Administration Diversity Career Stories

Administrative assistant rapidly gains responsibility by applying her advanced degrees on the job

Have you considered working as an administrative assistant? In this interview we talk with an administrative assistant who is pursing her MBA while working full time. She tells how quickly her responsibilities at her current job have grown because of her willingness to jump in wherever needed.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
My job title is Administrative Assistant in the recruiting and staffing industry, and I have been working in this job for 8 months. I would describe myself as creative, laid back, and eager (to learn, grow, help, etc.)

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
My job title is administrative assistant. I work for a small team of executive recruiters in Northeast Ohio. However, my job duties are far beyond that of a normal secretary. I created and maintain the company’s website as well as related social media. I create sales presentations which the recruiters use to present to our clients. I help scour the net for job leads or new candidates. I run our summer and fall internship programs, managing currently a team of 4 interns, setting goals for them, interviewing them, monitoring their progress, etc. I assist with marketing emails and newsletters which go out on a weekly basis. I am branching out into new areas continuously, after having only been here for about eight months.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I’m a female Caucasian. I have not faced discrimination in professional environments; However, my hobbies, and my study choices have often been dominated by males. In 2006 I received my BS in Technology and Design. There were many times in the classroom environment where I was the only female student. I recently returned to school for my Master’s in E-commerce. I find that I am often asked why I chose this field of study, and many people think it is an odd choice (especially for a female who is now in her 30s). My personal hobbies have always revolved around technology, video games, Asian culture, animation, etc.

In my youth I was often disconnected from my peers, feeling that I had very little in common with most of them. I had a hard time figuring out what people who didn’t play games or enjoy technology actually did with themselves. Girls my age back in the early 90s, seemed to only like books or music or make up or other mundane things that it did not seem like I really fit in. Now that I am older, I welcome the chance to talk about my hobbies and I enjoy being different. It’s what makes me “me” and that is special to me.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

I would rate my job satisfaction a 10. I enjoy the ever-increasing responsibilities, the ability to have my input heard, and to make an impact on the organization. I also enjoy having my weekends off, and I enjoy the company of my coworkers.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
This job is very fulfilling. I choose my own projects and work for the most part at my own pace. There are stressful days some days, someone might tell me they need a sales presentation prepared for a meeting with only a 2 hour notice for example. But for the most part, I’m in charge of what I work on each day. I have the ability to experiment freely with new technology, new ideas, and the company invests in these ideas and in their employees. Working just 4 miles from my home also increases my job satisfaction.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
One of the most touching things to happen at my current job was when I was brought on full time in January 2011, the President invested into a course for me to take to boost my self confidence and integrate more smoothly with the team. This was a $2,000 professional course. Upon my completion of this course in April 2011, the President and Vice President came to present my diploma and I won the award for highest award of achievement in a class of 32 students. The award is the highest honor bestowed upon one member in each graduating class, elected by their peers.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I never thought I would end up on this path. Ever since I was 12 years old and first had a computer and copy of photo shop, I wanted to be a graphic artist. There was never any doubt in my mind. I knew what college I was going to enter and what major to follow by time I was in 6th grade. It was a long hard battle… It took me 2 years after college before landing my first paid gig in my field. I worked a few internships and lots of unrelated jobs (retail, customer service, call centers, etc). My first job in my field was with a small fireworks wholesaler. I designed all the packaging for the consumer fireworks, I developed web, DVD, and print catalogs, and helped with event coordination.

It was a good run, but short lived, when the economy took a turn for the worse, back in 2009, myself and the other graphic artist found ourselves out of work. At that point I decided to pack up my things and move in with my then boyfriend and now fiance. I worked many temp and contract jobs, some for newspapers, some designing packaging, some doing web work. All basically in my field, but all short lived. Desiring stability in my life, I chose to go back to school for my MBA in May 2010. Now, I am months away from finishing said MBA.

It was in August 2010 that I first interviewed with my current employer. I had 2 job offers at the time and initially chose this one because the other one was further from home and another temp assignment. When I first started here, I worked only part time, and for very low wages. The job that I had turned down was offering almost double the salary and twice the hours. I stuck it out and continued to work hard. I jumped at any opportunity to help or take on a task outside of my “job description” When I had my first review, I was asked “what are your long term career plans” I told them honestly that I hoped I would still be here with the company, and hopefully working full time. The president told me that he was prepared immediately to bring me on full time and that he was just waiting to hear me say that as well.

