30 April 2008

Teaching Your Boss to be the Boss

I read an interesting article in Canadian Lawyer Associates magazine called "Here to Help" by Helen Burnett. It brings up the subject of young lawyers needing to be taught how to make the most of having an assistant. I think it would apply in all offices. It quotes some very forward thinking law firms who run seminars for new associates on how to work with an assistant. What a great idea for the executive and the assistant.

I think as assistants we may not realize how intimidating it is for young executives to have someone working for them for the first time. Many executives, although they are good at what they do, whether they are doctors, lawyers, scientists or engineers, might not have a clue how to be a boss.

I have had young executives apologize for the workload they gave me or ask me if I would mind assisting them at my convenience. I have told them that they should not apologize for giving me work. They are the boss.

A more experienced assistant can sometimes be a bit overwhelming to the young executive and scare them away from asking for help because they may feel intimidated by our office knowledge. I remember telling a young executive that I may act like the boss, but he was the boss. He smiled, but he got the point. We may need to give up the reins and let the new executive be the boss.

I found this website called Open Loops Because it's Your Time by Bert Webb. He wrote a post "6 Ways to Better use Your Administrative Assistant". I would love to work for this guy. Take a look at the article. It is written to executives, but assistants would benefit from it as well. I think it would be an ideal working situation no matter what side of the desk you work on.

Goals to help you work by

As an assistant I often feel left in the dark as to what my executive's goals may be and how I can help him or her achieve them. Executives should share where they want their practice to go so the assistant can help them get there. An assistant who buys into their boss's objectives and goals can be a key player and help to them.

29 April 2008

Spring Cleaning Time

This is the time of year for spring cleaning and your office probably needs a good clean up too. Make your desk clutter free inside and out. You should have as much working space as possible. Have a place for everything and use it.

Keep your drawers neat and tidy. Recycle extra staplers, scissors, highlighters and pens that you do not need. Use a drawer organizer so you can separate items and make things neat.

This is a good time to close out old files and fix up some of the current ones.

Organize your document management system creating folders and subfolders to organize things better. Do the same with Outlook. Make subfolders that you can drag and drop things into.

Is there anything in the office fridge that belongs to you? Go through the fridge and either take containers home (if you dare) or throw it out. If it’s been there for awhile you might not recognize it anymore.

Put your name on your lunch containers. Use a piece of masking tape and you can easily write your name on an item.

Do you have food in your drawers? Crackers, cookies or snack foods that are stale and old. Throw them out.

Clean out the closets. Are there extra sweaters, shoes, mittens or hats that might belong to you? Bring them home. It would be a good idea to keep one sweater at work for when the air conditioner is turned on. It can get pretty cold in the office.

We are normally responsible to keep our desktop clean and wiped down. This would be a good time to do a real clean up and get rid of those dust balls that have accumulated.

Clean your computer screen. I am usually trying to type while looking around the fingerprints on the screen.

Interview Question and Answer Series: #4 Questions YOU can ask in the interview

So many people recommend asking questions at an interview. What are some of the questions you can ask? A good interview is one that turns into a conversation, with them asking questions of you, but with you also asking questions of them. It will be more relaxing for both parties and by your questions you will give them a good idea about your expectations and capabilities and how you will fit in.

You can either write some questions down as the interview proceeds and ask them at the end of the interview or you can ask them after you have answered their question.

If you don’t understand a question that is asked of you, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify it.

You need to play it by ear in the interview. Some questions that they ask you can be turned around into a question for them or can bring up a question in your mind about the position.

Things you can do before the interview

Do some research on the company where you are applying. Do you have any questions about the company or the department? By asking questions you show them you are interested in what they are doing as a company.

If you are called for an interview you should ask for a copy of the job description. You should also look carefully at the job posting. Is there anything in the listing of duties that creates questions in your mind about the job? If there is anything you are not sure about, the interview would be a good place to ask.

If they list a duty that you would like to know what the expectations would be i.e. “some bookkeeping required” you should ask at the interview.

If they ask you if you are a team player, after you give your answer you might want to ask them what kind of a team environment their company promotes.

If they ask you what you would see yourself doing in five years, that would be a good opportunity for you to ask about the company’s career development opportunities.

I would not bring up salary unless you are asked, but if they ask what salary you are looking for, you might turn the question around and ask them what they are offering. You can ask about their pay scale for the position and if there is room to grow.

You want to know if this is the right job for you. It is appropriate for you to ask questions as well as give answers to their questions.

Give Examples

If they ask you a question and you can give an example that would add to your answer, talk about it. For example, if they ask you if you are experienced at organizing conferences, you may want to tell them about some of the successful conferences you have organized.

Pay attention to the questions asked and if they create a question in your mind, or it brings up something you have done, don’t be afraid to talk about it.

28 April 2008

E-mail Management: Managing your Boss’s Inbox

More and more executives require their assistants to manage their e-mail accounts for them. The problem I have with this request is managing a busy executive’s e-mail account can be a full-time job in itself, but many executives are asking for it. Here are some things that I have found:
  • Meet with your executive and get on the same page as to what they are expecting you to accomplish when going through their e-mail account. Do they want you to monitor their Inbox and bring urgent things to their attention or do they want you to take control of it? Be very clear on what is expected of you.
  • Flag items that are urgent or print them for their attention and action. If there are any deadlines or appointments, put them in your boss’s calendar or task list with appropriate reminders. You don't want them to be surprised to find out they have a speaking engagement and haven't had time to prepare.
  • You may need to reply to e-mails on your boss’s behalf to let the person know that someone is looking into it and will get back to them. Speak to your IT Department. If you have the proper access to your boss’s e-mail account you can reply on their behalf and it will appear in the From line. For example, Patricia Robb on behalf of [boss’s name].
  • Read the e-mail thoroughly for any items that need attention and action and bring those to your boss's attention.
  • Get any files they may need as a result of the e-mail correspondence.
  • Check with your boss and if agreed, unsubscribe from any unnecessary e-mails that may be cluttering their Inbox or create subfolders and drag and drop these e-mails there for your boss to check when they have the time. Your role may be just to unclutter their Inbox so they can better manage the important items.
Communication is key between you and your boss. Some executives are nervous about giving up this key control area of their job, but out of necessity feel they have to. You can give them confidence by keeping the communication lines open. They need to be assured you will act in their best interests.

