hiring manager would respond with difficult, unfriendly comments to see how I would handle the situation. We went through a handful of different situations and discussed in detail how I would respond, why, and what I would do next. Incidents ranged from a co-worker who was not pulling their weight, a vendor dropping the ball, miscommunications or misunderstandings regarding tasks.

6) Listening

This test was administered on a computer. There were 30 questions that were multiple choice. It was a male voice with an American accent speaking anywhere from a couple sentences to many sentences about a given scenario. Once he stopped speaking, a question would pop up and you had to choose the correct answer. The difficulty of this test was there was so much information to listen to and keep track because you didn't know what the question would be asking you once the voice stopped. There were so many details to remember because the question would gauge how well you take in information, remember it, and then test you on reasoning, inference, deduction, and what to do next. Some of the questions involved basic math and inferring deadlines based on given information. Other questions were about information that was implied but not stated explicitly. Situations related to dress code, how/what to tell customers, phone messages, seniority, office politics, and other typical situations.

7) English Language Usage and Grammar

This test is also administered on the computer in a multiple choice fashion. There were 30 questions and it tested for writing, grammar, comprehension, and the English language. Typical questions were related to definitions, correct sentence structure, and writing styles related to memos, being concise, and non-sexist language. A couple of examples were the difference between disinterested vs uninterested, between you and me or between you and I, define sexism, and find the sentence that is an example of sexist language.

8) LSAT Logic Games

This test is usually administered in writing so you can graph out the correct answer. I've heard of it being administered verbally, as well in front of a group panel without any option of pencil or paper, or on a computer multiple choice style. There are anywhere from a couple of questions to 20 or 30 and you are given anywhere from 30 min to 2 hours to finish the test. Google "LSAT Logic Games" online to get an idea of what these Logic Games are. They are very convoluted, detailed, and intricate games that test your logic, reasoning, deduction, inference, and your stamina/patience. ;) For anyone that knows anything about the LSAT, the logic games are the hardest part of the test and the hardest part to prepare for because there are a few different types of games and strategies to master them. When I took them, I took the paper form where I was given extra blank paper to work out the problems and had to turn in my work.

9) Writing Memos

This test is usually administered on the computer. You are asked to write one or two sample memos with on a given topic, details of information, and the tone of what the memo should be including the various recipients who will be cc'd, etc. Another variation of this test is to write a sample email or letter to a client or vendor. These types of tests look for grammar, sentence structure, proper formatting, tone, and how you structure your writing including what you leave out, how long your writing sample is, and how long you take.

10) Event Planning

This test is usually administered on the computer in a Word document. You are asked to plan an event from scratch. You are only given your budget, who is attending, and why, the rest of the details are up to you. You are to outline a breakdown of your budget, pitch your event, and also write a memo/email inviting everyone. You are tested for writing, creativity, decision-making, and a whole host of parameters based on whatever it is you come up with.

What other types of tests have you come across? And how often were you told up front the type of test you will be given or were allowed to study for it? Do you have any tips?