31 March 2008

Some Microsoft 2007 Word Tips (Before you pull your hair out)

My new laptop came with Microsoft 2007. When I opened Word I groaned when I saw how different the toolbar looked, but I have managed to find my way around and thought I would pass on a few things I have discovered.
  • In Microsoft 2007 instead of File you press the Office Button which is located at the top left-hand corner of the screen.
  • The Customize Quick Access Toolbar is located along the top left-hand corner of your screen. Click on the arrow down for different options. This toolbar can be customized to add the things you access regularly like Undo, Save, Open, Send by E-mail etc.
  • Change Case is located under the Home tab under Font [Aa].
  • Inserting Footnotes is located under the References tab, Insert, Footnote.
  • SpellCheck is located under the Review tab, Spelling & Grammar.
  • To insert a table go under the Insert tab and click on Table. To delete a table you need to be in the table and you will notice the toolbar changes. Go under the Layout tab, under the Rows & Columns section there is a Delete icon.

If you are used to using quick keys, some Alt key functions no longer work in Microsoft 2007. Ctrl keys still work however so you can breathe a sigh of relief if you are used to using those.

Take the time to explore. It has been frustrating at times, but I now feel comfortable with it. Thankfully, there is always F1 for Help and when all else fails try right clicking.

30 March 2008

Plugged in and Tuned Out: Listening to Music While you Work

I am noticing more and more people plugged into their MP3 players on the bus, walking down the street and even at work. I have written previously on how much information assistants can glean from keeping themselves tuned in to what is going on around them that I have to wonder, can administrative assistants work effectively while plugged in to their MP3 players?

Working Better With Music
According to a 2006 Spherion® Workplace Snapshot survey conducted by Harris Interactive®, "almost one-third (32 percent) of workers listen to music while working using an iPod, MP3 player or similar personal music device. Of those, 79 percent feel that doing so improves their job satisfaction and/or productivity."

The University of Windsor did a study on The Effect of Music Listening on Work Performance. Overall, music is seen as beneficial to productivity.

In the Background
People have a variety of tastes in music and that has always been the problem for me with music piped into the office or played on a radio nearby. While some may like opera, others want hard rock. When I was attending hairdressing school, music was piped in and I found it very distracting. It was tuned to a rock station and by the end of each day I would go home with a splitting headache. Music is very personal and people tolerate it and function better when listening to the kind they like.

Articles have been written in medical journals that show surgeons who listen to music perform better. It has also been shown to be beneficial to the patient to have soothing music playing while they are being operated on.

It seems that the criteria as to whether music is played in the operating room is how much interaction is required for the operation and how much listening is needed. If it is a long operation requiring concentration for the doctor the music can be helpful to keep them focussed and relieve boredom. The consensus seems to be if the music is distracting or if an emergency arises, it is turned off.

Turning Inward
With an MP3 player it is not music in the background, but it is music in your head. You are tuned out to your neighbours to the point of being anti social. Working as a team requires listening and communicating. We cannot work as a team if we are not listening to and talking to our neighbours.

Turn the volume down
I sat beside someone on the bus the other day and the music on their MP3 player was so loud I could hear it coming from their ear buds. Perhaps to the person who was plugged in it sounded good, but for me as a second-hand listener it was a high-pitched screech. I was trying to read a book and had a hard time concentrating.

People have different preferences for the volume of their music. Some like it low and soothing, while others like it loud and vibrating. I live at a busy cross street and sometimes I can hear a car stereo blaring up to my third-floor apartment. The whole car seems to be shaking with the music. I can only imagine how loud it must be for those in the vehicle. A friend of mine told me when his son was a teen he could hear him arriving before he even saw him by the sound of his car stereo. His son now suffers from hearing loss.

Some people have plugged in to help drown out the distracting noises from neighbouring cubicles, which can be helpful as long as your music isn’t in turn disturbing your neighbours. I think it all depends on what kind of work you do and how much attention you need to pay to the others on your team.

As a writer, at times I can produce so much better when I am plugged in at home to some inspiring music. Time seems to fly as I type and listen, and depending on your job that may also apply at work.

A Time and Place
I have worked overtime on occasion and found it very relaxing and enjoyable to have my MP3 player on with songs that keep me focussed on a task that may be boring, like filing for instance. With my music playing it has made even this task more enjoyable.

On the downside, I have also been startled by co-workers seemingly sneaking up on me as I wasn’t aware they were there because I was plugged in. With security being an issue in so many workplaces, being aware of our surroundings is very important. Keeping our ears open can alert us to possible dangers when we are working alone late at night.

My Opinion...

I have found as an assistant that I need to be alert as to what is going on around me if I want to be effective as the go-to person. An assistant needs to be available to communicate with co-workers at all times.

An assistant also needs to be tuned in and aware of what their boss is doing. Their job is to assist and in order to do that we need to listen.