27 April 2008

Demands for Administrative Professionals to Increase

This is definitely good news for our profession. Here is an article from the Wausau Daily Herald where they quote Department of Labor statistics on the future growth of our profession. Click here to read the article. For a direct link to the Department of Labor report click here.

Using Autocorrect in Word

I am always looking for shortcuts and I found a neat way to speed up my typing using AutoCorrect. For example, here are a few I have created.

If I type sbc and press the spacebar (or press enter) it automatically types SENT BY COURIER. Here are some others I use:


Your Autocorrect shortforms are case sensitive, so choose whether they will be lower case or upper case. I have found lower case easier to remember.

I use sbc instead of SC because SC is also a short form for South Carolina and if you don't pay attention you may have SENT BY COURIER in an address where you really wanted the state SC. So I add the ‘b’ to avoid that.

You can create an AutoCorrect for as many words as you like, but unless they are simple you will tend to forget your shortcut. I use mine often, and because they are the initials, they are very easy to remember. So try and keep it simple.

To create an AutoCorrect shortcut in Word go under Tools – AutoCorrect - Replace: sbc With: SENT BY COURIER. Create as many as you like, then press OK and you are set.

In Microsoft 2007 the instructions are as follows:
In the Customize Quick Access Toolbar located at the top left-hand corner of your screen, click on the arrow down.

  • Choose More Commands
  • On the left-hand side click on Proofing
  • Click on the Autocorrect Options button
  • Ensure Replace Text as you Type is clicked on
  • In the Replace box type in your short form, for example sbc
  • In the With box type in SENT BY COURIER
  • Press Add

Autocorrect Quick Tip for Typos
When you do a SpellCheck in your Word document and a typo is found, you will notice in the SpellCheck dialogue box there is a button for Autocorrect. If the word in the Suggestions is the word you want, click on Autocorrect and it will automatically go into your list of Autocorrect words. If you make that typo again it will be corrected for you.

25 April 2008

Will that be one sugar or two?

I’m a Secretary, but “I don’t do coffee”. Let me explain.  I am not talking about being liberated and not being willing to make coffee. I can’t make coffee period. I am not a coffee drinker and those who have had one made by me, have quickly learned not to ask for more.

I remember years ago wanting to impress a friend who was a coffee connoisseur. I got up early and quietly went about making the coffee. It was a 12-cup carafe and I assumed that meant you put 12 scoops in the coffee maker. I was anticipating the joy on his face when he woke to the smell of the coffee brewing.

The smell did wake him up, but not in the way I thought it would. He came alive to the smells in the apartment only to ask “How much coffee did you put in here?” So much for appreciation! He made a comment about it looking like tar as he poured it down the sink.

The whole coffee culture has always mystified me, but sometimes I want to join the coffee crowd because they seem like a fun group to be a part of. Recently I went with a friend to a speciality coffee shop and wanted to show my knowledge at ordering. I heard others saying “one coffee, double-double”, so like a pro I ordered. Everything seemed to be going fine until I sat down and took a sip. Annoyed, I said to my friend, “There’s sugar in my coffee!” I had no idea by ordering double-double I had ordered two creams and two sugars. (1)

Bosses normally do not ask their assistants to get them a coffee these days, but occasionally one has asked me. I usually panic and ask the other assistants how to work the machine and which coffee packet do I choose? There are so many different kinds. Isn’t there anything called “regular” coffee?

Aside from the fact that I don’t know how to make it, I usually do not have time in my busy day to bring someone a coffee. I think if you are asked to get your boss coffee you need to evaluate the request. Sometimes you are being asked for convenience sake only, not because they think it is your job.

When my boss asked me for a coffee, he felt he needed to explain to me that he normally would never ask his assistant to get him a coffee, but he was just starting a conference call that was going to be a long haul and he forgot so he quickly asked me to get him one. Although after that first cup he never asked me again. I guess my coffee-making skills haven’t improved.

Here are some things you may want to think about:
  • Do you mind getting your boss a coffee? If not, then do so. If you do, you need to speak to your boss about it and decide if this is a deal breaker for you.
  • Do you have the time to do this extra task? Everybody’s job is different with different requirements. When you interview for the job you need to be clear on what the job expectations will be.
I read an article in this month’s AdminAdvantage about someone who is a celebrity’s personal assistant. Her job description is “anything goes”, from driving her boss to the airport to making appointments and picking up things at the store. She knew what she was signing up for and the benefits of the position outweighed these small inconveniences. Click here to read the story of what seems to be a very interesting, but demanding career choice. The article begins on page 10.

(1) I am not sure if this coffee lingo is worldwide, but at coffee shops in Canada they have a language for ordering coffee of which I know nothing about. I have come to realize it is serious business ordering coffee in Canada. The meaning of double-double as it relates to ordering coffee has even made it into the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

24 April 2008

Hear ye, Hear ye. Read all About it...

Here are a few articles I wanted to pass along that I thought were very appropriate during Administrative Professionals' Week.

Secretary Jobs Evolving Into Something More by Karen Robes in the dailybreeze.com

In Celebration of Administrative Assistants by Jenny May in The News-Herald.com

This blog post by Ellen Bloom from Los Angeles is my Beat is worth looking at just for the first photo. Hilarious... Click here to see what I mean.

Have a great day everyone.

23 April 2008

Admins in the Spotlight: Administrative Professional of the Year Award

Christie Phillips was named 2008 Administrative Professional of the Year by the Hager Chapter of IAAP. Congratulations Christie. Click here to read the article.

Out-of-Office Blog Assistant

I am on vacation the rest of this week so I will be blogging only occasionally during that time. I will be back at it starting on Tuesday, April 29th.

Enjoy the rest of the week wherever you are.


22 April 2008

"I Can’t Sleep" - Going to Work When you are Tired

“I am so tired”, I hear myself saying again and again. I am one of many who have trouble sleeping. It can be difficult to do a full day’s work on less than eight hours of sleep?

