Welcome to the first installment of our Career Corner Interview series! ASAP offers a welcoming space for admins to discuss their career trajectories, professional successes, and personal experiences. We hope this series inspires the next generation of administrative professionals by highlighting seasoned admins and showcasing potential career paths.
This month, we're spotlighting Shelli Wassall. Read on to discover more about her personal journey towards becoming an Executive Assistant at ADB Companies in Pacific, Missouri.
One piece of advice my mom gave me growing up was, “Learn to type. You can always find a job if you know how to type.” I took that to heart and took every opportunity I had in middle school and high school to learn how.
I started my administrative [career] pretty early. At the age of 19, I found myself working in an office environment as a customer service representative. By 21, I became a receptionist, and by 23, I was an administrative assistant for a construction company.
With each new role, I was eager to learn more. I asked the administrative professionals within my company lots of questions and offered to help with projects. I was often bold enough to ask their managers if I could assist them with anything. After becoming as mom and taking a hiatus, I inquired of my previous employer to see if they knew of anyone looking for administrative help, and I was invited back to become the Executive Assistant to the President.
I stayed with that company a total of 20 years, assisting the President/CEO, Treasurer, COO, CEO of the Solar Division, Safety Manager, two project managers, and two sales professionals. Eventually, I sought a position within a larger corporation to exclusively become an Executive Assistant to one Executive. Then, a year into my role, I was asked to support an additional Executive who is in a remote city. This has proved challenging for us both, but we have been able to get into a good groove and make it work. I love my current role and who I support. I look forward to work each day and Mondays don’t scare me like they did in the past!
Coming into my current role, I realized I didn’t know the joy that comes with being an executive assistant. My previous role was challenging, but I didn't feel my strongest gifts and talents were being utilized in the best way possible. It was very mechanical and not as personal as my role is now, so I fell into the trap of believing that I was “just an admin,” “just support staff,” and that “I wasn’t very important.”
Joining my current team has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I am respected for what I do and I am always reminded of how I am part of the team and not “just there to clean up at the end of the party.” I am brought to the table on big decisions and planning sessions, and I am always welcome to join in on the fun times.
My job is very rewarding. At the end of the day, I feel like I have made a positive difference in the lives of those I support. I am fulfilled when I can see the fruits of my labor. The satisfaction of managing their greatest asset—time—in a way that keeps them from going crazy is almost unexplainable. When I see the pieces fit and their demeanor go from stressed to more relaxed, I feel like I’ve done my job. I feel free to share my caring and giving nature to make their lives more enjoyable.
However, being an EA also has its share of challenges. Most people respect what I do, but there will always be nay sayers, or someone on the outside who doesn’t understand completely what we do as administrative professionals. We do more than manage a few calendars and set a few meetings. You can teach anyone processes, procedures, software programs, etc., but you can’t teach someone how to “just have it.” You either possess the emotional intelligence to support others, or you don’t.
Being an EA requires the ability to develop healthy relationships with those you interact with on a regular basis, and those who want to challenge our careers don’t fully understand this. Constantly trying to prove yourself to those who will never understand is exhausting and I have had to learn (and I’m still learning) how to let it roll off.
Executive assistants are a rare breed. The willingness to help someone succeed and receive glory while you fade into the shadows is a true gift. I’m not saying we don’t ever deserve a pat on the back, but that is not our top priority. Those we support are our top priority.
If you choose to enter this profession, it is important to have:
You represent the person you are supporting. Your Executive should feel comfortable putting you in front of a customer, peer, or board member in their absence. Our appearance and demeanor should reflect them. When we leave a lasting impression on someone in the Executive’s circle, we make them look good.
You will “take bullets” from time to time for your Executive. You are often a sounding board for someone who is upset and there are times you will cover your Executive’s tracks by taking responsibility for something they missed or “messed up” on. It’s not necessarily expected of you, and many times you will be told, “you didn’t have to do that,” but it’s in our nature to let them shine.
You must always be willing to pivot from the original plan. While it’s a great feeling when everything falls into place, there are often times when your plans will be completely changed due to unforeseen circumstances. You can’t take it personally. Your organizational skills will be challenged, but nothing will be impossible to work through.
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