Defining ‘Administrative Professional’

For those of us in the administrative field, there are few things that can get us as fired-up as trying to define and explain the ‘career administrative professional’.  Let’s start with some  frequently asked questions about the profession.

  1. What is an administrative professional?
  2. Why is the title ‘Secretary’ insulting to some, but not to others?
  3. Why are there so many different titles?  (Hint: This is worthy of  a Ph.D. dissertation.)
  4. How can someone make a living in this career field?
  5. What skills are a must?
  6. What tests must be passed to be considered competent?
  7. Why do many employers require administrative professionals to be university-educated?

1.The term ‘Administrative Professional’ is a catch-all for the many different administrative roles. A sampling of titles would include:  Receptionist,  Director of First Impressions, Administrative Assistant, Chief Administrative Officer, Facilities and Procurement Manager,  File Clerk, Registrar, Secretary, Secretary to the Board, Private Secretary, Coordinator, Executive Assistant, Chief Executive Assistant, Personal Assistant, Office Manager, and probably more than 100 additional titles.

2. The issue with the title ‘Secretary’ is two-fold. One, it does not accurately encompass the  advanced customer service and project management skills that are required for success as an administrative professional today.  Two, it has a history of being used in a derogatory fashion in the workplace. He’s just a secretary! Or, she can’t do that, she’s just Al’s secretary.  Or, You don’t know anything, you’re just a secretary.  [Tell that to Ms. Moneypenny.]

3. In the United States, the Administrative Professional field gets sliced and diced by the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS.gov). [See my blog post from March 20, 2010 – What Makes An Executive Assistant?  Are  you a 43-6011?]  Under the BLS, the majority of positions come under the category of Office and Administrative Support Occupations.  There are more than forty categorizations under this grouping. No wonder it’s hard to define our field! Trust me, one day I’m going to visit the BLS and meet the team that covers our field. But that’s a task for another day!

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https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436011.htm

4.  See Number 3 above. If you visit the Occupational Statistics portion, you can search for the salary data. Mind you, it’s a year behind or so but, it is still valuable information to have in hand when making a case about salary.

5. Skills. Ah, yes. Skills. What skills are a must for the job? Well, that depends on a combination of job requirements, job description, company culture, individual supervisor preferences, Microsoft Office Suite testing, educational background and the unseen assumptions of the recruiter/human resource contact. It really can be that arbitrary. But, if you ask my opinion about basics, I’d say for a mid-level assistant you’d need to rate Intermediate to Advanced on the Office skills testing, pass any alternate test the potential employer requires (grammar, typing (no! Seriously, they still test on that nonsense!). And, if I had my say I’d require each and every candidate to answer phones for a day in my office for observation. How do they handle the call(s)? Are they polite? Do they know how to handle a challenging client? Do they know how to navigate a call that requires additional research before providing a response?

6.  See number 5 above: Microsoft Office Suite (Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, Excel)in the most current version. And again, admins are up against varying definitions of ‘competent’.  Next time you’re in an interview situation ask, “How do you define competent?” That’s going to provide some serious insight into what is needed to get the position.

7. If you want to start a serious, hot-pepper, fiery and emotionally charged discussion, bring up the topic of Degree vs. Non-Degree requirements for administrative positions. Experience is incredibly valuable. Experience in only office/company for the last twenty years, not-so-much. And before you torch me, let me explain. If an administrative professional has not changed jobs or companies, it limits the understanding of the business world around them. It can limit understanding the scope of skill changes in the field. It does NOT mean they cannot learn new skills or quickly grasp a company’s requirements. It does NOT mean they will not thrive and soar in the position. It means it will take them much longer to adjust and read the culture of the organization, especially if the majority of the administrative staff does hold at least an Associate degree. Often the requirement of a bachelor’s degree by a company is a cultural issue. It’s important to those in charge, those in the C-Suite or staff in Human Resources for a particular reason only they know.

I used to believe administrative professionals were at a distinct disadvantage without any college coursework on their resume. I’m not certain that is an accurate assumption. I suspect it may put them at a disadvantage when it comes to earnings. Mind you, I know many C-Suite Executive Assistants that have thrived and made bank without holding a college degree. I just know that I see that requirement in job postings more than not. I’m not sure what the answer is.

I believe Nick Fewings, founder of Ngagementworks, framed this debate  in the best way possible, focusing on the value of assistants.[Full article from Nick Fewings]assistant-value-ngagementworks-nick-fewings

When people ask me what my job was, I’d tell them:

My job is to get my executive where he/she needs to be, when he/she needs to be there, with a complete set of detailed background materials for whatever the day requires, in the most cost-effective and time-efficient manner possible.

