Here are more tips on how to set yourself apart. As mentioned previously, the most coveted executive assistants that appeal to senior management and recruiters are the ones that have either worked for a Fortune 500 CEO, reputable talent agency, or the ones that show great promise because they are hungry, smart, and can be easily managed. While it goes without saying that every EA should keep things confidential, be organized, and reliable, the best ones stand out for these additional 7 reasons below. This is part 2.
1. Have diplomacy and an even temperament
Diplomacy is a knack for communicating information without anyone losing face or making them feel bad. It's going for the win win scenario and being tactful. And having an even temperament is not being overly loud, happy, or sad. It's having an even keel of a reaction. Sure you will be mad or annoyed at work at times, but if you need to convey it, convey it with what you need and be direct. It doesn't help to be overly emotional at work. You should always be approachable and professional, but in no way come across as playing favorites. You can have high energy or be happy without being loud or over zealous. You can disagree, but be firm and kind about it. Be the honey instead of the vinegar.
2. You either get it or you don’t
That saying about it’s better to appear stupid and keep your mouth shut than open it and remove all doubt comes to mind. Very few people will go out of their way to mentor you and help you change for the better. That’s something you will have to undertake yourself. Before you get classified as getting it or not getting it, observe - a lot. “It” could be anything from how the world works, reality, office politics, or what your boss values. This is why I advocate reading articles and books on personal growth and on business/career matters. When you are perceived as "getting it," you are viewed as easier to manage, work with, and teach. Because if you have a partial understanding about how something works, at least it's easier and faster to get you up to speed to contribute more.
Here is an example when I was overseeing interns. One intern had sent out a mass email without realizing the difference between the to, cc, and bcc fields. This was years ago and he was still young, in college, so he had no awareness because he probably only used email with friends or forwarding mass emails, and not in a business context in a professional environment. I had to explain to him that "to" meant the email was for those people to directly respond, "cc" was more like an fyi to keep people in the loop and their reply was optional or as needed, and bcc was for fyi purposes, but the person in the bcc field was to act like they didn't know the information in the email, which is why the bcc is only visible to the sender and the bcc'd person.
Now imagine you are an assistant and you didn't realize or learn something equally basic and fundamental as how to use email in a business context. Maybe it's Dropbox, an FTP site, Quora, Klout, or GoToMeeting. Companies have their own proprietary software, technology always changes, or if you are new to a field you might not be familiar with business lingo. You want to learn this on your own or ask a peer instead of bothering an executive or asking in a meeting, "what is P and L?"
3. Be proactive, but walk the fine line of not stepping on anyone’s toes
It’s always important to be extra helpful and to anticipate needs, but keep in mind that it’s just as important not to step on anyone’s authority. This relates to my earlier post about a succession of power and authority. While it may seem logical for you to do something instead of someone else, a great majority of the time you are operating under a small piece of information or without the full picture. Things change literally by the hour or office politics you aren’t aware of are in play. So while you are new to a role, anticipate needs that are fail safe, and always ask if there is anything else you can do. That willing, open, and eager attitude will let folks know if you didn’t do something they thought you should have, it’s because you didn’t know, not because you were lazy or didn’t care. The longer you stay in a role, the more you can figure out when to act without your boss’ constant permission. It takes time to hone this skill, sometimes until the 2nd or 3rd year of working with your boss, because so many components are in play - how people get along, what happened before you came aboard, red tape, or undisclosed information or plans. It does make it hard to do exactly what your boss wants, but to also save time or energy on their behalf because two opposing ideas are at play. In the end, whoever manages you has the ultimate responsibility over you so be aware any decisions you make reflect on them as well. Sometimes it is best to play it safe or the path where the decision can be reversed without penalty. So learn when to be helpful and take exact direction and when you have to step up to be the in charge point person and lead the way.
4. Everything is urgent until it’s not
Because things change frequently and everyone is just so busy in general, learning to juggle many tasks is key. Until a project is absolutely dead, you should be actively working on all projects and requests. You’ll learn things get pushed further and further down the list of priorities, but they should all be monitored or brought up monthly to your boss’ attention. This is why I also advocate any time you have an extra minute or “free time,” like when your boss is on vacation, you should be working on tasks, even if they are lower on the priorities list. It’s important to remember, you never know when you will be asked to do something that will take 5 hours to finish. This unexpected big project could throw a huge wrench it your timing, pacing, and deadline schedule. You may have no time left to finish anything else or may also have to work OT. While you have the time, address tasks and cross them off your list.
5. Care a lot or do well anyway because it’s your job
There’s nothing worse than having an assistant that doesn’t care and doesn’t want to change. If you can’t care passionately about a project because it doesn’t interest you, at least be very detailed and don’t take the lazy way out. This is where doing what you are asked, regardless of the task, comes in handy. Sure you may not be enthusiastic about a task, but it comforts your boss to know it will be taken care of, on time, and handled well instead of it falling through the cracks. This is how your boss learns to trust you, either because they know you are excited and want the company to succeed or you are on top of your game and have your act together because you are top-notch assistant even if you don't know very much related to x, y, or z.
6. Frequent updates, next steps, follow up
Getting a task done is not the last step. The last step is making sure the other person got the information, has no questions, and letting your boss know it was handled. This is where most assistants fail and what sets apart the absolute best. They ask what else can be done, give frequent updates even if there is no update, clue people in on what’s coming next, explain why things have to be in a certain order or have to happen, double check if everything made sense and was clear, and provide that extra oomph of customer service, attention to detail, and say it was a pleasure to help out, and actually mean it. This is what makes people feel special, cared for, and trains them not to worry because you have everything under control. This is how people know you are serious about your role and know they can count on you.
7. Learn the rules and learn the exceptions
There are rules for everything, even if they are unspoken, and for every rule there is usually an exception, especially for VIP, urgent matters, or anything unprecedented. The rules often change and the exceptions also change just as often. This is another skill you will have to hone and may take awhile to learn. This plays a lot into office politics, culture, seniority, people’s personal lives, and sometimes what’s happening in the world. Most often, the rules are either dictated by your boss, corporate culture, rules and procedures, reality, logic, and stakeholders.
I've also partnered with 24 Seven Talent Acquisition and Recruitment Agency. Read their thoughts here: https://talentthread.com/2016/02/17/5-reasons-we-should-be-taking-culture-fit-seriously/
***New “rule” - when you ask me a question and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post? 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.