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.

 

 

 

3 Words to Slay the Office Phisher

It takes a person of strong character to be the front line of defense.

At least a three dozen times in my career I’ve had to politely change the direction of a conversation. Or, not so politely but definitely directly.

Here are some prime examples:

Sabotaging Peers

“I need to see the (other) department’s projections so I can adjust my numbers”

“Did you ever have an issue with so-and –so? I had no idea there was an issue.

When a management team member is offsite for private meetings

“Do you know who they’re meeting with?”

“Do you know what meeting they’re at?”

When personnel changes start at the top

“What’s going on?”

“Are we being bought out?”

“Are other people leaving?”

“Do you know if they’ve hired the new (fill in position name here)?”

People can be downright sneaky and manipulative trying to get information from assistants under the guise of helping or speeding up the process. Sometimes it is just someone making ‘small talk’.

Usually these false entreaties are reflective of fear or lack of control over a perceived situation. The person or persons may think, sometimes incorrectly, that the assistant is in the know.

Slay the Office Phisher with these words

“I don’t know.”

Say it pleasantly. Say it with a smile. Be calm in your tone. Sometimes we have to repeat frequently. Stating it patiently over and over.  Other assistants I’ve known will use, “Let me get back to you” but then somehow forget to do so.

At a previous job I had a mid-level manager hassle me for a solid fifteen minutes. I finally put my hand up and said, “You know I’m not at liberty to comment on any of your questions, so please stop.”  The phisher was quite startled—enough so to mumble an apology and walk away.

Your reputation for being able to keep discreet information locked away is superbly valuable. It is important to employ these powerful words consistently and wisely

How I Stay Focused on Work from Home Days

Feb2015_snowday

On a rare occasion, I’ll find myself with a day with few or no obligations. No obligations to drive my kid to a school function. No obligation to work or do laundry or to go to the grocery store.  Then, it hits me.

Oooh!  I can go see that movie I’ve wanted to go see. I can do a thorough cleaning of our guest room. I can go shopping. I can nap.I can write Thank You notes I owe. I can… aaaaaaaaaah!!
Too many choices!
Sometimes this happens. And I empathize with the issue of not being able to focus.

Here are some tips  (in addition to remembering to brew and drink coffee) I’ve gathered over the last few years that help me focus– especially when I’m working from home during a snow day because truly, I do have some obligations when I’m working from home and I need to get things done. I start work earlier when I’m working from home and therefore, build in more breaks to accommodate various distractions.

  1. Set appointments on my calendar for bathroom breaks and lunch.
  2. Set an additional 2 appointments for 10 -15 minutes each. The first appointment is to remind me to get up from my desk and stretch. The second appointment is for me to spend 10 minutes playing with my kid and my cat.
  3. Sometimes, if I’m super unmotivated- I’ll add in additional reminder appointments to ask me– Have you send so-and-so this? Have you posted that?

And, that is how I remembered that I wanted to post a blog today! But.. my timer says my break is done and I need to get back to work.

One month until I leave for Executive Secretary LIVE in London, and I can’t wait to meet so many amazing people!

An Interview with Victoria Rabin, CEO & Founder, Executive Assistants Organization

victoria-rabin-md-frame

CEO / Founder
Executive Assistants Organization (EAO)
Behind Every Leader Events (BEL)

Ever since Victoria Rabin came onto the platform for administrative training, her passion and energy has captured the attention of assistants all over the world.  Her unique approach, her ability to garner presentations from some of highest level EAs in the business world, and her willigness to take risks has taken EAO on a fantastic journey of almost three years.

I had the benefit of speaking with Victoria and several members of her team at the November 2013 Behind Every Leader conference in New Jersey.  I later approached her about sharing some of her story with you.

Q1. You’ve had a whirlwind tour ongoing for about two years. What would you say has been your biggest challenge during this time frame?  How about your biggest success, the thing you want to brag most about?

A1. Indeed, in a mere two years EAO has changed lives, including mine.  What once was an inspired vision has now been realized.  And with that, EAO has the honor and the responsibility to take this vision to the highest heights.