My guess is there will never be an exact, accurate, complete definition of administrative professional but, you’ll recognize one when you work with one.

 

 

 

Be True To You, No Matter Where You Are

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Dunkin’ Donuts at Dubai Ice Rink,  Dubai Mall, Dubai UAE

Just a week ago I was on a 14 hour flight home from ExecSecLIVE Dubai. Here I am sitting on the couch, trying to be succinct about what I saw, what I learned, who I met, what I ate. Or maybe that isn’t so important.

Okay, maybe it is.

Here’s what I really took away from my experience.

  1. Be you. Be yourself. Don’t worry about comparisons
  2. Know your stuff (content)
  3. Learn from the attendees. At the Q& A, be open to learning from attendee questioning and feedback
  4. Honor the jet lag. Each of us had jet lag in varying degrees
  5. Always keep an open mind. I particularly appreciated hearing the message about completely mastering our core job duties before taking on more. So true
  6. Try new things! I went ice-skating in Dubai. Try new foods. I tried some very interesting stuffed dates and figs
  7. Be courteous in your host country. (Well, you should be courteous all the time but that’s another blog post.)
  8. Stop and listen. When meeting other attendees, listen more than you talk
  9. Our perceptions are not always accurate. I’m honestly not sure what I thought Dubai would be like, but I know that I found it to be a wonderful mix of modern and ancient.
  10. Our preconceived notions and stereotypes can and should be shoved aside– meet people where they are, as they are
  11. The weekend in Dubai is Friday and Saturday.
  12. It was obvious that the hotel was well-prepared for guests arriving all day and all night from all over the world. Many options were offered to help guests until rooms became available at check-in, including resting in the hotel spa at no charge.

I didn’t take my laptop to this conference. I took my Kindle. I had my phone. My goal was to not take so many pictures that I missed out on experiences. I also wanted to listen to the other presenters. I know if I had my laptop with me, I may not have been as attentive. That’s just the truth.

One last thought. I used to show the speaker picture (see below) to my friends and say, “One of these things is not like the other.” This was my way of saying I felt like I was not like the other speakers and did not belong there.

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Dubai 2016 Executive Secretary Live – Speaker Team

I will no longer utter those words. After a bit of research last week, I determined that I’ve delivered more than 100 presentations, taught more than 20 classes and have presented at the four major administrative conferences. Of course I belong up on that stage. And, I know now, more than ever, that there is no better way for me to be true to myself than sharing my administrative professional career experiences and life lessons with others. That’s why my motto is #KeepLearningKeepGrowing !

PS. I was so happy to find a Dunkin’ Donuts in Dubai!

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee & Conference Prep 2016

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It’s Annual Meeting  Time!

As usual, the last days before staff leave for our annual meeting was incredibly hectic with several challenges. It started with an unexpected visitor to our office building. The person was under duress of some type, had found themselves an unlocked utility closet on our floor, and had moved in for a bit– deciding to sing while there. Once several staff members realized what the issue was, the person was escorted to our building lobby and local officers assisted this poor soul from there.

Today, like most of the east coast, our internet service was interrupted by Denial of Service attacks. Fairly tough to function fully in today’s modern office setting without internet service. Gratefully, our VOIP phone system was not impacted. Our internet service returned prior to lunchtime today.

Also, I recently turned over the responsibility of ‘holding down the fort’ to the young woman who took over my front desk position. You can only prepare new staff so much for the week prior to annual meeting. It has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. And, this being the 50th Anniversary year for the association means extra stress while staff tries to address all the last-minute adjustments or issues. I have to say, our new temporary staff assistant handled the call volume like a pro today. Oh, did I mention we also had a dozen VIP visitors to our office today for a committee meeting that lasted half a day?

And, of course being cold and flu season.. Yes, there’s a nasty cold traveling our office. Boo Hiss. Coffee can fuel you but it can’t kill a cold yet.

The amazing thing about this is that I heard no yelling, no kvetching in the kitchen. We had plenty of food and coffee to keep the staff going as well as some well-timed bowls of Halloween candy. Now going on my eighth year with the association and having worked within associations for the majority of my career, I can say I’m happy to be one of several staff members staying behind. We can troubleshoot issues from our office and via our cell phones during off hours if need be. We also have an opportunity to get our work caught up and be prepared for the post-conference return of the staff, which will be quickly followed by a full-staff debrief of the conference.

I’m grateful that I get to work with some very fun and superbly talented folks. It makes these few intense pre-conference days far more tolerable. There is a mutual recognition and respect among staff that we are all in the same tsunami of last-minute preparations.

I can’t wait to hear all about the conference when our staff returns. In the meantime, I’ll be following all the happenings via #StaffingWorld posts on Twitter.

