Thursday, August 30, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Making A Splash Without Changing Everything

"Hi! I found your blog while researching EA positions and I'm hooked! I've done various admin work for the past 3 years and am now starting as an EA next week for a C-level executive (yay!). My question is, how can I come in and make a splash, but not seem like I'm going to change everything? I'm a bit nervous as I've never done executive-level administrative assistance before (it was all general office support positions), and it also includes being his PA, so if you have any tips for a newbie that'd be great! Great work on the blog, and thanks very much!”

Dear MA,

Congratulations on the new role and promotion! Good for you! :) I am so glad you found my blog and are hooked! You ask a very good question, so here’s my advice, hope it helps!

1) The first 6 months or year, you should be observing and adapting.

There’s nothing worse than hiring a new employee and having them come in thinking they have all the answers and are God’s gift to the company. Just like new CEOs do, your first 6 months or year are really about learning about the company, your department, office politics, and how things work. You always want to listen and observe first because how will you make intelligent suggestions down the road? Realize a lot of the people you work with are smart and have common sense, it’s just that there is a lot of bureaucracy, red tape, and rigid rules on how business gets done at every company. Yes, a lot of it does not make business sense or common sense, but the better you can adapt and roll with the annoying punches the better off you will be. Most problems in life and in business will never be solved, you just have to find new and better ways to adapt to them because humans and the world aren’t perfect or fair. So go in and listen thrice as much as you speak, don’t prattle on just so you have attention, and do your job very well!

2) Be humble, hungry, and green.

Regardless of your age, seniority, or years of experience you will always find something new to learn. And the best way to be great at your job and have people enjoy working with you is to be humble, hungry, and green. There are times when you will have to do something that is not a part of your job description, you will have to pitch in, and you should always hustle. Be open to learning, be open to change, and be grateful, have fun, and be eager. One reason why hiring new college grads is beneficial is because companies can mold them and train them to their liking. The more experience you have and the older you get the stereotype is you don’t want to do things in a new way or see it from a different view point. Success is not stagnating and the best way to be successful is to embody an attitude of being a lifelong student in all areas of life.

3) Get to know everyone and align yourself.

It behooves you to get to know everyone from the security guard, to the cleaning crew to the other executives and your colleagues. Just smile and say hello, but no need to pester people who aren’t interested in getting to know the new girl. You’ll get a sense within the first few weeks and failing that, you can always send one polite email for a lunch invitation and if they don’t respond, don’t follow up. Align yourself also means to seek out the ones who have been around the longest and get their advice, have them informally mentor you, and make sure you figure out who your boss’ stakeholders are. Do not befriend the office Debbie Downer or the one everyone dislikes and don’t be that person either. :)

4) Be flexible and understand your role.

The job description you were given may be vastly different from the one you will actually do. If something seems way out of line, you can clear it with your boss if an assignment comes from someone else who is not directly managing you day to day. Observe seniority and the chain of command. Your immediate boss should know what you are working on and what is a priority or not. Understand what makes your boss tick, what he likes and dislikes, and adapt to his style. Get an understanding of what the different quarters will look like and your job duties in a year. When is budget season, how are summers and winters different, etc.

5) Take good notes.

Write everything down. You will be inundated with so much new information you will want to go back to look at it. Most people will only explain things once and you can ask them questions, but it should be for more insight and clarification, not for them to rehash everything from the beginning. Then type out your notes so you can save it and make a manual for yourself or search easily by keyword. This also means keep track of your accomplishments, any new skills you’ve learned along the way, programs you’ve used that you didn’t before. This will help in updating your resume, negotiating a raise, and how you want your career to unfold.

6) Don’t argue, be kind, and be concise.

