Monday, July 20, 2015

10 Tips to be a Better Executive Assistant - Part 6

Here are 10 random tips I’ve culled over the years on how to be a better assistant.  This is part 6.

1.  Be a ninja

Whenever I go into people’s offices, I try to train them to understand that if I need them, I wait in the doorway until they see me or acknowledge me so I can ask them a question.  If I only need to drop stuff off, I walk in silently, don’t make any eye contact, put stuff in their in box, and leave silently.  This way, after repeated exposure, they understand don’t need to greet me and don’t need to stop working unless they want to.  Usually when I enter in silently, I will get a thank you and I say thank you/you’re welcome and leave.  Or sometimes they are so focused they do not even hear or see me come in.  So be a ninja!  And you might be interested in being another sort of ninja too.

2.  Create an office bible

In case you get sick, go on vacation, or get hit by a bus, it’s always good to have an office bible so your temp or co-worker can have info at their fingertips when needed.  This will likely cut down on a lot of basic questions like the what the fax number is or your boss’ parking spot number.  Keep it somewhere where it can be easily found, but either limit the amount of confidential information or put it in the your top desk drawer so it’s not out in the open.  This office bible should list any detail you can think of from both basic information, like or dislikes, favorite catering places, etc.  Also have a digital version so you can easily find stuff by keywords or phrases.  If you need to list confidential information like passwords, put it in code by using hints, clues, or only putting part of the info, but use your best judgement.  Constantly update it as well.   

3.  Use your cell phone alarm

Chances are, you use your calendar to remind you about meetings and any important events. However, I found that not helpful and I’ve always used my cell phone’s alarm clock.  I have an Apple phone so I use the “chimes” tone because it’s soft, sounds pretty, and is not as disruptive as other sounds available.  The cell phone alarm clock method is much better because I set several alarms giving myself 15 min warning, 10 min warning, 5 min warning, and a warning for when the actual engagement is.  I also always have my cell phone with me so if I’m greeting guests, in the copy room, restroom, I don’t miss an alarm.  The alarm that everyone else can hear allows me to say, “Oh sorry, that’s just my alarm.  I have another meeting after this one.”  I also don’t write what the alarm is for, I generally know is on my calendar, but even if I don’t, I know I have something soon so I check my calendar right away.  I have 2 sets of alarms on my calendar.  The ones for work I label Wk in my phone and the really loud alarm that I use for myself at home or when I’m not at work is just labeled Alarm.

4.  Save all food orders and preferences

Chances are you order in lunch a lot and probably from the same 5-10 places.  I save “food profiles” of each individual for each restaurant.  This way, I tell them I will order them what they usually get unless they want to see the menu again.  This helps track preferences, any allergies, diet restrictions, and cuts down on circulating a menu and following up to make sure people get back to you in time.  For buffet style lunch meetings, I look back on the calendar or in my account history to see what was ordered and try to order completely new stuff so they don’t get bored.  I also try to find new places that cater or look for different cuisines to keep in interesting.

5.  Save emails and details

I very rarely delete any emails.  I will work at a company for 4 years and have emails archived from my very first year that I’ve had to look back at for handy information three years later.  When I book meetings for my boss, I paste in the body of the event the entire email thread to help refresh their memory or put in attachments and links as necessary.  Also list a phone number, parking instructions, confirmation numbers, and other details in the subject, location, or body fields of a calendar event.  

6.  Refer to the past, and start on a positive or grateful note

When I haven’t spoken to someone in a long time, or especially when I need help, I always try to remember a detail from our previous conversation or exchange for a more personal touch.  I will either ask them about it or thank them for something.  This can be anything from asking how their vacation was, their children’s recital, or thanking them for the lunch spot suggestion.  It starts the conversation on a positive note.

7.  Know the players of your industry, your local community, government officials, luminaries, and the competition

If you work for a high level executive, chances are, they know EVERYONE.  Whether that person is a governor, senator, actor, or works for a competing company, or is high profile - smart, wealthy, business people tend to network and know people from all walks of life through their philanthropy work, and have ties with universities, and probably worked with a great many of those they compete with.  At the core of every successful and rising executive is their desire to SOLVE A PROBLEM and that means they consult and meet with others to tackle and come together to solve an industry-wide problem, a policy problem, or a humanitarian problem.  So at least be familiar with all the key players, even if it’s just their name.  The degrees of separation are very few and they’ve met each other at conferences, retreats, seminars, and grew up with them at university or at the same companies when they were younger.  When you know the players and they call for your boss, you will save face instead of asking how to spell their name or what company they are calling from.

8.  Have your full signature in every email

I never understood those people who only had their name in their signature or only put the full signature in the very first email, but did not enable it for replies.  Your contact information should be easily found instead of people having to scroll through many emails to find it.  This is what should be in your signature - a closer like Best, Sincerely, or Regards, your full name, your job title and who your executive is, your mailing address, your email address, your phone number, and if applicable, your fax number, and if appropriate for your work responsibilities, your social media handles/info.  Don’t forget to do this for your cell phone if your work email is connected to it too.  

9.  Write down reminders as you think of them

As an EA, you will get stopped by so many people, interrupted a lot, and have to multitask.  Make sure you write down all requests or questions as you think of them.  I make it a habit to either text myself, email myself, or write it down in my notebook as it happens or the thought comes to me.  I utilize Siri a lot for this and if my mind wanders while I shower and I think of something, I repeat it to myself over and over until I get out.  LOL  You can also call your office line and leave yourself a voicemail, if helpful.    

