30 May 2008

Psst...I've got a Secret

There is a new site for admin assistants called Admin Secret. Come on over and visit and become my friend online. What a great place to network and check out the job market. The Department of Labor predicts our profession will have the greatest growth and I believe sites like this will be the perfect place to connect.

I'm excited to be one of their featured writers so look for my articles.


29 May 2008

You Don't Say...

When I was a hairdresser, the last thing that you wanted to hear your hairdresser say was, “Oops!”. Here are some things that a boss would probably not want to hear from their assistant:

  • Uh oh!
  • Was I supposed to send that?
  • Did you mean now?
  • Sorry, I forgot.
  • I think that's their name?
  • Oh my goodness, I sent the e-mail to the wrong person?
  • I thought you said by regular mail...
  • Was I supposed to save that document? I threw it in the garbage.
  • I forgot to send the invitations out for the conference tomorrow.
  • I hung up by mistake.
  • Sorry, I didn't get their number?
  • I don't recall anything about that file.
  • Who?
  • My computer crashed and I lost everything.
  • Oh no! I forgot to register you.
  • Was I supposed to book a flight for today? I just phoned and there aren't any seats available.
  • Sorry, I remembered to do everything, but book your hotel room. Do you have any friends in that city?

28 May 2008

What do we do all day?

Someone I know often calls me at the office and can't understand why I can't chat. This person is a dental hygienist and I tried to make a comparison to her job so she would understand why I couldn't take lengthy personal calls at work. I said, "If I called you at work in the middle of the day, would you be able to come to the phone and chat?" She replied, "Absolutely not, I am working with patients, of course I can't talk, but you sit at a desk all day".

Another friend's husband thinks the same way. Any personal calls they have to make to the bank, insurance company or any personal matters, he always asks his wife to do it because he says, "You sit at your desk all day and have a phone readily available, so it is easier for you".

Do we really sit at our desk all day? And if we do, are we just twiddling our thumbs waiting for a call? People just don't seem to understand what we do in a day so I thought I would list some of the many things we do. This of course does not take into consideration that most assistants today work for more than one boss. Here is my list:
  • Drafting letters
  • Scheduling meetings
  • Managing boss's time
  • Transcribing tapes
  • Typing correspondence and lengthy documents
  • Organizing yourself and others
  • Filing
  • Setting reminders and following up
  • Managing bring-forward system
  • Making travel arrangements
  • Typing expense reports
  • Managing boss's e-mail account as well as your own
  • Sending faxes, making photocopies, binding documents, ordering supplies, sending couriers
  • Arranging conferences and seminars
  • Bookkeeping
  • Managing client relations
  • An executive assistant does this and more including taking minutes and organizing board meetings
  • And last but not least we also answer the phones, "Hello, may I help you?"

Now, do you still think I have time to chat?

Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace

Let's face it. Many young people nowadays have tattoos and piercings and they are coming into the workforce. I remember the first time I saw a young lawyer with an eyebrow piercing. I thought she was brave to wear it in a profession that was very 'old school', but now I am seeing it more and more.

At the gym I saw a young woman with a tattoo on her arm from her wrist to her shoulder. I think she likes it, but what do her co-workers think?

Click here for an article on just that.

My thoughts have always been, be discreet with tattoos. What you like when you are young, you may not appreciate when you are older and tattoos are so permanent. My daughter wanted to get a tattoo when she was a teenager. The only advice I gave her was not to get a tattoo of a rose on her breast. I said a lot of women who start out with a short stem rose, are very surprised to find when they get older that they have a very long stem rose.

Is it only Wednesday today? Hopefully, this article will help get you over the hump...

26 May 2008

On the Outside Looking In

In 1985 I left the office to be a stay-at-home mom. By 1995 when I tried to get back into the administrative field the landscape had changed. In Canada it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a job where you didn’t need to know both English and French. Also, the technology had changed drastically. When I left we had just started using computers with DOS, a disk operating system. When I came back they were introducing the new Windows operating system. It was hard to get used to this new look and getting the knack of double clicking.

I was out of work, temping here and there for a year. As I went from job to job, I would look with longing at high-rise office buildings wishing I could be on the inside looking out rather than on the outside looking in. When I finally landed a permanent job, I was so appreciative that many times that first year when I would look out the window and see all the people walking outside, I would think to myself, "I'm in, I'm in!" I still haven’t gotten over that feeling. It is good to be employed, but what if you are in the process of looking and just can’t find a job?

A Job is Waiting to Happen to You

Long gone are the days of scouring the newspaper want ads and pounding the pavement going from office to office submitting your resume. We are living in a day of online job searching. We can even get feeds for new jobs that pop right into our Inbox.

There are sites that are specifically for job hunters where you can submit your resume and a profile about yourself for any employer to see. There are also sites for networking to keep your name out there. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, still holds true when looking for a job.

Be aware when going online that more and more employers are searching the Internet with the names of potential employees to see if they are online, not only on interactive job sites, but also what we may be saying on other social networking sites such as blogs and Facebook or MySpace. Employers may get to see a side of you other than what you put on your resume or present at the interview. Try searching your name on the Internet and see what comes up. That may not be what you want an employer to know? Consider carefully what you write on the Internet or it could come back to haunt you when searching for a job.

A good way to network in person is through professional associations. Do you know about your professional association? Being a member is not only a great place for networking, but for mentoring and learning of jobs in your area. Many professional associations have monthly dinner meetings with educational speakers.

Are you still creating old-style resumes and listing duties upon duties, when all the employer really wants to know is what you are able to do for them? Click here for an article on preparing your resume.

Don’t underestimate the value of temping. Working for a temp agency can either land you a full-time job or help to keep you employed while you are looking. Taking on temp jobs will introduce you to potential employers where you can showcase your abilities. You will be challenged to learn new software skills or hone the ones you have. When you are temping act as if you are on an interview every day.

It can be a full-time job just looking for work. Don’t be discouraged and stay at home mopping. Get dressed and be prepared. It just might be that today a job is waiting to happen to you.

Does Age Matter in a Competitive and Youthful Workplace?

I was on an interactive forum and some women were voicing their concerns about being older and the challenges they were having trying to find a job. Are older more experienced workers being discriminated against because of their age? Or because they cost too much?

I am 52 and have a good job. I colour my hair, exercise regularly and dress professionally. First impressions count. I don't put my age on my resume, so employers don’t know how old I am. I want them to go by my qualifications only. I rarely put education or work experience over 10 years old as anything before that is probably not relevant. It is a very competitive market for good admin positions. We have to dress and act the part to compete. Appearances play a big role, but what if they can’t afford us?

In Canada healthcare is not as big an issue as in the States and other countries, because we have government healthcare, but what if the company has to pay for it? Are they willing to hire an older worker who may need added benefits because of their age?

A more experienced assistant is also looking for a higher salary, where a younger assistant is usually willing to work for less money because they don’t have the experience. Employers are hiring young and training them on the job. Where does this leave the older worker?

In Ontario, Canada, it is no longer mandatory to retire at 65 years of age and the baby boomers are fast approaching this age. Will there be enough work for everyone as we stay on the job?

I have never experienced age discrimination and perhaps that has to do with the field I am in. I work as a legal assistant and it has been my experience that law firms look for very qualified people. Government departments also tend to not discriminate because of age. A smaller company with a tight budget might hire younger and cheaper, although most specialized areas such as medical or financial would probably want to hire someone with experience.

I think as we age it does become harder to find a job. If we have been out of the workforce for a time it might be emotionally and physically harder for us to get back into a very changed workforce where the pace is fast and the bosses are young. Some younger bosses may even feel intimidated working with an older assistant.

I think there are challenges to finding a job when we are older, but there is a place for the older more experienced worker. It also might be a good time for those with experience to Think Outside the Job Description Box. Who knows what the possibilities could be?

24 May 2008

I am a Canadian Assistant, eh!

I live in Ottawa our nation’s capital. I don’t live in an igloo or take a dogsled to work and I don’t ski in July. I live about ‘10 clicks’ from work and take an OC Transpo bus to get there. Up here OC stands for the County of Ottawa-Carleton, not Orange County.

The first thing most people do in the morning is get a ‘double-double’ coffee and donut at Tim Horton’s, or more affectionately known as ‘Timmy’s’. We can pay for it with a ‘Twoonie’ or two ‘Loonies’. Our troops in Afghanistan have a Timmy’s on their base to make them feel at home.

I am doubly blessed with not only having a Canadian accent ‘eh’, but I also have an Ottawa Valley twang. At work however I am a professional and don’t answer the phones with ‘G’day’ or say ‘see ya’ when I say goodbye.

I try to keep my desk ‘organized’ and ‘co-ordinate’ my boss’s day. Sometimes my boss can cause a big ‘kerfuffle’ with stressful deadlines and we all go running to ‘get er done’.

I write Canadian English and when I type the letter ‘z’, I pronounce it ‘zed’. I requisition ‘cheques’ when I need to pay an invoice and I spell labor "L A B O U R". I try to keep myself professional and younger looking by ‘colouring’ my hair when the ‘grey’ starts showing. I celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the second Monday in October, not in November.

If I go to a restaurant for breakfast, I have a choice between white or ‘brown’ toast and when I am finished eating I ask for the ‘bill’. I go to the 'washroom' when nature calls and when I take time off work I say I am ‘on vacation’.

I go out for lunch with the girls at the office and I work across the street from the ‘lads’ on Parliament Hill, where we have a Prime Minister, not a President. Because I work so close to the 'Hill', I have a front row seat to see and hear all the protesters when they come visitin’. Hey, one time the farmers all drove to town and parked their tractors out front and honked their horns all at the same time. Now, that got the politicians’ attention eh? When the boys from the Valley come callin’, well all I can say is, “We sure know how to ‘giv’er’ up here”.

I will still be watching hockey in June and wondering when a Canadian team will finally win the Stanley Cup and bring it home to Canada where it belongs.

I am looking forward to celebrating Canada Day on July 1st, not July 4th.


For more on the Canadian way with words click here.

22 May 2008

The Virtual Assistant: The Business of Working at Home

With the advances made in technology, the ability to set up a home virtual assistant business has become quite doable and in many cases, very profitable. We have the technology to get voicemails, faxes and transcriptions by e-mail and with the addition of a business line you can easily re-direct business calls to your home and no one would know that they were calling someone’s home and not the office.

We are now able to set up a virtual office at home and work by contract for many different employers, and there are entrepreneurs doing just that.

The role of the virtual assistant can be limited to areas you want to work in, i.e. personal assistant and desktop publishing, or the sky is the limit with any number of functions you can fulfill for your client’s business and personal needs. It all depends on your abilities and what you want to do. The work is out there and the Internet has provided the means to do the job effectively and without borders. Your employer can now be anywhere in the world with just a click on the mouse.

Two Heads are Better Than one

Running a virtual business doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. It is easy to virtually hire someone in another city or country to assist you. Your expertise may be in accounting, word processing and marketing, but you can easily partner with someone to do your web design and graphics work. You can also contract yourself out to virtual assistant firms to lend your expertise to their businesses all from the comfort of your home.

