In today’s economy, many people feel like they have to take what they can get when it comes to employment. However, a truly bad boss can actually permanently damage your work record, depress you and stress you out until it impacts every aspect of your life in a negative manner. When you are interviewing, remember that you are not the only one being evaluated. Here are some characteristics of a “good boss” that can help you determine if the working environment that you will be in is one that will lead to a long, successful and mutually beneficial relationship.
- Consideration for family
Your boss should acknowledge your home life, rather than assuming you will be available at any time of the day or night at their convenience. This does not mean you will never pull an all-nighter, but your employer should be clear that these cannot be the “norm.”
You will do better at your job if you know that your boss is on your side. This does not always mean that the two of you will agree, but you need a support system that wants you to do well and makes an effort to make your good job performance achievable. If a boss appears to refuse to give locations or contact information or constantly is rescheduling and changing plans so that you cannot manage the office calendar, for example, this can lead to stress and a fair number of headaches on your part as it is likely you will take the fall for this lack of organization.
- Encourages continuing education
This seems like a “no-brainer” since the more you know, the better a VA you will be. However, not all employers see the point. A good boss will want you to learn and grow so that you can do more in your job and also stay motivated and interested in your occupation.
When you are considering taking a job, it is completely likely that your boss may not meet all of these qualifications – or that you may not know. This may not mean you decide to turn the job down. However, whenever possible you should look for these characteristics in employers to insure the best working relationship possible.
As an executive assistant, it may be your responsibility to keep a number of calendars and schedules in addition to your own. While this can be an enjoyable and productive activity that helps keep people on time and where they need to be, you must be careful with your “power.” While you may be thinking, “That’s just silly. I’m the lowest on the totem pole. I have no power at all! Everyone orders me around,” in reality, the knowledge of where people are and what they are doing is a serious and sought-after commodity in many offices. Do not be careless with this information or it could end up costing you your job.
The best rule of thumb when it comes to other people’s schedules is to say as little as possible. This means that if someone calls for Jen, the associate down the hall, do not say, “One second, I think she has run to the doctor but I’ll see if I can catch her.” That is way too much information that the person calling simply does not need. Instead, simply say, “One second and I’ll see if she is available.” If Jen has, in fact, already left for the doctor, then do not convey all the details. Just let the caller know that Jen is unavailable and offer to take a message or transfer them to voicemail. How Jen handles the call from that point and how much information she divulges about her absence is up to her.
In many cases, you will receive direct requests for information from one employee about another employee’s whereabouts. While this may seem harmless, you must remember that the employee in question may not want the office to know what they are doing. Unless the question comes from a supervisor with the authority to ask these questions, you should simply pleasantly remind the questioner that you could lose your own job for disclosing other people’s calendars and refer them to the employee in question or human resources, if appropriate.
The key to successful and effective office calendar etiquette is simple: keep your mouth shut. In time, you will find that your employers and co-workers respect you for the respect that you show their private affairs and your position in the company will likely benefit as a result.
As an administrative professional, you will often be the first contact for people who wish to work with your employer or with whom your employer wishes to do business. As a result, you will get a wide amount of exposure and likely have a number of contacts – or at least contact information – that many people would kill for. Now, ethically – and legally in many cases – you are bound contractually not to reveal that information to other people, and if you leave the company you may not be able to take that information with you. However, this does not prevent you from doing some highly valuable networking for you and your boss while you are doing the company’s work as wel
When it comes to initial contact, first impressions are everything. This is obviously not news. However, what you may not have considered is that you can make just as good an impression of yourself on someone while you are promoting your company as you can for the company. A professional demeanor should, ideally, cement a company in a new or potential client’s brain as an asset. However, if you are friendly, knowledgeable and interested (within the bounds of reason, of course) when you are working with clients, then they will appreciate this individual touch and remember you and your company fondly. As a result, you will be able to develop contacts who think as much of you and your administrative or networking abilities as they do of your employer.
Ideally, you will never have to leave an employer until you decide to do so. However, there will be instances in which you may lose your job due to economics or other factors. When this occurs, your networking and positive people skills will not only guarantee that you will be missed when you are gone, but that a number of other entities are just waiting to snatch you up off the job market before you have even had time to get your resume out there. Never forget that every connection you make is personal as well as professional, and you will find that your reputation is solid in every aspect.
Your relationship with your boss will be critical to your happiness and success in your tenure in a position. While there are times when you will immediately “hit it off” with a new employer, there will be many other times where you simply coexist at first. While this may be just fine with you and your boss, ultimately you will both get more out of your working relationship if it is a strong, trusting one rather than simply a relationship based on proximity to each other.
