High-Level Assistant to Chairmen & CEOs of Fortune 100 Companies & Hollywood Executive Producers. Ask me anything! "Like" my answers, especially if you submitted the question so I know you read it! :D Thx!
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My experience has been a little different only because I've always enjoyed being an assistant and didn't care if I moved on to bigger or better things or just stayed put. There are those bosses that will promote you and help you out as much as possible. There are others who mean well, but never have enough time to mentor you. While you won't ever know until it's too late, try to find the boss that can already say they promoted their last couple of assistants after 2 years WHILE you are interviewing for the job. This is when you have the most leverage. If you are their #1 candidate, you have some power by how much they court you or negotiate with you. Tread carefully and speak humbly when you negotiate. Be clear that while you don't mind being an executive assistant, you will only commit to 2 years, but during those 2 years you need marked growth - a monthly lunch for mentoring, help finding a new job once the 2 years are up, an amazing reference letter, bigger and better projects, being able to go to meetings, events, or parties to network. Be specific on what you want or else there's no way to hold them to it. If you want a career change bad enough you'll find ways to do it without your boss' help - volunteering, doing your own projects on the side, taking a leadership role outside of work, but related to your career, reading on your own, taking classes in your spare time, meeting others in your same situation, etc... And understand, no one will care more about your career than you, so the power is within you.
I've been extremely lucky and have NOT worked for anyone difficult or nightmarish - high standards and extremely fast-paced or high-pressure environments, yes. Mean or horrible people - no. I've built my entire career in Hollywood so I know it's unheard of. Sadly, some are not so lucky. There is a lot of ego, money, and reputation at stake in Hollywood so some of what you see and hear is true. It may not be as outlandish and over-the-top as depicted, but there is some truth to it. Whether or not it's fair or right that people behave rudely is not really the point as being a jerk is not illegal. The takeaway is, if you can ace working for extremely nightmarish people, you'll have a job for life as most others would sooner quit for greener pastures. Keep in mind - Hollywood is about great storytelling and Entourage, Swimming with Sharks, and The Devil Wears Prada didn't become popular because absolutely nothing interesting happens.
Over the years, there have been a lot of unexpected perks or bonuses I have received from my boss. They have ranged from gifts, event tickets/access, to swag, and cash. These add up to amazing perks. However, the best "gifts" bosses have given me were the intangibles - their investment in my career, mentoring me, grooming me, a sincere thank you, showing heartfelt concern, and giving me insight to how they think and why, their time, effort, and energy. There are very few bosses who will give of THEMSELVES and those that do, do so because at the core of who they are, they are very good people with great integrity and character. They truly care about their staff as people, not just as colleagues. These are the bosses who walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. Moreover, their "gifts" weren't offered in exchange for a job well done, but more often were DAILY AND WEEKLY occurrences because that is HOW they manage people. Here are some examples. When I asked for a raise, I came in fully prepared and was open to a discussion instead of forcing an ultimatum. The next day, my boss commended me and said what I did was very brave and I did a great job and handled it very well. (Yes, I got my raise.) I've had bosses validate my stance/argument and stand up on my behalf even when it meant they were challenging THEIR boss' viewpoint who had all the power and final say. I've had bosses who said thank you every night before they left even though they always said thank you thru out the day. I've had bosses who would ask about my family, patiently show me a better solution without making me feel bad or inferior, who never raised their voice, and would personally send flowers with a message on Admin Assistant Day on how excited they were that I was on the team. They would pass along compliments that other executives would say about me and take the time to be kind during their busy schedules. Their investment in me as a person and colleague has been the best perk ever.
The salary of an EA depends on what city you work in, how big your company is, and a zillion other factors that come into play just like any other job. The entertainment industry is mostly in Los Angeles, but pockets do exist elsewhere in the nation so you will see a fluctuation. Like any other field, the more experience you have under your belt the more you will get paid. It's not uncommon for an EA who has been in the industry forever and who works for someone very, very, very high profile to make a comfortable living - as if they themselves were a regular lower-ranking executive or part of management. Keep in mind, these types of executive assistants are very, very few and far between. Will you get paid mid-six figures as an EA - no. Is the job sometimes well-paying enough that it attracts those who don't want to climb the corporate ladder while reaping some of the benefits as if they were - yes. All in all, there's a part of you that has to want this job bad enough and love it enough to excel in it. Otherwise, sometimes the job can be a little challenging that most people only pursue it to pay their dues or be a writer on the side. It is never their life goal to grow up to be an executive assistant. Not that there's anything wrong with that...