10.  Try finding the answer first

The more self sufficient you are, the better colleague you can be.  Even if you need IT or tech support, most often you can Google for an answer or solution if you have a question about how to set up a signature in Outlook or do something in Excel.  If you need to put toner in your printer, either read the instructions by yourself or be taught how to do it once.  Also, take good notes so you don’t have to ask the same question even if something only comes up about 2-3 times a year.  I keep notes from my very first day on the job and find myself referring to certain passages every now and then.  Your co-workers will love you more if you can do those things yourself, as long as you are not breaking union rules.

***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're the one who ASKED and read the post?   :)  

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.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. This is absolutely fantastic. I am also a seasoned executive assistant (I work in the C-suite of a major metropolitan trauma center) and agree with all of these things. I've never heard it referred to as the ninja, but it describes my approach perfectly. I really appreciate your writing, and look forward to catching up on previous posts. (I used to read regularly, then my computer dumped all my favorites and I had to start over. I found your blog again by googling about an executive assistant issue I was having and when I clicked the link, was so happy to remember you!) All the best, Annie

  2. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstOctober 14, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    Annie - Whatever issue you were having as an EA, I hope you found your answer somewhere on the internet and things are all good again for you. I am so glad you liked this post and found me again! It's great to hear that much of what I described was also true for you. Don't forget that I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.

  3. Hi there,

    I really enjoy reading your posts and do believe some of your tips and tricks to be valid for someone who has never worked in an office or those trying to establish themselves with a corporate career. However it would be really great and empowering if you could focus on how valuable EAs are. In many of your posts some of your musings come across quite demeaning to our industry and 'yes' if you have never had a chance to work for an executive who empowers you then "yes" it may feel like an EA is another term for personal servant ("get it done but no need to be seen"), however the way the world works this is no longer the case, EAs have bachelor degrees usually in business administration and those who are smart, energetic and proactive can become an executive's business partner in the right situation.

    As a seasoned EA I would really like to support the idea of empowerment it really comes with years of experience, mentorship and of course an amazing executive who believes in you and views his/her EA as a partner vs. an assistant. This IS possible of course it takes time - time to build that trusted relationship and time to continue learning about the business the EA works in.

    I have worked in legal, entertainment and now high-technology and I truly believe that high-tech is the way to go if an EA wants to feel respected, valued and PROUD to be a successful EA. We are business partners of our executives not strictly assistants who run out to get lunch or to solely manage the calendar or book travel or be the executives' family's assistant as well. That is called a personal assistant not an EXECUTIVE assistant.

    If more EAs continued to set the bar high on how far they can go (i.e. managing products for the business, sitting in on leadership meetings, attending events on behalf and with their executives and essentially being a business and personal advisor) then our industry will continue to be respected rather than viewed as just a stepping stone into something better.

    I do enjoy your posts and can relate to some of your thoughts however it would really be great if more EAs could support and initiate the idea of creating value for our industry rather than comparing our industry to Fedex couriers!!

  4. Fantastic article! Thank you for these tips!

    Looking forward to future articles from you.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AsstFebruary 12, 2016 at 1:20 PM

      ReggiVictoria - Thank you for being a reader!

  5. I have thouroghly enjoyed reading your articles. Thank you for sharing such pertinent information!

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Thank for sharing such pertinent information!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstApril 9, 2016 at 1:53 AM

      Dear Best Exec - I am so glad you liked this post. Thank you for the comment! Made my day!

  7. I applied for an EA position with a non-profit CEO. I thought since I had worked all areas of non-profit (to include being a CEO myself without an EA), I'd have a great read on what the CEO needed and how to integrate that with the non-profit realm. I interviewed but walked away with the intent to watch "Suits" and figure out who the CEO's 'ideal EA' was and calm my heart palps; I knew this wasn't for me.

    In the mean time, I read your blog, all of it!, and realized that I wasn't the right fit for being an EA.

    I returned later that afternoon to meet with a Board member who is a Chief of Staff for a Dell Director and hired/fired many EA's. His Q/A interview was perfect to ferreting out the issues we'd face. Although we discussed my doing the job for 30-days as a trial, I decided that I needed to focus on finding the job rather than fitting it into a position I knew I wouldn't do justice to.

    Just to say that this blog was extremely helpful in educating me on EA's, what you do, who and what you're responsible to. If I didn't have this blog, I/we would have made a mistake. You're doing a great job. (Jen)

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.April 27, 2016 at 1:51 PM

      Jen - Wow! Thank you so much for this comment. I think it's the best one I've ever rcvd about my blog. I am so happy to be of help and that what I've written helped make a small difference. It's what I love to do. I hope you find the perfect and the RIGHT job for you. I have no doubt that you will. Feel free to keep me posted on your journey!

    2. You're welcome. I read some of your blog prior to (found it via Google 'how to be an executive assistant) the interview and then came home between interviews and devoured the rest of it (along with my Einstein bagel sandwich).

      I have a new kind of respect (not that I didn't before) for anyone who is the face of the people and company.

      Happy Administrative Professionals Day from Austin TX

    3. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.April 29, 2016 at 10:42 AM

      Jennifer - You are so kind to wish me a Happy Admin Day! Thank you for being such a devoted reader. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  8. Awesome article! Much thanks to you for these tips!

    Anticipating future articles from you.