I've been reading your blog for a couple of years and I find it to be incredibly entertaining and insightful. I have a quick question that hopefully you can answer quickly, and doesn't need to be on your blog -- unless you feel someone else may benefit .
I have been an Executive Assistant for over 10 years, and am now working for a Vice President in an academic medical center. I've worked for him for 2 years, and recently I learned his boss is being replaced. They are bringing in a top exec from a major Fortune 500. This person is not bringing their assistant, and I've learned they will get the assistant to her predecessor.
This is a bad idea! This assistant has been here for 30+ years she is not knowledgeable in Microsoft Office, not a forward thinker, not anticipatory, efficient, or effective. Her skill set it basically calendar and coffee. Although she is really sweet, I don't believe she will cut it working for a dynamic new leader -- who from what I understand is fast paced, effective, and driven. This person needs someone that can keep up. I also believe this person will be on a fast track to perhaps one day become CEO.
I really would like to align myself with this new senior leader. She is a woman and I really respect her career path and how she has climbed the ladder in a relatively short time. I am excellent at my job and could work for any CEO -- but I am limited by the market I am in. I also am a mom to a 9 year old, and she also has a young child so there are some similarities.
My question is -- she has not yet officially started, but will be coming in to meet with my current boss. I would like to email her after they meet to let her know I am interested in the role. My current boss fully supports this, and I would rather be proactive and tell her about my interest rather than applying after she goes through the messy process of terminating the other assistant.
Do you think this is a good plan? To email her expressing my interest and why I would be great in the role?
Thanks so much! And your blog!”
Thank you for being a loyal reader for all these years! I am so glad you enjoy my blog! I’m glad to hear it is entertaining AND insightful! Kudos to you for thinking about how to better your career and thinking of a strategy and plan NOW and looking for opportunities and creating your own luck!
I am excited to answer your question as it is the first I have received. I will answer your question, but for any new EAs or those in a similar situation, I will also provide insight into basic business acumen. I also cover a lot of ground because I admit, I don't know all the specifics of the situation, you, your boss, dept, or company either. So some of what I mention, you may already know, but I think many will benefit from your question.
You wrote, “They are bringing in a top exec from a major Fortune 500. This person is not bringing their assistant, and I've learned they will get the assistant to her predecessor.”
In case anyone was wondering why this occurs, there a few reasons why an exec does not bring their old assistant. Any time you interview where this situation occurs you are allowed to ask very politely. However, realize you may only get a portion of the truth because if someone is terrible, they are not allowed to say they were terrible for legal reasons, etc. So, some reasons why a previous assistant does not come with their boss are:
1) The boss moves to a new city/state and the previous assistant can’t come because they don’t want to/can’t move, the commute becomes too far, or they don’t want to work in the new office/environment.
2) The previous assistant is assigned to work for a different boss at the old company, perhaps even whoever will replace their previous boss.
3) The previous assistant’s work was good/okay, but is not good with change or is not the best match for the new office corporate culture or role so they are not asked to come.
4) The previous assistant does not want to lose any important benefits/tenure/seniority at the previous company whether they be retirement savings, vacation accrual rate, or misc perks they would lose.
5) The executive chooses not to bring her old assistant because she thinks her career/fresh start will be a better transition with the predecessor’s old assistant because if an assistant is really amazing, they can work with anyone in any environment, but the key difference and advantage is history. If an executive uses the predecessor’s assistant, that assistant already knows the company, culture, how the depts\admin processes\systems work, the best places to eat for a quiet business lunch, how to call IT, etc. So the executive only has to learn and adjust to their job while the assistant is already in the know.
You wrote: This is a bad idea! This assistant has been here for 30+ years she is not knowledgeable in Microsoft Office, not a forward thinker, not anticipatory, efficient, or effective. Her skill set it basically calendar and coffee.