I have had sleep problems since 1988. That’s the year my mother became ill and I became her primary caregiver. As a single mom I was the obvious choice in my family to do the job, but between caring for a young child and a seriously ill mother, I developed poor sleeping habits that have plagued me since then.

My neighbour knew I couldn’t sleep so when she read the notice in the newspaper searching for candidates for a Sleep Disorder Clinic, she came to me immediately. “You have to sign up”, she told me. I called the number, was accepted and made an appointment to be hooked up to electrodes as they monitored my sleeping patterns.

The first night at the clinic, after telling the interns how bad my sleep pattern was, I fell asleep in record time listening to them talking to the other patients. The sound of their distant voices lulled me to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. I never fall asleep that quickly, but the day I was being tested for a sleep disorder I was out like a light. True to form however I woke up around 2 a.m. and they told me the next morning that I didn’t fall back into a deep sleep the rest of the night.

After my second visit to the Sleep Disorder Clinic (this time I was awake most of the night) I was ready for the verdict. The very good-looking intern told me that I did not have a sleep disorder, but that my sleeping problems were related to being off schedule. Just like a baby...I had gotten my days and my nights mixed up while taking care of my mother.

He gave me tips on how I could get myself back on schedule. One of the things he stressed was that my bed only be used for sleeping and sex. (Did I mention how good looking he was?) He also suggested that for two weeks I go to bed at midnight and get up at 6 a.m. He was sure I would get tired enough that I would get back to a normal sleeping schedule. I have now been going to bed at midnight and waking up at 6 a.m. since about 1995. I just don’t seem to require more than five hours of sleep, although at times I wish I could have more, especially when I have to get up and go to work the next day.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but here are some tips that I have found help me. If you are experiencing sleep problems you should see your doctor:

  • As my young intern friend said, make your bedroom a sleep zone. No reading in bed or watching t.v. as it may have the opposite affect and stimulate you to wakefulness;
  • No caffeine. I am especially sensitive to the caffeine in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate. I can’t even have caffeine in the morning or it will affect me, but definitely having caffeine in the evening would be a no-no;
  • Don’t go to the gym just before bedtime. You should exercise, but do it earlier in the day as exercise will actually wake you up;
  • Take a warm bubble bath before bed to help soothe the stress of the day and wind down to prepare for a good night’s sleep;
  • Listen to white noise. Either a radio turned on, but not tuned to a station, or I have a special machine that plays white noise and automatically shuts off after an hour.
  • Accept what is normal for you. My normal is five hours and it works for me. When I try to fight it and get more I only end up tossing and turning and feeling tired all day;
  • Make the weekend yours. Don’t overbook yourself. In order to make it through the week you should not plan too many things on the weekend. Sleep in, relax, do something enjoyable on the weekends.

Sometimes not being able to sleep becomes a stress in itself. Seeking help may be the first step to a better night’s sleep.

Here are some interesting Sleep Facts from the Sleep Disorders Center.

20 April 2008

Administrative Professionals' Organization

I went through most of my career unaware that we as admin assistants had a professional association. Since I have become a member of IAAP I don't know why I didn't join before. What a great place to network with our peers and a place we can learn and grow as a person and as an assistant.

Judy McCoy, Board President, of IAAP gave a good summary of what joining a professional association can do for you and your career in a recent article in The Bellingham Herald:

"I meet people who are stagnant in their job and who (upon joining the IAAP) discover there are many opportunities out there. You see people grow and become leaders, and then they do better at the workplace.

It is also a great place to interact with your peers about the industry."

Click here to read the full story.

At this time of celebrating Administrative Professionals' week, check out joining your local professional association for your own career development.

For those who don't know, IAAP stands for the International Association of Administrative Professionals.

19 April 2008

The Power Behind the Executive. All in a days work...

Today starts Administrative Professionals’ Week. The whole week is set aside to acknowledge what we do every day.

The first time I realized the importance of our job was when I was working as a young secretary in my first job. I was creating some organization charts for my boss and noticed that the secretary was listed beside the director of our department. The other executives were then listed with their respective secretaries beside them. The organization chart gave me a different view of what I did. I began to see my job as important and useful.

I have since worked for executives who have given televised speeches, lawyers who have worked on high profile legal cases and doctors who have done notable research. I have seen my work in the papers they have submitted, in the words they spoke in their speeches and knew the results of a case because of a document I filed with the court. Our job is a behind-the-scenes job, but an important one. We report directly to the executive and are involved in their success. We are entrusted with confidential information and work hard to create a product that will make them and our company look good. We should be proud of the work we do and the trust we are given.

Most executives I know are very appreciative of the work their assistants do. I see it when we plan to take our holidays. They get anxious as to who will assist them when we are away. They also get cranky when we take a sick day off as they weren’t expecting to be without the help for one or two days.

I have worked for some executives who were more administratively challenged than others and required more assistance. One executive I know says her assistant will always have job security while working for her. She could not be without her assistant.

OK, so who really runs the office?

Happy Administrative Professionals’ Week everyone! I hope your employer’s appreciate all the work you do and show you that everyday, but especially on this special day and throughout the week.

I'd like to introduce you to ????

I have a bad memory. I admit it. Depending on how much sleep I get can determine if it will be better or worse. I jokingly told a friend of mine that sometimes it feels like the information I am looking for is in the archives and the door has been locked and I don't have the key.

At work I compensate by writing things down. I write down any instructions I get from my boss, phone messages or anything I will need to remember to either pass on or do. Once I have completed the item, I cross it off my list. I am lost without my notebook. I also use my Outlook Calendar and Tasks for reminders of what I need to do.

But what about names of people? That's a hard one. Remembering names can be difficult. You might remember the face, but the name escapes you. The Etiquette School of Ohio has a good tip for remembering names. Click here to read the post. And please...if you introduce someone, don't assume we know the name. Help us out and mention it.

Does anyone know what day it is?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all followed the same numerical dating standard. It can get very confusing when we date differently.