To this end, here are three ways to strengthen your relationship with your boss:
- Report on yourself
Make sure that your employer knows what you are up to all day. Even if they do not ask, provide timely updates on projects and deadlines so that they know where things stand. This not only keeps your boss informed, but it also shows initiative and demonstrates that you are taking the role that you have been assigned seriously.
- Keep things in confidence
Even if you have not been directly instructed to keep things quiet, do not talk about work at work. Your boss will appreciate your discretion and come to perceive you as a person who can be trusted with information rather than someone who talks a lot about work-related minutia that may not be able to keep their mouth shut when it matters.
- Remember details
Keep up with the little things. For example, if you are an assistant, then make sure you remember personal details like anniversaries and birthdays when that information is available to you. Format correspondence with your boss in the ways that he or she most prefers for easy, pleasant reading and make sure that you remain conscious of how he or she likes to receive information.
By carefully cultivating your end of the relationship between you and your boss, you will find that you are able to establish a stronger bond between the two of you that will help you remain happy and productive in your position.
As an assistant – your job is to make things run smoothly. However, if you are good at your job then your boss may end up not “seeing” your hand in things at all, which can be frustrating for you and lead not only to a lack of appreciation, but a lack of salary-related compensation.
When I first started, I took great pride in my ability to make things run so smoothly that my boss actually thought he was in charge. I chuckled to myself that he had no idea it was me, behind the scenes, who had taken his schedule in hand and arranged it in such an organized and efficient fashion. I chuckled right up to the day of my first review, when he gave me all “adequate” scores for my, quite frankly, incredible ability to keep that man on time and in the places he was supposed to be.
I was livid. I almost quit on the spot. However, one of my good friends saved me from that mistake of temper. “How is he going to know what you do if you don’t tell him?” she asked me. “After all, you talk all the time about how he thinks he’s the one in charge.”
Well, that made me stop and take a few deep breaths. I had to admit she was right. I had basically done my job “too well,” and rendered myself invisible on my employer’s radar. I decided then and there that I would make some changes.
You may be thinking that I let him foul up on his own a couple times to show him how important I was. I was tempted, but I knew that would only make me look badly for not keeping the schedule and the boss on track. So instead I tracked my successes and kept notes on exactly what I accomplished each day. As the days passed, I developed quite a portfolio of achievements, so when my next review came around, I was ready to show my employer just exactly what it is that I do all day. I got my raise and almost more importantly, I got my recognition. Now even though I need to be invisible on a daily basis – if I’m doing things right – I know that my employer recognizes just how active I am behind the scenes.
Whenever you start out at a new job, getting used to the new environment can be a bit intimidating. However, there is nothing more important to your success in a new position than settling in smoothly, efficiently and effectively into your new role. One of the best ways to accomplish this in short order is to take some proactive steps to get to know your new boss.
For starters, you may wish to set up a “getting to know you” meeting with your new employer. Let them know that you would like to familiarize yourself quickly with their working habits and preferences and that in your experience, the best way to do this is to take a little time to simply set them out in a straightforward manner. This probably should not need to take more than about 30 minutes. During the meeting it is important to remember that the meeting is about your boss, not about you and your working preferences. Ask simple, straightforward questions about how they like things to be handled. Examples might include, “Do you want to be notified immediately of all messages or do you prefer an itemized hourly (or other interval) summary via email or written on paper?” and “How do you prefer your appointments to be handled – with the traditional 30-minute break in between each or do you like them scheduled back-to-back or with more time in between?” Getting clear on these things up front will help you make your employer’s work life smoother and more pleasant, which will, in turn, lead to your work life also being smoother and more pleasant.
Next, find out (gently) if your boss has any pet peeves. For example, I once worked as a receptionist in a large office building. For much of the day, I had little to do as the phones did not ring often and handling calendars and sending visitors to various workers’ personal receptionists was about the extent of my duties. I was pretty bored, and often read or did class work for a continuing education class during this time. My employer happened upon me engaged in these activities once and demanded that I cease immediately. I offered to take on more work so I would have something to do, but his exact words were, “I just need you to look busy. You can play games online as long as it looks like you are working if someone walks in. No reading!” Needless to say, that job was not a permanent stop for me, but it does clearly illustrate a surprising peeve that I had not been expecting. You need to be aware of any unusual things that may upset, annoy or embarrass your new boss so that you can avoid them.
Once you get settled in at your new job, you will find that taking the time to get to know your new boss early in your relationship has established your reputation as a professional, knowledgeable employee. Your future efforts will benefit from this and you will likely find that you advance more quickly due to your early groundwork.
When it comes to working with a new boss, things can get a little hairy. I will never forget the job that I took where I thought that it was my job to handle calendars, set meeting agendas and develop flyers and brochures for my department’s PR efforts. Turned out, my real job was to make my boss coffee, pick up dry cleaning, babysit kids when they were out of school and in general perform as a glorified personal assistant. It was a little frustrating for all of us starting out because we had such different ideas about what I had been hired to do. Since often administrative assistants are not hired directly by their supervisors but instead through human resources, it is important when you start working with a new boss that you take some steps immediately to clarify exactly what your job responsibilities will be.
Here are three steps to working with a new boss successfully from the word “go”
- Get an itemized list of responsibilities
Ask your new employer for a short list of what he or she expects you to do. Explain that while you understand the official job requirements, you are eager to make sure that you are meeting their needs and want to guarantee that you are not overlooking anything. They will likely be happy to provide this, and it will also give you some insight into how close the job description on the “wanted” page matches what you have actually been hired to do.
- Take a “tour” of your personal space
Get clear on where things are. You do not want to have to ask each time you need a stapler, ink cartridge, access to a calendar or to view a file. Get all of this out of the way at once by going through every inch of you personal office space to get familiar with the layout and location. If your boss wants to do this with you, that’s fine, but usually you can do this on your own.
- Establish priorities
Establish a clear concept of what is most important to your boss. Is it the primary project that everyone is working on or is it getting the latest technology into the office immediately? This will help you determine how to best allocate your time and efforts to make things happen for your employer.
Working successfully with a new boss in a quick, effective manner can set the tone for your entire future working relationship. Taking the time and making the extra effort early to get this relationship off to a smooth, productive start will make your tenure in any position a more positive, rewarding experience.
When you are an assistant, it can be very tempting to put your employer’s needs entirely over your own. To some extent, this is your job, since your role as a virtual assistant is basically to help keep things running on schedule, pay bills and generally smooth the way for your employer and his or her business. However, if you completely eliminate your professional needs from the equation, a job that starts out as a great opportunity can start to feel like a real dead end.
In order to keep the “spark” in your job, you need to make sure that you are working toward your goals as well as those of your employer. And you should also make sure that your employer is working toward your goals too. You can accomplish this harmonious relationship by talking to your employer about how you can better help the company and yourself in the process.
Request a meeting with your employer when he or she has some time to talk. You can present it as a performance review if you like, since these types of reviews are often the point at which goals for the future are discussed. With your employer, review what your role in the company is and how that role might grow to expand the productivity of the company as well as yourself. Often, that expansion might require training, extra hours or additional education – all of which your employer may be willing to fund and which will make you more marketable and more valuable to the company.
Before the meeting, decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want more hours? More responsibility? More education? A higher salary? Determine how to best present your needs so that your meeting these goals actually furthers the progress of the company. Then, ask your boss to help you identify the company’s goals and how you can further them. Together, the two of you should be able to identify ways in which you can grow while at the same time supporting the growth of the company that requires your main focus.
I have a friend (we'll call her "Sheila") who recently lost her job. And as much as I love Sheila, I have to say that it was 100 percent her own fault. Now, you may be thinking to yourself "Wow, she probably slacked off at work or called in sick all the time. I don't have to read the rest of this article because I never do that." However, Sheila was the perfect employee. She was always early; she gave 110 percent, and she hardly ever called out sick. So what did she do? She took a stupid picture. And furthermore, she wasn't even the one who took the picture, she just happened to be in the picture in an compromising situation.
So now you are probably totally confused, but I bet you are starting to get an inkling of what happened. That's right: it has something to do with Facebook. She went to a party and she took a really dumb picture which her friend happened to caption "Sheila's boss is a horse's a**." Bad move. Sheila didn't post the picture; her friend did. And then she tagged Sheila. And the photo was not private. Not surprisingly, a few days later it circulated in the office and Sheila lost her job.
So here's the thing: it's not entirely fair. Sheila can have whatever opinion she wants about her boss, and she wasn't partying when she was supposed to be working. And worse, she didn't post the picture! But ultimately, it led to a problem that resulted in the loss of her job. This is a worst-case example of what can happen when social networking goes too far, so make sure that your friends understand what types of things are okay with you to post online and what things should remain "undercover" or, at a minimum, marked "PRIVATE, KEEP OUT!" Otherwise you could end up in the same lousy situation that my friend Sheila did and be out of a job.