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Luckily and surprisingly, I have never been in this sort of situation. I've never even paused to think about it. To answer your question - I'm not good at lying and don't believe in leaving my conscience at home while at work. To keep up a lie like that would consume me too much. This scenario is something that each person would handle differently. One defense can be, people's personal lives are their own business so what they do outside of work as long as it doesn't interfere with their work life should be ignored. Other people would probably much rather find a new job immediately while not burning bridges or gossiping about it. This is something you should think about while interviewing for jobs. When I interview, I'm pretty clear about what I'm looking for. At the appropriate time - like when they ask you things you didn't like about your last job or what you absolutely refuse to do this is what I say: I love learning, being flexible, supporting my boss and being extremely loyal. I can work for someone who has high standards or is very picky. However, I draw the line at doing anything illegal or immoral. All of my previous bosses have been extremely down to earth, personable, and NOT the nightmare boss, so I'm looking to continue my lucky streak. To me, having the right boss is very important. I'm looking for the right job, not just any job, so I can do my absolute best each day.
I have not seen an assistant just lose it and walk out. However, I've heard enough stories. Some leave within a week or a couple of months and don't give the customary 2 weeks notice. They state that day is their last and come to find out they weren't the first nor the last to do so. Typically when an office/executive is that bad, it's a long string of assistants that quit and most are not surprised when it happens. If anything, they sometimes marvel at how long the assistant did manage to last. From what I've heard, the assistants did leave with class and their dignity intact. There's nothing worse than working for a horrible boss and throwing a tantrum just like the executive would on your last day. Why leave that as the lasting impression? If you're going to leave, be an adult about it and walk calmly with your head held high. Be the bigger person and don't gossip! When a situation is that bad, do everything in your power NOT to make it worse.
I do agree doing all those basic employment tests are a drag, but companies still feel it's safe to do it and a good way to weed out candidates. You will see that aside from typing, Word, and Excel, some of the bigger companies will test you on logic, grammar, listening, putting together a budget, creativity, and more. To find a higher-level firm, find one that specializes in either high net worth individuals or recruits C-Level executives. However, it's much easier to get your name out their so they can find you versus you finding them. Branding yourself well and maintaining your presence is the key. How can you make yourself easily found? Sign up with the major job hunting sites with your resume and profile, join social network sites geared towards work, and meet with every temp agency in town just to be safe. Get as many recommendations on LinkedIn as you can and network with people and help them out. It also means going on job interviews or meeting with any agency that calls you because they will often keep you in their database when the right job does come up. And since the world is so small, all recruiters know other recruiters and try to help each other out. Finding a job is very much a numbers game. What is your unique selling point compared to all other EAs? With only so many CEOs in town, there are only so many openings at any given time which is why you have to make yourself easily found online and thru word of mouth consistently. Another component to keep in mind is that are your 15 years of experience truly 15 years? If you've been doing the same job every year without any growth or increased responsibility, you really only have 2 years of experience that's been repeated 7 times. They also take into consideration which C-Level executive you assisted and at which company. Working for a CEO at a small business is not the same as working for the CEO of Disney or Pixar. Much like anyone can play baseball - are you playing in the high school league, the college league, amateurs, or are you playing for MLB? Yes, you are playing baseball, but are you a pro or in the little leagues? The amount of skill, pressure, stress, and problem solving differs at each of those levels. It wasn't until I worked for a huge, huge company that the rest of the companies started finding me. And once you're in, you're in. You have to take your career to the next level. How do you do that? Apply at a bigger company for a lower level executive, like a VP, SVP who will hopefully make the jump to President, etc. Don't be an assistant to a Director or Manager if at all possible. Or apply to be the 2nd or 3rd assistant to a CEO at a much bigger company even if you were the 1st assistant at a smaller company. In another answer, I reference 10,000 hours. The hardest part of excelling is getting to be the best and top notch. That will take a deliberate game plan and focus. Anyone can be good, but if you're asking these questions, it shows you have the drive to be great!
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