This is an ongoing mission, and just like all remarkable quests, it has not and will not be an easy.
But let’s face it, If it were easy, EAO would have been realized a long time ago. For decades, Assistants have not been given the resources and support they truly need to become indispensable in their role. Why? Because seldom times do assistants make a stand. Until now.

The challenge with redefining any industry to one of power and leadership is simple.. Change is not always welcomed without a guaranteed advantage or certainty. Having successfully launched twelve active EAO Chapters, multiple EAO events and Behind Every Leader Conferences, as well as garnered some highly respected press coverage, I believe that EAO has broken through and become an epicenter for senior Assistants around the globe.

Q3. Your assistants must be amazing. Tell us a bit about delegating and working with assistants after having been employed as one for many years.
 
The amusing irony is that I was a successful Executive Assistant working for great Executives.  I am now a great Executive working for the success of hundreds Executive Assistants.

My team at EAO is extraordinary.  We practice what we preach and ensure that communication, trust, and upmost respect remain at the forefront at all times. No one can create anything to an exceptional standard solo. Working in unison is the only way to be the best of the best. I adore my team.

Q4. Do you see distinct tiers re: the level of skills and professionalism among administrative professionals? I know I perceive that to be the case.  What do you think pushes some administrative professionals to excel while others do not?

There are administrative professionals and there are career Executive Assistants.  I can say with conviction that the two are different breeds. EAO works alongside the career assistant.  This remarkable group of individuals are hungry to excel and possess an insatiable drive for excellence. Much like their relentless Executives. . They do whatever it takes.

EAO is not for everyone. Intentionally. We work with EA’s that make a stake in their future. That invest in their future and exude a dedication to excellence.

Q5. I know EAO is headquartered in San Francisco.  Have there been any cities during your travels that have surprised you?

At EAO we do not comply with one fits all. Each and every EAO Chapter boasts its own heartbeat. . Its own character.  We ask the most important questions and then we listen intently to the feedback we receive.  Every EAO is completely different. . And this is what matters to our members, and to us.

Q6. What do you think is the toughest  skill and /or the toughest soft skill for administrative professionals to conquer?

Communication is and always will be highly sought after topic for development.  EAO teaches members how to build a symbiotic and unbreakable partnership between the EA/Executive.
The toughest of all is staying current with the latest technologies, apps and efficiency platforms. The only way to always remain ahead of the curve is to consistently educate yourself.  At EAO we are very privileged to have technology webinars seminars and workshops taught by industry giants.

In addition to continued education and training (which is paramount in every quest for excellence) the equally most crucial aspect of personal and professional growth,  is sharing knowledge expertise and best practices with each other.  At EAO we urge members to make a habit of doing this each and every day. Our slogan ‘every Member is a Mentor’

Q7. (And I gotta ask this..!)  Have you ever caught yourself being star-struck when working with a celebrity or their assistant on BEL?  Tell us about it.

I have met some incredible people over the years. Needless to say, this is one of the ‘perks’ of leading this organization.  The interesting part is that each and every celebrity employer and his/her assistant was soughd out and approached, often more times than once, by myself and team with an undeniable and relentless proposition to join us on this exciting journey.  For me personally, receiving their acceptance and shared belief is the most riveting part of the initial introduction

But let’s face it, the real stars are the assistants.  They are the ones that make the Executive’s world turn each day. And now it is our chance to place each and every one of these remarkable individuals on a pedestal. One of my favorite quotes portrays how EAO value our members;

“Next to Excellence is the Appreciation of it” ~ William Makepeace

Excuse me? Are you SERIOUS? Part II


What a difference time makes? I was recently reviewing my older posts as I’m prepping for a training session.. and I came across this beauty from February 2008.

Believe it or Not.. I had to really look at this story with a completely different perspective given the nation’s struggling economy. This posting looks like a choice! job option these days, no? I also notice that I mentioned the very issue that many of my peers are struggling with.. managing the administrative tasks for multiple executives.

