12 December 2009

On the job tips for new Admins...

I started this blog to share the knowledge I had picked up over the years either from other administrative assistants, my bosses or from trial and error. Here are my top six things I would recommend you do well:

  1. Write it down
    When your boss asks you to do something, write it down, send yourself an e-mail reminder or put it on a sticky note, but if you don't write it down it will get lost and probably not get done.  You may think you have a good memory and why bother, but there will be so many little things come across your desk that it is easy to forget and writing it down is a good habit to get into.  It also eases your boss's mind when they see you write it down, it gives them confidence it will be taken care of.
  2. Bring Forward System or Using Tasks in Outlook
    Have a system to follow up on items your boss has asked you to do or things you know you need to do. This can be as simple as having hanging file folders marked from January to December and then you just put items in the appropriate month that you need to bring forward for your boss. I put a sticky note on it, or write, the day I will need it, i.e. bf Dec. 15. I love this system and at the end of each day I go through my folder and pull out what I need for the next day. I also use Tasks in Outlook to follow up on electronic items. If I send someone an e-mail asking for something, I drag and drop the the e-mail into my Tasks and set a reminder for when I want to follow up. It is easy and I never lose track of things.
  3. E-mail
    Always ask yourself why you were copied on an e-mail. Is there an action that you need to do? Is it for your information or something to put in your tasks to do later? My boss will sometimes cc me to keep me in the loop of what might be coming up. I read it and either put it in my tasks to follow up on it or take the appropriate action. I have daily meetings with my boss so sometimes I print the e-mails that I have questions on and put it in a folder and then we go through each item and he lets me know what, if anything, I need to do. If he is travelling, I send it by e-mail, but it has been my experience that I will get better results with a face-to-face meeting.  He can ignore e-mails, but it is hard to ignore me :)

    When you are copied on an e-mail, read the whole message, don’t just skim it. There could be a message for you. i.e. My boss will send an email with a cc to me and on the last line or buried in the message he will write something like “I have copied Patricia to set up a teleconference at a mutually convenient time.” So it is important to read the whole message.

    If you are sent an email with a request to do something either asap or later, did you do it or have you diarized it to do it later? Do you track your e-mails by either putting them in folders, or in your tasks? If your boss has to continually go back and ask did you do this or that, then they may as well have done it themselves in the first place.

    If you have been asked to do something and don’t fully understand what is expected of you, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes e-mail is not the best way to communicate and it needs to be followed up by a phone call or face-to-face short meeting.
  4. Letter mail
    OUTGOING MAIL: If you are given a letter to finalize for your boss's signature, make sure you put the correct date on it and read it over for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Print it on letterhead with the appropriate sized envelope and ensure if there are any enclosures, they are attached. Put it in a folder for your boss’s signature in completed form, i.e. envelope clipped to letter and attachments. If you are waiting for attachments, but need to have it signed because your boss will not be in the office by the time you get the attachments, prepare it for him or her for signature and put a sticky note on the letter to remind yourself to attach enclosures or make copies for anyone you are copying on the letter, but also to let your boss know you know it needs to be done and have reminded yourself to do it.

    If you are sending the letter by regular mail, courier or registered mail, make sure you have the proper postage, courier slips or forms filled out.  I usually put a sticky note on it for that as well.

    INCOMING MAIL: As with e-mail, you should read the letter to see if there are any action items for your boss (or yourself) and diarize them or put the appropriate dates in the calendar.

    MAIL LOG: Keep a log of mail that comes in and goes out. For incoming mail, if your boss delegates it to someone else to respond to, put who it was sent to and what action is to be taken in the mail log and then follow up to make sure it has been done.
  5. Telephone
    Always work with your boss on what their preference is for taking calls and messages, but here are some things that have worked for me.  Do not let a caller know where your boss is. Just say that they are unavailable and take a message. If they say it is urgent take their name, telephone number and purpose of their call and tell them you will give your boss the message as soon as possible. If your boss is away from the office on business or vacation, it is all right to say they are not in the office, but you can take a message for when they return. The information will normally be in their out-of-office assistant already, or on their voicemail so it is appropriate to give the information, unless stated otherwise by your boss.

    If a person calls to speak to your boss, and you are responsible for taking their calls, ask for their name and telephone number, but I always ask them for the purpose of their call. If they do not want to give it, that is fine, but at least you can say to your boss that you asked.

