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.


  1. I'm starting a new job THIS WEEK and greatly appreciate the relevance of this post! No matter WHAT job you have, this is excellent advice. Thank you!

    1. The Muser at Musings of A High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 6, 2012 at 1:23 PM


      Glad you love the post and my blog! :)

  2. I'm also starting an EA job in a week and this information is very helpful!! Great question and great response!! Thank you for sharing.

    1. The Muser at Musings of A High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 7, 2012 at 5:33 PM

      So glad you liked the post! Thank you for reading!

  3. Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of A High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 7, 2012 at 8:29 PM

      Glad you saw the answer I posted for you! :) Thanks for adhering to the new "rule!"

  4. I'm starting with a new company next week as an EA for the 2 C-Level Execs. I've been an EA for a couple of years, but this is the largest company I've worked for, and I'm a little nervous. Thanks for this information/insight. I absolutely love your blog!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantJune 2, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      Jessica! Thank you so much for the comment! I'm glad you find my blog helpful! Next week I will be answering a question that will probably interest you as it's about EA duties and what's realistic/juggling roles. The following week I will be answering a reader question on hiring a 2nd assistant and the screening process!