Some assistants work in a secretarial pool environment and take a task to their desk to work on it and in those cases being plugged in may be helpful. On the whole, if you are an assistant to one or more bosses, you need to stay focussed and available to assist them, serve clients, answer phones, transcribe tapes and do everything else that is required of us every day. I don’t see how we can accomplish that while plugged in.

28 March 2008

IAAP, Yahoo and Air Travel

I am a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). As part of my membership I get a subscription to IAAP's magazine OfficePro and also to their e-newsletter OfficePro Express. Both of these are excellent sources of information for the administrative assistant.

I thought I would pass on something from the e-newsletter because this week there was a link to a Yahoo article with a list of 20 Tips from Air Travel Insiders. If you are involved in making travel arrangements for your boss or even for your own personal travel, this is well worth the read.

Did you know they don't wash the blankets on the planes unless they look dirty? Yuck! How many times have I snuggled up with one of those blankets? Next flight I am bringing my own. Click here to read more.

Admins in the Spotlight: Distinguished Service Award Goes to Executive Assistant

Wilda Bleakley, an assistant at Rider University in New Jersey, was honoured with the Frank N. Elliott Award for Distinguished Service. She is described as the "go-to girl" with a "can-do attitude". Kudos to Wilda Bleakley.

To read more click here.1

1 Ward, Allie, The Rider News, Where There's a Wilda, There's a way: Elliott Award winner, proud parent and Campbell's aide, Bleakley does it all, http://comm.rider.edu/wordpress/2008/03/28/where-theres-a-wilda-theres-a-way-elliott-award-winner-proud-parent-and-campbell%E2%80%99s-aide-bleakley-does-it-all/ (accessed March 28, 2008).

26 March 2008

Speedy Gonzales

My nickname while growing up was Speeder. My dad called me Speeder because he said when he called me to do the dishes I was always so sloooow...to show up. My family still calls me that.

I am very competitive however and while I may have been slow in doing the dishes, in highschool I tried to be as fast and as accurate as I could in typing and shorthand and just about anything else I tried. There was a time I could type 100 wpm with no errors (and that was on a manual typewriter). So I've slowed down when I look at my typing score below.

When you think about it, assistants don't type as much as we used to - at least I don't. I tend to cut and paste when creating a large document and very rarely have to type it from scratch. When I type letters I am usually composing them at the same time so that slows me down.

Have fun with it and if you care to let me know your score, you know I will be trying hard to beat it :)

86 words

Click here to take the typing test.

25 March 2008

Interview Question and Answer Series: #1

I don't remember my first interview, although I do remember my first job and my first paycheque. I was a junior secretary at a large bank and my salary was $137 every two weeks. I thought it was amazing.

In the late 70s and early 80s, jobs were plentiful and I never considered when I went on an interview that I wouldn't get the job. I am not bragging, I think there were more jobs than workers so if you were half decent you got the job.

I think in my day going on an interview was different from today. We were asked ordinary questions about our skills and experience. It was more like a conversation. I don't remember being nervous about it. Today the competition is tight and to get the job you need to have interview savvy.

My sister and I have compiled interview questions and answers that we review each time we go on an interview to put us in what I call "interview mode". I find when I review the questions before the interview then they don't take me by surprise when asked. If you are nervous some of the questions can really stump you, especially the way they are worded. And perhaps that is part of the strategy behind them.

I am going to do a series on the blog from time to time with some interview questions and the answers we have come up with and had success with.

So here starts the series with probably the most common question that is asked at an interview:

Tell me about yourself?

In this question they are asking you to briefly describe your background and experience. Be prepared with a five liner which describes you. Practice it with enthusiasm. The first few minutes of the interview, including your very first exchange with the staffing specialist, often forms a lasting impression and may mean getting the job or not.

If you have an opportunity, do this on videotape and watch your body language. Do you appear confident? Are there too many ahs and ums in your speech pattern? Get comfortable with your answer and you will have a good start to your interview.

24 March 2008

Pay Attention to What Your Boss is NOT Saying: What you can tell by your boss’s body language

I knew something wasn't quite right. My boss was just too happy for a day that I was under the weather and had to go to a doctor's appointment and he had to rely on others to help him out. I filed it in the back of my mind, but I wasn't surprised when he told me he was leaving the company. His body language had given me a clue. The next time you get little hints from your boss's body language, pay attention.

A friend gave me a few examples of clues she was given that could have given her a heads up.
  • Negative Body Language:
    She wondered if something was up when her evaluation meeting was postponed and then her boss started avoiding her. Next thing she knew she was laid off.
  • Positive Body Language:
    At another place her boss was very relaxed with her and would ask her for advice on different things around the office. Her boss didn't avoid her. It was a very comfortable working relationship and she felt secure in that job.