When people correct you or offer a suggestion, say thank you or some version that you got the message. Doing long drawn out explanations on how you misunderstood or made a mistake aren’t necessary in most cases. This is why picking your battles is important. If something is a persistent problem, see yourself as the issue first, as it’s your job to work around your boss or anyone senior to you. If it’s a matter of bad business practice, having 3 good suggestions might be helpful. As always, be kind, to everyone, and grateful and appreciative. And be as concise as possible. When you speak to anyone, realize everyone is busy so they may need a refresher on the issue, or to see and hear things, don’t be overly emotional about situations, and don’t ramble on.

7) Think about your grand master plan.

In life and in work, it’s good to think about what you want and to formulate a plan. Sometimes it helps to know EXACTLY what you want and then to work backwards on how to accomplish those goals. Often it is easier to have vague foundations of a goal if you are very diligent and are good at having a sense of what you need to do. Other times, just learning what you like and don’t like is a good start. Try everything so you at least know what you don’t like. As long as you are learning something new, you are succeeding and are that much closer to your goal.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the answer? You can just write “Thx!” or something! :)

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. Anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 2-3 days to answer.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant. Don't forget to bookmark or follow this blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Answering Reader Mail

Hi Everyone,

Below are some questions I answer at the other site - under Hollywood Executive Assistant. Don't forget to follow this blog and my entire web presence here:

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 2-3 days to answer.

What have you been asked to do by a boss that you thought was the biggest overreach? Like something that just wasn't an appropriate ask given your job description.


I can't really think of anything outlandish that was asked of me as I had pretty reasonable bosses. Keep in mind one's job description is also "no task is too big or too small." I also have a different attitude than most people toward "menial tasks." My view is whenever I am assigned less than interesting tasks, it just means my brain gets a break and I am getting WAY OVERPAID for the task I am doing, which is great! :) Here are a wide variety of duties I had to do over the years that fell under the small percentage of personal assisting or odd tasks related to my role.

-Xerox offspring's college application
-Book spa appoint for spouse
-Remind spouse of appointment & call back in 15 min when they were to leave the house
-1x/week go grocery shopping & launder a set of towels for executive kitchen & bathroom
-Cut off 500 tags from stuffed animals that were gifts
-Research hotels and storage places for family vacation or family move
-Get $300 in cash at the bank in certain denominations
-Stuff thousands of envelopes for invitations
-Drive a few blocks to get frozen yogurt
-Drive my boss to the auto mechanic

From where can I send the all important make or break "gift." Say chocolate covered espresso beans (1/2 decaf)! I view the 4th asst as the 1st, the studio head far above of course... Help?


How about from here?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Re-Entering the Admin Field

"Hello. Thank you so much for taking up this blog. I'm getting a lot from it and appreciate your candid advice, detailed responses, and very approachable personality.  

My question regards the difficulty I am having in reentering the admin support field despite the fact that I have ten years of office management and administrative support experience. Six of these years were at a small, personal services start up, that I sold profitably, and the remaining four years were as admin support at two small businesses. I thoroughly enjoy the diversity of these positions, the project management, and the role of admin support. This experience spanned from 1997 to 2010. During the last six years I have earned two degrees, and finishing with a teaching credential two years ago. Since that time I've been substitute teaching, in several school districts, as a means of positioning myself for a faculty opening. Concomitantly, over the last three years I've served as a committee member and conference organizer with an educational nonprofit. Well, the educational field is dismal and I've given up on the teaching career. In reviving my former admin support career, I find that my current employment, "Substitute Teacher" isn't getting me any offers. I have joined several LinkedIn groups that are in the Admin Support and Executive Support field, seeking to discover further insight, or garner advice, from these accomplished people. Can you make any suggestions that may assist me in successfully reentering the admin field? Thank you in advance for your response."

Dear LM,
I am so happy you like my blog! You are obviously very accomplished so I'm not sure I can offer you advice you haven't already discovered for yourself or maybe heard from others on LinkedIn, but I will try. And reading my other posts will be helpful if you haven't already. I've been blogging for about 4 years now so that's a lot of material!

1. Temp, volunteer, apply for PT work and list that as your present role.

While your ultimate goal is FT job in admin, the only thing that will get you there is recent experience in admin - the good ol' fashioned catch-22. So, it's best to search for temporary, short-term admin work via temping, volunteering, applying for part time work so you have something to put on your resume. Even if you only get one temp gig in September, you can keep in on your resume indefinitely by writing "September to Present" as temp work is by nature, on call, and therefore has no end date. Through volunteering, you can network and keep your pulse on the industry of your choosing. And applying for part time work allows you to use the other 20 hours to find a full time job and make the leap when you get an offer. Just do something and start somewhere is the key.

2. Call your old contacts, do informational interviews, network twice removed.

Whenever I look for a job, I send out over 200 individual emails telling people what I've been up to. I also do this around the holidays or when I read or see something pertaining to them so it's not uncommon for people to hear from me at least once or twice a year to say hi and update them for fun. So when they get that job hunting email, it's just a typical update. I can see that you are already doing the informational interviews, even if only online. A tip I keep coming across in the business and start up world is this: If you want money/a job ask for advice or information. If you want advice/information, ask for money/job. The message isn't the point, it's the conduit and how you get your audience that lets the information unfold. When you ask for a mtg it's always implied you want something and it's up to your audience to give you whatever they feel comfortable with. Regardless of the outcome, you will come out richer for the experience because of insight, a connection made, or just even practice. It's also known that the people that can help you the most are not your direct contacts (cause they are too similar to you), but more often the people THEY know. It also goes without saying that networking is a two-way street, you are looking for a mutually-beneficial relationship. You should also pass along the random act of kindness when someone wants your advice, time, or help whether with a specific individual or people at large.

3. Look for jobs under various titles - admin asst, personal assistant, estate manager, house manager, executive assistant, coordinator, project manager, director, etc.

You are obviously well rounded so don't short change yourself in applying for jobs with only a specific title or industry. Cast a wider net and be flexible. High net worth individual also have private staff to help them manager their lives/homes. It might be worth it for you to look into that as well. Most jobs have an organization/admin element to it although it may not seem so at first, so try exploring other areas besides corporate/business.

4. Craft your resume based on experience and skill set, not chronologically - and tell a different story.

I think this tip bears no real explanation as by Googling different resume types you'll get the gist. The point is to sell yourself and spin a different story. If you can, perhaps don't even list all the degrees you have. I almost wonder if you may be coming across as overqualified and over experienced. While you don't want to outright lie, you do want your resume to get you an interview and you only have to tell the story of your career as it pertains to the specific job you are applying to. Just like they say have 3-4 different resumes for certain roles, your career history should be edited to get to the heart of your skills not the timeline of it.

5. Get into social media for your skill set and self branding.

Social media is big right now, both for companies and individuals. If you don't know how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, a blog,, TweetMyResume, or Klout, experiment. Yes, it's nice to have your own page, but that costs money so the previously mentioned sites are all free and wide spread. Get a basic understanding and learn how to promote yourself or your future employer so you can network better. This also includes using career websites like Monster or Career Builder cause you never know who you might hear from by putting up your resume.

(Don't forget I also write at jobstr under Hollywood Executive Assistant. As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 2-3 days to answer.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Social Etiquette for EAs

"Just wanted to start off by saying that you have a very captivating writing style.

My question is regarding social etiquette: I recently started working in a very small company that is very successful; I attribute this to the fact that we hire only the best (we have people from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.). The interesting thing is that our company is comprised mostly of single people in their mid-20's (such as myself) and we all go out after work together. There is so much camaraderie that even one of the SVPs I support will carouse with us on a regular basis. Because of how small we are and because the executive staff fraternizes with subordinates regularly, our leadership caste system is never felt. I was astounded today, however, when someone (a married, mid-30's woman who does not go out) said that I should really not be fraternizing with the other employees on a regular basis. She emphasized that Executive Assistants do not have the same luxuries as other employees and that I should distance myself from others within the company. She remarked that EAs are way too close to the executives and that my fraternization with someone could be misconstrued if they were to ever receive a promotion.

