IYOTSA 2014 Series #2 -Interview with Bonnie Low-Kramen – Part Two

PART II of my interview with the amazing Bonnie Low-Kramen, Author, Best selling author, Be The Ultimate Assistant

Q1.  Can you tell us about one of the most challenging situations you had as an assistant? And, how you approached resolving it?

It was the challenge of being a working mother which I think is pretty common. I often felt torn between my desire to be a great mom and my drive to be an ultimate assistant. I began working with Olympia Dukakis two years before my son Adam was born. When I discovered I was pregnant, I had a conversation with Olympia and asked if she thought it was possible to do both jobs well? Olympia is the mother of three children. She didn’t hesitate. Her answer was, “Absolutely without a doubt, yes. I think working mothers are the best employees to have because they have to be so organized and together.”

I clung onto that answer when I would bump up against those inevitable times when I would be traveling or needing to work and I would miss an important baseball game or a spelling test or a school dance. Hearing about it on the phone a day later felt pretty icky and like so many working moms, I had my share of guilt. I missed some precious little things too like driving Adam to school. I loved doing that. It’s amazing how much you can talk about in 10 minutes, isn’t it? I wished for heavy traffic.

As the years went on, my approach to resolving these conflicts was to try to plan as best I could so as to not miss the most important events such as the SATs and the proms. When I saw a scheduling problem, I would discuss it with my family and with Olympia. I realized I didn’t have to solve it alone. Adam appreciated that I talked about it with him and he was very understanding – most of the time. What mother doesn’t cringe at the words, “But you are never here!” Suffice it to say that I had to make some very tough decisions and I beat myself up pretty badly. I know I am not alone in this dilemma.

I loved being a working mom. My best advice is to not isolate and to share the challenges about needing to be in two places at once. Can one of us please figure out how to do that?

I happen to think that women can have it all. The caveats are that we can’t have it all at once and we need help and support. We cannot do it alone. No one can. If there is anyone who has, I haven’t met them yet.

Q2.  Traveling the world to meet and train assistants must be fascinating. My experience teaching has been that there can be a significant variation of skill set levels within the administrative assistant community.  Do you see this as well?

It is often difficult to quickly gauge an assistant’s skill level until I read their resume and/or see a writing sample. The more readily apparent skills are in public speaking and personal presentation. The clearest learning gap that exists in the workplace today is in MS Office and in Social Media because these technologies are changing so quickly. It is extremely challenging to keep up with the latest and newest. When an assistant says that she is “tech savvy,” it is very important to explore what does that mean exactly?

It is no surprise that the skill set levels are all over the map since so many assistants have received little to no training in their careers. Never before has professional development been more important in the workplace. When I first started, I was “winging it” every day because there were no books or classes to take. Now that there are, assistants must be proactive about seeking supplemental training to stay relevant, marketable, and employable.

Investing in and paying for training for the administrative staff is, astonishingly, still a fairly new idea for most companies in 2014. That must change in order for admins to stay competitive in an extremely challenging workplace. It is smart business for leaders to invest in training as it is one of the strongest motivators in job satisfaction.

Assistants need to take a close-up and personal look at their own skill set and determine where they need updates and improvement. Vickie Evans helps our students to do exactly that.

My advice to our Ultimate Assistant students is to actively seek training, even if they have to pay for all of it or part of it themselves. It is totally worth the investment in themselves. With some employers, it is a process and they will eventually pay for training if it presented in a justified way.

Q3. Tell us what you like to do to recharge YOUR batteries?!

I am a huge movie buff and crazy for stand-up comedy. I love the extremes. Crying my eyes out at a movie (The Green Mile, I Am Sam, and The Way We Were) and laughing until my stomach hurts are two of my favorite things to do (Kathleen Madigan, Louis CK, and John Pinette.)

Also, my idea of a good time is to sit out on my back patio on a gorgeous day with a notepad, a pen, and a bottomless glass of lemonade and write, write, write. OK, sometimes it is my laptop and a glass of cabernet. I let my mind just go and do what Vickie Evans describes as a “mind dump.” And then, of course, go to the Jersey shore – or most any beach for that matter – to listen to the surf. Heaven.

Q4.  What social media platforms do you like to utilize? Any preferences?

I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, including 50 Linked In discussion groups. I am intrigued by their power to disseminate information at the speed of light. I am also struck by the idea that whatever we are all putting out there is forever. My personal policy is I do not send out anything that I would not feel comfortable being on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow. Doing this helps me sleep at night.