    If a person calls wanting a meeting with your boss, ask for their name and telephone number and the purpose of the meeting request. Let them know you will need to check with your boss and will get back to them. I always ask my boss if he wants to have a meeting with this person or would a teleconference be sufficient. Sometimes your boss will pass this on to someone else to do or not want/or be able to meet. You will then need to get back to the person. Never say your boss doesn’t want to meet with them, but rather that they are unable to meet with them and would they like to leave a message with your boss. Sometimes if you know your boss does want to meet with a particular person, you can go ahead and schedule it for them at a mutually convenient time and e-mail your boss to give them a heads up it is in their calendar.
  6. Drafting a letter
    If your boss asks you to respond to a letter on his or her behalf, draft it as if your boss was going to sign it, i.e. have it set up properly with the date (or [Insert Date]) and the address correctly filled out and then either send it by e-mail or print it for his or her review. Draft it to the best of your ability and include the letter you are replying to when you give it back to your boss, so he or she knows the context of your reply.

    A good rule of thumb in writing the letter is to acknowledge the letter you are responding to, i.e. Thank you for your letter of [insert date]. Then state the purpose of the letter, i.e. We are pleased to enclose the requested forms and would ask that you fill them out and return them at your earliest convenience. Then end with a closing sentence i.e. We look forward to serving you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. Have the letter properly signed off with a closing such as Yours truly or Sincerely yours and put your boss’s name and title below that. If the letterhead has the name of the organization on it you do not have to repeat it again under the name and title, unless that is your boss’s preference.

    If your letter goes to page two, do not leave the signature line on its own on the second page. Take some text over with it, but you still want the first page to be centred and look good.

    Keep names together, i.e. if a name gets split at the end of the sentence i.e. Edward
    Smith. If you press Control, Shift and the Space bar after Edward and type Smith. They will stay together on one line.

    If the letter has multiple pages, number them, i.e. .../2 at the bottom of page 1 and -2- (centred) , or Page 2, at the top of the next page, and so on.

    Eyeball the letter for appearance and proofread it for accuracy. Do not rely solely on Spell Check. If you say you have attachments, make sure they are there and indicate at the bottom of the letter that you have enclosures. Some organizations like you to list the attachments, i.e. Enclosure: 2008 Annual Report.

    If you are copying someone on the letter, make sure you send them a copy. If you are blind copying someone, make sure that name is not typed on the original letter, as the intent is that you do not want the person to know you are sending a copy to someone else.  [cc = courtesy copy; bcc = blind courtesy copy].
Well that is my brain dump for the weekend.  I hope you find it helpful. Next week I would like to talk about meeting planning and give you some scheduling tips that have worked well for me.


Eve said...


I am continually impressed by how helpful your wonderful blog is. I am a young - 22 years old - legal secretary working in patent law with no professional experience whatsoever. Needless to say, the beginnings were rocky and I questioned my ability to continue being an assistant. That is, until I happened upon your blog. I have now, thanks to your great advice and tips, completely reinvented myself and becoming known around the office as one of the most professional secretaries. The reward has been amazing and I cannot go without thanking you.

I have just cleaned out my inbox using your advice on tasks except that I have now, in addition to dragging the email down to the tasks, inserted the actual email into the task so that I don't have to go back to my inbox and hunt it down in case I need to forward or reply to the email. This is especially helpful in the case that there are attachments in the email. This allows you to delete the email so as to not clutter your inbox, but still make it easy to find.

Thanks again!

Patricia Robb said...

Hi Eve,

You have made my day and your generation in particular was exactly why I started the blog. I thought it would be helpful for those just entering the administrative field to know some of the things I have learned over the years. I thought perhaps that young people had so much to learn with computer software programs that the other things such as office protocol and practices was getting left behind. As you have discovered half the battle is getting organized. Once you have a handle on that, then you can go about learning your job. Thanks for sharing.

I have also learned that neat tip with Outlook Tasks. Most times dragging and dropping into my Tasks works for me, but if the e-mail and attachments are needed, then click on the Insert Tab and choose Insert Item and then you can choose the e-mail you want.

This also works with your Calendar, which comes in handy if you want to either insert the agenda or another document from Word, or if you need to insert an e-mail. I always put OPEN FOR DETAILS in the subject line however, as it is not always evident in a meeting request that there is anything else in it unless you know to open it.

And you can do the same to insert another e-mail into an e-mail.

I have had so many people come to me at the office asking me how I keep track of so many things. They tell me nothing seems to get by me. I guess you know the secret now too :) Good for you.


Danielle McGaw said...

Great advice as always Patrica. I'm especially fond of the "write it down" rule - unfortunately, I don't always remember to follow it!

Anonymous said...

Patricia, you offer great advice for those starting out in the administrative assistant field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment of executive secretaries and administrative assistants will increase 13 percent between 2008 and 2018, meaning more people will be seeking advice like yours as well as education in the field. In response to this estimated increase, schools such as Bryant & Stratton College have launched online Associate of Administrative Assistant (http://online.bryantstratton.edu/admin-assistant) degree programs to help students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to compete for and perform as administrative assistants in the 21st century.

Crystal (Bryant & Stratton College)