While the comments she made had some validity, I feel that I should go by each company's specific culture... Should I really have to deviate from what is a normal social etiquette within my
company culture just because of my position? Thank you."

Dear Anonymous,

I'm glad that you like my writing style and enjoy my blog. I hope my perspective can help you. There are a lot of factors to consider and perhaps after some thought you can figure out what is best for you.

1. Your boss and their boss are your most important allies.

Your success at work depends on a lot of people - you, your boss, their boss, and your colleagues. You mentioned you support an SVP who also hangs out after work. I couldn't tell if the SVP was your only boss. I'm also unsure of what role/rank that lady is. What's important to think about is to mirror or conduct yourself at work that follows your boss and their boss' values. These two people people are the ones who have the most say in your career and reputation right now at the company. They will fight for you or not based on various factors. If that lady is equally powerful and important at the company, her input might hold a lot of weight. She might know something you don't know and she can't tell you outright. It's hard to say, so consider the source.

In past roles, I have been told when my boss didn't like someone. That became a clear indication to me that I shouldn't be friends with them either. And it could be such a tame comment as, "I'm glad you no longer work for them. They are slow to respond/follow up," with their face in a scrunched up expression. There have been comments such as pointing out who they really like and why. "She's really nice. I like her." Again, very tame, but the most minute expression of negative or positive commenting speaks volumes.

2. It's not unusual that some people have hidden agendas and personal motives.

The woman may have spoken up because she really does like you and care about your career either as a person or just that you are another female at the company. She could also be envious she can't go out with the group for whatever reason based on her personal life. A lot of people will give you advice about your life, only you know what's best for you. You are the only person that has to live with the consequences or rewards for your actions so never feel pressure to act a certain way. And don't be surprised why people have hidden agendas and personal motives. It could be anything from wanting a promotion to boredom, needing an enemy/scapegoat at work, to being so insecure they are just not emotionally healthy individuals.

3. An EA never has a say on who gets promoted, only the executive does.

I've heard of other people (the receptionist or EA) getting to weigh in if someone should get hired, this is not new. When people are brought in for interviews receptionists and EAs have been consulted if the applicant was nice to everyone regardless if that person was a VIP or not. However, I've never heard of an EA getting to advise who gets promoted. The EA's only direct reports are interns or other assistants. Even then or in a 360 degree review process, everyone's feedback is considered and the EA's will not trump the boss or CEOs. The logic the lady use didn't really make a lot of sense to me. If you were openly dating someone at work and using that to your advantage to get dinner business meetings with your boss for your significant other that might raise some eyebrows. However, everyone hanging out in a group won't get someone a promotion the last time I checked.

4. Read your company manual.

Since you're a small, young company I almost bet you don't have a company manual. But if you do, some companies do state if fraternization is not allowed or if you date others at work you must tell HR at the start of the relationship, etc. Never hurts to research just to be safe.

5. Benefits of hanging out.

The benefits of hanging out with work friends are numerous. You have better working relationships. People are happier. Teams work better together. You can better understand how people work and where they are coming from if you know them as individuals. Most often, the benefits outweigh the cons. It really does pay to follow company culture to be a team player and be social.

6. Fraternization at work is tricky because you're close with everyone so drawing boundaries becomes difficult.

The most difficult thing about being really great friends with everyone is that at some point, you will know stuff only your boss knows. And if you talk about everything with your friends, acting like you know nothing about top secret stuff at work becomes hard. Even saying you can't comment implies you know something. You can't talk openly about what is stressing you out or a problem at work because even if you confide in someone at work, it's not surprising when they tell someone else with the disclaimer of, "You can't tell anyone!" In some cases, business at work is just business and people will not be invited to certain meetings, the company retreat, the executive dinner, yet some won't understand that. Not everything is fair or equal at work or in life. Excluding people at work when you like everyone equally becomes a hard job for you since you work for an executive.

7. Alternatives and suggestions.

If you feel as though you need to compromise, here are some suggestions. Try one or a combo of these: Only go out as a group, during lunch, to non-drinking events (since people behave differently when drunk, secrets come out, judgement is impaired, etc.), or whenever your boss or the SVP goes. You can also spearhead coordinating events and personally invite this woman so she feels included. If you feel up to it, invite this woman to lunch alone just try to gauge what she's about, maybe it's a generational thing, maybe she has a really corporate background, maybe she wishes she could join, but can't. She doesn't have to know why you're doing this either. If you can do it without it being obvious, maybe check around if anyone else was told the same thing or what other people's interactions are with her. Or you could always just ignore what she said. :)

Good luck and keep me posted!

(As always, anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 2-3 days to answer.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Green EA, Green Executive

"I recently stumbled across your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts! I was hoping that you might have insight/advice on how to create project work/better assist a C-Level exec that has never had an admin before.

I have only been an EA for 1.5 years and recently made an internal move, becoming the EA to a C-Level executive. Since we are both somewhat green, I was hoping that you might have some suggestions to spark project work (both business and personal related projects would be helpful). I am in a bit of a slump with my workload and would like to try new creative ideas to fill my plate. Thanks!"

Dear KC,

So glad you like my blog and hope I can be of help! You ask a very good question! Now's a great time to set a foundation and train your executive (if they are willing and learn to trust you) so a precedent can be set. Here are some things to work on for projects and what to figure out when learning to work with a new C-Level Executive during your first year. Be aware and mindful to ask insightful questions now over the course of many months. At the most basic level, you are there for your executive so what they prefer and what they are comfortable with is first and foremost, very important. You can suggest things or guide them a certain way, but they will always have final say.

1.Try to set up the communication of the office so your boss checks their own emails and responds, but you are in charge of all the mtg coordination, phones, and anything that happens in the office.

The point is to establish you are the gatekeeper and you are in charge of your boss' time and presence. Tech glitches happen all the time and 2 people controlling one person's calendar is not the easiest thing. The fewer cooks in the kitchen, the better. If possible, train your boss to cc you whenever something needs to be handled and clue you in on conversations so you have somewhat of an idea of what is going on. While many things are confidential, what you want to avoid is your boss double booking mtgs or not taking into consideration other executives coming to you so you can ask your boss on x, y, z. Whoever controls the flow of information, controls what happens. This also means maybe 10 min mini mtgs first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.

You want to impress upon your boss they do the leading, business strategy and run the department while you handle everything else so they don't have to worry. You do all the admin stuff, prep, and the misc tasks. They should do all the executive level work. You answer the phone, book travel, offer beverages to guests, book meetings, prepare the conference room, order food, etc...

2.Outreach and Prep

While you have the time and can, get to know the others assistants and go to lunch. Get to know all the departments you will be interfacing with. Start brushing up and training on weak areas with PowerPoint, Photoshop, business writing, or anything you can think of. Find or make an org chart so you understand your boss' direct reports and their direct reports. Start reading now about your company's mission, strategy, and goals.

3.Get your boss' personal information now.

In the event of an emergency or when family visits, it would be great for you to already know who the family members are. Names, contact information, relevant data. For example, some spouses do not share a last name. Does your boss have GPS in their car or do they use it on their phone? If not, they will expect maps printed out, etc. If you have to purchase stuff for your boss - ask to xerox the credit card, both front and back now. If your boss it absent, do they have a stamp of their signature that you are to use in their absence and only for emergency contracts and the like? Does your boss have allergies, special diet needs, medications (like epinephrine for bee stings?), or anything special you should know about? Do they prefer meetings no earlier than 9am? Do they like aisle seats on an airplane? Do they have a frequent flyer card for any business? Are there favorites of anything your boss likes - their coffee, restaurants, cafeteria lunch food, etc?