The Virtual Office

Your virtual office can be tucked away in the corner of your house or in a basement office, but it does require state of the art technology and equipment to be able to meet the needs of your clients. Investing in good quality equipment is a smart move. If you are not a hardware person you will want to have a contract with an IT company who can assist you when you run into computer problems, especially if you are in the middle of a rush job for a client.

Purchasing an ergonomic workstation is also essential as you will spend hours sitting at your desk in front of your computer.

Networking in the Virtual Community

Becoming part of the virtual community is a necessity for the virtual assistant. Networking among assistants is necessary whether virtual or in an office building. Assistants depend on their co-workers to ask questions and get feedback, and it is the same for the virtual assistant.
There are virtual office groups worldwide to share your successes and concerns with and to share your expertise. Having a network of assistants is key to a successful business.

The demands on executives have increased and the need for assistance is not going to go away. As corporations downsize and technology advances, the business of the virtual assistant will only increase and become more doable and profitable in the future.

Click here for an article on starting your virtual assistant business.

Click here to visit the Virtual Assistant Networking Association.

21 May 2008

Just passing stuff along...

Click here to read a great article on things we should be thinking about when using the Internet at work posted by Chrissy on The EA Toolbox.

Admins in the Spotlight: A Day in the Life of an Interior Designer’s Personal Assistant

Here is a link to an article about an interior designer's personal assistant and all she does in a day. It was like reading my daily journal. We are busy, busy...It is nice to see the assistant’s role appreciated for what it is. In this case Kelly Hoppen's assistant Olivia Lewsey is a 'Jill of all Trades'.

E-mail Annoyances from our Bosses

I could relate to all of these e-mail annoyances. I passed this link to my bosses and the other assistants in my office.

20 May 2008

What is your Mirror Face?

I just got my new driver’s license. This was the year I needed to have my photo taken and I take a horrible posed picture. When I am posing for a picture I am too conscious of how I look and I end up trying too hard.

How come when I comment how bad my photo is and a co-worker asks to see it they normally shrug and say, “Looks just like you”? Thanks a lot...

I was speaking with someone about bad photos and he said a friend of his calls that her "mirror face". It is hard to smile naturally while looking in a mirror because...well, you are smiling at yourself, usually by yourself. It’s hard to be photogenic in the bathroom...

I especially hate getting my picture taken at work functions because I am usually caught in the middle of eating or laughing with my mouth wide open. Probably the worst photos are those on passports. How do the security people at airports not laugh out loud looking at those? I always apologize for my awful picture when I go through the line. I’m sure the security people have heard it over and over again, “I don’t normally look that bad”, as they look at you without a smile and stamp your passport and tell you to move along.

The next time you are showing your photo, don’t apologize. Just tell them that is your mirror face.

Photo of my great-nephew Dean looking at his mirror face, taken by his mom Corrinna.

19 May 2008

5 Blogging Misconceptions

1. I don’t have any friends, therefore I blog...

Nope, I have lots of family and friends. They are all supportive of my blogging efforts and cheer me on. They don’t read my blog however because they can get it first hand...See #2.

2. I love to talk and no one will listen, therefore I blog...

I talk to my friends and they listen. I talk some more and they walk away...I blog to avoid boring my friends.

3. I can’t get published, therefore I blog...

Blogging has opened the door to having some articles published in professional magazines. Blogging puts you out there and people are watching and reading.

4. I want to makes lots and lots of money, therefore I blog...

NOT! Not for me anyway. No money in blogging, but it is a great outlet for my talking. See #2.

5. I think I know it all, therefore I blog...

Nope. I learn from my blogging. I probably know more now about my profession than I’ve ever known.

17 May 2008

At Your Side: Mentoring in the Workplace

I once worked for a company where anyone who needed help in a certain area could call on one of their senior administrative assistants, trainers or IT specialists who would come to your desk and walk you through a problem. We called this “at your side” training. When I started at a new employer I thought the concept of having an “at your side” was everywhere. I found out it wasn’t, but I believe it should be.

I recently met a former co-worker for lunch and she described the way the assistants are trained in her office. She said that new assistants are mentored for the first year of their working career. They work initially as an assistant-in-training and report to a senior assistant for mentoring and help with anything that comes up on the job. They are encouraged to bring any requests from their boss and run it by their mentors so they can think through the next steps. Their bosses feel more confident that newbie mistakes will not be made and the new assistants feel more confident knowing it is expected of them to ask questions. They didn’t have to fear looking like they didn’t know what they were doing.

What a great idea and what a forward way of thinking for this company. Because of this mentoring program they had no problem hiring young assistants right out of college. They knew their real training would begin on the job and the end result would far outweigh the risks of hiring someone with no experience.

The reason I started my blog was because I wanted to pass on my knowledge and experience to anyone who wanted to listen. I felt that since I had been an admin assistant for almost 30 years I probably had something I could pass along that would be useful. In that sense I am mentoring via the blog.

I shared at a recent IAAP dinner meeting my reasons for joining this professional association and one of the reasons I gave were the mentoring opportunities. What a great place to go and what resources we have at our fingertips by other more seasoned members. Just looking out over the audience I saw experts that I wanted to plug into what they knew and learn and grow from them. The more experienced assistants can also learn from the younger assistants with their advanced knowledge of computer software. Mentoring can be a give and take experience.

Sharing what you know

Here are seven things you can consider about mentoring and being mentored:

  1. From the top down. It is always better if the mentoring has the stamp of approval of the employer. This helps to alleviate the feeling that you are trying to tell someone what to do. When the employer approves the mentorship it is accepted as their normal business practice. No toes are stepped on.
  2. Take the advice. You won’t agree with everything you hear, but listen to it with ears that understand your mentor has been on the job for many years and probably knows what they are talking about.
  3. Ask questions. If there is any doubt, don’t be afraid to ask. It is better to ask than to do it wrong and then have to re-do it. It is also better to leave the impression that you will be back if you need further help. It will give the mentor confidence in you.
  4. Be patient. The mentor needs to be patient as the new person is learning so many things. Take the time to explain and listen back to make sure it is understood.
  5. Be available. Mentors should stop by and see how things are going and be willing to offer assistance and advice when they see someone is struggling.
  6. Be an encourager. There was a time when each of us was the new person and just learning. Remember, it can be overwhelming at first. An encouraging word can go a long way.
  7. Pass on the praise. If things are going well, let the employer know. If things are not going well, keep working on it until it is. A successful protégé is a reflection of their mentor.

Mentoring Outside the Workplace

If your company does not have a mentoring program there are still opportunities for growth. As I previously mentioned, there are mentorship possibilities available through your administrative professional association. I also have a close circle of administrative professional co-workers and friends and we help and mentor each other in different areas of our careers. Your mentor may not even be an administrative professional, but an experienced business person or a former boss or colleague who has agreed to counsel you in your career. Be open to learning from others.

Another way you can be mentored indirectly is through reading professional magazines, books, blogs and websites. Reading useful articles can give you helpful insight and tools for your career.

We are not an island...Reaching out for counsel and assistance can be a useful career and confidence builder and reaching out and sharing knowledge with others can be rewarding and will sharpen your own skills and keep you current.

16 May 2008

We are what we think...let’s start thinking “Important!”

Assistants who have come from the days of being a secretary seem to have brought along with them the mindset that “I am just a secretary”. At one time being a secretary was a low paying and underappreciated profession. The secretary however was often the glue that held the office together and many times that idea was shown in movies or television shows that portrayed the office.

Today’s administrative assistant is much more than a secretary, but we seem to have the same idea as in the past. I read our professional magazines and notice that the majority of the articles are written by office consultants or HR professionals. Yes, we can learn from these professionals and they can motivate us and give us insight and tips, but they can’t tell us how to do our job. Some of us have been in this profession for many, many years. We are the experts in what we do so what better person to pass on valuable information about our profession than the admin assistants themselves?

I wrote an article called Thinking Outside the Job Description Box where I talked about the different areas we can go as assistants. I personally know people who have done just that and have found their niche as a result of our “Jack (or Jill) of all trades” job. We each have our expertise, let’s share the wealth of information with our fellow admins...

I am a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and each time I meet with this group of professionals I come away appreciating more and more how much each of us knows and how qualified we are in our careers. One of us may be great at organizing a conference. Another person may be expert at scheduling dates and organizing meetings. Someone else may be very up to date on computer software programs and have found tips and tricks to make their job easier. These are the people who should be writing the articles and passing on this knowledge to help other assistants.

I have had e-mails from readers of this blog and they have commended me on the content. Here is a quote from one of them, but the sentiment in other comments has been similar:

"I am an Administrative Assistant ...[and] have been in the corporate world for the past 10 years. I stumbled across your blog, and would like to commend you on the excellent content! Your blog has articles that are relevant to the corporate workplace, which is not often found on sites about PA's."
Shana from South Africa
(used with permission)
Paper Berry Blog

Admins want content and we are the ones who can give them the practical help.

I speak to assistants every day and there are far more qualified people out there than I am. I don’t think I am the leading expert on admin professionals, but I do feel I have a message to tell and that is how I use my blog.

Another purpose for my blog is to showcase the admin assistant as important professionals in the office to those who visit my blog who are not admins. I want them to see it and see how professional it is and get the message out that assistants are important too. I comment online on other sites such as Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist and other career counselling and workplace sites and link back to mine and have had a few visitors as a result. Do I belong? Sure I do. Admins are as business professional as anyone else and our opinion counts too.

Is this the proverbial we are our own worst enemy? My battle cry will be for the assistant to recognize the role we play in the office, the importance of our job “Whether our bosses say so or not” and the professional nature of our work. We are business professionals.

The Department of Labor reports that our occupation is expected to be one of the areas with the most growth in the coming years and I believe our role will be changed once again. Let’s help define where we are going by putting ourselves out there and showcasing our abilities.

If you are interested in guest posting an article on this site, please e-mail me at pattyannrobb@rogers.com. The only thing I would ask is that you only post articles that are your own work as I don't want to infringe on any copyright laws and that there are no references to employer or co-worker names. I try to blog smart and keep my articles very general.

If you want to know how to get ideas for articles, read my post on “What am I going to blog about? How to get new ideas when you are a blogger”. Some people have the expertise, but don't feel confident enough to write. I interviewed a friend of mine for her expertise in minute taking and it has been one of my most popular posts. I would love to interview others who feel they have a message, but do not want to be the writer.

Now how did I get on this subject? I started out wanting to write an article on mentoring. And I will get to it another day, but...this is what I needed to say today.

14 May 2008

Book Review: Complete Office Handbook

This is a handy office reference book that would be a valuable resource for any administrative assistant, particularly those just entering the workplace. It covers just about everything you would ever come across in today's office and is the only office handbook recommended by the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).

You can order it on Amazon.com by clicking on the link on the right-hand side bar of this blog (scroll down), or by going directly to www.amazon.com.

Hot Flash: Working With Your Internal Temperature Turned Up

I take my jacket off for the third time this morning and tell a co-worker again how hot I am. I calculate that I have about 13 years before retirement so I better get used to it. I have to work and I am going through menopause. My doctor tells me some women can experience symptoms on and off into their 70s.