For instance, can anyone tell me what this date is - 06/11/03? Is it June 11, 2003? Is it the 6th of November 2003? Or is it 2006 November 03? Well, it depends on which country you are in and if the person writing the date is aware of the standards in their particular country.

Canadian and International standard is YYYY/MM/DD
American MM/DD/YYYY

But these standards are not always followed.

Here is a very confusing look at the dating format around the world. Click here if you dare.

A good case for entering by YYYY/MM/DD would be when you want to sort chronologically. It would accurately sort by year either ascending or descending, depending on your preference. If you sort by MM/DD/YYYY, 01/13/2003 would come before 04/12/2001, which would not be an accurate chronological listing.

One thing I do know for sure, it is Saturday today and the weather in Ottawa, Canada is beautiful with a high today in the 70s (Farenheit), but then again depending on which country you are in it may be in the high 20s (Celcius). Oh who cares...I'm going to enjoy it anyway. It's warm and the snow is melting and that's all that matters.

I hope everyone enjoys their weekend.


18 April 2008

Good Boss/Bad Boss

I found an interesting post on Anita Bruzzese's blog 45 Things. She wrote an article called Your Success is Tied Directly to the Boss. Click here to read the article. It is an interesting read. She suggests that if you have a bad boss you could be putting your career at risk.

Fortunately, I have always gotten along well with my bosses, but I have known people who have had difficult working relationships and it hasn't been pretty. Going to work is hard enough on some days without having a difficult boss to work for. As Ms. Bruzzese suggests in her first paragraph, when someone says they love their job it is most likely because they have a great boss. I agree. I think when you have respect for your boss it makes it more enjoyable to go to work each day.

Interview Question and Answer Series: #3

Practicing your answers to some possible interview questions really helps you to prepare. They won't always ask this question, but for an administrative assistant's job it would be a good question to ask. We certainly know pressure. This is the answer I normally give to this particular question.

Do you work well under pressure?

I handle working under pressure by being organized. I prioritize what I need to accomplish and as I complete it I cross it off my list. I maintain a to-do list for all projects.

If you are already an assistant I am sure you have had to handle stressful situations. How have you handled them? Do you remain calm? Are you organized? Think about those things and come up with your own answer to this question and your own examples.

17 April 2008

Personal Admin Horror Stories

I came across this article on personal admin horror stories that I thought you might get a kick out of reading.

Some of my memorable moments are...

I remember making travel arrangements for my boss who was travelling to New York City for a meeting. I was not aware there were three main airports that he could fly to: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark International Airport. I had him flying into LaGuardia but his hotel room and meeting were right across town closer to another airport. Oops!

One dinner event I organized I must have been having a chocolate craving when I arranged the menu items. After a great meal the dessert was served – a rich chocolate cake. Break time came around and I look and there are chocolate chip cookies and chocolate crunch bars. At the next break I looked with dismay as they brought out chocolate brownies. On the event evaluation 95% of the attendees suggested that next year we not have chocolate on the menu.

And last but not least...

I went to the gym after work on a Friday evening. I had a great workout and went back to the office to get my purse and things to bring home. I always take my gym laundry home on Friday to wash over the weekend. On Monday morning as I was madly trying to get out the door, I couldn’t find my gym clothes. Did I not bring them home? Where were they? I left for work thinking perhaps I had left them in my gym bag at work. When I walked into the office and got to my desk, there they were, on my desk with my bra sitting right on top of the bundle.

16 April 2008

Remember April 17, 2007? The Day the Berry Went Black

April 17, 2007, one year ago today, was the day service was down and all our bosses were frantic because their wireless hand-held devices didn't work. I wrote this after observing their reactions on my way to work and at work and from speaking to others about this new past-time.

The 24/7 Executive: Wireless Hand-held Devices are the new Corporate Addiction

A young lawyer puts his wireless hand-held device under his pillow so he won’t miss that all-important call or e-mail. He doesn’t want to miss the opportunity if someone should want to get in touch with him. Initially he is somewhat surprised when he is awakened in the wee hours of the morning with incoming messages, but now he considers it normal to receive e-mails at any time of the day or night.

A corporate executive is concerned that while on a cruise in a remote part of the world he will only be able to check his messages when he goes ashore. His spouse endures patiently until the next port of call.

It is such a noticeable phenomenon that the name Crackberry has been dubbed for those that are showing signs of addiction. Some disturbing symptoms of this wireless addiction are feelings of anxiety when you are unable to go online or are out of service range, and neglecting your real relationships for your wireless ones.

Colleagues can unknowingly become enablers as they feed this compulsion to check messages by taking advantage of their online availability. Employers may even fuel the addiction by their expectations of 24/7 accessibility. Are we addicted to this new technology? Is the ability to conduct business 24/7 the new high?

No Age Limit

Some older executives who have up to this point refused new technology, when they have been introduced to the wireless hand-held device have taken to it with glee and can’t seem to put it down. Younger executives as well have felt the lure of the wireless and the 24/7 high, while others have stood firm and have turned them off or leave them at home when they are on their own time.

The laptop started the excitement with the convenience of being able to bring your computer on the road. With the wireless we can now carry our computer in our pocket. We have gone from the fascination of the big screen to the addiction of the small screen and executives have taken to it with a passion.

The Day the Berry went Black

April 17, 2007 will be remembered as the day when service was interrupted for hours, well into the next day, for millions of users of the wireless hand-held device in North America. Offices were buzzing about what could have happened. “Where were you when...?” or “How did you cope?” were the kinds of questions executives were asking each other. People held their collective breaths wondering when service might be restored and they could get back to thumbing their way through their messages.

Getting the Cold Thumb

If you have ever waited for the elevator or for public transit with one of these users you will have gotten the cold thumb. They do not acknowledge the people around them. Their focus is entirely on the wireless as they continue to talk with their thumbs. Physiotherapists are seeing more repetitive strain injuries on hands and thumbs from this overuse, with the increase in tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Some users have had to withdraw and go cold turkey because of the damage.

Lighten up!

Some websites have taken a light-hearted look at this pastime and are making suggestions for other uses for the wireless device, such as using the wireless as a night light to go to places it has never gone before – directing blurry eyed executives to the bathroom. Paparazzi type sightings of Crackberry users have become the new frenzy and are posted on websites. Who will they spot using their wireless?

People are also coming up with new words to express their online addiction such as blirting which is the equivalent of wireless flirting and talking with your thumbs to explain the wireless chit chat. Don’t Berry and Drive, however, may be the new catch phrase to describe the emerging socially unacceptable behaviour of driving while on your wireless. The dangers of focussing on your wireless while driving are becoming a real concern, and rightly so. Concentrating on anything other than your driving is a danger to yourself and to others.

This may well be the generation of the 24/7 workforce. Are we up for the challenge or do we need to step back and re-evaluate? The song Cats in the Cradle may have a timely message for today’s business workers. Business can be exciting and the ability to do it 24/7 is appealing to those with a business appetite. You can enjoy the use of your wireless and take business to where it has never been before, but don’t neglect your real relationships, and do take the time to enjoy life. It is the real thing.

Ideas for Administrative Professionals’ Week

Hmmm... what do I think would be a good gift idea for an assistant on AP Day? I know it's gotten commercialized just like every other special day, but I love getting presents so as long as we're celebrating I'm going to enjoy it. Here are a few things I think would be good gifts:

· Paid membership to an administrative assistant professional association
· Educational opportunities
· Donation to a charity in admin’s name
· Gift certificate
· Luncheon either catered in the office or at a restaurant
· Flowers
· Saying thank you
· Getting us a coffee...

I don't drink coffee, so tea for me please...At a few offices I’ve worked in they provided a luncheon served by our bosses. They are at our beck and call and I take full advantage of it by asking for “seconds please”. I love it!

15 April 2008

What's the story on your file?

Think of a file as a story about what has happened from beginning to end on a matter. It should be a story that you can look at to see what happened, but it should also be a story someone else will be able to read and make sense of.

It is very important if you get phone calls and make decisions on a file to document that by writing a note and putting it on the file by date. You will not remember later what transpired and what arrangements were made. When someone new looks through the file they will see a chronological record of incidents. You want to file letters, faxes and e-mails received and sent chronologically. E-mails should be filed by date and time if you have more than one on a particular day.

Your file should be neat. Papers that belong together should either be stapled or clipped so it will be evident to anyone looking through the file what belongs together. Fax transmission sheets and courier slips are also part of the story and provide proof that a document has been sent so should be kept stapled to the correspondence. If you send an e-mail with attachments, the attachments should be printed out and stapled to the e-mail to keep an accurate record of what was sent.

Occasionally it may even be necessary to keep the envelope on the file and that should be stapled to the correspondence it came with.

It is important to date stamp all received correspondence to have an accurate record of when a document was received.

What if I make a mistake?

Everyone makes mistakes, but the file has to have a record, even of our mistakes if it will help tell the story. If an error was made and something was sent to the wrong address, e-mail address or fax number, strike through the correspondence with a pen or put a note on the file saying Sent in Error. It will avoid confusion and gaps if someone is looking back trying to figure out what happened on a particular matter.

If an e-mail is sent and comes back undeliverable, print a copy of the undeliverable message and put it on the file with the e-mail or make a note on the e-mail copy on the file. It may mean following up and phoning or faxing a document if you can’t send it by e-mail, but you should have a record that you tried and it failed. Your boss at some future date may be sure he or she sent an e-mail and the failed message will be a reminder of what happened.

We would all like to forget about our mistakes, but if you make a mistake on a file and that is part of the story - make a note of it and put it on the file.

Electronic filing

As we march on to a paperless society we need to be filing our electronic documents in a similar fashion to the hardcopy file. What story are we telling?

If your document management system has the capability and has a place to put the file number along with the name, that will make it easier to find a document. It is all about “finding” it again. Try to make it simple.

We can now receive faxes by e-mail, we can scan documents and our regular e-mail can all be saved into our document management system making it easy to make an almost complete electronic file. Some things we still have in hard copy and require our paper file, but whatever we can file electronically we should do so and in a common-sense way to make it easy to retrieve when needed.

Being consistent in how documents are named will make it easier to retrieve when needed. Your company may even have a policy on their naming procedures. The key is to make it easy for anyone to find. No longer do we have our “own” filing system, but our files should be recognizable to all who need to read them.

File neat and file smart and that will go a long way in making your life and those of your co-workers a lot easier as we go searching for that needed document.

14 April 2008

I feel like I’ve done nothing all day, but I was busy. How come?

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything, but I know I was busy, so what gives?

I remember working at a particularly busy job and I just couldn’t seem to get everything done that I needed to. I was busy, but when I looked at my output it seemed I had done very little, so why did I feel so swamped and unable to get my other work done? Someone suggested that for a few days I keep a time log. I thought, “Great, something else for me to do. I have enough to do already," but I did it and I was quite surprised at what I found out.

It wasn’t long before I could see what was keeping me from getting at my other work. I spent a lot of time on the phone scheduling meetings, checking voicemails and responding to client e-mails. It was a real eye opener at the end of the day when I saw how much work I had actually done, just not the work I wanted to do.

I don’t keep a time log anymore, but I certainly saw the value in it. Once I saw where my time was being spent I could see where I needed to organize and prioritize.

Click here to read an article on keeping a time log on Jodith's blog the Administrative Arts.

13 April 2008

Meeting With Your New Boss

Here are some questions you can ask your new boss:
  • Are there certain things they would like you to continue and other things they might like to change. This would be a good opportunity for you to bring forward any new ideas you have.
  • Do they want you to schedule their calendar or just check it often and be aware of what they are doing? If they want you to schedule their calendar, what are their preferences?
  • How do they like to be reminded and have things brought forward? Do they want reminders put in their calendars? Do they want you to put things they need to do in their Tasks or just leave it with you to bring it to their attention?
  • Do they want you to open their mail?
  • Do they want you to answer their phone if they are not in the office or just let it go to voicemail?
  • Do they record their own voicemail greeting or do they want you to do that?
  • Do you have access to their business e-mail account? How do they want you to manage it? Do they want you to monitor e-mails, print them, bring things to their attention? You should be clear on what is expected of you?
  • Do they have an in tray and out tray? Do they use it?