Are there projects that you foresee you will be assigned that you can start researching now? Where will you get flowers, baby gifts, birthday cakes, catered lunch, a venue for the holiday party, wine, a list of all the hot restaurants in town? Think about stuff you can discover now while you have time instead of waiting at the last minute.


Set up a great filing system now. While you have the time, bust out the label maker, order all the supplies and prep for what all the filing you will have to do. Order binders and enough office supplies so you always have some extra. You always have an extra ream of paper, extra toner ink. Once you use one, there is an extra, and you should order so you always have one in stock.

6.Cheat Sheets

Start creating cheat sheets now of the most dialed numbers, any information you will use a lot like the front lobby, the mailroom, IT, the janitor, facilities/operations, etc. The goal is to have at your fingertips information you will need at a moment's notice. Make a big binder now, even for daily information on how the office runs. If you are out sick, a temp will have to sub for you. Do they know the vm passwords? Your computer log in? A map of the building or floor you sit on, etc? What is the cut off time for FED EX? Lists, cheat sheets, binders, and detailed instructions will make things more smooth and idiot proof.

7.Get a list of VIP folks your boss will always want to be interrupted for.

Your boss has a boss and probably has a family. There will always be a handful or more of people your boss will always take a call from. Learn who those people might be, now, before someone who is important calls and you sweat it out debating whether to grab your boss.

8.Try to figure out your boss - how they like to communicate (and mirror that), their personality, and the way they work.

People generally have a preference for the phone (talking), email (writing, taking time to think, and for the paper trail), or texting (quick reminders while they are in mtgs and something comes to them). This also means when you have to go in and interrupt your boss while they are in a mtg they have a preferred method. Do they like you to whisper in their ear so they can whisper back? Do they like you to come in silently and have a post it note with a large message written on it (my preferred method)? Do they want you to take them out of the room? Are they a morning person so it's best to grab them while they are still upbeat and awake? Are they type A and super organized so they like lists printed out so they can carry it around or do they like information only in digital form? Be mindful of your boss' preferences, perks, and style of working, communicating, and handling stress, conflict, bad news, good news, etc. Your goal is to become a mini-me version of them and to make their life easier. Study and observe your boss for the best working relationship.

9. Professional and Personal assistance

Think about an entire calendar year and an entire fiscal year from your boss' professional and personal perspective. Don't forget about official, company, school, and religious holidays. Start forecasting the myriad of duties that come with different quarters of the year. Try to automate and formalize processes for projects that will repeat. Here are some examples. Every year around November I start inputting next year's holidays on the calendar including annual conventions or trade shows my boss will go to. I start putting in reminders of when I should start working on updating the addresses for holiday cards. I mark out vague time slots on when my boss will probably go on summer and winter holiday. I block out time on my calendar when I know I will have to work overtime because it's budget season. Since it's August right now, are there things you can do to help prepare for the start of the school year? Should you be shopping for Halloween costumes now online? Should you be brainstorming business gifts for the holidays?

10.Contemplate your future

If you have a lot of down time, figure out where you want to be in five years and how you may be able to take on some of those duties now to place yourself better for a future of your choosing. If you want to be CEO or CFO maybe offer to help on budgets, financials, and with Excel documents. If you want to be in Corporate Communications, maybe ask to do social media stuff or write your bosses speeches. If you want to be in Sales, maybe ask to sit in on meetings and take notes so you can silently observe. If you want to be in HR/Recruiting, maybe offer to help find interns or assistants if you will have one. Maybe you can think of activities for Bring Your Kid to Work Day. Now is a good time to establish how you want your job to unfold. Maybe you ask your boss for lunch meeting twice a year. Or you can think about yearly goals you can achieve at work. Create yearly, 5-year, and 10-year goals for yourself and how you can move up in your department or company.