I wonder what the younger women and the men in the office must be thinking as they watch the older assistants heat up...

Here are some tips that help me cope with the heat:

  1. Keep a cold glass of water at your desk and sip on it throughout the day. The colder the better...
  2. Dress in layers so you can easily take a jacket or sweater off when the heat goes up.
  3. Get regular exercise. The last thing I feel like doing when I am having a hot flash is to go to the gym and get hot and sticky, but it actually helps and I come back feeling refreshed.
  4. Get plenty of rest. Sleeping is a challenge, but we need our rest if we are going to do our jobs efficiently during the day.
  5. Take vitamins and try to eat healthy.

My daughter recently told me about some special pyjamas for women in menopause made by HotCoolWear, a Toronto company. They also have clothing you can wear at the office because hot flashes are not reserved just for the night time. I am definitely going to check this place out.

I have had it easy compared to some. Except for the regular hot flashes and sleepless nights, it is not too bad. A friend of mine told me that her memory is getting very bad as she heads into menopause. It is becoming more and more imortant to write everything down. I have had a bad memory for many years, so nothing new for me in that department...

If you enjoy shopping, try buying some comfortable but stylish layered clothing. Treat yourself if you can to a colour and a nice haircut. I recently had a pedicure and manicure to get ready for the summer season. Whatever you can do to make yourself comfortable and feeling better about yourself will help.

Here is a women’s health site for more information on menopause. If you are experiencing difficult menopausal symptoms that are affecting you at home and work, you should see your doctor.

13 May 2008

Enclosures: Should I use a Paperclip or Staple it?

Every day I check my Statcounter and that is how I find out what people searched to get on my blog. Someone recently queried whether they should use a staple or paperclip on correspondence when they are enclosing documents.

I spoke to a few assistants and we all agreed. Business correspondence with more than one page should be stapled. The enclosures should be paperclipped or clamped to the correspondence, not stapled to it. The only time I will staple it is when the attachments are cheques (1). It is important that the cheques stay with the correspondence.

If my enclosures are large bound documents with a clear cover, I will slip the correspondence behind the clear cover. Occasionally, I have received a box of documents and the correspondence is in an envelope taped to the outside of the box. I don't like this method because you are never sure if there is anything in the envelope or if it was just used for addressing purposes. 9 times out of 10 I have opened the envelope and it was empty. A large label would have been better to address the box and avoid the receiving assistant wondering if there was anything in it. I do however always look in the envelope, just in case.

(1) For my American friends, cheques is the Canadian spelling of 'checks'.

12 May 2008

Admins in the Spotlight: Digital Marriage Proposal

An Executive Administrative Assistant got proposed to in a BIG way using very high tech. Congratulations to Renesha Salim from Trinidad Tobago. Click here to read the article:

My Favourites

Here are some of My Favourites with their corresponding links. Some of these I use on an almost daily basis. Most of these I have listed and linked to on my sidebar:

http://www.usps.gov/ - United States Postal Information
http://www.411.ca/ - Telephone Number Look Up
http://www.xe.com/ucc/ - Currency Converter
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/ - Cambridge Online Dictionaries
http://www.yourdictionary.com/ - Multi-Language Dictionary
http://www.phrases.org.uk/ - The Phrase Finder
http://www.hintsandthings.co.uk/library/meanings.htm - Words and Their Meanings
http://www.askoxford.com/ - Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation Help Website
http://englishplus.com/grammar/ - The Grammar Slammer
http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/writcent/hypergrammar/grammar.html - HyperGrammar (Canadian)
http://www.mapquest.com/directions/main.adp?bCTsettings=1 - MapQuest
http://www.countrycallingcodes.com/ - International Phone Calling and Information
http://www.canadapost.ca/tools/pcl/bin/advanced-e.asp - Canada Postal Code Lookup
http://www.amanet.org/ - Educational Resource
http://www.howstuffworks.com/ - Site That Explains How Stuff Works -
http://www.canadapost.ca/tools/pg/manual/PGaddress-e.asp#1380608 - Abbreviations for
Provinces/Territories and American States
http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/cpsc-ccsp/jfa-ha/index_e.cfm - Canadian Public Holidays
http://www.opm.gov/fedhol/index.asp - American Public Holidays
http://www.worldwidemetric.com/metcal.htm - Metric Conversion
http://www.expedia.com/ - Travel: Online Travel Booking
http://www.citysearch.com/ - City Information Around The World
http://www.traveldocs.com/ - Obtaining Visa Requirements and International Travel
http://www.hoaxbusters.com/ – Myths and E-Mail Hoaxes
http://searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=2156221- Major Search Engines
http://www.weather.com/ - Weather information
http://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html - Calculate Duration Between Two Dates
http://www.timeanddate.com/date/dateadd.html - Date Calculator
http://www.worldtimezone.com/ - World Time Zone Map
http://www.worldtimeserver.com/ - International Time Zone Information
http://www.ups.com/tracking/tracking.html - Track UPS Shipments
http://www.fedex.com/Tracking?cntry_code=us - Track FedEx Shipments (United States)
http://www.fedex.ca/ - Track FedEx Shipments (Canada)
http://shipnow.purolator.com/ShipOnLine/Track/Track.asp - Track Purolator Shipments
http://www.yellow.ca/?p_lf=R&p_lang=0&p_page=f - Yellow.ca (Yellow pages look up)

(All links accessed January 26, 2008)