I think social media is infiltrating every aspect of our lives and that we have seen only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s vital to participate but we need to be careful.

Q5. Recently, a media story about a nasty LinkedIn response to a request to connect went viral.  Are you familiar with this story?  How would you advise admins to connect to someone they would like to meet or get mentor assistance from but haven’t met the person?

Brevity and honesty are key. Start short and sweet to begin a relationship with anyone, online or otherwise. Tell the person what caught your eye in their profile. Sincere compliments are good. Use the words “please” and “thank you.” Be clear that you are asking for guidance and if you ask for “10 minutes” on the phone, be sure to respect that promise. Offer help in return.

My own personal pet peeve are the people who contact me asking me for help to find a new job (for example,) and they do not use “please” or “thank you” or give any acknowledgement to the idea that I might be busy with other things. I find all of those things rude and disrespectful. To me, this is Assistant 101 and this behavior tells me they probably would not be an excellent assistant.

There is no excuse for rudeness in any medium, however. In response, I write what I need to say in a professional and polite manner. (See comment above I Q #4 about the New York Times!) After all, I am a teacher. If I don’t tell them, who will?

IYOTSA Series #2 Meet the Amazing Bonnie Low-Kramen – Part One

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk on the phone with Bonnie about her training series when she last visited Washington, D.C.  I had the honor of attending the session that she and Vickie presented at Executive Secretary Live in London last March.  You know that feeling you get when you recognize someone with the same dedication and passion about their career? Well, it struck  like lightening when I finally met Bonnie (and Vickie) face-to-face.  I present the first part of my two-part interview with Bonnie Low-Kramen. ~ Kemetia

Q1. Your experiences of traveling and training administrative leaders gives you a unique perspective. Has there been an ‘a-ha!’ moment when you’ve recognized a repeating pattern of meeting with so many in the field? 

It hasn’t mattered whether we’ve been in Chicago, Dallas, New York City, or London. ALL assistants are dealing with the same issues and have so much more in common than not. I am always struck by their intelligence, openness, and great appetite for knowing more. Our students are assistants at the highest levels and they come because they are hungry to learn more, to test themselves, and to get to know others.

The #1 challenge of assistants globally has to do with speaking up, as in the reluctance, inability, and refusal to speak up when they know they should but they don’t. In our workshops, I teach that assistants often know better about certain things than anyone in their office including their managers, and therefore, have an obligation and responsibility to speak up. By the end of our two days together, our students are leaning in and speaking up. The transformation – every time – is remarkable and visible.

Another very disturbing pattern I see globally is that bullying is epidemic, not only in the US but in the UK and all over the world. There is too much suffering in silence, leading by fear and intimidation, and too much tolerance of inappropriate behavior. We need to break the silence. This poison is damaging to the global workplace and costing millions of dollars. Our leaders (CEOs, HR) need to know what is going on and supported to take action because not only is it smart business, it is the right thing to do.

Q2. Would you say there is one particular skill or tool that experienced admins tend to let slide?

Tech skills – and for good reason. Most companies spend thousands of dollars on hardware and software but very little money investing in the people behind the keyboard who are operating the applications. Vickie Sokol Evans (www.redcapeco.com) reports that most users are only using 13% of an application’s capabilities! Imagine the increased productivity if the assistants were offered focused training that could bring them up to even 25%.

Vickie is a former assistant and a Microsoft Certified Trainer so our students benefit from the specific tips and tricks that every assistant needs. We have students who literally cry from happiness over the time they are going to save on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Plus, they will look like the superstars they are!

The assistants who want to ensure their continued employment, marketability, and relevance are committing to staying up to date on their tech skills, including social media. They are putting pressure on company management to offer training and allow time off to attend workshops. Assistants are making the justifiable case that the financial investment in training is like spending pennies to make dollars. The pay-off for companies is huge if they invest in the professional development of the assistants. From where I sit, it is not an option anymore for companies that truly want to stay competitive in 2014 and beyond.

Q3.  How did you come to partner up with Vickie Sokol Evans for your ‘Be The Ultimate Assistant’ training programs? Bonnie and Vickie

Vickie and I have known each other for about 10 years through a mutual colleague at New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA.) As a co-founder and Board member of the organization, I brought Vickie in to present to several NYCA meetings and I saw what a powerful teacher she is. I believe she is the best technology trainer in the world and this is not hyperbole.

My idea was to design the workshop that I wish had existed when I first started my career working for Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis 25 years ago. I knew that it had to have a substantive tech component and my first phone call was to Vickie to discuss it. I know that Ultimate Assistants in today’s workplace need training in both the soft skills and the hard skills. Simply put, assistants will fail if they only have one skill set and not the other.

Vickie and I share a deep passion and commitment to effecting positive change in the work of the assistant. We are philosophically aligned and we have a deep respect for one another. She told me she would love to teach the tech component of the workshop and we agreed to begin with one to see how it would go.

I resigned from my work with Olympia in 2011 and Vickie and I just completed workshop #13 in Toronto!

Q4.  What insight would you share with administrative professionals that feel that their current job is intolerable and plan to leave it without a job offer in place?

I have heard from many assistants who contact me for help to find a new job because they are quitting their job usually due to a bullying situation between themselves and their manager or with a co-worker. The thing that gets me is that most are quitting before they ever even said anything to the person they are having the problem with! The discomfort and pain of confronting the situation is simply impossible for them and it is easier to quit.

Many of my students and assistants I mentor end up regretting doing that.

Before you quit, speak to 2 or 3 trusted colleagues/mentors about possible actionable solutions to save the situation. Do not act impulsively or out of emotion. I know that this is very hard to do and that is why assistants need support and training.

That said, all jobs come to an end and some sooner than later. Use the support of colleagues to help you decide if the end has come for you. In most cases, I advise not leaving before you have a new job but sometimes, it is better to get out of a toxic situation that will save your sanity and your soul.

Most assistants report that after they finally break free of a toxic work situation, that they go onto a much better situation and that they are on a path of improved growth. I love the emails from our students telling me that they spoke up and there was a GREAT result. There are lots of wonderful success stories! And here’s the thing – those success stories build confidence for the NEXT time an assistant needs to speak up.

Q5. If you could have a meeting with the Fortune 100 Human Resource Executive Officers to discuss administrative hiring and professional development- What would your message be?

I would discuss the idea that what staff, especially a predominantly female one, want the most are Respect, Appreciation, Fair Compensation, and a Sense of Value in the Company – in that order. If they want the company to be productive and profitable, they must invest in their people and actually ask them what they need and want in order to do their work.

I would discuss the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and why this is important.

And…I would advise them to give a copy of my book “Be the Ultimate Assistant” to every hire!


Bonnie Low-Kramen – Best-selling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant, A celebrity assistant’s secrets to working with any high-powered employer, Bonnie Low-Kramen worked for 25 years as the Personal Assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis.

Bonnie Low-Kramen

Her passion is about improving the American workplace through the training of assistants in workshops and presentations in major U.S. cities, Toronto, and London. Bonnie is a co-founder of New York Celebrity Assistants and is a contributing writer to Executive Secretary Magazine and Glassdoor.com, a workplace blog. Bonnie and Vickie Sokol Evans are traveling the world with their “Be the Ultimate Assistant” 2-day workshops, training inside companies, and speaking at global Conferences. Their passion and commitment is to inspire a healthy, productive and mutually respectful workplace through the empowerment and training of the world’s assistants.

Other ways to follow Bonnie: http://www.bonnielowkramen.com   Twitter  @BonnieLowKramen

LinkedIn  BonnieLowKramen   Facebook  Be the Ultimate Assistant page

Fantastic Response to IYOTSA 2014

Super excited to say that I’ve had a fantastic response to my request for interviews for the IYOTSA 2014 project.

The idea is to showcase amazing administrative professionals and trainers from all over the globe. We are a wonderful and powerful group of business leaders in our own right. To be able to kickoff the blog year with the superb Sue France has been wonderful.

But wait… there’s more!

I’ve received more than a dozen suggestions of admin leaders to spotlight- so I may have to adjust this schedule and highlight more than 1 or 2 a month.

If you’re not familiar with International Year of the Secretary and Administrative Assistant (IYOTSA) 2014. Please do visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/iyotsa2014 or the group within LinkedIn.  You may even want to join in on the fun project of posting your photo as part of their ‘Face of a PA’ campaign.  PAs are the equivalent of EAs and AAs here in the States.

Stay tuned as I hope to post up the next interview with a truly extraordinary woman I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice. I’ll never forget the day I got a call from her!  It was an adrenaline rush, but it was also showing the true heart of professional admins looking out for one another.  Hope to have that interview post up in the next few days.

Until then– #KeepLearningKeepGrowing


Meet Author Sue France, Part Two

If you’re an admin… You need to get to know Sue France. Sue is a wonderfully positive person and amazing author of two books dedicated to the administrative profession. I had the pleasure of meeting with Sue in March 2013 at the Executive Secretary Live! conference in London.

I really enjoy networking with peers here in the United States, but also with our peers from around the globe.  Sue is an international trainer and coach for administrative professionals, along with a host of other skills. You can learn more about her books and products at http://www.suefrance.com or join her LinkedIn discussion group – ‘Tips For Office Professionals Worldwide’.

For now though, let’s get to know Sue! She kindly responded to the questions I posed. There is so much great information, I split the interview into two parts. (Part 1 link here)

Part Two: Sue France Interview

Q6Speaking of travel, I believe you’ve traveled to Singapore, Dubai and Thailand to train administrative professionals. What are your insights into the profession in these other countries? 

A6.  The countries I have worked in so far are: Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Johannesburg, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Cyprus, Poland, Ireland, America and the UK of course, unfortunately I have not worked in Thailand yet but would love to and also Canada, India and would love to work more in the USA.  Of course there are cultural differences in the way we shake hands and wear clothes and of course in Saudi they are mainly male Assistants but in the main all assistants have the same issues, problems and require the same learning and development.

Q7. When you are leading a training class, are there any topics that tend to ‘catch’ the class? For example, my experience in working with less experienced administrative professionals are that the edges tend to be rough and it takes time for the students to comprehend business etiquette. Do you see some of this when you are training? 

A7.  I tend to find that delegates are very quiet at the beginning of the workshop and fairly shy with each other but by the end of the workshop they are like a family and presenting and feeding back group findings to each other with ease and exchange emails to keep in touch post the training. I have found that all my delegates grasp what I am teaching fairly quickly and especially enjoy their increased confidence, advanced communication and working with difficult people and situations sessions.

Q8. What has been the most enjoyable or memorable event you’ve had in your training career?

A8.  I have got to say in all honesty that I have enjoyed meeting every delegate and enjoyed every single workshop I have run and every conference I have spoken at.  Having said that, the most memorable is probably the 2 day workshop I ran in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia because their culture is so different and it was a class of 100% male Assistants.  I was the only lady in the hotel and they were all acted as gentlemen towards me.   They still have the same issues as all other Assistants but it’s the only time I have not had any female assistants in my workshop or see any other females in the hotel at all. When I went into the town I wore an abaya dress covering me from neck to toe although I didn’t have to wear the scarf and I didn’t have to wear the abaya in the workshop.  It was an adventure as well as enlightening as I love learning and experiencing different cultures.

Q9.   Any caveats you’d like to share as it relates to the administrative career field?

A9.   I believe that everyone in the admin career field should be passionate about their role and really understand how important the role is and how important they are.  I never want to hear anyone saying “I am just a ….”  It is a career and should be treated as such and especially at board level this role is extremely important and you have the opportunity to influence top management and be their 2nd brain and right hand person.  Remember you are in a role that will understand what is going on at all levels and can give informed advice and decisions to your boss who will not understand everything and everyone as much as you do as you are the one with your ears to the ground as well as understanding the vision and mission of your boss and organisation.

Q10.  Any thoughts you’d like to share with recruiters or human resource personnel when it comes to evaluating administrative professionals? 

A10.  When recruiting, I would say that they should take into consideration, as being of great importance and an advantage, if the Assistant is a member of a network for Assistants such as IAAP or European Management Assistants.  I believe this proves how much the Assistant values networking with like- minded people, learning, self-development and their career as an Assistant as they have joined on a voluntary basis in their own time.  This is even more important when they take on voluntary roles within the organisation like Chapter Presidents and other leadership roles.  I firmly believe that organisations should pay for their membership subscription in support of their proactive attitude towards their career.

Meet Author Sue France !- An Interview – Part One


Visit her site at http://www.suefrance.com

If you’re an admin… You need to get to know Sue France. Sue is a wonderfully positive person and amazing author of two books dedicated to the administrative profession. I had the pleasure of meeting with Sue in March 2013 at the Executive Secretary Live! conference in London.

I really enjoy networking with peers here in the United States, but also with our peers from around the globe.  Sue is an international trainer and coach for administrative professionals, along with a host of other skills. You can learn more about her books and products at http://www.suefrance.com or join her LinkedIn discussion group – ‘Tips For Office Professionals Worldwide’.

For now though, let’s get to know Sue! She kindly responded to the questions I posed. There is so much great information, I split the interview into two parts.  Here’s Part One.

Q1.  Tell us how you came into the administrative profession.

A1.   I came into the administrative profession because I chose this profession when I was 15 and chose to attend secretarial college for 2 years whilst doing an A level in British Government and Politics and studying commerce as I thought it would be useful knowledge in my chosen career.

Q2.  You live in the U.K. In the U.S., there are programs in vocational schools and in the community college systems that offer coursework related to becoming an administrative assistant. Is there an equivalent in the U.K.? And if so, what type of courses are offered?

A2.   Colleges and training companies do offer specific training for administrative assistants either on site or home learning or a combination of both.  For example there is a college in the UK called Lewis College and their courses are in the main online courses and are mapped out against OCR qualifications.  OCR is a leading UK awarding body, providing qualifications for learners. The Lewis College ‘Secretary Intensive’ course covers 8 key OCR level 2 modules for example.  The course covers office procedures, diary management, organising travel, organising meetings and events etc. Lewis College have asked me to conduct 2 day workshops to help the delegates to consolidate their learning and bring the role of the Assistant alive and help to develop them further. The workshops also allow for networking with like-minded people. My workshops include developing business relationships, networking successfully, handling difficult people and situations, understanding the role of the ultimate business partner and strategic assistant, time and stress management and ergonomics etc. There are also other training companies who offer secretarial raining such as Reed Learning whom I am an associate trainer for.  There are training centres where you can learn all aspects of the secretarial role plus all technical training on word, outlook, excel, shorthand etc.  I do believe that all Assistants should be touch typists to be able to do their role to the best of their ability and to lessen any health hazards.

Q3.  What was the hardest skill for you to master when you entered the profession?

A3.   The hardest skills for me to master when I entered the profession was to type in French (which I had to do occasionally) being a native English speaker, making sure that all spelling and grammar was correct taking into consideration I worked on an old fashioned typewriter with carbon paper back then!

Q4.  Are there any skills that you are working on now or want to learn?

A4.  I am constantly learning new things by reading books, surfing the internet, attending conferences and workshops, webinars and seminars in order to update my skills.  I also learn from the delegates in my workshops.  As a Fellow member of The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development it is a requirement of my membership that I achieve ‘Continual Professional Development’ and I therefore regularly attend CIPD networking meetings which often have interesting speakers.  I am currently studying neuroscience to further understand our brains and how best to use them most effectively to help us in our work.

 Q5. The administrative profession here in the States is generally perceived as an entry-level career. Does this translate over to the U.K.?  Or to other countries to which you’ve traveled?

A5   This does kind of translate in the UK depending on the level you are going to work at of course.  If you are going for a job working with the CEO or Managing Partner then it certainly isn’t entry level.  However due to the recession we are finding that graduates are trying to get into companies by becoming assistants with the aim of moving up the ladder and through the ranks and into the roles they really want which I actually think is unfair for the career assistants.

Part Two of Meet Author Sue France- will be posted on 12/20/13.~ Kemetia

Special Announcement – A Year-Long Series Dedicated to Admin Leaders You Should Know

IYOTSA- 2014 |  Admin Leaders You Should Know

I could think of no better way to celebrate the kickoff of the International Year of The Secretary & Administrative Assistant (IYOTSA) than to highlight ‘Admin Leaders You Should Know’.

That’s right!

For all of 2014, Adminrenegade.com will be dedicated to introducing you to administrative peers from across the globe. Sue France, FCIPD/INLPTA, will be featured in a two-part blog post to help us get an early start for the 2014 IYOTSA series.

To learn more about how you can be involved with IYOTSA, visit the Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants website.

To be notified when a new blog post is available, follow me on Twitter – @OfficeRenegade or here on WordPress.

Shhhh.. I’ve got a surprise coming your way!

I’ve got a great two-part blog post coming — featuring a leading international administrative trainer and author.  I should have this post up by December 6 if not before. 

In the meantime remember #AdminsRock  #KeepLearningKeepGrowing



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