“Hello – I feel like I found my life vest now that I found your blog. I had 11 years as an Administrative Secretary to an IT Director at my local municipality. It was good at my job because the tech stuff came easy and I became the “go to” girl in the village. I left employment there when a union was successful in organizing the clerical staff. I jumped around 4 other jobs and then landed my dream job. I am the EA to the CEO of a global conglomerate. This company is so ginormous I am having a dizzy time of trying to wrap my brain around what all they do – various forms of power, civil engineering, and then the IT services side of it. My CEO is new. They brought him on as the CEO of Industrials and then there is another new CEO at the headquarters who is in charge of Services. I am learning time zones and currencies and every day I am shaking in my boots that it might be too much but I want it so dang bad! I am in my mid-40s and my daughter is 21 and in her senior year of college so I have the time to devote 100% of my days, nights, and weekends to being always on call and at the ready. So far the only mistakes I’ve made have been minor. For example, I set up a sales dial-in call with about 40 people from every continent on the call. Only I used the US guest code and host code while inadvertently providing the international dial-in numbers which aren’t compatible! I sat at my kitchen table watching my phone blow up while people were emailing and IM’ing me all at the same time wanting to know why they couldn’t get on the call. Because I believe God Himself is watching over me for some good deeds I have recently done, my boss decided that the mistake was a blessing because we should really have a more global system whereby anyone organizing a dial-in call should all use the same company to avoid this ever being an issue in the future. He’s now got the IT guy overseas working towards that end. It’s sort of a neat role too because the company has no other support roles in the US. The mother company, overseas, does, but I am one of only two EA’s hired in the US and so we are sort of pioneers and developing the roles as we go along each day. I am copied on highly confidential information and I read emails that seem to be written in a new language – sales speak. BI’s and verticles and things I don’t even understand, but I am just bobbing and weaving and trying to take it all in and fake it until I make it. I’m doing this thing I learned at one of the four other job jumps I did. I open up a Word document and every time I see something in my emails that needs to be taken care of – I put it on that Word list. I then review the list and organize it by priority and then copy and paste it into a “touch base” email I send to my CEO. When I first started doing this, he wrote back, “Very clear, concise. Nice.” So I’ve kept up this tradition and he’s now making statements like when he introduces me to someone in an email he’ll say, “My EA, she keeps me honest and always has my back.” So, I think I am “hitting the ground running” and off to a good start. So much so, that they are flying me out to NJ for the really big sales conference! I suggested it to the person organizing the event so I could help out and work it, but also to meet the direct reports of my CEO and the rest of the team at the headquarter office there.
I’m going to keep reading your blog regularly. I love your style of writing and have taken away many great tips I’ll use again and again in my work. One question I would like to ask you is how to set up meetings when schedules constantly change? For example, I’ve been working on this one client who wants a 30 minute call with my CEO and two of his direct reports, her CEO and one of his direct reports. The time zones are US CST, EST and then overseas. I had the call aligned once, but someone from our side ended up having a flight so I was asked to reschedule the call. Now the client tells me how about January 30th at 6:30 pm for the overseas time zone? The problem is I don’t know where in this world my Boss will be on that date. I think along with this question I would also like to know if you have etiquette tips about emailing with the other EA’s on the client side of things. For example, if we are pursuing them, asking for the meeting and then they agree – who is to send the invite, me or the EA on their side? Things like this and if you have to cancel a scheduled call or meeting like one I had arranged but the flight got canceled are there proper ways to do these things I might not be aware of? Any books or reading up on this would be helpful too please. Do you use a Blackberry or an iPhone? Do you wear a full suit every day to the office or any tips on dressing for success? In my other job I got to wear cargo pants and was one of the “guys” so in this job I am feeling sort of like a tomboy who doesn’t know how much to spend on my shoes or if I can get away with pantsuits from Ross, etc. Many days I am the only one in the office as our staff are all salesmen and women and on travels or working from home.
Gosh, I know this was a lot. I feel like I could talk to you for hours. You should talk your bosses into doing a reality show about you! With all the reality TV shows of late, I think a show about you running the show would be wonderful! :)
I hope I haven’t bored you. Thanks again for taking the time to write your blog. I think someone who goes out of their way to help others is a sign of a truly good soul!”
Congratulations on your dream job and doing so well! It is always energizing to do something fun and a little scary! I’m so happy for you and would love to hear how you are faring six months or a year from now. Also feel free to write in with more questions, although you are off to a great start and I’m sure you’ll be more than fine!
Thank you so much for your email! You flatter me and I am so glad I am of help to you and other readers out there! I have been getting more emails from readers as of late expressing their gratitude, urging me to write more, so it’s nice to know an audience is out there! The bit about my own reality show really made me smile.
It’s a good strategy that you are seeking out answers, being patient with yourself during the learning curve, and faking it until you make it! In reality, you may always feel a smidge of “I only have 50-80% of the full picture or information I need.” That’s just the fast-paced business world and those that do not freak out with such limited information and help are the ones that excel the most. Adapt, execute, grow, adapt, execute, grow! Rinse and repeat!
You asked 7 questions so I’ll answer them in order below.
1. One question I would like to ask you is how to set up meetings when schedules constantly change? The problem is I don’t know where in this world my boss will be on the suggested date.
Everything should be scheduled based on priority, always make the other parties feel they are important, and their requests are being heard, and attentive customer service is key. The goal is to set a date and time and to work around it even as other meetings come up. If needed, schedule it and say you can touch base as the date draws closer (to confirm or change as needed). It’s understood that emergencies/change happens. Give your boss advance notice of what is going on so he is kept in the loop. Give him background, how many times you already cancelled before, why this is a priority, other conflicting deadlines or things that impact his schedule, etc. If he is traveling that day, maybe he can do it at the airport, hotel room, or in the cab. You can always move it again later if needed, but if it’s important to all parties involved, they will make it work, even if it is eventually. As with anything, if you can deal with it now and get it off your plate, do so. One less thing to worry about. When dealing with external folks/clients and anyone VIP, be eager to assist and be apologetic when necessary and try not to show any annoyance. Your job is to get it scheduled, it’s up to the participants to cancel or keep it their priority, that’s something you can’t control. Just do your best and the earlier you book things, just remember to touch base 3-7 days in advance and send a reminder email that morning. Anyone who is terrible at staying on track, give them the 10 min reminder too. For better or for worse, you can only ask people to remember, it’s up to them to follow through.
2. I think along with this question I would also like to know if you have etiquette tips about emailing with the other EA’s on the client side of things. For example, if we are pursuing them, asking for the meeting and then they agree – who is to send the invite, me or the EA on their side?
In this situation, they should normally take the lead. Whoever has the power or seniority gets to make all the decisions - when, where, how long, etc. Since your company wants the meeting, you are at their beck and call. They are doing you the favor of taking the meeting, giving you business, parting with their money, etc. Whoever is doing the asking, generally has to do the waiting because you are interrupting their day, asking them to make you a priority in meeting with you or giving your email/phone call attention. You are “inconveniencing” them so beggars can’t be choosers. Be accommodating, take their lead, defer to them, at their convenience, and if you need to remind them or want an answer, give them plenty of time to respond and then some. You don’t want to annoy the EA or that company. And you can also offer to help if you feel things are taking way, way, way, way too long as a last resort. You’re offering to help under their timetable and wishes, not be the lead and take over.
3. If you have to cancel a scheduled call or meeting like one I had arranged but the flight got canceled, are there proper ways to do these things I might not be aware of?
When having to cancel, be extremely apologetic and diplomatic. If you can, call them so they can hear how apologetic you are and so they know with plenty of time. If you have to leave a vm, also email them too stating you just left them a vm and that you have to reschedule. Only tell them what they need to know. Don’t go into the details of there was a flight, but the trip got cancelled so I’m sorry I wasted your time. Give a reason, but be vague, and truthful as you can be without making your boss look bad or disclosing too much. It’s best to give some inkling of a reason as obvious as it may seem and reschedule ASAP so they don’t feel unimportant or that you’re actually canceling for good. Some reasons are: his schedule changed at the last minute, he’ll be traveling for business, there was a family emergency, he’s sick, an urgent deadline just came up, his kids have a recital, or something that is neutral, but uncontrollable. You don’t want to you make your boss or your company look bad, but you don’t want to give the impression you are canceling without a very, very good reason.
4. Any books or reading up on this would be helpful too please.
There are so many books on being an assistant, I urge you to read 3 of them for a well-rounded view. Pick the ones that have the best reviews and have been recently published. Also read all my blog posts and my advice column at jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant as well!
5. Do you use a Blackberry or an iPhone?
Believe it or not, and to the chagrin of almost everyone around me, I use a Blackberry. There’s just something about the built in keyboard and touchscreen on the Torch that I like. I need the tactile response. In a few years when Blackberry is no longer around and the iPhone is so strong I can shoot a bullet at it, I’ll switch.
6. Do you wear a full suit every day to the office or any tips on dressing for success? In my other job I got to wear cargo pants and was one of the “guys” so in this job I am feeling sort of like a tomboy who doesn’t know how much to spend on my shoes or if I can get away with pantsuits from Ross, etc.
Dress nicely with what you can afford, dress the way your boss dresses in style (not price), or what the office culture dictates. Business suits should be fine if your boss wears a suit and tie. Business slacks and a button up shirt or cardigan sweater can be for business casual if your boss wears a suit, but no tie. If jeans are allowed, go with a nice shirt, and business flats or low heels. As an intern once, I wore plain brown office heels from Payless Shoes with my outfit. My boss loved them so I told her where I got them from and she thought it was great. She couldn't tell they were cheapos. Even now, the black sneakers I wear, I got from Payless Shoes and a couple people have asked me where I got them or commented they were cute. I’ve worked for executives that came to work in flip flops, shorts, and tie dye shirts and everyone dressed very casual. I wore jeans and flip flops too. Fitting in is the key! Ross, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, Target, Walmart, Kmart are all good places to shop for price and quality since they also carry off-shoot brands/labels. If you can afford designer and love it, great, go for it. If not, be clean, showered, feminine, but not sexy, and presentable and you will be fine! Overall, be practical. If you walk a lot, don’t wear 3 inch heels. If you sweat a lot or get cold easily, be logical about what to wear too.
7. Many days I am the only one in the office as our staff are all salesmen and women and on travels or working from home.
It’s always wise to dress and be presentable. However, I will say that I’ve worked for CEOs and if they were gone, out of the country for winter holiday so we were 100% certain they would not see us, me and other assistants dressed in a loose-fitted sweatpants/shirt set or gym clothes. They were not old, grubby, smelly, or stained clothes - just very lounge-y comfortable clothes. We had to know for sure they would not come in (nor my boss’ boss). If the other executives saw us, they didn’t say anything and it wasn’t frowned upon. It helped that our offices were very secluded and contained. The only people who saw us were the ones that came to our office and that was very few in number. As most CEOs do, we had our own private bathroom, copy room, and kitchen so we hardly ever left the office. When you work in such a high-pressure, fast-paced, 24/7 job any relief you can get with sweat pants at the office is understood. I did talk to the other assistant first though and we agreed it would be fine to dress this way. If one of us didn’t agree, neither of us would have done it. Now that I think about it, when I was interviewed by the other assistant, they were wearing athletic attire and I was wearing a suit!
***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.
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