Let's face it: sometimes all you really want at work is your own way. Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can be better at my job - we all do. However, sometimes it just comes down to that basic human desire to exert some control over our environment. For example, the other day I was so frustrated! I had brought a delicious ham salad sandwich to work made with the last of the weekend's picnic ham. I would like to point out it was clearly labeled and dated when I put it in the fridge. However, when I went to get my yummy lunch, I discovered that it - along with most of the rest of the contents of the fridge - were gone. Some well-meaning, fridge-cleaning jerk had pitched my sandwich! Needless to say I was hungry and really steamed. I don't mind if people clean the fridge, but we need a schedule. Is it really that hard? Well, I put my anger to work and drew up a calendar for fridge-cleaning in the future. I placed it on the fridge so that people could sign up on the highlighted days to clean the fridge and added a note saying that these were the only days on which the fridge should be cleaned. (Of course, I got my boss' approval first). Now we have a policy for cleaning and I am less likely to lose my next sandwich.

So do you think I'm just bragging or whining? Well, I'm not. I'm describing one of the best ways to get your way at work: take control. Most people in an office are not particularly interested in taking initiative. They will follow stated instructions. So if you want to get your way, become the source of those instructions. Be nice about it. Do not storm into offices yelling out directions and criticisms. If you can, you may not even want to notify anyone that the instructions they are getting are from you (my fridge post, for example, was unsigned and most people think that my boss implemented the rule). Be subtle and tread lightly for the best results.

Of course, you will not always be able to get your way with a simple, printed note or a post-it. Sometimes, you will need a bit more diplomacy. One way to make sure that this is effective is to moderate your responses. For example, do not blow up at every little thing. Save your irritation for the big things. Then, when you actually get angry, you will get a response other than eye-rolling. Just knowing you have the ability to make changes at the office can go a long way toward improving your work mindset. You will find that when you know change is within your power, you are willing to use that power judiciously and wisely.


One of the hardest things I ever had to do was work for one supervisor while also managing the entry hall in an administrative building. When I was hired, I was assigned to handle one supervisor's schedule. However, since that supervisor's office was directly off the building's atrium, his administrative assistant had always managed the desk in the front hallway, serving as the first point of contact not just for people coming into the building, but also for people calling the department. When I took the job, I was pleased by the arrangement because I felt like I was right in the middle of things. However, it turned out that right in the middle meant that everyone in the entire building thought I might be working for them.

Next thing I knew, I was making copies for the lady upstairs; two other administrative assistants were forwarding their phones to me for nearly three-hour lunches and other "errands," and I had access to every calendar in the place "just to make scheduling easier." And it was not to make scheduling my boss' meetings with their supervisors easier, it was to help make sure I could access calendars and set meetings without even having to bother those other assistants. At first, I thought that I was working as a team. I was actually happy to have all of this stuff to do. However, the first time I got a real project with a real deadline from my own boss, I realized how much trouble I was in. I barely had time to read the background information on it between answering phones and putting out fires that should not have been mine in the first place! I knew I was going to miss that deadline if something did not change fast.

Fortunately, my boss was really understanding when I talked to him about it and sorted everything out without creating any serious turmoil - though the other administrative assistants were not happy about cutting their lunches back down to size. If you find yourself in a similar situation, before you agree to take on any additional responsibilities, talk to your direct supervisor and make sure that he or she approves the changes and that you have a very clear, written description of what will be required of you and, ultimately, who will make the decision about expanding or contracting those responsibilities. It is not unreasonable when you are first starting out in a job to ask, flat out, who you should report to. It is a responsible thing for you to do to insure that you understand the chain of command and to also guarantee that you are able to keep the number of people telling you what to do at a manageable level. 

The first time I went to work for a CEO as an administrative assistant, I was definitely nervous. However, all my friends and colleagues spent a lot of time reassuring me that "CEOs are just like everyone else" and that "they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you." By the time I was done psyching myself up for the position, I had just about managed to convince myself that since I put my shoes on first right and then left, breathed oxygen just like everyone else and could type that I would be just fine. And, ultimately, I was, but if I'd have a better idea of what things actually matter when you are working with the truly "higher-ups" in a business, I would have had a much easier time of it.

