Articles in: Tricks of the Trade


15 Grammar Goofs that make you look silly

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
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Tips for Being a Good Boss & An Update

being a good bossA member of ours recently read our white paper, “Defining Assistant Excellence” (.pdf format) and suggested that we create a white paper for bosses entitled “Defining Executive Excellence” that might help bosses create a better working relationship with their assistants.

We think that’s a great idea but given everything that’s going on in our lives right now -see update below-, I thought I’d give a couple of tips right here that will help even the toughest boss create a great working relationship with their assistant.

Before I go into those tips though, please note that these are just a general overview of what we (both Ethan and I) feel help us perform at a high level for our bosses.  They are both great bosses but there has been a give and take aspect of getting to know each others quarks that take time to smooth out when starting out as an assistant.  Tensions sometimes run high in both the finance and advertising worlds where we both work, but in general, these three characteristics that our bosses possess go a long way to creating a strong working relationship.

And the best part?  Any boss can employ these tactics real quick… so here they are:

1. When bosses use “Please” and “Thank You”, they go a long way in creating a solid working relationship with their assistant that will make their assistants want to bend over backwards and go above-and-beyond to please you.

2. When bosses set the rules and then sticks to them without changing them or their preferences from one instance to the next, they create a trusting relationship that is needed between boss and assistant.

3. When bosses understand that there are “uncontrollable” situations and don’t take instances that are beyond their assistant’s control against them will again create an endearing relationship where your assistant will tell you like it is but also work hard to come up with unique and out-of-the-box solutions to the particular “uncontrollable” situation.

What do you think?... If you have any additions to this list, please put them in the comments.

**UPDATE**

Now for an update to our BIG NEWS post:  I’ve got about a week and a half until my due date and my Doctor is going to induce if we reach the due date sooooo… Baby Bull should be entering the world pretty dang soon!

In terms of sex of the baby, we kinda went the unconventional route with Ethan knowing the sex and me not… pretty crazy and I was certain that he was going to spill the beans at some point but here we are a week and a half out and he still hasn’t… I’m amazed.  The baby’s room is all ready and getting that done has put us both at ease.  Sadie has been spending time in there sniffing everything out (she’s our dog if you’re a new reader) and we’re sure she’s going to be amazing with Baby Bull.

Anyway, that’s about it… Ethan will update the blog with all the details when Baby Bull enters the world… needless to say, I image I’m going to be a wee bit pooped when all is said and done so please bear with us if we don’t get back to your emails right away… we’re here, just a little bogged down.  And of course, Ethan will stay on top of any questions coming his way via the forum or email for our paying members.

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Interns (& Internships) ROCK!

interns6979thumbnailI know, I know… ProAssisting is a blog and on-line learning environment for assistants… and it is but before one becomes an assistant, they usually have had some experience working as an intern.

Basically, we believe, interns and internships rock and that anyone in college (and even high school) should be interning during summer breaks and potentially during semesters when they have a break in their schedule.

But why? What’s the point? As an intern, you get real world work experience without the full responsibility of actually pulling down a paycheck from the company. Obviously, the flip side of that coin is that you aren’t making any money but as an intern you’re in the position to gain some valuable things that carry weight out in the real world:

  1. If done well, you will get a letter of recommendation that you can show to future potential employers after you graduate.
  2. You have a position to put on your resume that isn’t directly related to just your college AND you will have actionable items to list under that experience.
  3. You will increase your network of contacts outside of your school which, if cultivated correctly, can lead to future job offers.
  4. You will get a sense of what a 9-5 (usually more) position is like and the work ethic needed to succeed in that situation.

When reading over that list, keep the big picture in mind and realize that at this stage of your career, those things may even be more important than money.

Want help finding that intership?

The Intern Queen is Lauren Berger and she did 15 internships in her 4 years of college… yep, you read that right. Anyway, she started a blog to help others find interships and has also hooked up with the famed movie duo who brought us the web series Quarterlife to create an internship resource center through the Quarterlife brand found HERE. Needless to say, Lauren’s blog is a great resource for students looking for internships and her advice is spot on.

Another great resource can be found at: onedayoneinternship.com. This site features a different intership every day in addition to having a “past internship” section that you can search through to find past opportunities that you can contact about future opportunities before they are posted in public.

Lastly, if you’re a little nervous about stepping into that company as an intern, our training here at ProAssisting is a great place for anyone starting an internship to get the training needed to be THE Rock Star Intern. Interns are assistants in many respects and our training will help you shine from day one.

 

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Raise your hand if you like automated phone message systems…

angry callerI don’t know about you but whether I’m making calls for my boss or myself, I try as much as possible to bypass those pesky recorded messages that prompt you to input all sorts of information before it lets you speak with an actual living and breathing human being.

I know that they ask for this information—account numbers, PINS, last 4 digits of your social security number—so that the representative has your account or profile pulled up when they take your call but based on my experience 98% of the time, I have to repeat that information to them anyway… just ridiculous.

Anyway, here is a treat for you—one which we just added to our membership resource center but you can get here for free—to help avoid those recorded messages asking for information before passing you off to a real human being: GetHuman.com!

GetHuman.com is a website that lists thousands of companies along with their various customer service numbers WITH instructions on how to avoid those automated messages and get to a real human! Very easy to search and the instructions are easy to follow… and you can also rate your experience using that number or add your own with instructions if you have any that aren’t listed.

Just another use of technology to bypass a level of technology that drives me batty. Enjoy!

Flickr Creative Commons image by jcardinal18

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Email Triage: What it is and how it can help you

triageTo be honest, I don’t know exactly where I first read the term “email triage” before—and if it was you who coined the term, please let me know in the comments and I’ll edit this post—but when I read that term, I realized that I was performing email triage for a very long time without actually having a name or term for the process.

It’s an extremely useful technique for dealing with the vast amounts of both work and personal email that comes in on a daily basis but before I go into detail about what email triage is and how it can help you too, let’s first start by defining the term “triage”:

tri-age
Function: noun
1 a: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors b: the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care
2: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success

When I read that above definition in terms of “email triage”, here is what it says to me: “the sorting of an allocation of treatment to emails… according to a system of priorities designed to maximize success in the shortest time period”.

Now I’ll detail how I use email triage with the hope that you see a use for this technique in your dealings with both work and personal emails to “maximize email success in the shortest time period”.

On Sunday evenings, I log onto my work email from home to take a peak at my inbox and perform my initial round of email triage so I don’t feel caught off guard come Monday morning bright and early when I boot up my computer at work. In this round of triage, I go through and delete any emails that I’ve signed up to have delivered to me daily like The New York Times since I usually keep up with the news over the weekend.

Then I quickly scan through for any emails from my boss as action items for the upcoming week. It’s not that I’m going to actually do anything with these emails, just make myself aware of them for the week ahead. Then, I go through the number of Microsoft Outlook invites that are sprinkled throughout and delete the ones that I can and leave the ones that need to be accepted on Monday morning in my inbox.

Lastly, I familiarize myself with which emails deserve priority. When I log out, I am familiar with what’s happening and have my inbox in tip top shape to tackle the following Monday morning. Two of the best benefits of dealing with my work email in this fashion is that I’m not stressed out come Monday morning and I’m on top of any questions my boss has first thing in the morning.

Email triage has also crept into my personal email habits which allows me to label emails and keep them as either read or un-read so I know what I need to get to and what can be left for when there is a break in the day… again, reducing my stress—even personal email can be stressful—and keeping me on my game with email communication.

What about you?... how do you handle the massive amounts of email you get on a daily basis?

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Ever been stranded at an airport?

imageBeing stranded at an airport just stinks… canceled flight, no connections and you can find yourself stranded pretty quick.

I’ve experienced this personally a couple of times but usually, I deal with such occurrences when my boss calls as they’re trying to get back home and are stuck in some far off airport due to a canceled or delayed flight. My course of action in such instances is to get the travel agent on the phone to scour for other flights and hotel rooms as a back up… but I could never point my boss in the right direction to the best place for them to ride out the delay short of sending them to a hotel.

Until now.

Given that my boss has an AMEX Platinum card, they can get access to just about any airport lounge so when @nmarasco pointed me to a wiki online that lists and rates a ton of airport lounges, I knew I was going to use this resource in short order.

And soon enough, my boss was delayed and I pulled this little resource out of my assistant tool kit to lead them to the best rated lounge of that airport. Needless to say, I looked like a superstar and they’re still talking about that lounge two weeks later.

So, if your boss is either an air traveling warrior with “frequent flier” status for each major airline or is an AMEX platinum card holder, you now have a quick and easy resource in your assistant tool kit to come in and save the day. Remember, having the right tool for the job makes all the difference.

Flickr Creative Commons image by mk30

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How to change bad habits and make good ones stick

imageHabits can be both good AND bad.

smoking = bad habit; exercising = good habit; biting nails = bad habit; eating lots of greens = good habit… and the list goes on.

I’m not writing this post to try and get you to quit all of your bad habits and start a bunch of good habits; nope, I’m not that guy who throws stones at glass houses. The goal of this post is to point you to a habit changing cheat sheet which lists 29 ways to change a habit or form a new one IF you want to either stop a bad habit or start a good one.

I wish I had that list when I changed one of my habits not too long ago… you see, I bit my nails. I know, gross and UN-attractive but I couldn’t help myself… was doing it for years and years. It was something that I wanted to stop for a while but it took some time before I finally rid myself of that BAD habit. Don’t really know how exactly I did it but I do know that I “fell off the wagon” a couple of times until finally kicking it for good.

This list from Leo over at ZenHabits would have helped me through that process. At least now I’m better prepared for next time… and there will be a next time, I’m sure.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with executive assisting or admin assisting, you can create GOOD habits in your job that will close the cracks so nothing slips through AND makes you look like a superstar… things like: always calling to confirm appointments for the following day or always writing down the tasks given to you no matter how trivial or simple they are or making sure you update contact information right when it changes for anyone in your boss’s contact list… you get the idea.

Flickr Creative Commons image by miscpix

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The #1 Rule of Being an Assistant is…

imageThe #1 rule of being an executive assistant, admin assistant, personal assistant, group assistant, any kind of assistant really including working as an intern is…

... to make your boss look good!

It’s really a very simple concept but you’d be surprised at how often this doesn’t happen.

The first step is to get every client, customer, superior, peer and subordinate to like working with you. They have to feel that you’re part of the team and willing to do whatever you can to make “things” happen.

From how you answer the phone to having a “can-do” / “we’ll fix it” / “I’ll figure it out” attitude to keeping your boss informed of all details when they need to be informed to having a strong work ethic to being patient with a “sense of urgency”... all of these attributes will contribute to making your boss look good.

It’s also just as important to keep distractions or things that your boss doesn’t need to know, off their plate and out of their mind. This gives them more time to focus on excelling at their job instead of dealing with distractions. Performing as an assistant at this level isn’t easy but over time, you’ll learn the rhythms and preferences of your boss and it’ll become second nature… almost like mind reading.

And just to be clear here, looking good includes performing at the top of their game.

Flickr Creative Commons image by Quasimondo

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The ProAssisting Training Program is now OPEN!

Enrollment now OPEN!

Stephanie and I are thrilled to announce the opening of the ProAssisting Training Program!

After a private beta member test period with over 140+ enrollees, our program is ready for use as all of the kinks and technical glitches have been worked out and fixed. We’re grateful for the time spent by our beta members for taking our training and giving us valuable feedback that will help us shape and expand our service in the months and years ahead.

So what are you waiting for?... head on over to the Enrollment page and sign up today!

UPDATE: If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll realize that our posting has slowed a bit and the reason for that is we are busy on the inside of our site working and communicating with our members BUT we’ve got some great content lined up for posts and will continue with our “at least” twice weekly posting next week. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss ‘em.

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What We Can’t Teach You - Blog Series Intro

image

Here at ProAssisting, we’re all about supporting and training executive assistants, administrative assistants and personal assistants. That’s what all four parts of our training and support program were designed to do.

And in terms of the work and office interactions our members encounter as assistants, through our membership forum, our goal is to point them in the right direction and lay out their options based on our 20+ years of experience.

From how to fix the copier machine to how to ask for that raise, answer that interview question or resolve a dispute with a peer, we know we’ve got the experience to cover their back and tell it like it is straight up at the same time. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have put our hard work, our names, a significant time commitment and our money on the line with this venture of ours.

But here’s the funny thing… The most important parts of succeeding at your job or in a lifelong career, whether that is being an assistant or in another position, we can’t teach you!

And the dirty little secret is… no one can.

There are traits, characteristics and attributes that you need to make a conscious choice about in your own head in terms of what they mean to you should you want to be successful in the working world.

I can hear you asking now…

“But do some people get by on their wit, looks, charm and without taking these traits into account or even caring about them?”
Sure. But that’s not us and this blog series isn’t for them so if you do get by on your wit, charms and looks alone, you can stop reading right now and be on your merry little way.

Through this blog series, we’re going to describe these universal attributes so you can give yourself an honest assessment of where you stand on each. Only once you assess your grade can you make changes to improve and thrive.

Even though these posts will be written from the viewpoint of the working assistant, they also will resonate with anyone who has succeeded in the past or has a desire to succeed in the future.

The first one up is “your work ethic & taking pride in your work”. We’ll be posting that next week so sign up for our RSS feed right now so you don’t miss it. Photo credit: Anyaka

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Find Efficiencies in Everything

image

Finding efficiencies is the name of the game in many different fields of work but especially important when working as an assistant. In today’s “high speed” and “always on” working culture, being able to complete your tasks in as few steps as possible clears the way for you to do more work while being less stressful.

To help put this in perspective, let’s take a look at the definition of efficiency:

ef-fi-cien-cy [i-fish-uhn-see]
-noun, plural -cies.

  1. the state or quality of being efficient; competency in performance. 2. accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort: The assembly line increased industry’s efficiency.

The words that stick out to me in that definition are “ability to accomplish a job with minimum expenditure of time and effort”. As you can see in the picture we chose for this blog post, that can be as simple as having all of the right programs open and ready for use on your computer desktop throughout the day.

Other examples include using an online system to make reservations instead of calling and being put on hold OR going to the register in the back of the drug store at the pharmacy counter when there is a line up front OR only walking to the other side of the office to drop stuff off after you have multiple things TO drop off.

My first job was working as a waitress and during my stint serving drinks and food, another more experienced server gave me some great advice: Take as few steps as possible to complete the maximum number of requests from your customers. That advice still holds true for me today as I assist the CEO of a multi-billion dollar hedge fund; he might not be able to put his finger on exactly what he appreciates about my multi-tasking, namely my efficiency, but he appreciates it nonetheless and your boss will too.

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Ever want the low down on your airline seat?

seatmapThe trick for working with demanding bosses is to be able to answer all of their questions before they even ask them. On top of that, if you can know their preferences ahead of time, whether in terms of meeting requirements or travel preferences, you’re that much further ahead in the game.

Now, let’s paint a little picture for you: Your boss is traveling to Wichita, Kansas and is flying on a Boeing 767-300ER and you want to make sure that he or she has everything they need in terms of their seat according to their preferences but your boss has never flown in a Boeing 767-300ER nor to Wichita for that matter. So how would you go about finding information specific to their seat?

We suggest using SeatGuru.com.

At SeatGuru.com you can put in the exact plane that your boss is flying in along with what seat they currently have and you will get a chart, like the one shown at the upper right corner of this post, that details the seat and specifically rates it.

That way, when your boss is fretting about having a power outlet at their seat for their laptop, you can tell them that they do have one and show them the chart of where their seat is and that rating of that seat.

Another great way to use this site is while you’re on the phone with the travel agent trying to secure a seat for your boss. This way, you can check out the seats that the agent throws at you to pick the best (or least worst) one for your boss.

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To ‘cc’ or not to ‘cc’...

…THAT is the question.

Knowing when to (and when not to) ‘cc’ –which stands for “carbon copy”– someone on an email is more important than you might think.

When starting out at a new job, we suggest that you ‘cc’ your boss on almost all email communication concerning them and their office. By doing so, you will quickly learn which matters your boss really cares about and which matters they would rather leave to you for action and decision making.

During your first week, you can tell your boss that you’re going to ‘cc’ them more than usual so you both are in the loop and so you can get a better understanding of their preferences and office procedures. This also helps them to remember to ‘cc’ you on anything that they feel you should be in the loop on.

Once you’ve gotten your legs under you in a new position, you can then pull back on any ‘cc’ emails to your boss as you’ll be able to make decisions based on your knowledge about their preferences without involving them. Then, when you do ‘cc’ them on an email, they will know that their attention is warranted and needed.