When you read the title of this blog, you probably thought to yourself, "I should not have to help her appreciate me! I don't even think that office would run without me! And you're probably right; it probably wouldn't. However, appreciation and necessity are seldom the same thing, and you can be entirely integral to office operations without necessarily being appreciated.
Another common response to the idea that you should be helping your employer appreciate you is that if you have to point out what you should be appreciated for, then you don't want the appreciation. While this is a natural and often instinctive response, think carefully. Do you really not care if you are appreciated for your hard work? Would it really not make any difference in your mindset or your enthusiasm if you got the occasional "thanks, great job!" from your employer? If it would not, then by all means, stop reading right now. Most people, however, will find that they benefit from a greater degree of appreciation regardless of its origination.
When you are trying to "help" your boss appreciate you, the best thing to do is make sure that they are aware of the things that you are doing. For example, it may not really have occurred to your employer that it is you who are responsible for keeping their calendar organized, keeping the coffee pot full or coordinating their 8,000 meetings. While you should not start nagging or reminding them directly about how hard you are working, it can be a very useful tool to start recording your efforts. This serves two purposes: the record is practically useful when it comes to annual evaluations, but it also helps make your contributions clearer. I worked for an employer once who saw my lists that I was keeping and actually asked that he receive an email containing such a summary at the beginning of each day. It helped him know what was going on in his own schedule and, at the same time, let him know where my attention was focused!
While appreciation may not rain down on you like a storm the second you start subtly taking measures to increase your employer's awareness of your hard work, you will soon find that your efforts will pay off. Remember to be patient and that ultimately, your own appreciation and pride in a job well done is its own reward!
As an assistant, one of your jobs is likely to be screening calls for your manager. This will entail not only determining who gets through, but also courteously deflecting callers who will not be speaking to your manager at the time of their call. You will need to be able to take clear messages that enable your employer to understand exactly what the caller wanted later when you give them the information.
1. Make a list of "Every Time" Callers
There are some people that will always need to be let through. You need a firm list from your manager that gives you the full names and titles of people who should always be put through. Generally these people will be family members and school officials if there are school-age children in the family.
2. Establish a firm line for callers who will be screened
You need a clear, polite, firm way to tell people who will not be getting through that they need to leave a message. One of the best options is to tell them that your manager is in a meeting or out on a job, but that they will return the call later. Then you can simply take the message.
3. Set a time for when callers can expect a return call
Work with your manager to determine what type of timeline you can give callers who are screened. For example, will they receive a call back within the business day? 24 hours? A week? Many callers will become belligerent if you cannot give them an idea of when they will receive a call back, and you will get more return and repeat calls if you cannot tell them roughly when to expect a call back.
Screening calls is not difficult, but you do have to be firm with callers. Having an established set of rules for yourself will help you do your job effectively. Does anyone have other suggestions to add?
When it comes to the business calendars, I keep them all online. You do not really have a choice anymore, since fewer and fewer people actually carry their own personal calendars with them. While I have been an administrative assistant long enough to remember the days of a paper calendar fondly (and wish that my current employer would keep one in his back pocket instead of just calling me to pull it up online!) I have bowed to the inevitable and now keep all of our business calendars online.
However, I admit, I have a "dirty" little secret. It is one of those 18-month calendars that you get from the office supply store with 3 days on each page. It's about an inch thick, and I love it. Honestly, I don't think that I could keep track of everything without it. The virtual calendars are great, but my master calendar is still on paper, and I've found that everything runs smoother when I can just thumb through and find any information I need right away.
I still transfer all of the info to the online calendars, but this is my completely private master calendar. It lets me see how every little thing I know about the workday and my own personal life will work together to keep me productive (or not), and it also lets me put in notes about things to check on that I don't actually want on the official calendar.
For example, a few weeks ago the boss was having a serious tiff with his former wife. Of course, this was none of my business. However, it will impact his work schedule since they share custody of their kids and were squabbling over when he would see them for the holidays. I know he takes days with the kids off entirely, so I marked down on the calendar to check in with him in about two weeks to find out when he will be off. Given the stressful nature of their relationship, I know from experience he'll forget to tell me ahead of time - if he even knows until the last minute. That's the sort of thing a good assistant keeps up with, but never lets you know she's paying attention to.
My paper calendar is like my "little black book." It's got all my trade secrets and contact information that I want to keep quiet inside. I'll never put it online, and, except for here, I'll never tell...