Help Your Admin Get a Better Job

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 1:00 PM EDT

My former executive administrative assistant of many years is coming over for dinner Saturday night. It's been a while since we've seen her, but we always stay in touch. Just a coincidence that it happens to be that time of year for administrative professionals.

You know, it amazes me how executives honor these remarkably indispensible people by taking them out to lunch or buying them something, instead of helping them with what they may need or want most, an opportunity to get out of what for many is an essentially thankless, dead-end job.

Don't get me wrong; I know lots of admins love what they do and are happy doing it, but lots don't and aren't, or get that way after a while. In fact, my former admin is now a senior project manager, but when we met, she was a temp and a single parent raising twins. How she got from one to the other is a great story that shows how initiative and a can-do attitude can pay off bigtime.
It was the winter of 1998. My company had recently merged with a much larger company and I got to run the newly-integrated marketing group. So my wife and I decided to have the group's Christmas Party at our home. Over 100 people showed up and after a few hours of meeting and greeting and serving drinks, I stepped out for some fresh air.

After a few minutes, two young women came out and introduced themselves as temps working in the Web development department. One of them, an administrative assistant named Jennifer, really struck me. Not just because she was bold enough to introduce herself and half-jokingly ask for a permanent job, but it was the way she did it, with confidence, poise, and an infectious smile, that I couldn't forget.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. My executive admin, who I inherited and wasn't working out so well, called in sick, so I asked my Web director if I could borrow Jennifer for the day. Having little choice, he reluctantly agreed. I got her on the phone and asked if she was up for the challenge. Her response was an enthusiastic "Sure, I'll be there in a few minutes."

When I got back from a couple of meetings, she was on the phone in my admin area, running the show as if she'd been there for years. After she told me about some rescheduled meetings, I had to ask, "Do you need anything -- any help?"

She just flashed that infectious smile and said, "Nope."

I said, "Good thing, 'cause I have no idea how any of this works." We both laughed.

Of course, she stuck around. I don't know what it is about a great admin, but with all the crazy travel, events, and double-booked meetings of executive life, it helped me feel more confident knowing that Jennifer was there, effortlessly managing and organizing all the stuff that threatened to throw my world into a chaotic nightmare.

In time, we both saw her project management potential, but all I really did was encourage her and provide a reference or two. As usual, this woman of great personal strength did the rest herself.

I've had my own business for seven years now and work at home, but I do miss having a great admin. Just remember, some of them are meant to move on to bigger and better things. You should help them do it.