Safe travels to my colleagues. Hoping our conference is exactly the combination of educational content, networking and expo vendors attendees want.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work Your Package 2016

I’ve heard a great deal about this  women’s conference but had family schedule conflicts that kept me from attending. That’s about to change. Not only will I be at the Work Your Package Conference at the end of September, I’ll also be presenting a session titled,  Social Ain’t for Everybody, Just the Sexy People.

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#WYP2016

I’m always trying to push myself to meet new people, learn about different perspectives and help others. I’m very much looking forward to this conference. Check out the agenda. Single Day registrations are available and registration is open for twenty more days.

Here’s the link for more information!

 

 

 

 

 

Issuing the Clarion Call – The Administrative Field Has a Challenge To Face

Where does the career field go from here?

I’m airing dirty laundry.. the mostly unspoken and unwritten challenges faced by the administrative profession. I’m bringing up the uncomfortable stuff,  the elephant under the rug-stuff.

The State of the Administrative Profession.


Early in my career, I was hardly aware there were  any administrative organizations, I then recognized one or two of them because I was heavily involved with the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and my then employer would only pay for Fred Pryor Seminars.  Fast-forward these twenty years plus, and now there are individual trainers, teams of trainers, a multitude of professional organizations for administrative professionals plus the numerous conferences and publications available across the globe. It’s very exciting.

From the trainer’s perspective though, the changes in our career field are a bit more obvious. The administrative professionals that invest in professional development and continue to learn whether or not their employee emotionally or financially supports them are separating out from the rest of the crowd. Lucy Brazier, President and CEO, Marcham Publishing and Editor for Executive Secretary magazine, shared a stage with me last week at the 2nd Annual Symposium for Administrative Professionals at Delaware State University. Lucy noted the full-circle journey of the administrative support role— and how currently, she is seeing more and more businesses farm out clerical, basic administrative tasks to a pool (How quaint!?) of administrative professionals. The more career- invested, professional advanced administrative professionals are challenged with more managerial, budgetary and project driven responsibilities. The gap between the two segments has never been wider. I believe it may continue to grow.

These changes bring to mind a myriad of questions

  1. How does the profession continue to define itself for human resource and recruiting professionals?
  2. How do the leaders in our field present this career choice to students in the 14-18 year-olds, to whom our field is best represented by a character on a Netflix show or other visual media channel.
  3. How do the professional organizations representing our field see their role in this issue? Will they ever be able to work for the common cause of promoting the profession together instead of competing for members?
  4. Will the change in educational learning as it moves to more digital and less face-to-face learning, further erode the image of the profession because soft-skills (customer service, teamwork, manners, and protocols) can only be learned properly with face-to-face mentoring or on-the-job experience?
  5. What will the recruiters and human resource professionals do to fill the vacancies left as a large percentage of experienced and elite administrative professionals continue retire?  Will they even fill the job or will those positions be eliminated?
  6. How will we ever build consensus and a brilliant enough representation of our career field so that being and administrative professional is truly recognized as a career choice, as a legitimate career.

I feel these are the questions that all organizations, trainers, educational workforce programs representing the membership of the administrative profession need to face and address.  And, they need to do it through collaboration.  Energy invested in competing for members does not serve our field.  The energy invested needs to be in :

  1. Building the pipeline of competent young professionals that understand the value of our field.
  2. Establishing a long-term public relations campaign to highlight the value competent administrative professionals bring to businesses.
  3. Establish academic and data-driven research to support #2. We MUST have the data to support us –because businesses, boards and deans want research data. Prove it, we must. (Imagine Yoda as an admin!)
  4. Bringing administrative professional organizations together to agree upon the skills, titles and testing for the administrative career ladder.
  5. Establish business communications with the staff of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in the United States – to bring the Occupational Outlook and titles up-to-date.

Mind you, I only have my perspective and it’s limited to the rather large network to which I’m connected. But I think you, my peers, will agree that time is of the essence. The sooner we work together as a field to promote our profession, the less its importance will erode within the eyes of the business and human resource communities.

As always, I appreciate the thoughtful feedback. ~ K

By the way– I’m still a member of IAAP and ASAP. I’m an instructor in  workforce development focusing on the administrative profession. I have a paid subscription to Executive Secretary, and I’ve also written for several of these organizations.

Insights from the Receptionist Desk – Part 1: Communicating by Telephone

I’ve been in the admin field for a long, long time. I’ve been at my current desk for the past six years. What I’m about to tell you is no big surprise to anyone– People do not know how to communicate by telephone.

I don’t know if phone communication challenges are driven by so many people communicating via text now, or if people calling an organization are so used to NOT having a human being answer the phone — let me just say, it’s pretty disheartening.