While I am pretty certain your assessment is pretty close or maybe even very spot on, with others, tread carefully here when you pitch yourself for the role. I assume you work with her closely and have a very similar job to her so you have a pretty accurate view of what her day and tasks are like. However, what you wrote above is from your perspective. Her boss is also the other person who would have the most legitimate and credible assessment of her performance. If her boss LOVED her maybe her boss really only needed calendar and coffee help, but we won’t know for sure what her boss thought and all the performance reviews HR has for her 30+ years vs your 2 years. This is why I urge you to tread carefully with others. In life and in the business world, who is right or wrong is hard to define. There are a lot of things about play - how long you’ve been at company, who champions your career, your rank/title/seniority, who you interact with, what people value, etc. I’ve mentioned this before, but people would rather work for someone they like that is incompetent versus someone that is amazing at their job, but they don’t like. I know, it’s not very fair and doesn’t make a lot of business sense, but that’s how human nature works…
You also wrote: Although she is really sweet, I don't believe she will cut it working for a dynamic new leader -- who from what I understand is fast paced, effective, and driven. This person needs someone that can keep up. I also believe this person will be on a fast track to perhaps one day become CEO.
If this new executive is high-profile in your industry or field, I am sure by reading articles about them or talk of the town, what you wrote above is again, pretty accurate. This also could be an objective assessment from anyone. Successful executives are rarely lazy and slow if they earned their title from being promoted through hard work and not nepotism, etc.
You mentioned: I really would like to align myself with this new senior leader. She is a woman and I really respect her career path and how she has climbed the ladder in a relatively short time.
I think it’s great you are continuing to seek out people you would like to work for and pursuing your EA career. It shows you have passion and drive! I know you are very excited about this dream job. While you seem to know a lot about this woman, keep in mind there is a lot you don’t know, and you might not ever know until you’ve worked with her for about 2 years. Before you go looking for a new job at your current company or outside of it, please know exactly what you want from a job - what you must have, what you must not have, what you can negotiate/live with, what you can’t compromise on, what kind of boss and colleagues you want. A lot of things you enjoy, you may not realize at all you need it, maybe take it for granted, or you may assume they exist everywhere. While you can’t have everything in a job, try for the job that is as close to what you seek. I’ve known assistants to turn down jobs once they saw their desk and where they would sit - old furniture, very darkly lit, they’d have to pay for their own parking, very low morale or poor employee engagement - no coffee, no break room, etc.
When I mention there are a lot of things you don’t know about this new lady, some things could be - she works 12 or 16 hour days and expects you to via your cell phone and email, she eats lunch at her desk and expects you to as well, she will ask you to pick up lunch or run personal errands as 25% of your job, she is a great boss, but has a different working style and is too busy to mentor you or champion your career, she could be nice, but not friendly, she could be a nightmare boss - moody, mean, abusive, immoral. In light of Enron and a lot of these CEO scandals you should be interviewing your boss and about the role as well. Don’t automatically assume because the package looks good or the job sounds great on paper you will like it. It’s very hard to know what anyone is like after meeting them for an hour. Job hunting and dating are very similar. Many times, when people see their dream job, they go right to marriage and commitment. It is ill advised to get engaged on the first date. In the same way, it’s ill advised to assume you want a job and want to spent 40+ hours a week with someone you have yet to meet. Ask polite questions, know yourself, interview them as well. Also keep in mind, not all jobs work out. There are things to consider - personality fit, communication style, different values/principles/priorities, job roles/tasks change, etc. And if you take a new job and you leave, it's not like you can go back to your old job, they've already hired someone else. If you are 80% happy with your job, that's pretty good. You will never get 100% of what you want. The last 20% is just different things you dislike. So figure out the 20% you dislike, but can manage or live with.
You also wrote: I am excellent at my job and could work for any CEO -- but I am limited by the market I am in. I also am a mom to a 9 year old, and she also has a young child so there are some similarities.
If you really wanted a new job or in a new field, you can do it! :) Just don’t quit your job while you are looking for one unless you have tons and tons of savings and can afford your own health insurance.
While this potential new boss also has a young child, be careful about bringing that up and getting all chummy. If she brings it up great, but realize having a child and mentioning that may or may not work in your favor. While it is not fair or right, this is why there are tons of articles online about what questions are legal and illegal to ask. A company can’t ask someone if they have kids. They can ask:
What hours can you work? What shift(s) can you work? Can you work on weekends and/or holidays? Are there specific times that you cannot work? Do you have responsibilities other than work that will interfere with specific job requirements such as traveling?
Also, I'm not sure if she would really care that you had a child. Sure, it's nice to know, but it won't make you any better of an assistant and won't matter to her in any positive significant way.