Here is an article that talks about that very thing, What the Boss’ Body Language Says. But as this article correctly points out - it is not always all about you. Sometimes your boss's body language may seem stressed or they seem to be avoiding you, but it has nothing to do with you at all. I thought it was an interesting article and made some good points.

22 March 2008

There's one in Every Office: The Co-worker With the Candy

As I was walking by a co-worker's desk, I noticed the new stock of candy in her bowl. I automatically headed over to it to check and see what goodies she had in there today. Instead of asking if I could have one however, I asked a new question: Are they sugar-free? Candies and cookies in the office are so tempting when you need a sugar high, but I'm trying to cut back.

I found this article on the office candy bowl. Enjoy! But I will keep passing it by.

We Stand on Guard for Thee: The Assistant as the Professional Gatekeeper

The administrative assistant is the face and voice of an organization to anyone who calls or visits. An assistant can often be the professional gatekeeper as to who gets in to see the boss and how quickly they get to speak to them on the phone.

I found this neat blog "The Thin Pink Line: Four Women for Women". I have added it to my links of blogs that I read.

Today they have a post that I thought would interest you called Getting Through the Admin. Assistant. I agree with her assistant's suggestions and would add one: Be respectful. It always amazes me when someone calls wanting to speak to my boss and they are rude.

As assistants we have a responsibility when meeting or speaking with people on the phone to be professional, courteous and helpful. We also need to be aware and respectful of our professional's time and screen calls to only let people through who really need to speak with them. Some things we may be able to assist people with or pass on to someone else.

21 March 2008


I read an excellent post on the use of hyphenation. Click here for Lynn Gaertner-Johnston's article on when and when not to use the hyphen.

I was always taught if the words were describing another word you would hyphenate it, as in "up-to-date calendar". But you wouldn't hyphenate it if you were saying "the calendar is up to date".

20 March 2008

Blogging Etiquette

Do you ever wonder if you are blogging properly or are you stepping on other blogger's toes? I was on Susan Johnston's blog The Urban Muse and she answered some blogging etiquette questions and had some good tips that I thought I would pass on to you.

Blogging Etiquette Part 1

Blogging Etiquette Part 2

Blogging Etiquette Part 3

19 March 2008

Our Changing Role

I don't think any of us will be surprised with these survey results by OfficePro, which show that "nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of managers polled said responsibilities for support professionals have increased in the last five years".

It is also reported that, "Fifty-seven percent of executives also said administrative staff have greater career options than five years ago".

I thought these survey results tied in nicely with my article "Thinking Outside the Job Description Box".

I was speaking with a manager and he related a story about a person who worked for him, but he was quick to add that she was a "secretary" not an "assistant". I asked him to explain what he meant and he said a secretary just completes a job they are told to do, but an assistant goes beyond that and does a task with little or no instruction. He felt an assistant was a greater help to him. It was nice to see that he could see the difference.

As we near Admin Professionals' Week, OfficePro offers the following ways to recognize support staff. APW (April 20-26):

"-- Give thanks. Express gratitude for your assistant's contributions and achievements in person or with a handwritten note.
-- Do lunch. In addition to thanking your assistant, take time to discuss his or her professional goals and potential career paths.
-- Host a party. Plan a companywide event to recognize all administrative staff.
-- Encourage networking opportunities. Offer to pay for your assistant's membership in relevant trade and professional associations.
-- Provide ongoing educational opportunities. Encourage and, if feasible, pay for your administrative personnel to attend professional development seminars and conferences. Support your staff in pursuing industry certifications and relevant coursework."

I have worked at a few offices where they hosted a luncheon for the assistants served by the managers. It was an easier way to recognize the group as a whole rather than individual bosses buying their assistant gifts.

I think of all the things on the list above I like the last two: Paying the membership to your professional organization and providing educational opportunities.

18 March 2008

The Performance Appraisal: How are you Performing?

I don’t look forward to filling out my performance appraisal form, especially the self evaluation part. My mind seems to go completely blank when it comes to listing my achievements and what goals I want to accomplish. It reminds me of when I went to a doctor’s appointment while I was pregnant. As soon as the doctor asked me if I had any questions, I couldn't think of a thing to say. All the books I had read recommended that you write your questions down and bring them with you. Simple, but effective and it can work the same way when you are preparing for your performance appraisal. You can start by keeping a record of complimentary e-mails you have received and successes you are particularly proud of. I received a nice e-mail from a client recently and thought that this e-mail was something that I should keep for appraisal time.

I have created a subfolder in Outlook called Performance Appraisal and this is where I put these types of e-mails. For instance, if I arranged a successful conference or if I was involved in a project that I am proud of, I send myself a short message detailing that, which I then drag and drop into my Performance Appraisal subfolder. When it comes time for my next review I read over the e-mails and am better equipped to fill out a more thorough and well thought out appraisal form.

Don’t let it sneak up on you?

Another way to prepare for your performance review is to get a copy of the appraisal form ahead of time so you can start thinking about the questions and write down notes that will prompt you come appraisal time. You should be able to get this from your Human Resources Department.

Each of our appraisal forms will be different, but there are some common questions that are asked and I have listed some of them to get you thinking.

What are your key accomplishments?

This is where the collection of notes and e-mails will come in handy to remind you about your accomplishments. We do so much throughout the year it is easy to forget about some of the older accomplishments.

What are Your Goals?

Do you have goals that you have set for yourself in your position? If not, think of some things that are doable. Maybe your goals are related to your supervisor’s goals in which case you would need to brush up on what those goals are and how your goals can relate.

Evaluate Yourself

Many performance appraisal forms have an evaluation form that is ranked by the employee and their supervisor. If you rank yourself high, be prepared to explain why.

Some things to think about are:

· What is the quality of your work?
· What is the quantity of work and how are you handling it?
· How is your time management? Are you reliable and do you have a good attendance record?
· Are you able to adapt to change?
· Do you take responsibility for your work or do you play the “blame game”?
· How is your written and oral communication?
· Are you a team player? Do you get along with your co-workers?
· Do you show leadership skills?
· Do you demonstrate the required skills for the job?
· How are your problem solving and decision-making skills?
· How are your planning and organization skills?
· Are you able to delegate?
· Do you comply with company policies?
· Are you self motivated? Are you able to motivate others?

Personal Development

These are the steps you are taking to further your career. This includes courses and training programs and would also be a good place to put your involvement in your professional organization.

Some other things to consider would be:

· Is there any training that you believe is necessary to fulfill the requirements of your position?
· What steps are you considering to further your development? This could be on your own initiative and personal time or on-the-job training opportunities.

The Performance Appraisal is Important

Don't downplay the Performance Appraisal. In some organizations raises are tied to how well you do. It is also a record that is kept on your personnel file and you want it to reflect accurately how you are performing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarification if you need it.

Performance Appraisal Meetings are also a time for your boss to let you know about any upcoming jobs they may want you to be involved in. You need to ensure they know what your workload is like now. Something may need to be taken away before you can take on more work and this is the time to discuss it. Taking on new jobs can be rewarding, so don't miss the opportunity to learn something new to keep your job interesting and challenging.

17 March 2008

What to do when the computer is down?

When your programs are not responding and your computer is down, what are you supposed to do? You certainly realize how much you are dependent on it and it sometimes leaves you feeling a little disoriented as to what to do next. At least it does for me.

Here is what I came up with:

  • Catch up on filing
  • Do expense reports
  • Order supplies
  • Prepare courier slips
  • Get on the phone to check voicemail and return calls, make travel arrangements, register for conferences, book boardrooms etc.

Sometimes having the computer down is a good time to do the little things we have not had time to do because we are so busy on the computer. You just need to shift your thinking and get back on track with a different to-do list.

16 March 2008

Listening to Your Neighbours

It is amazing what you pick up from your neighbours. I work in a cubicle and hear things going on around me all the time. Most things I tune out, but when it’s something I need to know I seem to tune right in and it is really helpful.

If my co-worker in the next cubicle is away and someone comes looking for her I usually know where she has gone as we regularly call out to each other where we are going as we rush off to do a photocopying job or send a fax.

It is especially helpful to know what your neighbour was doing before they leave on vacation or take a sick day. You hear conversations throughout the day and they help you to know where they are at on a project so you can step in and help out. You won’t be completely up to speed, but normally you have some idea of what the person was doing.

There is a negative aspect to hearing what your neighbours are up to. You can’t help overhearing personal conversations as well and that can be distracting. Sometimes co-workers have conversations right outside your cubicle which can also be very distracting when you are on a phone call with a client or are trying to transcribe a tape or even concentrate on a task that needs all your attention.

There are advantages and disadvantages to hearing your neighbours in a work environment. I think the most important thing is to be respectful of each other and mindful that your neighbours are listening.

14 March 2008

Admins in the Spotlight: Kudos to this admin assistant

Kathy LeMieux is an admin assistant with a message. She was crowned Ms. Wheelchair and she is using her platform to speak up for people with disabilities. Click here to read her story.

Admins in the Spotlight: I don't watch the show but...

An admin assistant was selected as a contestant on the show The Bachelor. If you watch the show and are interested, click here to see clip.

13 March 2008

When Your Boss is "Out of Office": E-mail and Voicemail

My boss occasionally asks me to change her out of office message for her on her e-mail account as she is rushing out the door on a business trip or on vacation. Another assistant’s boss asks her to change his voicemail message when he is out of the office.

E-mail Out of Office

When you are asked to write an out-of-office message for your boss you need to ask them a few questions:

1. Will they be checking their e-mail account regularly, occasionally or not at all?

2. Do they want you to direct their e-mail to you or to a colleague? Most likely they will want them directed to you and you can either refer them to the appropriate person or help them yourself.

3. What dates will they be away and when will they be returning to the office?

A suggested Out-of-Office e-mail message:

Thank you for your e-mail. I will be out of the office commencing [date] and will be returning to the office on [date]. I will only be able to check my messages occasionally. If your matter is urgent, please contact my assistant Jane Brown at [phone number], [e-mail address] and she will be able to assist you.

Voicemail Out of Office

If you are asked to compose a voicemail message in your boss’s absence you need to ask similar questions as listed above. A good suggestion would be to write the message down and read it before you record the message to avoid stops and starts.

A suggested Out-of-Office voicemail message:

You have reached the voice mailbox of John Smith (or Mr. Smith depending on how formal your office is). John will be out of the office commencing [date] and will be back in the office on [date]. He will only be checking messages occasionally, therefore, if you need assistance, please press 0 and ask to speak to his assistant Jane Brown.

With voicemail I think it is better to give the day and date of the absence, i.e. “Friday, June 13th and will be back in the office on Wednesday, June 18th”. When I listen to someone’s voicemail and people include the day it helps me if I don’t have a calendar in front of me.

If your boss is away because of an illness you will want to protect his or her privacy and not give out any of their confidential medical condition to callers, but be very general in your voicemail message.

Out of office for someone who is no longer with the company

I was on an interactive admin assistant forum and someone wanted to know how to compose an out of office message for someone who was retiring and they were looking for suggestions on what to write. I suggested the following:

On [insert date], [name of colleague] retired after [insert years of service] years of service. We wish [her/him] all the best. If you need assistance, [insert name] would be happy to help you, as we want to continue offering you the very best service. You can reach [name] at [email address and phone number].

There are a number of reasons people are no longer with a company. In the majority of cases I would think it would be the HR manager's job to compose an appropriate message for this type of out of office message.

12 March 2008

Taking Vacation and Needing a Replacement

Now This is a Chair with my Name on it

My chair at work is ergonomic and suitable for sitting in front of a computer all day, but I'd much rather be sitting here with my laptop writing a book.

Imagine how much I could accomplish in this setting. The itch to go south is upon me. Don't get me wrong - I love the snow. It is beautiful, but I wouldn't mind getting a head start on summer by going south.

Of course I will need to book holidays and make sure I have a replacement to assist my boss when I am gone.

I thought this would be a good time to re-post my article on some suggested Do's and Don'ts for the Assistant and Floater Assistant:

Do meet with the floater assistant before you leave on vacation.

Do fill out a form for your replacement with any information they might need, computer passwords, upcoming events they will have to handle in your absence etc.

Don't change the computer settings or the workspace of the assistant you are replacing. If you must change the settings, take a PrintScreen of the settings and restore it back to the original settings before you leave that assignment.

If you are using the assistant's Outlook, do change the signature line to indicate you are sending the e-mail on their behalf.

Do put your initials on correspondence you type.

Do as much filing as you can if you’ve been asked to do so, but if you are unsure, leave it in a folder for the assistant to do on their return.

Do leave a short note or e-mail to the returning assistant to give a summary of what you did while they were away and if there is anything that needs attention on their return.

If you are appreciative of the work the floater assistant has done for you in your absence, do send a thank you e-mail (I always copy the HR manager as well). A job well done needs to be acknowledged and recognized.

We cannot expect the floater to do our job exactly the way we do it, but we can expect it to be done in a professional manner with the information we provide to them.

See you on the beach...

Patricia Robb

P.S. Before going on holidays remember to put your Out of Office Assistant on your e-mail and voicemail accounts.

Photo taken in the Bahamas February 2008 by Lynn Crosbie

11 March 2008

Mountains of Snow: Ottawa Snowbanks March 2008

Here is a photo of me beside one of the bigger snowbanks in the neighbourhood. I am 5' 9" and this snowbank is at least twice my height. The car that is pulling up behind me belongs to my friends who are just arriving back from a southern cruise. I think they were a bit overwhelmed with what has happened since they left last week.

The second picture is of their street, but the photo doesn't even come close to what it looks like being there and seeing those huge snowbanks between each of the driveways. Before the snowplows came there was only room for a single vehicle to drive. It was feeling a little claustrophobic as you drove down the street. From the car you can't see the houses, just big white walls of snow as you drive slowly along.

I think the worst part of this whole storm was that it hit on a weekend so we didn't even get a day off work. Isn't that just the way? The biggest storm of the winter and it cuts into my personal time.

Photos taken in Ottawa, Canada

Egads Robin! Where's the Batmobile?

Where would we be without a little bit of humour to lighten up our day?
This is a picture of a car in my parking lot that was almost totally buried in snow this past weekend.
Sometimes we can feel buried at work with all that is on our plate. I'm sort of feeling like that these days. Lots of changes, lots of work and at times it feels overwhelming, but just like this car the owners finally did get it dug out. Maybe they got some help from one of the neighbours or some friends, but all the cars in our parking lot have finally been shovelled out. I know at work I will eventually get dug out too. Maybe with a little help from some of my co-workers, but things will get normal again.
One of my co-workers was remarking on that very thing today. It is great when you can work together as a team. It can lighten the load and lift the burden of feeling swamped and humour in the midst of that can help.
I believe laughing and work, in moderation, is good for productivity and overall morale and I finally found an article that supports that theory in Humor is a Laughing Matter at Good Workplaces. I chose Laughing and Survival as key words in the title of my blog because I feel without the one you could never do the other.
I am not going to continue with the Batman theme, but it was fun while it lasted and gave me a good laugh. I have a few more photos I will be sharing with you. These snowbanks are just too amazing to pass up the photo opportunity, but pretty soon I will be back to business.
Enjoy the rest of your week everyone. The week is half over and for those affected by the time change, after this week it will be less noticeable. And best of all, spring is just around the corner.
Photo taken by Ken Robb in Ottawa, Canada

10 March 2008

Holy Snowbank Batman!

We are shovelling our way out from a big snowfall on the weekend. This is a photo of a friend's daughter by a snowbank that was voted "the biggest snowbank on their block". I have seen some snowbanks over 10 feet high.
People have no place to put the snow so the snowbanks keep getting higher and higher. We are expecting more snow on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. Thank goodness it is March break and lots of parents are home with their children. The kids are loving this.
I think the most hilarious sights I've seen so far are of people waiting on 6 ft. snowbanks for the bus. Talk about having to step down into the bus. I could see people looking at me on my snowbank bus stop this morning smiling as they drove by.

I thought my readers in South Africa, the Southern States and anywhere else that does not have snow would enjoy this photo. Click here if you want to read more about our wacky weather in this article in the Ottawa Sun called Under the Weather.
Photo taken in Ottawa, Canada on March 10, 2008.

Daylight Cranky Time: What Time is it Anyway?

As I drag myself out of bed this morning I wonder again why we spring ahead and fall back?

Typically this will be a week of tired and cranky office workers as we adjust to the new time. I remember back to the days when I had a young daughter. Young children's internal time clocks have not adjusted and they don't understand that the time has changed. Actually, I don't understand why the time has changed.

I was enjoying getting up in the morning and it being light out. This morning I am back in the dark. Granted it will be nice after work going home in the daylight, but hey wait a minute, I was already starting to go home in the daylight.

We are told we will save energy at night by not having to turn on the lights as early, but we use extra energy by having to turn on the lights in the morning. I'm confused.

Talk about confusing, have you ever tried changing the clock in your car? A friend of mine just leaves hers because she can't figure it out. When we are driving together we are always mindful that the clock is wrong. I hope she remembers this morning and gets to work on time. Or maybe this is the time the clock will finally be right. What time is it anyway?

9 March 2008

What not to do Before an Interview

I read an article about interviewing and the writer said that after the interview the executive went to the admin assistant and asked what she thought about the candidate. Unfortunately, the candidate had been rude to the assistant and impatient while waiting.[1] Not a good move on that person's part.

Never underestimate the seemingly little people. We may look like we are just sitting behind our desks smiling and answering the phones, but if an employer is smart they recognize we can be their eyes and ears and our opinion counts.

If you want to make a good impression, be nice to the receptionist, the doorman, the janitor and the person who gets your coffee while you wait. The interview starts the minute you walk in the building. Oh and by the way, did I mention the story about the person who cut someone off while driving and then gave them the finger. I'm sure you can guess the rest of the story...

Check this related article out, It's Better to Look Good Than to Feel Good, by Kemetia Foley.

[1] Bruzzese, Anita, 45 Things, Impress the Hiring Manager -- and the Receptionist, http://www.45things.com/blog.php (accessed March 9, 2008)

8 March 2008

Breaking up is Hard to do

Things were going along quite nicely at work and then my boss had to up and leave. Now I’m back to square one wondering who I will be working for. I can’t say I blame him for leaving. It was for a great promotion.

But What About ME?

When it comes right down to it, it really is all about what is best for our own career. We form good working relationships with our bosses and co-workers, but when a good opportunity comes our way, we take it. Sometimes when change like this comes it is a good time to re-evaluate what you want to do with your career and if you are thinking of making a move, it is a good time to start looking.

Choosing Your Boss

When I go on an interview, I interview those who are interviewing me. I want to know if I want to work there and if the personality fit would work. I chose this boss, even though he thinks he chose me. Well, maybe it was a bit of both. Now I am at the stage of wondering who my next boss will be and will it be a good fit?

The New Kid on the Block

I got an e-mail with his new assistant's coordinates. I am told she wants to speak with me. Should I be mean and tell her how awful this person is to work for? Try to scare her out of the job so I can come to the rescue? Or should I be professional about it and try to help her as much as I can?

It is never wise to burn bridges. I will help the new assistant and provide her with useful information so she can do her job to the best of her ability. I have always felt having a network of assistants very effective in my career. We help each other and the more people I know, the greater the wealth of information to do my job. Now, I have one more person I can add to my list of "Assistants I know".

She is probably worried about filling my shoes, but she has nothing to worry about. My boss is a fair man and if she is a good worker, she will be respected for her role as his assistant.

Change is hard, but change is going to come, so best to accept it and make the most of it. I salute my now ex-boss on a promotion well deserved and wish the best for him. Breaking up is hard to do, but I look forward to whatever new opportunities are going to come my way.

7 March 2008

Point Taken: Overusing Exclamation Marks

When I first started blogging, if I wanted to make a point, I would use an exclamation mark! I guess I had a lot of points to make because when I look back at my earlier posts there are a lot of exclamation marks!!!

It was pointed out to me that this was a common mistake and the more you use them the less effective they become. A period makes the point, without using an exclamation mark.

See Susan Johnston's post today on The Urban Muse. Someone commented that exclamation points "should be shot on sight".

Proper Placement of Personal & Confidential on an Envelope

I have always seen the placement of Personal & Confidential on envelopes as follows:


Ms. Jocelyn Smith
ABC Company
Any City Any Province/State Postal Code/Zip Code

I would recommend bolding and capitalizing Personal & Confidential to make it stand out.

At one place I worked we were told by the post office to put the City, Province/State, Postal/Zip Code information on one line as follows for better mail processing:


I was also taught that the proper spacing should be:

City (one space) Province/State Abbreviation (two spaces) Postal/Zip Code.

Punctuation is optional as either way is acceptable:


6 March 2008

Thinking Outside the Job Description Box

Today’s assistants are computer savvy, smart and up-and-coming, and consider themselves professionals in the workplace. They are no longer stuck within the job description box, but have the freedom to break out of the mould and redefine their roles and sometimes even change their careers.

Employers have begun to recognize our changing roles in the workplace and some have reflected that by changing our title from “secretary” to titles that more accurately describe the positions we are performing in our organizations such as:
  • Legal Assistant
  • Personal Assistant or Personal Aide
  • Medical Assistant
  • Executive Assistant
  • Office Coordinator, etc.
Administrative assistants are highly skilled in many areas and sometimes we take it for granted, not recognizing where we could go with our skills. Here are some ideas to get you thinking in that direction.

Event Planning:

Event planning is a big industry that looks for people who are skilled in planning big events without a hitch. What better candidate to take on that role as a career, than the assistant who regularly plans events from small meetings to large conferences.


An assistant who has a marketing flare with a creative mind can branch out into editing or writing. Those who are skilled at regularly thinking on their feet as they come up with solutions and ideas both on the computer and on the job might be able to step into this role.

Some examples would be managing a company website, creating, editing and writing a company newsletter or creating promotional materials, invitations and brochures for marketing events. This can be a rewarding career change for those suited to this type of work.


An assistant with a head for numbers may be able to move into finance in an accounting or a tax firm. Some assistants regularly manage small budgets when planning functions or have bookkeeping responsibilities and work regularly on spreadsheets. Those with experience in this area might enjoy this type of career move.

Professional Organizer:

Organization is a must if you are an assistant. One of our main duties is to keep our bosses organized. While being organized seems natural to us because of the nature of our jobs, some people are not organized and need help and are looking for skilled and organized people to do the job for them.

Working Within Your Current Job:

Someone who wants to remain in their Administrative Assistant position but spread their wings, can work with their supervisor and HR Manager to develop and change their role by specializing in certain areas and do more of the things they enjoy and are good at.

Administrative Assistants have a list of things they specialize in including business writing, proofreading, minute taking, meeting planning, travel agent, desktop publishing, editing, public relations and client liaison to name a few.

Some assistants have expanded their role to that of an executive assistant which sometimes means performing the role of an office manager.

Working our way out of a job

Kim began as an administrative assistant and has now become the HR Manager of a major law firm.

Sue is an IT specialist who started out as an administrative assistant with a knack for computers and made it work for her as a career.

Elizabeth began as an administrative assistant in an accounting firm and has become a junior chartered accountant.

What do these three women have in common?
  • They each had a desire to pursue a different area of interest and they changed their direction and worked themselves into a new career.
  • They each had forward-thinking employers who allowed them to have vision and encouraged them to work towards their goal and made room for that new role within their organization.
  • They each took the initiative to get appropriate training and education to better equip them in the areas they were interested in.
Our jobs are not limited to just being a “secretary”. We may need to look at courses that will help us reach our goals, but the possibilities can be endless when we think outside the box.

5 March 2008

Note to Self: Do my Filing

Keeping up with your filing is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself organized. There is nothing worse than madly looking on your desk and wracking your brain wondering where that piece of paperwork is. Especially when your boss needs it urgently. Having a good workable filing system and an organized and uncluttered desk is critical to keeping and staying organized.

Maintaining an up-to-date file list is also a necessary tool to keep everything in order. It shouldn’t be too complicated and should be something that others could look at and use. Sometimes things happen and someone has to fill in for you, so you want something easy to follow.

The Miscellaneous File

There are some things in your physical files as well as your electronic files that just don’t seem to have a home. They tend to get put in the Miscellaneous file and that is OK as long as you are consistent and always put that type of thing in there.

Electronic Filing

You also need to keep your electronic filing systems organized. Especially as we look to a paperless society we need to keep our folders and subfolders organized in our document management system and in Outlook. But all is not lost if we can’t remember where it is filed, because in Outlook and in most document management systems we can search all folders and still come up with our document. So in that sense, filing electronically has its advantages.
When filing electronically, the name of the document and key words become important to finding documents and if you can save by file number that narrows the search down even further.

Outlook Tip when searching for E-mails

In Outlook (2007) in the Search field there is a drop-down menu. Choose ``Search All Mail Items``. Type what you are looking for and Outlook will search in all your folders.
What a great tool when you can`t remember where you filed an e-mail.

3 March 2008

E-mail Management

I sent an e-mail to some friends and colleagues to ask for assistance on an article I wanted to write on e-mail management, as I felt that sometimes e-mail seemed to be taking over. I wondered what others thought and how they went about managing their Inbox. To date I have had no replies, and I understand. E-mail management does not have an easy solution. We are all just trying to manage the best way that we can.

Here are some of the things I wanted to know:
  • How do you manage your e-mail, or do you?
  • What would make your life simpler with e-mail?
  • Do you have any tricks or tips that you have picked up over the years or tried and found to work for you?
  • If you are a manager, what role does your administrative assistant play in helping you manage your e-mail, or is your e-mail account “hands off”?
  • If you are an Admin how do you assist your boss?

E-mail management is difficult, but it is not going to go away. E-mail is becoming the preferred choice in business communication.

Why are we so overwhelmed by e-mail and how can we better manage our Inbox? Here are a few things I have found help me to manage, but by no means do I think I have the answer, but I am coping for now.

  • Let your friends know that you are too busy at work to accept joke e-mails and refer them to your home e-mail account instead. I have found that this simple step has cut down on much of the junk and clutter in my Inbox and so far nobody has been offended by my asking.
  • Unless it is work related, I subscribe to any e-mail feeds to my home e-mail account.
  • Avoid sending e-mail for little things because you know people will then Reply to your e-mail and boom you have another e-mail in your Inbox to deal with. Try using the phone or get up and go and speak to the person.
  • Reply to All is a nice feature, but is not always the best way to reply to an e-mail. We are already overwhelmed by the volume of e-mail in our Inbox, we do not need another one popping in that probably was not necessary for everyone to see in the first place.
  • Have subfolders in your e-mail account so you can deal with e-mails quickly and put them in the appropriate folder for filing or for future action.
  • Take advantage of your reminders and drag and drop e-mails in a task to deal with at a later date. Or use the flag for follow up feature in Outlook.
  • E-mail archiving programs are great to deal with the “your Inbox is full” problem. Your old e-mails will go to sleep so won’t take as much memory, but they are still available with just a click.
  • Read books on what others are doing. You may not be able to use everything they suggest, but if you can find a few things that will help you it is worth it.

I think people just don’t have the time to figure out how to manage e-mail because they are too busy checking their Inbox.

March 4th National Grammar day

Jane Watson has a few ideas on how to celebrate National Grammar Day. Check out her e-bulletin for more information. Lynn Gaertner-Jones has also written a post on it with a link to the host site.

2 March 2008

Job Posting with a Twist

After reading numerous job postings for Administrative Assistants (most requiring you to walk on water), I thought I would write this job posting from an assistant's point of view.

Administrative Assistant seeks professional for a great working opportunity. Applicants must be respectful of their assistant and have a good understanding of everything they do in a day. The professional should be willing to work with the assistant on projects and give as much detail as possible to complete the task. The ideal candidate must have excellent management skills, excellent communication skills and a professional demeanour.

The Administrative Assistant is seeking someone who will not hover, but will leave the urgent task with clear instructions on when it is needed and what is required, and then return to their office to work on other matters. Applicants must write clearly and if using short forms, explain what they mean to the assistant.

The applicant must be someone who is mindful of the time it takes to do tasks when passing on many projects. The applicant must never be demeaning or roll their eyes.

Aptitude tests will be given in Outlook Calendar to ensure proper scheduling techniques and in Word to avoid formatting problems when passing work onto the assistant.