Here are some things I wish I'd done ahead of time before starting to work for "my" CEO:

Boned up on my legal vocabulary
While not all assistants are hired specifically to help with legal issues, they come up a lot. Furthermore, most CEOs do not have time to explain anything. So if you are going to take notes, make appointments or resolve office-based conflicts of just about any type, you are going to run into legal jargon and you need to know what on earth your employer is talking about.

Figured out the common company acronyms

Again, this is a lot like the legal vocabulary issue. It may not be your job, but you need to know what your employer is talking about and most CEOS get annoyed when you ask. If you are coming into a new company, then make sure you are familiar with their "tech speak" before you get started.

Dressed up
I moved up through a company to work for a CEO. The dress code was casual, and I wore jeans or khakis and a nice blouse almost every day. I showed up for work for the CEO and realized immediately that I was not up to par even though I'd been dressed acceptably for my previous position. When it comes to work, overdress to start, then ease off if you realize that you have overdone it. If you are working as an assistant then most CEOs view you as a representative of themselves and will not appreciate anything that looks unprofessional.

Known how important confidentiality would be
While I didn't blow any corporate secrets, I did not realize how important it was not to tell anyone anything about what I was scheduling, taking notes on or talking about with my boss. Fortunately, the first person to hear me mention something about work was a friend of mine who works for the boss of a large company, and she emphasized immediately to me that I should never repeat anything about work when you work for the guy (or girl) at the top.

While it is true that CEOs are people just like everyone else, you do have to work for them in slightly different ways than you would work for anyone else. Keeping the lessons I learned in mind may help you better work with and for your personal CEO.

"Mama told me there'd be days like this.  .  ." We've all had that song echo in our ears at least once in the office on a day when the bad news and the irritable lines of people parading in and out of our office never seemed to end. It is part of the "lot" of an administrative assistant - virtual or on-site - to sometimes bear the brunt not only of our own bad days, but also of those of our co-workers and employers.

When this type of day happens, it can be all too easy to let it take control of your entire outlook on your job and even other parts of your life that are unrelated to your career. If you let yourself sink into the habit of thinking negative thoughts about how things are going, you could end up stuck in that habit long after that bad day should be over with. To fight off this problem, you may need to give yourself some moral support in the office from the only person that you can always count on to have your back at work: yourself.

To give yourself a more positive outlook, you will need to start to make a habit of finding the "bright" side of things. This does not mean that you need to turn into a Pollyanna. But it does mean that instead of saying to yourself "Oh sure, the copier always breaks when I touch it and probably the printer will next," you need to respond with a positive attitude: "Well, this has been that kind of day, but at least I know that in a few hours I be able to shut the door on it and start new tomorrow."
You do not have to be silly about looking on the bright side, but be sure to congratulate yourself for your hard work. If you are having a terrible day, remind yourself that you have been working really hard and that you will soon see that work pay off. Keep telling yourself that you are not only doing the best you can, but that you will be able to see your results in no time because you will be able to get all your responsibilities accomplished.


I will never forget the worst joke I told at work. I was laughing with a friend of mine who worked upstairs about how swamped we were. We were both cackling and giggling and carrying on, and I said to her, "I swear, the next person who walks in here and asks me to do something is going to get a punch in the nose. " Sounds pretty harmless, doesn't it? In fact, you're probably thinking to yourself that it doesn't even sound like much of a joke, and maybe that I'm not very funny. Well, as it turned out, you're right: I'm not very funny at all. 

I didn't think much else about what I had said that day, or even that week. I just kept on working as hard as I could, hoping that soon I would get some more interesting work to do. There had been several projects coming up at work that I had my eye on, and I was pretty sure that thanks to my dedication, hard work and willingness to do whatever was necessary to get the job done, I would get at least one of them. I waited for my boss to bring it up, but she never did.

I worked at that job for several more months and watched several more projects go by that I thought I would have been perfect for. Since I was an administrator and technically those projects did not fall in my job description, I finally decided that the only way to make sure that I was in line for one was to speak to my supervisor directly and make sure that she knew that I was interested and willing to put in the extra time and effort in order to get the experience under my belt.