10 April 2008

Calling in Sick...or NOT!

There is a wireless phone advertisement on the different ways you can call in sick using their product. It's a multiple choice question on whether you should text message, use e-mail or use voicemail to let your office know you are taking a sick day. The underlying message is you are not really sick, but want to creatively get a day off and here are some choices on how to do it.

Calling in sick has always been an issue in offices and managers have looked for solutions. I have worked in offices where they use "personal days" as opposed to "sick days" and there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Personal days are my favourite because you can use them for any personal reason, whether you are sick, need a mental health day off or need to stay home because your children are off school. I like them because you are not required to give an excuse. You are given so many days in a year and can use them or not use them. Having personal days are actually an incentive to not take the day off. The decision is left with the employee whether they use the day or not. The bonus in not using them is at the end of the year you get paid for any days you did not use in the year.

Other people prefer having sick days allotted to them each year. I remember when I first joined the workforce the unwritten rule was "you use them or you lose them". You are given so many days in a year, but they do not carry over into the next year so if you don't use them you lose them. I find the incentive is to take the sick days off rather than not.

A co-worker told me they felt personal days discriminated against those who are not as healthy as others. The healthy ones who can maintain a perfect attendance record and not use their sick days will be rewarded at the end of the year by getting the personal day allotment paid out to them, while those who have medical problems and have to use their personal days will not get that benefit. I think they have a valid point. Yes, there is a big problem with those who abuse sick leave, but there are people who get sick more often than others because of age, needing to stay home with sick children or any number of legitimate health-related reasons.

Another disadvantage to personal days is if someone is trying to maintain that perfect attendance to get the pay-out at the end of the year, they may come into work when they are sick with colds and flus and spread the germs to other workers.

But how does it look when you call in sick?

Whether you are really sick or are abusing your sick leave, HR now look carefully at those who routinely call in sick on Mondays or Fridays. I think employees who abuse sick leave are onto that one and now the favourite day to take off seems to be Wednesdays, or any day other than Monday or Friday.

Let's face it, we all sometimes take a sick day off when we are not sick, but may just need a break from a high stressful job. The problem with taking a sick day or a personal day is that it is unplanned. Your co-workers are depending on you and when you don't show up it makes it difficult for those who are at work that day because they are now shorthanded.

If you are healthy and don't need to use your sick days, putting "maintained an excellent attendance record" is a great thing to have on your resume under "Accomplishments".

So think twice before picking up the phone, or texting or e-mailing...Are you really sick today?


A family friend went on an interview and was asked about his high sick leave use. The company had access to his personnel file as it was an internal transfer opportunity. When he told them he had had a kidney stone problem, they all winced (it was an all male panel) and let the question pass (no pun intended)...

9 April 2008

Following Instructions and Job Hunting...

Does it matter if you ignore instructions when applying for a job? I found a good example of that on this blog. This person was looking for an administrative assistant and asked for resumes to be faxed to her, but people e-mailed them instead. Here is what she had to say:

“What was surprising to me with some of the people who applied for this assistant position is that despite my request to have people fax over their resumes, the majority chose to email me. Even after I added in the ad, no emails. I guess we’re living in a techno world where faxes will soon be obsolete, but still - give me what I asked for the first time and no one gets hurt.

That basic lack of following instructions made me realize that either my fax isn’t working (not the case), or people just weren’t good at following directions. In my line of work, I can’t take the time to repeat instructions more than once and used this as a way of weeding out people. So, if you haven’t heard back and sent me an email, sorry.”1

I would also suggest if you are applying for a job, not to send the fax from your office. It is too easy to leave a paper trail and there is not enough privacy while sending. There are off-site places you can go to send faxes for a small fee.

When using e-mail to send a resume (of course after checking the instructions), I have on occasion sent it from my work e-mail account, but it would be wiser to use your home account. Here is a post by the Brazen Careerist who thinks it doesn’t matter if we job hunt from our current job, but I think it is risky.

1 http://thejoywriterpr.wordpress.com/2008/04/04/the-joy-writer-pr-marketing-business-updates/

8 April 2008

Interview Question and Answer Series: #2

Who will you choose as a reference (and I would suggest you have at least three people in mind)? Depending on where you are at in your career, this can be difficult. If you are just starting out, your biggest fan will be your mother, but I wouldn't recommend putting a family member or close friend down as a reference. If you have just graduated from college, a teacher would make a good choice and if you have been on the job for a few years a good reference would be a supervisor or a co-worker. No matter who you choose, be prepared because you may be asked this question at the interview:

What will your references say about you?

Your references are people that you have chosen, therefore you should be able to say that they will have positive things to say about you. However, you may want to review with your referee what they will say about you. Ensure your references know they may get a call, from what company and the job applied for. A 'ready' referee is the best kind. Don't forget to follow up with your referees, especially if you get the job. A thank you card is lovely to receive. They won't mind doing it again next time.

7 April 2008

Forget about going to the gym and dieting. I lost 5 lbs. just putting my pantyhose on this morning...

Don't you just love laughing? I do. I once went on an interview and was so comfortable with the people who were interviewing me that I told a joke. After the interview I kept telling my friends that I couldn’t believe I had told a joke at an interview. I had never done that before. I ended up getting hired, not because of my joke, but it was obvious in the interview that we were going to get along quite nicely.

A Funny Thing Happened at the Office

The two people I worked for were quite funny. I often told them they should take their show on the road as they were always bouncing jokes off each other. Some days it was like being in a Monty Python movie. It was the most fun working environment I had ever been in. It was also the busiest office I had ever worked in. If you work in a high stress office, laughter is a good addition to help relieve the tension.

My comedic duo has since broken up, but it has left me with a funny bone mentality when it comes to working. I love to laugh and to make people laugh, but there is a fine line between laughing too much and not working enough. There has to be a balance.

Laughter: The Best Medicine

Laughter can get you through many of life's difficult situations and can be a great stress reliever. A tense situation at work, then someone cracks a joke and we laugh. The situation is still there, but now the tension is gone and we have a smile on our face as we try to tackle the problem.

Life is humorous. You can find humour on the bus, at the office and with your family and friends. The funniest things are the things people do and say.

When was the last time you had a real belly laugh? Try to find something to make you laugh. Laugh so hard that your stomach hurts. Laugh so hard that tears are coming out of your eyes.

Laughter is good for your soul. We need it every day to keep healthy physically and emotionally. So have a good laugh whether at work or at home. Better yet, spread a good laugh around. Did you ever notice that laughter is contagious? One person laughs and the next person will start smiling until everyone has been touched by the laughter.

By the way if you didn't figure it out, my pantyhose were slimmer pantyhose...I picked them up by mistake, but I think I'm on to a good thing...

6 April 2008

When the sound of your mouse isn't the only "clique" in the office

We had to go through it in elementary school, being the last one picked for the team. We had to go through it in high school, being excluded from the all important “popular group”. What about at work? Is there an exclusive group at the office where others are not welcome, also known as the clique?

How do you know if it is really a clique?

It is natural for like-minded people to form friendships at work and to gather together. If a group is fun and humorous, people will generally congregate around that person or group. It is a nice break at work to engage in conversations that are fun and most importantly - nothing to do with work.

A clique however is an exclusive group that frowns on including others. Is your group of work friends restrictive? That is a good sign you are in a clique. I don’t think we go about wanting to exclude others, but sometimes inadvertently that is what happens. People start to get cozy and comfortable with each other and tend to pipe down when someone not in the clique comes around. That leaves those who are on the outside with a feeling of intruding.

Cliques have sometimes been sources of hurtful gossip when they make it their business to talk about other people’s business. This is not good work networking and can be detrimental to your career.

When you don't clique...

Before you pronounce a group a clique, give them a chance. Say hello and get to know them. To avoid the appearance of being in a clique, be a social butterfly and sit with others as well. However, if I see someone sitting and reading I always ask if they mind me joining them as some people are hoping for no interruptions.

Even if you are not the type to socialize at work, being friendly to your co-workers is good networking. You never know when you might get a heads up on a better job opportunity or need help with something at work. I have always found my co-workers to be my greatest resource.

Being a clique disturber

It is always fun to go and sit down in the midst of a clique. Pretend you don’t know you have just sat down on holy ground. Maybe they are not that exclusive after all and will include you. I think most clique members would deny that they are in a clique. It is easier to see from the outside looking in than from the inside looking out. Inside the clique you see your work buddies, outside the clique you see you are not wanted.

5 April 2008

Just Say Yes!

When I turned 40 I decided to say “Yes!” There were so many things I wanted to do, but I would let my fear of doing them stop me. I decided the next time someone asked me to do something that I normally would shy away from I would say “Yes” and do it. Public speaking was one of those things. Not long after that I was asked to speak to a group of teen girls at a camp and I said “Yes”. I found out I loved being at the front, I could make people laugh and I really enjoyed speaking.

When my daughter got married a few years ago, my sisters and I decided to do something we never, ever would have done. We practiced for months to get it down just right and at my daughter’s wedding reception we got dressed up in bridesmaid dresses from the 70’s and did a Dancing Queen routine. We were a hit and got a standing “laughing” ovation. I'm not sure if they were laughing at us or with us, but we all had a blast.

I have since said “Yes” to travelling on my own and have gone to some beautiful places. I said "Yes" to online dating and met some really nice people. I said “Yes” to writing and had two articles published in a magazine and got paid for them. I said “Yes” to writing this blog and have enjoyed it very much.

Saying “Yes” can open many doors you have only let yourself dream of entering. Don’t let fear stop you from doing the things you would like to do. Say yes! Who knows what opportunities could be around the corner?

Now that I am over 50...Stay tuned!

Blogging Etiquette: Does it Matter if There are Typos?

Writing in our jobs should be without typos. Nobody is perfect and a typo will get by us at times, but it should be the exception and not the norm as we are representing our companies by our written product.

What about writing on a blog? Should we take the same care in proofing our blog posts? Writing on a blog is not as formal, although I still try to write without typos as I am representing myself. When I have gone on other blogs and there are typos I find it hard to pass them by and it interrupts my reading and unfortunately takes away from the message. Does it matter? What do you think? Can you enjoy a post with typos or does it distract you?

I would not waste the blogger's or reader’s time posting comments about their typos in their post. I have responded however on an interactive administrative job forum in regards to errors in a post. Someone was wondering why they couldn’t find a job as an admin assistant and their post was filled with errors and typos. There is a difference. A typo is a misprint and can happen to anyone. An error says to me that you don’t know the correct word to use, i.e. advice or advise, their or there etc. which would make a difference if applying for an administrative assistant job. Part of our job as an assistant is to correct grammar and spelling to make the end work product look professional.

Typos in comments are more common and acceptable as you can’t go back and edit so you have an excuse. Bottom line would be to proofread your post or comment and do a SpellCheck.

I’m not sure you will agree with her, but take a look at what the Brazen Careerist has to say about typos in a blog post. Although this may be the new way of thinking. I remember when my daughter was in school, spelling and grammar were not as important as it was in my day.

3 April 2008

Look up, Look Down, Your Pants are Falling Down

A friend of mine was telling me a story about something that happened at her office. While a co-worker was talking to her boss, her skirt slipped down and landed at her feet. She didn’t bat an eyelash and quickly reached down and pulled it up and continued talking to her boss as if nothing had happened. I have had nightmares about things like that happening, but she handled it so quickly and discreetly that they hardly knew what happened before it was fixed. Although you can be sure it has not been forgotten...

Ahem. Excuse me Sir, but your fly is down...

Having someone’s skirt fall down is extreme, but what do you do when a co-worker’s fly is down, a blouse is undone or someone has parsley on their teeth? Do you say something or let them go in to meet clients and be embarrassed?

It is harder to tell someone of the opposite sex when something is amiss, but I don’t have any problem telling my female co-workers and boss when something is not quite right. I think it depends on the relationship that you have, but the best thing would be to tell them. They will be thankful that you did as the alternative would be much more embarrassing.

One of my bosses had no trouble asking me if he looked all right before he went to meet a client or speak at a conference. Because of his openness, I had no problem pointing things like this out to him.

Click here to read what you can do about this and other etiquette advice for the office, home and elsewhere.

2 April 2008

The New Kid on the Block: Establishing Good Working Relationships

I have just recently changed my working situation. I have a new boss and a new way of doing things. Here are a few tips when starting a new job:

  • Pay attention to the questions you were asked at the interview. Those questions will give you a good idea about what is important to your new boss. In one interview, the person interviewing me said he needed his filing done on a daily basis as many people were using the files and it was important to have all the information up to date. This was mentioned a few times in the interview so I knew it was important and when I got the job I made sure to do my filing every day. On another interview I was asked how I handled client relations. I have always been a good people person and was able to answer the question positively. When I was on the job I made sure to take extra time establishing relationships with the clients as I knew it was important to my boss. In each instance, once my bosses saw I was acting on the things that mattered to them it gave them confidence in me as the new person.
  • Once you are settled in your new desk, re-introduce yourself to your new boss. Even if the person knows you and this is an internal move, it is good to establish your working relationship right from the start. If you have a chance to sit down with him or her to discuss how they would like to have things done that is great. Listen and write down ideas on how you will accomplish what is required.
  • Introduce yourself to your new co-workers who will be working close by. Even though you may have been introduced to everyone as they gave you a tour of the office, take the time to greet them and re-introduce yourself and ask their name as you get the opportunity. We meet so many people on the first day it is hard to keep track of everyone. The people that you especially want to know are those who will be working in your area. They will be your greatest resource.
  • Acquaint yourself with your boss's files. A filing cabinet can give you a lot of information about your new boss's responsibilities and how they like things done. Don't be too eager to change things until you do some exploring and get the lay of the land. Files may need to be cleaned up and put in proper order and new file folders made. Make the filing system easy for you, not complicated.
  • Make sure the file list is up to date. All the files in the cabinet should be on your list. As the new person the file names will be new to you. It is a great tool to have your file list up to date in a Word document so you can electronically search for the file names when your boss comes around looking for something. On one job I was in I was fortunate to have the first day to myself to go over the filing system. I ended up staying late to put it in good order as it needed a lot of work. The next day my boss was frantically getting ready to go to a meeting and came to me to get a document he couldn't find. Fortunately the night before I had found that document in the Z's, but it should have been in the B's. I would have never found it for him if I hadn't taken the time the day before. I was easily able to retrieve it for him. He was surprised and impressed that I had found it so readily. It started our relationship off to a good start as he knew I had taken the time to know his files.
  • Get to know your boss's contacts so you will recognize names when they call. Identify yourself by name and who you work for. When people call and are unfamiliar with your voice they will know right away by your greeting that they have the right number and you are available to assist them. If you don't know the answer, take down their name and number and tell them you will get back to them as soon as possible and then ask around to get the answer and return the call.
  • On the first e-mail contact with someone, introduce yourself and tell them who you are working for and what you are doing for them. For example, Hello, My name is Patricia Robb. I am [Insert Name]'s new assistant. I will be handling the scheduling of this meeting... Make sure your signature line is complete with name, who you work for, company name, phone and fax. If they are receiving an e-mail from you they will have your e-mail address, but some companies have a standard signature line they like you to use and include the e-mail address. You should always go by your company policy. If you don't know what it is, the HR Manager will be able to assist you.
  • Look in your document management system and look at letters, memos and e-mails that have gone out to get an idea of what kind of work you will be doing and the style for saving documents.
  • If you see your boss searching through the file cabinet, offer your assistance. Write down what he or she is looking for and ask when they will need it by and tell them you will look after it. Your new co-workers should be able to assist you. They are hoping to get you up to speed quickly to relieve their workload and are usually more than happy to help out.
  • Give your boss confidence when they ask you to do something by repeating back to them what they have asked you to do. They will then see that you understood the request. Be sure to write things down when asked to do something. It gives people reassurance that it will get done when they see it on your list of things to do.
  • Some good people to know in an organization are the mailroom staff, the accounting staff and the IT staff. Take the time to introduce yourself to these important service people. You will be calling on them often. It is a good idea to have them on your side.

1 April 2008

Showing Initiative When Using Your Letter Opener

Although I rarely get anything of real importance by regular mail, I still receive a lot of mail by courier and by fax. Is there opportunity in the mail? Can we show initiative in this seemingly menial task?

I think we can give our boss a sense of confidence in our abilities in how we handle the mail. Here are a few tips:
  • Date stamp the correspondence. Sometimes the date a letter is received can be very important to your boss, especially if it is time sensitive information.
  • Open the envelope carefully. Sometimes using the letter opener may not only open the envelope, but may tear the letter as well.
  • Check the envelope for any enclosures.
  • Quickly read over the correspondence and look for dates and deadlines. Highlight anything your boss will need to be aware of. Put the dates in your boss’s calendar or tasks.
  • Get any files your boss will need to go with the correspondence.
  • I put a yellow sticky on the letter with any questions I might have, i.e. Does this need to be copied to a client? Do you want me to book a boardroom for this? Anything that you think might require your assistance. This lets your boss know you have read the letter and are willing to assist. If your boss has the time, you can also sit down and go over the mail with him or her and ask any questions and get instructions at that time.
  • Sort the mail in order of priority. I have a folder for high priority mail and one for “junk” mail and publications and newspapers. (I open the junk mail and open any plastic wrappings on magazines to make it easier for my boss to review). If something is urgent I bring it directly to my boss's attention.
  • If you get a letter and you know what needs to be done, draft a response letter for your boss or complete the required paperwork. Some letters I receive I know what is required so I go ahead and do it and bring it to my boss for signature. It is appreciated when they have one less thing they need to worry about. If you have never tried this, do a draft letter first. Your boss will either think it is great the way it is or they will change it, but you have still shown initiative and a willingness to assist.