You wrote: My question is -- she has not yet officially started, but will be coming in to meet with my current boss. I would like to email her after they meet to let her know I am interested in the role. My current boss fully supports this, and I would rather be proactive and tell her about my interest rather than applying after she goes through the messy process of terminating the other assistant. Do you think this is a good plan? To email her expressing my interest and why I would be great in the role?
I’m glad you got your boss’ input to see if he supports your interest in this new role. I’m more curious why he is willing to part with you - though I’m assuming he is a great boss and wants your career to flourish. And I wonder why he is not directly championing you to her himself. Much like a boss will write a recommendation letter or put in a good word for you, there must be a reason he is not doing so in this case. While we may never know and it is not polite to ask (because if he wanted to he would probably offer and it’s rude to ask for such a favor unless he really forgot), but some reasons could be - to champion you would make him NOT look like a team player because everyone already knows the predecessor’s assistant will be her assistant. And to speak out against that means “something is wrong with the precedessor’s assistant” because he is speaking up to challenge/change a decision that has already been made by his boss, the new boss, and HR. Why would he pick that battle? Is it his battle to fight?
While I understand you believe the other assistant is not qualified enough and will get terminated eventually, we don’t know that for sure. We just assume it is likely because logically speaking and from your perspective she is not efficient and skilled enough to fulfill the role. However, we know not everything is logical or make senses in life and in business. For all we know, the new boss will realize she is a bit lacking, hire another assistant and have 2 assistants to help her because she is such a workaholic. Or, perhaps this assistant is nearing retirement and will get a severance package and is there to help with the transition for the next year. Maybe the assistant will quit on her own accord. She might get hit by a bus. Who knows?! The point is we don’t know and I do see you are trying to do what is best for the team, company, yourself, and save time or needless extra work, by throwing your hat in the ring. But tread carefully. You've only been there 2 years. HR, the new executive, and the boss that is leaving, and the 30+ year assistant have been there "forever" or have TONS more business savvy experience compared to you. You are "challenging" people who have been at the company and in the business a lot longer than you. I know your intentions are good. We have no way of knowing how they will see your intentions because we are not them.
I’m not sure in what capacity and how much face time you will have with this new executive when she comes to meet with your boss. If you do have a lot of time to chat with her to say hello it is more likely if you write her an email she will remember you. However, if you only escort her to your boss’ office and get her some water, when you write an email to her, how will you open? What will you say? She meets lots of people on a daily basis, I’m sure. You also have to realize, in her mind, she has already decided/agreed that the issue of her new assistant is solved. And should she have to get a new assistant, yes it will suck for her, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a drop in the bucket. She has much more to worry about - understanding her new role/company, jumping right in, getting downloaded on everything under the sun, being successful and proving she was worth the hire, what will she do with her family for Halloween, X’mas break, this weekend, etc. Yes, she needs her assistant, but it is the least of her worries and priorities.
If you really want to throw your hat in the ring realize how this will come across when you do write an email or even say something unassuming such as: I’m really excited you are coming aboard. If the chance ever arises, I’d like to work for you.
She will wonder why you don’t “like” your old boss and does he know you are saying this? She will wonder why you think she may need a new assistant at some point. She may wonder if you are too much of a fan of her when you know “nothing” about her. She may not even remember you ever said that to her 1 or 6 months from now.
Here are some options for your to consider.
1) Throw your hat in the ring via email like you planned, keeping everything I wrote above in mind, and realize you are applying for a job opening that does not exist. There is no open EA position with her. The job has been filled and the applicant just has yet to start. Your good intentions to be proactive could be misconstrued from her perspective as reactive because she doesn't think she needs a new assistant, you do.
2) Tell your boss and maybe HR if the chance ever arises to work for her/a new dept you’d be interested. I only mention HR because they are the "hiring manager/facilitator" here. However, they may now think you want to leave the company, are unhappy, or don’t like your current boss, and want more. Whether this is fair/accurate, realize that is the IMPRESSION you are giving.
3) Wait and see what happens in the next couple of months and then throw your hat in the ring at the right time and hopefully your boss will also champion you to her, HR, etc.
Also another reader asked a TANGENTIALLY related question - which you may want to read as well for another perspective:
Please let me know you read this post by writing an anonymous comment. Also, keep me posted on what you decide and what happens. I hope my answer was helpful!
***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice 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 5-6 days to answer.
I also write over at Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant.