Administrative Assistants: the hardest working (and most powerful) professionals in the office

Administrative Assistants - the most effective (and powerful) people in the office

Administrative Assistants – the most effective (and powerful) people in the office

Gone are the days of the worn-out and painful cliches that used to describe a personal secretary.  In today’s professional world, offices and executives are fighting for and paying big bucks for accomplished Administrative Assistants.

An article published today in the Wall Street Journal gives Administrative Assistants their due.  CLICK HERE to read the article.  From Mark Zuckerburg, to Bill Gates to President Obama, today’s Administrative Assistants are an executive’s most capable, relied upon partners. An Administrative Assistant makes sure an executive (and in many cases an entire company) runs efficiently and seamlessly.

Often considered a ‘gatekeeper’ to the highest rung of power, Administrative Assistants juggle a myriad of organizational duties and executives often seek advice from their trusted assistants on many major decisions.   Administrative Assistant many times are the bridge between an executive and the culture and politics of a department or an entire company.  As a matter of fact, a recent survey showed that 91 percent of executives consider their assistants’ opinions important when making hiring decisions.

An effective Administrative Assistant’s skills go beyond simply making travel arrangements or arranging schedules.  The most capable Administrative Assistants are thinking three steps ahead of their bosses; understanding their bosse’s personalities, habits, routines and anticipating and arranging the types of schedules that will make their bosses most effective in their jobs.  They have high integrity, a strong work ethic, are expert problem solvers and have strong planning, logistics and multi-tasking skills.  They are comfortable communicating and collaborating with others and are typically highly extroverted and rely on strong networks with others.

Often I tell job seekers that if they really want to understand the culture of a company or the hiring process of a department, reach out to the Administrative Assistant.  In addition, any interaction with a company often starts with a communication with an Administrative Assistant; treat these professionals with the respect they deserve and they could open the gate to a job offer.

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Advance your career without quitting your job!

There’s a great article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal (CLICK HERE) about people who have broken through some self-imposed barriers at work to progress their careers.

This is a pretty common scenario: you get assigned a particular job and you do it really well, but you don’t grow or advance in your job.  In this scenario, it’s easy to get stuck or ‘pigeon holed’ in your job with few opportunities for Problem is Opportunity Blackboard Conceptadvancement.  People view you as good at one thing or never really consider you for other opportunities.

The Wall Street Journal article takes a good look at one such scenario and how a woman was able to break through some barriers to improve her leadership skills and become more of a leader than a follower.

All too often, professionals get frustrated when they feel ‘stuck’ in their current jobs and deflated when they don’t get a promotion.  The first thought is to quit with the rationale, “Why stay at a place that doesn’t appreciate me?!”

Do you see yourself in this scenario?

If so, before you decide to quit, begin some hard and honest self examination that includes:

Talking to your boss. Ask  them to do an honest evaluation of your skills and what skills you need to gain in order to be promoted.  In addition, ask you boss for more responsibilities in areas you consider weaknesses so that you are forced to improve your abilities.

Talk with your human resources staff.  Often, they have the best knowledge of career paths within your company and can offer great advice about things they look for in hires and promotions.

Look for professional development opportunities.  Often, your company will offer educational reimbursements for classes, degree programs or even seminars that can help you improve your skills.

Remember, sometimes, you might not be lacking ‘hard’ skills, but ‘soft’ skills.  Communications with others, organization, manners – there are a lot of other things to pay attention to that may help you increase your chances of progressing your career at your current job.

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Don’t Worry: Everyone Goes Through the Job Search Blues

I recently received a few different messages from job seekers who were feeling beat down by the job seeking process.

One told me, “It’s 11:00 a.m. and I’m still in my pajamas.  I’m having a hard time finding any energy to send out another resume.” Another said, “I’m stuck!  I’m usually a positive, energetic person, but today, I’m just depressed.  I just can’t take another rejection!”

I know there are a lot of other job seekers out there who, from time to time, struggle to find the motivation to even get out of bed or have days where worry and anxiety seemingly overwhelms them.  Sometimes it lasts for one day, other times it can last for several days.  While it’s hard not to take your job search incredibly personal, job seekers should know that frustrations and anxiety are common; the goal is develop strategies so that you can continue a sense of constant and positive forward motion in your job search.

There’s a couple of things I would recommend you consider that can help you get out of the job seeking mud.

1.) If you are full of anxiety and becoming depressed about your job search, then take a couple days off.  Don’t jump onto any online job boards, don’t make any phone calls and don’t send out any resumes.  Instead, use this time to just clear your head and re-boot.  Everyone has individual motivation strategies that they’ve had to use in their life to overcome a problem or a challenge.  Maybe its as simple as going on a long hike or maybe its hanging out with friends or family that can give you positive reinforcement.   Start thinking about the things in your life that have helped you get out of a funk and also start thinking about the things that have worked in your job search to date to help re-focus your job seeking plan.

2.) If you are in the thick of your job search and you don’t feel like spending the whole day job seeking, then at least commit to do doing at least ONE thing that will provide continued forward motion in your search for employment.  Maybe its making one phone call, sending out one resume or simply spending an hour on a job board writing down job leads that you can come back to later.

3.) Lastly, its easy to get to a point where we can get overwhelmed with negative thoughts about our job search.  Let’s face it, for anybody, there is an unnatural amount of rejection tied to a job search.  Maybe you are not getting the responses you hoped for or maybe you’ve been to an interview but didn’t get the job offer.  Most of the time, we are never told why were rejected and are left guessing.  In these cases, we can easily overwhelm ourselves with negative assumptions we make about why we failed.  I call this ‘stinking thinking’.  Don’t let stinking thinking overtake the focus of the positive things that make you a valuable candidate; your skills, your education, your experiences, your expertise, your accomplishments, etc., etc.  You always need to remain focused on the value you can bring to a future employer.

I’ve never met a job seeker who was “unemployable”!  We all have things that are valuable to employers.  The most successful job seekers I’ve met have one common thread:  they are confident and focused on their core skills and how those skills translate to the jobs they are applying and they never waver from all the things that make them a valuable addition to an organization.

Are you a job seeker who has struggled from time to time during your search?  What are things you do to get out of the job seeking quicksand?  Email me at ahudson@ahjobslist.com and I’ll share these next week.

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For job seekers, modesty is over-rated but confidence never goes out of style.

I was in the park with my young kids the other day and heard a conversation between a child, his mother and one of his mom’s friends.

“David, how have you been?”

“I’ve been great!  I play baseball now!”

“How’s that going?”

“Terrific!  In my last game, I had three hits and a homerun!  I also pitched and got four strikeouts! My coach named me the player of the game!”

Mom chimes in:

“Now Davey! You shouldn’t brag! Remember, there were other kids on that team that helped win the game too!”

Everyone probably remembers a conversation like this from their own childhood. Ever since we were kids we’ve been reminded that it is impolite to brag, take all the credit or boast about our accomplishments.

In my job seeking consultancy the most difficult question to answer is, “So, can you tell me about yourself?”  Our awkwardness in taking ownership for our career accomplishments is also often reflected in resumes and cover letters.

So here’s the deal, job seekers:

Your ‘aw-shucks’ modesty is not endearing; it is hurting your chances of getting a job!

Employers will not correctly guess what your strengths are nor will they safely assume that your skills and accomplishments are a good fit for the job you are applying.

Your ‘aw-shucks’ modesty is not endearing; it is hurting your chances of getting a job!

The only way others will know how your hard work, education and background is tied to your success is when you TELL THEM.  The only way your future employer will know that you have the best skill sets, the most relevant experience and the differentiators that set you apart from your competition is when you make these things crystal clear in every touch point of the job application process.

So, how do you this?

The number one strategy of the successful job seekers I’ve interviewed is a focused, red-hot confidence.

Confidence is not bragging nor is it boasting.  It’s simply and directly stating and describing your very real accomplishments.

Start with your resume.  If you are using ‘wimp’ or ‘fluff’ words and phrases like “Coordinated,” “Helped,” “Highly talented,” “Motivated,” or “Hard working,” your resume will most likely not be seriously considered. If you describe yourself using results-oriented words such as “Senior level,” “Expert in….,” “Led,” “Managed,” “Created,” followed by result-oriented accomplishments, a recruiter will put your resume on the top of the pile.

In addition, if you have quantifiable results use these results to emphasize your accomplishments. For example, “increased sales by 30%,” “Improved customer satisfaction by 25%,” “Increased website traffic by 25%,” “Increased revenue by $25 million in one quarter.”

Lastly, if you are having a hard time talking about yourself in an interview or feel awkward taking credit for your success, ask yourself the following question, “What is your proudest career accomplishment?” Was it a project?  Was it something you did to earn a promotion?  Was it an accomplishment that relied on all of your skills, expertise and integrity? What was required of you to be successful? What part of your background — your education, your experience, your intuition — did you call on to be successful?  Did you have to inspire others?  Did you have convince your boss? How did you measure the results of your accomplishment?

When you start thinking about the things in your career that have made you successful, you start to understand and recognize that describing your successes is NOT bragging, it is simply taking ownership of all of the things that make you, YOU!  That is something every employer wants to understand — what makes you tick? What are the things that made you successful in the past that are going to make you successful at our organization?

Bottom line?  Confidence means not being afraid to take ownership for your successful career. It means providing a deliberate and detailed explanation of how your talents and skills, your accomplishments, your promotions, your leadership and your results are tied to the job your are applying and how those things are valuable to your future employer.

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I’m a hard worker… (but so is everyone else!) Surefire Techniques to a Successful Job Interview

In my job-seeking consultancy, job seekers overwhelmingly feel the job interview is the most difficult, anxiety-filled and mysterious part of the job seeking process.

“How do I make myself stand out?”
“How do I talk about myself without bragging?”
“What are employers REALLY looking for during the job interview?”

“I feel powerless at an interview and don’t feel I have control of my answers.”

When you think about it, job interviews are a combination of a test of knowledge, background, expertise and skills, as well as a way for employers to get a feeling for how your personality would fit in the culture of the company.

As a matter of fact, in the final job interview, each of the finalists for the position could theoretically perform the job: their resumes have been checked, their references called and all have proven they have the pre-requisite backgrounds and qualifications for the position; but only one of those finalists will get the job offer!

In my experience, job seekers who get the job offer are able to turn a one-sided interview into… a two-way conversation. And that is a very different type of interaction.  A conversation divides the power of the discussion and the job seeker now has the ability to lead the discussion down the path THEY want it to go.

Using techniques we’ll discuss further, a job seeker who can turn an interview into a conversation will allow themselves to create a level of imagination in the interviewer’s mind about how their skills, background, experiences, accomplishments, knowledge and personality would be the best fit not only for the job but for the culture of the company.

How do you prepare for a job interview to secure the job offer?  How do you differentiate yourself in the interview?  How do you turn an interview into a conversation and create the imagination in the interviewer’s mind that you’d be a good ‘fit’ within the culture of the company or the department?

Anticipate the most commonly asked interview questions.
First off, anticipate and practice your answers to the most commonly asked questions in a job interview.  Here are several you’ll most likely get in interview:

  • So, can tell me about yourself?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why are you leaving your current (or why did you leave your last) job?
  • What skills do you bring to this job?
  • If your former boss/supervisor/former colleagues/employees were here today, what would they say about you?
  • Tell me about one of the proudest accomplishments/projects at a previous job.
  • What is a weakness of yours?
  • What is one thing you believe differentiates you from other candidates for this position?

Sit down with a friend and have them ask you these questions and practice responding out loud.  Don’t forget to smile, show passion and enthusiasm, and look people in the eye as you respond.

Decipher the job posting to prepare for specific questions related to the job.
While you are considering your answers to these questions, go back to the original job description and review the qualifications, the job description and any other knowledge you may have ascertained that is germane to the job, the company, the culture or the department. It’s pretty easy to pick out the 4-5 different areas related to the job you’ll be asked about. What are the problems you will be required to solve? What are the goals of the company and the department? What specific skills and experiences do you have that are tied to the job?  What about this job makes you believe you’d be a good fit? These are also areas you’ll be asked about in the interview.

