Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Taking Your Career to the Next Level

“I just came across your blog and really enjoy the information you posted! I have been an EA to C-level executives for the past 6 years and am enjoying it. I was wondering about career path. I have tried to research what the next level(s) up is, I can't seem to find any information. I don't think I have hit the wall on the EA role, but I'm not sure what it takes to get to the next level or have a vision of how far this position can go. I have heard of EAs working for successful international corporations and earning a very large salary. Do you by chance know what it takes to get up there? Sincerely, Anonymous”

Dear NK,
Thank you for the great question and btw, your wording of it was great! :) No need for me to “pretty it up!” LOL

A couple of people have asked vaguely related questions so how to find that information is below, which I will expound upon to specifically answer your question.

I write at Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant so you should take a peek over there. I paste those answers and questions on this blog too, but to find it more easily and faster, go to Jobstr.com and search these three key phrases:

Orlando EA on 05/15/2012
gregg on 05/12/2012
borclans on 05/10/2012

Here are my suggestions for you regarding career path and getting to the next level.

1) Evaluate if you really want this career path. If you are in it for the money, it shows.

As with any job, if you truly love what you do and believe in it, it will be slightly easier to stay in it for the long haul. If you’re doing any job for the money as the main motivator, it might hold you over for the first 5 or 10 years, but as some point, deep down in your heart and your soul you will have this nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right. While it’s appealing to pull in a lot of money, to get yourself to that level takes a lot of commitment. This is why before you decide to undertake any big or life-changing task you should make sure it’s what you really want. Focus and discipline will get you anywhere as long as you really want it. The nights where you have to stay late, go the extra mile, grit your teeth and do that same boring repetitive task or come to someone’s rescue will separate you and the next person. When you do things for money, it shows. You care less, you’re easily annoyed, you start to do a cost-benefit analysis, you feel resentful, and you feel short changed. Think long and hard about what it is you really want out of life, your career, and what makes you happy. Take personality tests, read books, talk to people. Become as self aware as possible regarding your beliefs, values, and principles. Once you know all these things about yourself, weeding out the noise and getting thrown off track aren't big problems.

2) Make it clear you have bigger goals.

If you’ve decided you want to be an EA or have a career that leads to a great salary, it all starts with growth. When you interview for new jobs, do your yearly job performance reviews, network, or whenever appropriate, make it clear you have bigger goals. State you’d love to be an EA and learn so much you can be promoted to coordinator, director, manager. State in 5 or 10 years you’d like to be VP of a division. And it’s not only important to state them to others, but for you yourself to live your life and to manage your career so you do 99% of the work and that 1% allows others to help you if they wish to get to you the next level. This means on your own initiative, ask to learn new software programs, volunteer for projects at work that will teach you something and challenge you, have interests outside of work that help your career in some sort of leadership, management, networking, or public speaking role. Work on your weaknesses. The most important thing is to take action and do something different so you can get promoted, get better tasks, that raise, or transition to a different role, dept, company, or industry.

3) Work for a bigger company in a smaller role.

One of the hardest parts of becoming a high level EA or transitioning out from EA to another role is making that leap from being just like every other EA to one of the best. The goal is to go from a busy role to one that is absolutely crazy insane busy and stressful to prove you can do it. It’s akin to saying you can plan one wedding really well once a year to saying you can plan three at the same time or saying you can plan 12 in a year. Or it’s like having a baby. One baby is hard, raising twins or triplets is a whole nother ball game. It’s not like one baby times two or three. It’s more like rip your hair out, can’t shower for a week, and your head will explode. Things become exponentially difficult the higher you go. There’s a cut off and large gap that most people don’t understand UNTIL THEY ARE ACTUALLY IN IT. So to get to that place, you need to work for a bigger company. And it most likely means you need to start out in a smaller role. The pace and problems will be faster and bigger and once you prove yourself there, you can work your way up to the 1st assistant.

4) Work for a well-known executive in a respected capacity.

Another strategy is to work for a well known executive, celebrity, or person in a respected capacity. If you can’t be an EA to them, be something close to that. Maybe you can be their personal assistant that works out of there business office instead at their house. I make this distinction because working at home means there is a less corporate environment, less office politics, less red tap and rigid rules, and less stress and craziness which will work against you because you aren't really in a business environment. Maybe you can be their estate manager in charge of everything from renovations, chef, gardener, pool boy, driver, security staff to nanny. While you will have to work out of their home, if you are in charge of everyone else, and all those projects, that's equivalent to being a project manager at a company. The point is to assist them but not just pick up their drying cleaning and walk their dog, but to manage their life and schedule as close to a regular EA job. Even asking to intern, shadow, or be mentored by someone well respected is a great first step.

5) Look for jobs under different titles with the same skill set.

Almost every job has an admin element to it. Maybe you are ready to be a project manager, a director of smaller division or program at work, or doing the same EA role in a better paying industry, city, or with a faster promotion rate. Expanding your job search to another state that has a talent shortage or leaving for a different company are fast ways to get a raise.

6) Key areas for growth and opportunity are joining when a company/executive/dept is new/young, transitioning, growing, or relocating.

When change is happening at a company, a lot of extra help and organization is needed. Even when a company is downsizing or merging, there’s a lot of opportunity for contract roles or temp gigs to help them thru the transition. When you job hunt keep this in mind. This also applies to when people go on maternity leave or are on extended sick leave. This is one of the main reasons why I endorse temping and working thru recruiting and placement agencies. They are the ones to help fill those roles which sometimes lead to FT work.

7) Be so good at your job they ask you to grow with the company.

When you are EA, the best traits to have are being open to learning, growing, changing, and treating everything with a sense of urgency with everyone and everything being of equal importance while having your priorities in order. Having a great attitude will only work in your favor. Being an EA is already a role to wear a lot of different hats and one you should take advantage of. The more you know about your company and dept the easier your job will be. There have been times in my career when I would join any activities the interns went to. Why? Because companies have great programs for interns to help them understand the company since they are so new and young, they try to give them a great overview. I also would tag along on any public tours because you learn a lot of fun tid bits and trivia that normally don’t come up. I will sit in on orientation or training sessions that are really for new employees or other departments because I can better understand other people’s role and how it affects my dept or my boss. When you have the mindset to look at the 360 degree view, you are also able to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. The more you know the further you’ll go and any smart company will want to keep you for themselves!

ALSO: 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. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 3-4 days to answer.

I also write over at Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant. Don't forget to follow this blog too.


  1. You have such EXCELLENT advice for EAs. I just started as one 3 weeks ago and you're advice has been absolutely priceless... EAs have quite a different role than regular office admins and I've really taken to your blog for tips and advice. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to answer questions, and the constant updates!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 25, 2012 at 11:32 PM

      So flattered by your comment. Thank you so much! Always happy to answer questions and give advice!