Ten Things That I Have Done That Others May Not Have

I've been thinking about my “10 Things that I have done that others probably haven’t” list. At first I couldn’t think of anything, but then came up with the following:
  1. I once operated one of those huge bucketwheel machines used to scoop up tar sand in Northern Alberta, Canada. They are monster size. A six-foot man can easily stand in just one of the buckets. I worked as an assistant for an oil company and on my last day of work, I went on a tour of the plant site and they asked me if I wanted to operate the bucketwheel. They quickly took over the controls after a few minutes, but I had my moment to feel that power as I manoeuvred the controls. It was awesome...
  2. I met a little girl whose heart was on the right side instead of the left. I was so amazed at this that I had to put my hand over her heart, just to feel it beating on the wrong side. I worked for a lawyer who was on the board of a charity organization that sponsored children to come to our country for medical procedures they couldn’t get at home. He was hosting this little girl at his home until she could have heart surgery. I will never forget the experience of meeting her. She eventually had her surgery and it was a success.
  3. When I was young we had a pet crow named "Jacques". He was a thief however and was spotted by the neighbours flying down Main Street with the janitor's glasses. I have always wondered where he kept his stash. That would have been an interesting find.
  4. I met Kirk Cameron of the Growing Pains show when he visited Ottawa. A friend and I knocked on the window of his limousine to say hello and ask some questions. He is a very nice person and graciously put up with us.
  5. I once misplaced my friend’s car. I was driving it for the first time and obviously wasn’t paying enough attention. I parked at a supermarket and when I came out I couldn’t find it. The only thing I could remember about the car was that it had a black interior.
  6. I once drove a Mercedes Benz and took the long way home. My boss's wife phoned me and asked if I would drive her husband home as she was concerned about him because he was experiencing chest pains. I lived in Ottawa and he lived in Montreal which is about a 3-hour drive. I agreed and picked up my 4 year old daughter from the daycare and we drove him home in a very nice Mercedes Benz. My boss ended up being fine and arranged for our trip home by train the next day. While we were there his son who is an artist sketched my daughter's picture, which we still have today as a reminder of this adventure.
  7. I live in Canada's capital. As I was driving into town I noticed the Concorde jet circling our local airport. I had never seen the Concorde except in pictures as it had never landed in Ottawa. They made an exception because the Queen of England was in it and came to visit.
  8. My very first time skiing was at a work function. I hadn't mastered how to stop and was madly going downhill with people yelling ,"Runaway, Runaway". When I got to the bottom and finally slowed down my co-workers gave me a trophy pin, "World's Worst Skier".
  9. I once took on a mountain and lost. Some co-workers and I went on a ski trip to Banff, Alberta. I took the chairlift to the top of the mountain, but when I got off and saw how steep the mountain was and realized how inexperienced I was, I took my skis off and slid down the hill on my backside. Embarrassing, but at least I came out alive. I think I should give up sking altogether?
  10. I once met a wolf face to face. When I lived in Northern Alberta I decided to bike home from work. It was a 20 mile ride on a highway with only forest on each side. As I was biking I looked up and noticed a wolf watching me. My first thought was "Don't wolves run in packs?" My next thought was "I hope they don't chase bikes like dogs do". We stared each other down for what seemed like a long time and then he ran off. I never biked home alone again.

11 May 2008

Sounding the Alarm about Workplace Privacy Issues

I recently attended an IAAP dinner meeting and we had a lawyer speak to us about the proper disposal of confidential documents. As assistants we often work with information that is confidential and we need to use good practices when disposing of these documents.

In Canada document disposal came to the attention of Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner in the filming of a mini-series in Toronto. The Toronto Star reported that as filmmakers were re-enacting events about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, documents were strewn on downtown streets as “fake garbage”. It was discovered that some of these were confidential medical records.[1]

On further investigation it was found that garbage from a Toronto clinic that was earmarked for shredding, instead went to a recycling company where it was sold to the film company. As the papers were blowing in the wind a reporter grabbed one of these documents which happened to be a confidential medical record and the ball started to roll from there.

Privacy is serious business in Canada and the companies involved were held accountable. Imagine being the employees involved in this situation? Our actions can have consequences, including where we put our garbage.

Here are some guidelines that assistants can keep in mind when disposing of documents:

  • If you have any doubt whatsoever shred it or put it in locked shredding bins.
  • Recycling is NOT a secure disposal mechanism. Any document sent to be recycled could be publicly sold and used, as happened in the case noted above.
  • Placing a document in a garbage bin is NOT a secure disposal mechanism.
  • Cleaning staff do not distinguish between documents for recycling and those to be sent for shredding. Don’t think that because you have For Shredding Only written on the box that this will solve the problem. Some cleaning staff may not be able to read and understand English. They just see a box of paper garbage. Don’t assume your instructions will be followed.
  • Beware putting a recycling bin at a common printer as sensitive documents could easily be put in there by mistake.
  • Never leave any sensitive documents in a locked car or trunk. Including while running into the store for a few minutes to pick up an item. It only takes a minute for someone to break into your vehicle and steal a laptop or other confidential work information.
  • Never recycle sensitive documents at home.
With the new privacy laws in Canada, and privacy consciousness around the world, it is even more important to follow good disposal practices for confidential and sensitive documents.

The lawyer who spoke to us also brought up privacy issues when we talk about confidential work issues with our spouse or if we bring work home and leave it around the house for anyone to see. Do we consider that our children may unwittingly share confidential work information that they might see or hear us talking about on a social networking site such as Facebook? This was something most of us had never considered. When we sign our employment confidentiality agreement it obviously doesn’t stop when we leave the building.

Gone are the days when privacy simply meant closing our doors and drawing the drapes. We need to read our workplace privacy policies and make sure we are following them.