I still think the posting is a bit much… it would be very difficult to be a successful admin in this job posting..but maybe the definition of being a successful admin has changed… and the real definition of a successful admin = an employed admin? Would love to know your thoughts on this.. Thanks..

——————————————–Reprint of Original Blog ——Feb 2008

Executive Assistant, Jr. (location and name have been removed)
We seek an experienced Administrative Assistant to Assist the Executive Assistant to the President. Will support 5 executives and assist with marketing and proposal efforts. Must communicate in an articulate fashion and be professional in appearance and attire. Strong writing and editing skills is a must. Marketing background is a plus.

Excuse me? Are you serious?

This is from a realtime job advertisement in a major city newspaper. No salary is listed.
They had me at the Jr. Junior? Supporting 5 (FIVE) executives and do proposal support.

What exactly do they mean by communicate in an articulate fashion? No mouthgards or braces? What if you only communicate in an articulate fashion in your native language, French. Can one still apply?

Obviously, this company is either looking for someone on their Manic swing of bi-polar or they re indulging in recreational narcotics.

Really! What is left out here.. is the obvious comment from HR.
“by the way, you know , the last person left here because they thought working for 5 persons was too much. And, frankly.. felt she could not possibly do any ONE task well… when being pulled in 5 directions and supporting the CEO’s EA.” We’re looking for a real superstar who can take on this challenge. (if you aren’t in boots now, your feet are already smelling funny from this baloney!)


JEEZ!

Ok.. I’ve stopped hyperventilating. Stopped wanting to send in a resume just to meet the persons at this company who think this career position could possibly be successful. But the point is, there are several advertisements in this paper for administrative staff positions and more than 50% of the postings state that the position would support more than one executive or staff members. Or the cleverly titled, “Team”.

Especially with downsizing… Administrative support staff are going to see more of this type of posting. The reality is, how to deal with accepting a job at which you may be setting yourself up for failure. Can you imagine taking on more than two executive egos? Even the very, very best certified administrative professionals would be wary of any position listed like this. The salary, benefits and vacation time would need to be superb to justify the effort.

Hey.. someone is game out there to give this job a whirl. Note this. As the economy tightens up, more and more job descriptions will look like this. Make sure you have upped your juggling skills. We’re all going to need them.


DC Area Event- 5/6/09 Joan Burge, President & CEO, Office Dynamics!

Friends, IAAP Members and any administrative staffer looking to improve your performance in the profession.. Check out this superb opportunity – May 6, 2009- Space is limited, but registrations are still being accepted as of 4/27/09.

Joan Burge Live!

Capital Chapter IAAP presents Joan Burge Live! A renowned author and administrative expert, Joan Burge, President & CEO, Office Dynamics, has been a visionary for administrative training and development since 1990. One of the first to venture into the administrative training industry, she has become an international administrative expert, trainer, author, and consultant. Joan will be speaking and autographing her new book, Underneath It All.

Date: Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Where: The American Institute of Architects
1735 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Cost: $10 IAAP Members, $15 Guests, $5 Students

To register and/or pre-order your copy of Underneath It All, please contact Patricia May CPS/CAP at 202.628.8410 or at pmay@alawash.org.

An Admin and the TaskList – Many methods, Same goal

I love lists. Every successful admin I know works with lists. They may use Outlook tasks or a composition notebook or their PDA, but they all use one.

The goal is to not drop the ball, miss the one little detail that is oh, so important. Recall the character in Devil Wears Prada… the admin always has a notebook in hand.

I recently switched up to a 180 page/college ruled/spiral notebook to keep track of my assignments at the temporary position I’m working. I’m covering quite a bit of ground…and it feels fantastic to check/cross/highlight items as they are completed.

Once or twice a week though, I email my supervisor with a task update- it’s separated into these sections:

  • Completed- including completion dates
  • In process- tasks that are still being worked on..and what is keeping it from being done
  • Need additional information- either I need additional info from my supervisor or it requires direction on next steps
  • Long term- what big tasks do I see coming up in the next 2-4 weeks.

This has been a very successful tool for me and allows my supervisor to add items, re-prioritize items or acknowledge all that’s been accomplished.