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.

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