[1] Toronto Star, Film shoot uses real medical records, October 2, 2005 (used with permission)

This post is not intended as legal advice.

10 May 2008

Following the Leader

At many offices I have worked in I have noticed that many times when a seminar or event for staff is organized, the people who organized it don't show up.

If a function is set up at work and the managers don’t show any interest, what does that tell us about how important it is to the company and whether we listen or not? If you are a leader and are in a role of mentoring or supervising employees then you need to set the example and show up.

Leaders should be there to answer any questions and show support for what their staff are learning. It puts a stamp of approval on the event.

8 May 2008

Healthy Snacking

"You can't eat it if you don't have it in the house" is my motto. I have cravings for chocolate sometimes that if I had the stuff in the house it would be devoured. I find if I don't have it at home and I have a craving, the thought of having to go out and buy the treat stops me from doing it. Once the initial craving passes I am no longer hungry for it. Not having the treats within easy reach gives me time to consider whether I “really” want it or whether to make a healthier choice. “I don’t feel good” is my usual response after I have given in to the craving and stuffed myself with my favourite junk item.

It is easy for me to regulate what comes into my home because I am now an empty nester, but what if you have children? You want to have some snacks for them. As a parent you can control what kinds of things your children and guests eat by what you put in the cupboards. We are attracted to snack foods because they are quick and easy to eat when we are hungry. Have lots of fruits available that are easy to grab and eat on the run.

Read the labels

You will be surprised at the calories and fat content on some things that appear healthy. Read the labels so you can make a better choice.

As I'm sure you have all heard, never go shopping when you are hungry. If you are hungry it will be the quick snacks that you grab for instant gratification when you get in your vehicle.

What about at work?

I would recommend having a variety of healthy choices at your desk to eat when you need a quick pick-me-up. At many workplaces they unfortunately provide cookies to snack on or treats from the vending machine. If you have your own healthy snacks you will reach for them to munch on and bypass the high-calories in the cookie tin.

Treat yourself sometimes

I find if I deny myself all the time I will go overboard when I do get a chance to have a treat and eat too much. I look forward to my treat times. I anticipate having a treat at some family function because I know there will be cake and ice cream and other goodies. I won’t eat treats all week just knowing I have a special reward coming up on the weekend. I can then eat it and enjoy it with pleasure and not feel guilty because I know I have been good all week.

7 May 2008

Is there ever a good excuse for being late?

Here is an interesting post from Anita Bruzzese's 45 Things blog where she asks the question "Is being late a sin?"

That is a good question. How do our employers and other co-workers view it when we are late and is there ever a good excuse for being late?

I must admit I am not an early bird and when I do happen to show up early my co-workers almost fall off their chairs in shock. I seem to be consistently ten minutes late. I don't know how I plan it so well, but one woman I used to work with nicknamed me "10 after 9 Pat".

In my defence, even though I am 10 minutes late each morning, I am not a slacker. I often work through my lunch breaks and work after hours many evenings whenever I need to get a job done. I just seem to have a hard time in the morning.

I do however appreciate the need to be on time. Most people work in a team environment. When we are late we throw off the team momentum. People are relying on us to get to work on time. As you will see from Anita's post, she is one of those who appreciates keeping on time. She does however raise some interesting questions about our new work culture.

OK tomorrow I will try to be on time...
Be prepared to fall off your chairs people, here I come...

Interesting Job Posting

I have to give this person points for an interesting and appealing job posting that he called "Master-of-everything-administrative-assistant". The title is what got my attention.

The writer has certainly made it seem like a great place to work for any administrative assistant and they definitely seem to understand the role we can play in the office. If I was in the Colorado area I might even check it out for myself.

I am not intending to use this blogspot to pass on job postings, but this one was interesting and I thought it was worth passing along for reading value alone, but if you are in the area...

6 May 2008

20 Things I Have Learned From My Mistakes...

I was on another blog and they had a section for 10 things they had done that they didn't think anyone else had done. I tried to think of 10 things I had done that others might not have done, but I could only come up with a few and even those I thought others probably had done. I did however come up with 20 things that I have learned from my mistakes over the years, both at the office and personally. Here goes...

  1. After losing information on my computer too many times, I have learned to save my documents regularly;
  2. After putting an original document in the locked confidential storage bin and keeping the one I meant to throw out, I learned to look carefully before I dispose of documents;
  3. After booking my boss at a hotel that was clear across town from the airport he landed in, I learned to ask the right questions when booking travel;
  4. After booking a venue and showing up on the day of the event and they had no record of my booking, I have learned to write down the confirmation number and call ahead to confirm;
  5. After asking the same question of our IT Department more than once, I have learned to write the answer down for the next time I need it;
  6. After buying my breakfast and lunch for years, I have learned to save money by eating at home and bringing my lunch;
  7. I have learned to always keep good filing records and never to send a document without keeping a copy on the file;
  8. I have learned never to put the e-mail recipient's name in the 'To' section until after I finish typing the e-mail and I'm absolutely sure that is what I want to send;
  9. I have learned to check and re-check e-mails to make sure I am sending to the correct recipient and if I say I have an attachment to make sure I do and that it is the right attachment;
  10. I have learned to set tasks for e-mails I have sent to follow up and make sure the work is done on time;
  11. I have learned to check my boss's airline tickets carefully, after a travel agent mistakenly put their name as the passenger instead of my boss's name;
  12. I have learned to ask my boss when a job needs to be completed after putting some work aside that I didn't think was urgent and then finding out it was due that afternoon;
  13. I have learned to put things neatly in special bins so I can find them immediately after spending too much time searching for something only to find it was in a pile on my desk;
  14. I have learned to shave my legs every day after not shaving my legs and then realizing I had an appointment with my personal trainer that afternoon;
  15. I have learned to always have breath mints in my purse after having garlic bread for supper and then sitting on the bus the next day beside someone who wanted to talk;
  16. After having my apartment broken into, I have learned to be more careful who I give my key to;
  17. After having my laptop stolen I have learned to not keep my contacts and digital photos on the hard drive;
  18. In my very first secretarial job I learned never to say the building next door is on fire until I check to make sure it is not the reflection of a very bright setting sun on the window;
  19. After commenting to a woman that she must be so proud her daughter was getting married, only to find out it was her younger sister, I have learned never to assume anything;
  20. I have learned never to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