Within 3 months of working here, I was brought on full time, had health benefits, and had taken over control of the website, and many other tasks which increased my job satisfaction. Most recently, just last week, we held another quarterly evaluation. The team was asked to come up with new ways in which I could help support the team. The result was 2 pages, single spaced, typed, of new ideas and activities for me to begin to undertake, which took 3 morning meetings (each a half hour in length), to discuss and begin to implement.

If I could do things differently, I would not change anything. I have enjoyed all the experiences – even the jobs I rather not have held (such as retail and other low level positions) They taught me about myself, my likes, dislikes, and overall gave me experience working with people, and the opportunity to try new things.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I learned the hard way to become more organized and take careful notes as I began to receive many tasks and be swamped with more deadlines. I also learned how to say no, or tell people I could not have something prepared until the following afternoon when necessary.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
I have learned to trust my team mates and to loosen up and have fun with the job.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
The strangest thing to happen on the job was being trusted to work independently after only being on the team for 3 or 4 months. The rest of the team went on a winter retreat and I stayed to manage the office.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
I am most proud of the progress I have made as a very introverted person, learning and blossoming now into a professional, happy, and settled adult.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
I face many challenges each day, but I think the hardest challenges are ones I inflict upon myself. I have very high standards for myself and my work. I want my work to always be up to these standards. Also in creative situations, I come under a lot of criticism and review of my work, which often involves changes which I do not always agree with from a design perspective. However, being new to the team, I usually concede to the wisdom of my team mates unless I can intelligently defend my ideas with some ROI or other marketing evidence other than just “it looks nicer this way.”

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

My job can be very stressful at times with a lot of tasks and responsibilities. If I miss a deadline, not only does it reflect poorly on myself, but also on my teammate. I am very good at managing stress. I am a naturally carefree, laid back individual, very even tempered and easy going. I just take things as they come and try to adjust accordingly.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
I’m currently making $22,000 a year base salary. With bonuses, I have the potential to achieve $35,000 a year. I realistically probably make around $26-28k a year.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
We do not have a formal vacation package – we are fortunate to have the ability to call off with advanced notice and within reason. I took a vacation back in February for 3-4 days and actually have a 2 day outing planned at the end of this month. It’s fairly flexible, plus I get weekends off.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

I think this is generally an entry level position; however during the interviewing process, the President was impressed by my (in progress) MBA and my chosen field (E-commerce). I think any experience or education one can get, will pay off in the future.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Keep an open mind about your career. Be willing to take odd jobs or odd tasks, and learn about yourself and what you took as just a “job” may turn into a career.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

I hope to still be working at my current employer taking on even more tasks and growing both personally and professionally. I love my job.

Administration Diversity Career Stories Education

Assistant director of student activities finds professional satisfaction despite the politics of the job

In this interview, the assistant director of student activities at a university shares how she learned it is sometimes ok to say “no” at work.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am the Assistant Director of Student Activities in the industry of Higher Education/Student Affairs. I have 6+ years experience.

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
No day is the same! I have meetings with key partners on campus, brainstorming/planning sessions with colleagues, supervisory meetings with my staff and/or graduate assistants, and lots of other random things. When the semester is in full swing, students are in and out of the office all day, so we always take the time to speak with them.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to unleash your full enthusiasm, talent and productivity?
I’m new to this specific job, but so far, I would give it a solid 7-8. I’m surrounded by enthusiastic like-minded people, and I love it.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Not on this job, as I’ve only been here a month, but from another job I previously held…

I learned the hard way that politics play a HUGE role, even when I personally think they are asinine and a waste of time. If someone has deep pockets, and is considered a key player, there are certain things you have to do to keep them happy…even if they are a complete and total jerk.

I learned that it can come back to bite you when you allow yourself to get swept along with someone else’s idea. I now know to speak up for myself. I was a new employee in my previous position and someone in a higher level position kept asking for me to help with projects. I didn’t know I could have said “no” because he wasn’t my supervisor, and when his projects failed, he blamed me.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
Practice your answers to potential interview questions. I learned that one on my own.

Don’t give obvious answers in interviews, like “Oh, my weakness is that I work too hard!” Really? No one buys that.

When I look at your resume, I want to know what you created, not just your basic job description. What is your legacy at your previous position? Give me examples and numbers. You controlled a budget? How much? You planned an event? How many people? How often, etc.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I was really involved in college as a student and knew that I wanted to do this professionally. The only thing I would change is making sure that I had a different internship in graduate school.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
Chasing mice out of a supply closet!

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You need a Masters in Higher Ed/Student Affairs/College Student Personnel

Does this job move your heart? Feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
YES. I have been waiting for a position like this for 6 years.