I bet by now you can see where this is going

Well, when I talked to her, she looked at me with total surprise. Literally, her mouth nearly fell open with shock. She told me that she had wanted to assign several projects to me already, but shied away because it always seemed like I was so swamped and that my "attitude" indicated that I couldn't handle anything else. Well, it took me some time, but eventually we got to the bottom of it. She had heard my feeble "joke" and taken me at my word. I lost out because I was running my big mouth around people who didn't know me well enough to take me with a grain of salt, and I'm lucky that I had a boss understanding enough to accept my apology for my unprofessional behavior and assign me the extra projects I had been wanting.

Moral of the story? Simple: Watch your mouth in the office, because not everyone is guaranteed to know that you are joking.


When I first started working at a big company as an administrative assistant, I actually was looking forward to the politics. I had watched so many movies and read so many profiles about ambitious young assistants who knew where to place their loyalties and how to make connections to skyrocket them to the top that I could not wait for my first personal chance at making those life-changing connections myself.

In our division, I had plenty of opportunities to politic. In fact, when I arrived, it soon became evident that my boss and her counterpart were going to be going head-to-head in short order for a big promotion. It was pretty well understood that whoever got it was going to make the other's life miserable, so we were all pretty invested in making sure that our "side" had everything going for them possible. Unfortunately, this included some fairly serious informational sabotage in some cases as both sides tried to make sure that the other missed meetings, deadlines and lost materials.

As you can probably imagine, this all ended quite badly. There was a pretty serious fiasco when all of the maneuvering finally came to light thanks to a lot of missing links and wasted meetings. Ultimately, both parties kept their jobs and neither got a promotion. And - I guess this shouldn't have surprised any of us - their teams pretty much got sacked.

And honestly, we deserved it. Administrative assistants' entire job is to make things run smoothly, and when you deliberately fail to do that, you have basically elected not to do your job. I should have done my best to steer clear rather than thinking my so-called "loyalty" would be rewarded later. I would have gotten a lot farther just doing my job.

In the end, things could have been a lot worse. I was able to land a new job within a few months, but money was definitely tight in the interim. Several of the people I worked with who were more integral to the entire process never did find new employment because they could not get a good reference from the company. I, at least, was new enough that they did not hold me too responsible for the chaos. I squeaked by on that one, but I can guarantee you I will keep my nose to my desk next time any office politics come up in my office. The rewards - if there are any - are not worth the irresponsible behavior and the potential cost of my job!

Traditionally, assistants of all sorts are among the most "underappreciated" group of employees. In fact, this perception is so common that many assistants - virtual and otherwise - start out from their very first day of work bemoaning the fact that they are unrecognized and unappreciated. The hard facts of life are that this may be true, and it is unlikely to change much except during administrative assistants' appreciation week. However, in order to succeed as an admin, you must learn to get past this and not let it impact your daily attitude. If you can learn to "dole it out," then you will soon find that the level of appreciation for your work rises correspondingly to how appreciative you are of other people.

This can take some very basic forms. Whenever you speak to someone on the phone, thank them for calling (even if they are being obnoxious and you and your employer could not possibly care less about what they have to say!). This contributes to a positive perception of you and your employer, and will make future calls - and call screenings - run more smoothly. Also, be sure to thank people for their hard work whenever you send them any type of request. For example, if you need a document reviewed by another member of the team, when you send it, close with a "thank you for your time and effort" line that will let them know you appreciate the time that they are putting into getting this done for you. These types of closings will lead to a noticeable decrease in turnaround time for projects.

In addition to simple thank-you's, once a year show your employer some appreciation for providing you with a job. This generally takes the form of a traditional holiday greeting and perhaps a small gift. Simply thanking an employer for the opportunity to work for them can lead to a positive and growing relationship between you and your boss. This is particularly important for VA's, who tend to inspire less emotional loyalty than assistants who are physically present. By  your virtual nature, you will always be easier to "let go" than someone who is right there in the office. As a result, you need to fortify your relationship with an employer via showing appreciation for them as well as by doing a great job in the role that you serve.