5 May 2008

"May I help you?" Developing Good Client Relationships

In one interview I went on it was stressed that they were looking for someone who had excellent communication skills, a great telephone manner and someone who was easy to get along with. They were looking for someone who would help strengthen the relationship between them and their client and they were wise to know that the administrative assistant could be that go-between. They wanted someone who was going to be able to communicate effectively and in a friendly manner.

I am a people person so getting along with people has always been a strong point for me. I am interested in our clients and their assistants. I take the time to get to know them as we communicate back and forth either by phone, e-mail or in person.

In dealing with clients you need to be sensitive to their needs and be aware that sometimes people are under stress and you must treat them with professionalism and care. Of course confidentiality is a must. Your client must have the assurance that you will keep their business in the strictest confidence.

When you build up a relationship with clients, you can almost hear a sigh of relief when they have been unable to reach the boss, but have been able to reach the assistant. You need to give people assurance that their call is important to your company. Be helpful, friendly and cheerful and clients will be more than willing to press '0' to get the assistant.

As much as possible I include the client's assistant in e-mail correspondence with their boss. Except where confidentiality issues do not allow it, it is always smart to cc the assistant to keep them in the loop, and many times it will be the assistant who needs to know to make sure something will get done. Copying the assistant shows them you appreciate their role. You will find a great ally when you connect with your client's assistant.

3 May 2008

Comments Always Welcome

I have been told by some of my friends that they would comment on my blog, but they find the process confusing. In order to try and simplify it I thought I would give some basic instructions.

  • Click on “comments” at the end of the post and you will go directly to the comments section.
  • Type your comment under the title “Leave your comment”.
  • Fill in the Word Verification section.
  • To publish your comment you need to choose an identity. You do not have to have a Google account to comment. To comment without signing in just click on Anonymous. Even though you sign in anonymously you can always leave your first name and blog link in your post. Linking to your blog is welcomed on my site. I love to see what others are doing.
  • If you choose to sign in to Google then readers can click on your name and it will bring them to your blog or profile page. This is a good way to get exposure for your blog.

Some blogs don’t allow anonymous comments, but I allow it on my blog. I want it to be easy for people to talk back.


"What am I going to blog about?" How to get new ideas when you are a blogger

When it comes to blogging I am fortunate because I blog about my profession and since I go into work every day there is usually something that happens that gets me thinking about an article. Since I started blogging in August 2007 I have blogged over 200 posts. I used to blog once or twice a week, now I blog daily. Some people have asked me where I come up with all the ideas to blog about so I thought I would share some with you today.


When something comes up at work that reminds me of something to blog about, I quickly send myself an e-mail at home with the blog idea in the re line and perhaps a few points in the body of the e-mail. I have created a sub-folder in my e-mail account at home called "blog ideas" and I just drag the e-mails into that sub-folder until I get a chance to blog about it. This is probably my greatest source for ideas. There is always something happening at work that will remind me of something that I think would be helpful to others.

Not all my articles about work will come from my current job, but sometimes something happens at work that reminds me of other positions I have held or bosses I have worked with that will prompt me to write an article on it.

You need to be very careful when blogging about work however. I never use anyone's name or write about specific incidents at work. I write very generally and never when I am angry (you tend to want to vent when you are angry and when it comes to blogging that can be dangerous). The purpose of my blog is not to air my work frustrations or tell tales, but to pass on useful information that I have gained either through mistakes I have made (or nearly made) or things that I do well and want to pass on some tips that I think would be helpful to others.

Google Alerts

I subscribe to Google alerts that are sent to my home e-mail account every day. When you subscribe to these alerts you can specify what things you are looking for and only alerts relating to that topic will be sent to you. This has been a good source for topics that are in the news or that others are talking about.

My Stat Counter

I have a stat counter on my blog that lets me know how many people have visited my blog. It also gives me good stats on the visitors. One of the useful stats it gives me is what people searched to get my blog. They usually have questions in their search query that will give me an idea on what to write about. People are usually searching for information about secretarial functions such as the "bring-forward system", "making travel arrangements" or "Help! I need to take minutes".

I have had some interesting queries that have brought people to my site. One person googled "what happens to a person who steals from work" and the location they googled from was a large bank in New York City. Oops!


I read a lot. When I get my Google Alerts and it brings me to an interesting article, that article will sometimes prompt my memory about something that has happened to me over the years and I will write about that incident as it relates to work. I also do my own Google searches when I am researching for an article and read the different views people have and then come up with my own article based on everything I've read.

I read professional magazines such as OfficePro and Admin Advantage that keep me current on what is going on in our profession.


Another great source of article information is from co-workers and other assistants. They will give me suggestions for things they are interested in knowing about and hearing my point of view. Friends and family will also suggest things I could write about or e-mail me a question that would make a great post.

Blogging about being an administrative assistant has increased my knowledge about my profession and I have had some interesting discussions and opportunities as a result of that.