In terms of people other than you boss, ‘ccing’ someone on an email is an easy way to bring someone into the loop on an issue, problem, plan or just as an FYI (For Your Information). In these types of peer and subordinate interactions, our suggestion is to err on the side of ‘ccing’ someone instead of leaving them off since it’s easy to do and will facilitate a better flow of communication.

The “sneaky” cousin to the ‘cc’ is the ‘bcc” –which stands for “blind carbon copy”– and much greater care should be taken when ‘bccing’ someone on an email. When you ‘bcc’ someone, none of the other recipients of the email know that the email is also going to the person that you put on as a ‘bcc’. The only time that we suggest ‘bccing’ someone is when you are asked to complete a task that falls outside of your responsibilities. In this type of situation, you can ‘bcc’ your boss on your reply so they are aware of outside obligations being asked of you.

Other than the above type of situation, you are better off not putting someone on an email as a ‘bcc’ and just talking with them directly about the situation. Do you have any ‘cc’ or ‘bcc’ stories or examples to share? If so, please do so below in the comments.

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How do YOU look online?

google-homepage

How much do you want to bet that when you meet with a human resource manager at a company you’re interviewing with that they Google you before you step in the office?

Don’t take that bet… you’ll lose.

Do you know what comes up when you put your name into Google? How would a potential hiring manager look at you after viewing those links?

Are you sweating yet?

Don’t worry… there are some things you can to do to be proactive about how your ONLINE self appears to the random searcher.

Sure, there might be a picture of you downing a funnel in the parking lot of a college football game but that doesn’t have to be the last impression the HR manager gets after frisking you online.

What to do?

We suggest that you put MORE of yourself out there instead of trying to hide. You can do this by updating your MySpace and Facebook page with an eye towards what outsiders see when they come across those pages; you can put up a LinkedIn profile, which is more business oriented, with detailed information about you and what you’re about. The point being, the more information there is online about you, the less likely anyone searching is going to spend the time to really find that picture at the college football game.

You can also create a Google Profile (you have to have a Google account, which is free, before you can create a profile) all about yourself with a picture and various bits of information. Then, when someone puts your name into Google, your profile will pop up. Thanks to AdminSecret for this one!

You could also, for free, start a blog… a blog about your job search; about key qualities you have to offer a future employer; express a desire to perform well for a company you care about; detail your work ethic by writing about past jobs you’ve held and how you excelled at them; and you could post about things outside of work like any organizations you’re involved with or creative outlets and hobbies you enjoy.

Lastly, if all else fails, tell the HR manager that: “I’m sorry but you got the wrong [insert your name]. I would NEVER funnel a beer at a college football game… only at concerts would I ever do such a thing.”

 

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Treat your Boss’s expenses as your own…

expenses-frWith the economy turned upside down, everyone these days is focusing on expenses. And companies are tightening their belts and cracking the whip where they may not have done previously.

My company just instituted its first expense policy guidelines. Up until now, they had always expected that employees would be price-conscientious while dining out or choosing a hotel. Unfortunately, people took advantage of this and we were seeing receipts for $1000 bottles of wine and expensive valet parking service on the company dime.

As an assistant, you will likely be reviewing bills for vendors and checking credit card statements for egregious purchases. A great way to view this part of your job is to treat your boss’s expenses as you would your own. Pretty simple.

If your own electric bill suddenly doubled, you would undoubtedly call the provider and find out why. You should take the same responsibility if something looks fishy or out of whack when your boss’s name is on the account. Notice a $4.00 charge on his credit card from an unknown source? Take the five minutes to call customer service and see what it is.

The same thing goes when making purchasing plane tickets or making hotel reservations for your boss. Even though she has made it very clear that she only stays at the Mandarin when traveling to London, if their rate has doubled since the last time she visited, she will want to know that before booking. In email correspondence, just simply noting the rate of hotel rooms, plane tickets, and other purchases is a good practice to get in the habit of.

Your boss may not mention it, but will appreciate that you care about fiscal responsibility. This will show your strong work ethic and respect of the company culture. And in the end, this will be a payoff for you as they know that you truly care about the job that you do and will compensate you appropriately.

 

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