I got a reader question that I wanted to answer. For any new readers and for BL, I cover the basics so much of what I say to BL may or may not apply to them. However, for new EAs, and those climbing the ladder, I want to be as thorough as possible. Here is their question:
I came across your blog and found it so informative and interesting.
I landed my dream job a year ago, I absolutely loved it and had plans to stay for the very long-term.
That's when the universe lowered the boom on me! My boss, the CEO, got fired in September last year and the company still hasn't started the process to replace him.
The company has told me they value me and want me to stay on, but it's been seven months now and I don't have any work to do, despite offering my services to a variety of Partners.
My company has now recently started 'cost savings initiatives'. I know that I earn SIGNIFICANTLY more than any of the other Assistants so I'm feeling vulnerable. I want to put my CV on the market but I don't know how to say that I'm leaving behind because my boss has been fired, I don't know when they're going to replace him, I don't have any work to do and I'm worried I'm next on the chopping block!
Is there any advice you can give me?"
I am so happy you found my blog! I am happy to hear you find it informative and interesting.
Congrats on the dream job! It’s so hard to find. I’m so sorry to hear about your boss being fired last year and now you are stuck in limbo. I can see how it can feel very nerve-wracking, unfulfilling, and you may be feeling very lost, overlooked, and not needed. A somewhat similar situation happened to me so I’ll draw my advice from that and just what I gleam in general about being an EA and having been in the working world for awhile.
I understand it’s been more than 6 months that your boss was fired and they have YET to still START the process of replacing him. I agree that is a very long time. Since he was the CEO, the perfect fit is of the utmost importance. It’s not unheard of that while a CEO is about to retire they start looking about 2-5 years prior to their exit. Often, executive succession is a very long-term planning discussion that can start as early as recruiting and identifying VPs and Presidents from other companies or within to be possible front runners for the CEO role in 5 or 10 years. As ultimately, that is where the successor will come from. I don’t know how long they knew or when they knew he would be fired, but chances are it was unplanned and happened very quickly, hence, the open seat for so long.
I commend you for offering help to the other partners and executives at your company, and I understand how bored and helpless you may feel. I can also agree that it doesn’t make a lot of business sense to not utilize you. I wrote about this in an earlier post.
You mention your company is doing a cost savings initiative and you know you are paid more than the other EAs there. I can understand feeling vulnerable and how you may feel that by being paid what you are worth and a lot more than other EAs you may feel as though you are being punished and it's very unfair. Morale goes down at every company and everyone is always scared they will be next when people know the company is not performing well. That’s a normal reaction. You also wrote: I want to put my CV on the market but I don't know how to say that I'm leaving behind because my boss has been fired, I don't know when they're going to replace him, I don't have any work to do and I'm worried I'm next on the chopping block!
Is there any advice you can give me?
So here is my advice to you, BL. Feel free to take none of it, some of it, or all of it. Ultimately, I don’t know enough of your situation (finances, single/married, kids, unemployment percentage wherever you live, your age, your education/skill set) to give you definitive advice. However, whatever you decide I will support you and feel free to write an update down the line or ask more follow up questions if I am not thorough enough for you. Please don’t forget to comment anonymously below so I know you read this.
Here are some things to consider.
Should you go?
I understand you want to put your CV on the market, but don’t know how to say you’re leaving because your boss got fired, you don’t know when they will replace him, and you don’t have any work, and you’re worried about being part of a layoff.
You can actually do and say all that AS LONG AS you don’t say it with too much desperation, emotion, stress, and general freaking out-ness. I would not mention you might get laid off. That makes it sound as though you are desperate for work or will take a pay cut. The rest though, say it matter of factly, like saying the sky is blue. These are the facts, and these are the reasons why. Put a positive spin on it too. You really enjoyed working there, but you look forward to learning new things and new adventures, etc.
If your boss is very high profile and him being fired was a secret/covered up, such as he “took an early retirement” etc, perhaps just say your boss exited the company because he took an early retirement, wanted to spend more time with his family, or x. Explain it in the same manner.
Look for a job CONFIDENTIALLY. State that on your resume, in your cover letter, over the phone, and don’t tell anyone at work.
Should you stay?
If you stay, yes, you are bored and could be laid off. However, you may also get a nice severance package. Making rash decisions isn’t wise and aside from boredom, not knowing if/when you will be laid off, or worrying you will end up with a terrible boss, there is not much harm in staying. You are getting a free paycheck. There are worse problems you can have. You can always quit in 2 weeks/later, but once you tell them you want to leave or they find out, you could be out that very same day. The only downside is you may be asked to take a pay cut, which is not wise to accept if you know you are very marketable and have a deep savings account to look for the next perfect job. And being laid off for cost-savings measures is NOT the same thing as being fired for performance. And this comes into play when you are on interviews and tell your story about your career path and this specific job. You can state you were laid off if asked. You can expound on it with the mention of “my boss left last year and the company still hasn't started the process to replace him. The company has told me they value me and want me to stay on which is why I’ve been so lucky to stay on these past __________ months until these cutbacks / layoffs / reduction in force.”
Having been in a somewhat similar position many years ago, I think the most unsettling aspect may be that you have no control of your future. To wait and see is not in a successful EA's nature because it's in their DNA to take initiative, make things happen, create their own luck and to try to solve all the problems. And yes, everyone likes stability. However, over time, I learned that sometimes what I thought might be problem, was in fact not... It was the possible pending fall of the ax that was scary, but again, if one gets laid off, one does NOT have a choice of the time, place, or how it unfolds. So worrying about something that may or may not happen is VERY HARD TO SWALLOW, but a bit pointless. What does help is being helpful at the office should they ask, not freaking out at work about your current situation and making it worse, possibly saving A LOT more money if you are worried about being laid off and polishing all your job hunt materials so you are ready to send them out should the time come, mentally prepare for yourself for a game plan if it makes you feel better, and if any recruiters reach out to you, either ask them to keep in touch because you're not quite ready or only purse the super juicy offers that ARE your other dream jobs, by asking to see a job description. But you have to be very honest with those recruiters about your situation (say you are in limbo and have been because your boss left the company and the company wanted you to stay, but it's been 7 months), say you are only considering specific companies/EA to CEOs at Apple, Google, or whatever your dream job is.
They say that you should make the best decision you can with all the information you have NOW. And right now, I don't think you have enough information. It sounds as though working for your old boss at a new company is not in the cards any time soon. And I'm not sure if you loved the job because of the CEO, your company's mission, your co-workers, or all of it. So, in light of too many unknown variables, it may be best to collect the big paycheck and see what happens...
BL, I hope this advice has been somewhat helpful. Keep me posted on your journey and know that I have every faith in you that you will be fine.
***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 Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant.