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?