The rule of three.
As you are reviewing this information, start to formulate in your mind the things that connect your background, skills, previous jobs, accomplishments, levels of expertise and knowledge and come up with a short list of things that you want to get across during the interview.

Called “the rule of three,” these are the top three things you want to get across in the interview. You should actually memorize and work to stitch these three things into the answers you give during the interview. For example:

Specific examples of what differentiates you from others.  Sorry, but ‘hard worker’ ‘highly organized’ or ‘able to multi-task’ are not relevant differentiators unless you back it up with specific examples demonstrating your hard work.

Specific examples of my best work that is relevant.  Be prepared to tell stories about previous work accomplishments that connects your skills, experience and expertise to the job you are applying. Make sure these stories demonstrate the challenge, the execution and the results.  If you have quantifiable analytics (we increase sales by 35%; our click-through rates rose by 50%) use them to demonstrate the relation to your work and the result of your success.

Specific examples of how I add value to your organization.  How are you going to hit the ground running?  What knowledge, relationships, skills related to the company’s industry will be valuable to them?  What specific skills do you have that will help them solve the problem this position is tied to?

There are certainly other things you might want to get across depending on the position itself, and it is up to you, the job seeker, to determine what these things are, but by preparing yourself this way, you’ll see that it is much easier to feel in control of your answers throughout the interview.

Bridging.
How do you weave these things into the answers to the interview questions?

An important interview technique is “bridging.”

Bridging is a powerful means for taking charge of and controlling an interview. The goal of an interview is to focus the interviewer on a few key messages that are true, accurate, clear, concise, brief, and memorable. If done well, bridging significantly increases the probability that your key messages will get across.  By using bridging techniques, you can re-focus or re-direct the interview to the points that are most important, relevant and critical to YOU.  Remember, you want to establish your credibility as the subject matter expert and bridging helps you to do this.

Here are some bridging statements you should consider practicing in anticipation of your answers to interview questions. These statements help you to direct your answers to the things that YOU want to get across during an interview:

“Great question. I had a similar experience at my last job and here’s how I managed it…”

“That’s a terrific question. Here’s what my experience has taught me…”

“That is an important issue that is tied to my strengths (expertise, past job)…”

“My last boss appreciated my experience in this area…”

“A tough decision I had to make surrounding this issue was when…”

“I’m recognized as an expert at… here’s why…”

“There were a few different times in my career that gave me this experience…”

“My experience is tied to the challenges of your industry.  Here’s how…”

“Based on your organization’s goals, my experience can be helpful in that…”

“And that reminds me of a time at my last job…”

“My employees appreciated that I could see the big picture surrounding this challenge…”

Bottom line:  Very few people are natural interview subjects and most job seekers feel powerless in an interview. Interviewing requires anticipating questions, practicing answers and understanding strategies and techniques that allows you to be able to direct the interview to your strengths and establish you as the credible expert.  When approached this way, the interview becomes less overwhelming and more manageable and gives you the power to control your answers and to lead the direction of the interview in your favor.

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Job Seeker’s Challenge: Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone Through Networking

Let’s state the obvious:  job seeking is tough.

But here’s something you won’t hear often from someone who makes his living posting jobs on a job board:  Online job boards give you a false sense of hope.  What I mean is that it is easy to become too reliant on job boards as your only source of job prospects.  It is easy for job boards to become too comfortable… sitting in front of your computer in your pajamas all morning, endlessly sending out resumes to job postings.  The problem is that it is not easy to gain a lot of traction or progress with this shotgun approach.  It is important that you approach job seeking as a full-contact sport, which means engaging with people and selling and marketing yourself through networking.

Networking to most job seekers is scary.  It is also one of the most misunderstood job seeking activities. At its most basic, networking means reaching out.  Reaching out to people you already know and also developing new contacts, either through current relationships or through cold-calling and face-to-face introductions.

Networking means reaching out to friends, family, former colleagues, clients, vendors and others you know to gather information about new job prospects and contacts.  But it can also mean introducing yourself to complete strangers at networking events, or (even scarier!) calling someone you’ve never met over the telephone and asking them for guidance and assistance.

Here’s why it is scary to call someone blindly:  It is unnerving to put ourselves on display to be judged; it is difficult talking about ourselves; it is embarrassing having to ask for help and it is awkward having to ‘prove’ ourselves to complete strangers.  Networking with strangers also means risking rejection.  What if they don’t call me back?  What if they are not interested in my background?

One job seeker I interviewed had a very common sense approach to cold-calling job prospects.

As part of his job search, Tom was researching companies and came across a mid-size marketing company that specialized in health care public relations.  As a former mid-level PR manager at a hospital, he thought it was a good fit.  He went on to LinkedIn and quickly found someone that worked at the company with the title “Director of Communications.”  Better yet, he found that this person also had a background in hospital public relations and that they both belonged to the same professional association.

So armed with that information, he decided to call this person.

How do you start a conversation?  What kind of message do you leave?  What do you ask for?

He developed a script for his phone call and practiced it.

“Hi, my name is Tom.  I’m on the hunt for a new job and I found your company online.  I’ve got a background in hospital public relations and noticed that your company also represents many health care providers. I also noticed online that we’re both involved with the Health Care Communicators Association. I was hoping to have a few minutes of your time to discuss my background, see if there are any opportunities with your company and, even if there’s not, perhaps just pick your brain for five minutes about your background.  Perhaps there’s some advice you can give me or hopefully you might be aware of some opportunities in your network of friends and colleagues.  I’m happy to send you my resume and talk with you over the phone, or if you have 15 minutes, I’m also happy to bring in some bagels and coffee some morning and talk face-to-face.”

Armed with that short script, he called his contact.

For many people, these types of interactions take them out of their comfort zones.   Asking for help from a complete stranger on the face of it seems awkward.  But, as you can see, having a plan and a script made this scary phone call a lot easier.

As job seekers, you are sales people…you are making the argument that all of your expertise, accomplishments, previous work experience, education and background is relevant and VALUABLE.

And think about it this way: Isn’t that what sales people do?  Develop a list of prospects, make good arguments for the quality of their product and how their product can benefit the other person/company and then, most importantly, MAKE THE ASK?

As job seekers, you are sales people.  You are marketing yourself.  You are promoting yourself.  You are advertising that you are available to work.  You are making the argument that all of your expertise, accomplishments, previous work experience, education and background is relevant and VALUABLE.

Purposefully taking yourself out of your comfort zone means you are willing to take a risk and do something that doesn’t come naturally to you.  But what have you got to lose?  Let’s say you make 10 phone calls to people you don’t know.  Out of those 10, you get three meetings or conversations that help your job search.  From those three conversations, you make another five contacts.  Pretty soon, as you can see, you are now in full blown, full-contact networking job seeking mode.  In addition to responding to job postings, you now have a network of individuals who have your resume in front of them and are helping you get the word out about your job search.

I don’t want to make this sound as if it is an easy or simple approach to job searching.  You have to dedicate yourself to this approach in your job search and commit the time to this approach.  It can also be frustrating: not everyone is going to call you back.  But, I guarantee, most professionals have been unemployed at some time in their life and can empathize with your situation and are willing to help.

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Job Seeking is a full-contact sport. Get out from behind the computer.

Are you still in your pajamas waiting anxiously for the new list of jobs to be posted every Monday morning?  And will you scan the list and frantically send resumes and cover letters to the jobs that are posted with the hope that there will be a response?

If this is how your daily job search process goes, I’m begging you to step away from your computer this week.

This might sound strange coming from a guy who runs an online job board, but please realize that online job boards in general are only one part of the job search process.  All too often, they create a false sense of hope and it is incredibly easy to become addicted to them as the only source of leads for your job search.

Job seeking is a FULL CONTACT sport.  It means talking to other people.  It means making cold calls to companies and asking for informational interviews from other professionals.  It means developing new contacts and networks of professionals.  It means taking someone to lunch or connecting with a professional association.

It means taking a few risks with the goal of feeling in control and reclaiming some power in your job search.

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