Rather than document the myriad of astonishing calls I’ve answered, deciphered or directed, I think I’ll just share a few suggestions for getting assistance quickly when calling into a business. These suggestions are based on many years of phone answering experience.

1. Do some research to confirm that you have the correct phone number and the correct company. If you’re not sure the number is correct, it is perfectly acceptable to say to the receptionist, “I’m not certain I have the correct number, but perhaps you can help me.”

2. Always say Hello or Good morning/Good afternoon. Then follow the next three (3) steps.

  • Give your name- full name and company if you’re calling on behalf of your company. (My name is Jeff Carambe from ABECED.)
  • Ask for the person you are trying to reach (May I speak with John Lemon, please?) Or, if  you are not sure which person you need to speak with at the company,
  • Explain quickly (and we’ll cover this later) why you are calling this company– What’s your purpose? (I’d like to speak with Mr. Lemon regarding his May congressional testimony.)

This makes it very easy to provide the caller with assistance.  Any competent receptionist is going to be so grateful that you –> YOU know how to communicate when calling into a company!

At this point, the receptionist will connect you through to the line of the person you are calling. Now, suppose you immediately get voicemail Do the right thing!  Leave the same information plus your contact phone number or email on their voicemail. REPEAT your phone number twice so they don’t have to replay the message. Follow the prompt on the voicemail! Meaning if you want to speak with someone on staff, zero out to the receptionist and ask him/her if there is anyone else on staff that might be able to address Jeff Lemon’s testimony on the Hill.  Lastly, if you are on a deadline– leave that information on the message as well as letting the receptionist know.

Other suggestions

1. Don’t belittle or insult the receptionist.Being rude is rude and will not make things move faster or better, or more to your liking.
2 Don’t call from your subway ride, the library, your first-graders playground. Make the call when it is quiet and you can focus. So if you are calling while working from home, you might just want to put Fido in another room for a few minutes until you complete your call. I know you can’t always do this–but try.
3. Don’t ask the receptionist to page a staff member unless it truly is urgent.Like crazy urgent.
4. Don’t ask the receptionist for his/her opinion on an issue you are having w/a staff member, the company website, the policies of the organization or how they like the job. It’s not the receptionist’s role to speak on behalf of the organization that responsibility belongs to the Public Relations team.
5. Never hurts to say –Thank you for your assistance. Never.
6. Remember that some worker bees prefer to chunk block their calls which is why it is always a good idea to leave your contact information. This allows the staff member to return your call when they can respond uninterrupted, and you are respecting their preferred work method without even realizing it!
7. If you are nervous or it’s a complicated issue, SCRIPT your question beforehand. I used to think this advice was complete rubbish. Now I understand and respect how having your thoughts written out ahead truly smooths the way!
8. If you have left a staff member a message but have not had a return call after twenty-four hours, you’ve got a few options to get to a resolution. A)You can email the staff member and use the subject line – Please respond to my inquiry about (Fill in the Blank). B)Call the main number and ask the receptionist if that staff member is out on extended leave or ask for the contact information for another team member in the same department. C) As a last resort, request the supervisor’s contact information to nudge the resolution along.

Not all organizations believe in having a human being answer the main company phone line, but I certainly know that navigating an auto-attendant system can sometimes be more frustrating than having a call transferred several times within a company.

–> Next blog: Insights from the Receptionist Desk Part 2: Communication Challenges – Auto-Attendant Systems and Awful Receptionists

Eve 12/Day 11- Countdown to Executive Secretary Live

I wanted to provide a short list of people that I admire and learn so much from via social media. Sharing information is a good thing!

1. Kate Nasser /@KateNasser – Kate is one of the first customer service leaders that I connected with through Twitter. She does a 10am eastern tweetchat on Sunday mornings – #PeopleSkills chat. Her web site is www.katenasser.com

2. Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt.  These two gentlemen authored, World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive.  They also are the most amazing tweeps- >sharing HELPFUL information, resources and advice via their respective Twitter handles @TedCoine and @MarkSBabbitt.

3. Brian Fanzo aka @iSocialFanz on Twitter. I met Brian through the #Tchat tweetchat on Wednesday evenings, 7pm eastern. Little did I know I was connecting with an unbelievable vault of social knowledge, but someone as excited about social as I am.  His site – iSocialFanz.com.  And, he even loves NFL and NHL as much as I do (albeit a rival team..but that’s okay).

More resources to be posted tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy this thought from Vala Afshar, CMO, Extreme Networks — from his twitter feed in the last 24 hours.  I love to follow his posts.  Inspiring!  @ValaAfshar

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