“What I Wish Someone Told Me at the Beginning of My Career”

When I began my administrative career 20 years ago, I had no idea where it would take me. Starting out as a receptionist for a small family owned company, straight out of high school, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I wish I’d had someone to tell me these three things when I started:

  1. Customer Service, Customer Service, Customer Service – no matter your administrative role or who your customers are, learn their needs and make sure you’re meeting them!
  2. Forming a partnership with your boss is KEY!
  3. Training – it’s available everywhere, but you need to be your own cheerleader and motivation!

Customer Service: Since my time as a receptionist, I’ve held many different positions in the administrative capacity and I’ve learned over the years just how challenging and different each of those roles was. Each role was unique, in its own right, but also very similar.

An administrative role can be defined in so many different ways; but every role is a customer service role. As a receptionist, your main focus may be assisting those external customers on the phone and greeting them in person. You may be the face of the company in most cases and the role is extremely important. As an administrative assistant, your focus may be the internal customers, such as colleagues, managers, directors and so forth. In my experience, these two roles were mostly task-oriented. Someone gives you something to do and you follow a procedure or policy to get it done; however, tasks would usually come with some training in order to learn what to do.

Forming a Partnership: In my first role as an executive assistant 11 years ago, I was shocked when I realized what I’d gotten myself into. I had no idea what an EA did, but it was clear that it wasn’t the same from old to new and I didn’t have any resource to help or teach me what to do.  

I’d never managed a calendar, booked travel for anyone (other than myself), or even prepared meeting minutes. In my new role, my executive was expecting that I knew how to do all of these things and more, even though he knew I’d never been an EA. While all of those tasks would be learned over time, the one really important skill I needed was unknown to me – Forming a true partnership.

Forming a partnership with my executive was something I’d never heard of. I knew I would need to have a connection with my executive and he and I would need to be in sync with one another, but I had no idea what being his partner meant. I wish someone was there to give me these fundamental tips:

  1. It’s about what he/she wants – not what you want. You may have a certain way you like to do things, but you are there to assist them in their success. Knowing what your executive wants and how they want it, is key. Don’t demand they conform to your strategy – it won’t work. Present ideas for managing their world, but keep their preferences in mind.
  2. Your integrity is everything in your career! I’ve never betrayed a confidence, but I’ve seen it happen around me. If you betray your executive by sharing confidential information, you may as well change professions.
  3. If you do everything to make your executive’s life easier, the chances are they will reciprocate. Never stop asking for opportunities to grow in your career, whether through professional development and training or through promotional opportunities. If they’re a good person, they will always want to see you succeed as well!

Training: In every role of my career, the organizations I worked for didn’t provide any type of administrative training. No one ever spoke to me about professional development, joining professional organizations such as ASAP or IAAP or attending networking/training events like APC. I never even knew any of these things existed for administrative professionals. I thought the only way to professionally develop was to go back to school. That wasn’t an option for me and I often wondered if I’d ever really be able to grow in my career because of that.

About 5 years ago, during a casual conversation with the new corporate trainer, he asked if I was planning to get any administrative training that year. I said “huh?” with my head tilted to the side like a confused puppy. That was the first time anyone had asked me about administrative training and/or networking. He suggested I attend an administrative conference to determine if it was beneficial for me.

He told me about a conference called APC and advised that I attend. It took two years, with two new executives before I got approval to attend. I went to my first APC in Grapevine, TX and it was amazing!!

Since becoming an EA I’ve learned how to be my executive’s partner and have maintained a high-level of customer service, but the information, networking, and career development opportunities I discovered through organizations like ASAP have been instrumental, and at the 2017 APC, I’ll test for my PACE designation.

I wish I’d discovered these fantastic forums and long ago. They would have been instrumental in my early development as a partner to my executive. However, having now found all of these resources, the information, networking & career development opportunities I have at my fingertips will be instrumental in my continued development.

One day, I hope to be able to share my knowledge of this amazing profession with entry level admins and make a difference in their career. Here’s my ode to beginning that journey!

Christy L. Davis, CAP
Executive Assistant
The Weir Group