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Executive Assistant Tips

Career Planning Tips for Administrative Professionals

Now more than ever, EAs are becoming more cross-functional and are increasingly expected to engage in activities that actively grow their organizations. As such, they are often asked to create defined business goals and report on these activities regularly. In that same vein, taking the time to create defined career goals with specific outcomes and end dates will set you on a clear path for development and advancement. You have likely heard the popular acronym S.M.A.R.T. goals, which is a widely accepted best practice for goal setting. To be maximally impactful, your career goals should be:

  • Specific: Avoid setting overly broad goals and instead narrow them down to specific objectives and outcomes.
  • Measurable: Make sure that your progress towards your goal can be measured continually and accurately in order to show progress.
  • Attainable: Set goals that are realistic and reasonable; don’t aim so high that you set yourself up to be discouraged.
  • Relevant: Make sure your smaller, short-term goals align with your larger, long-term goals.
  • Time-based: Give yourself a realistic but ambitious due date.

Using that last bullet (time-based) as a framework for breaking your goals down into manageable divisions, let’s quickly discuss what types of goals should be included under each division. I encourage you to grab a pen and paper or open a Word document on your computer and begin compiling your immediate, raw thoughts under each division as they occur to you. These raw notes will serve as a starting point for you to reflect and expand upon later. Before long, you will have a detailed list of actionable goals, all building towards a more rewarding and engaging career.

3-6 Months: Resume Building & Skills Development

In the first 3-6 months, you should focus on tangible “quick wins.” Not only will these provide a sense of clarity as you flesh out your longer-term goals, they will provide you with critical confidence you need to put you firmly on the path to success. These quick wins should be geared towards adding new skills, expanding upon existing skills or gaining more experience in key developmental areas.

Participating in formal training programs is a common and useful way to begin your career development journey in these critical early months. What skills could you develop that would support your long-term career goals? Whatever they are, I can almost guarantee you that there are multiple online training programs designed to help you build those skills, many offering multiple levels of certification. LinkedIn Learning is a great place to start, but a simple Google search will likely reveal a number of programs for you to choose from.

Our research indicates that 50% of EAs have taken on marketing responsibilities, including things like direct customer outreach and event management. If these areas strongly interest you, consider taking a training in composing effective marketing emails or managing inbound marketing leads. 64% of EAs have influence over–or direct responsibility for–company operations. Significantly boost your expertise in this area by taking courses on effective project management from providers such as the renowned Project Management Institute (PMI). Whatever your desired area of development, there are almost certainly numerous training and development programs designed to build your skills and expertise in that area.

This time period is also a great opportunity to learn from colleagues that have experienced a level of professional success that you aspire to. Reach out to your personal network and set up quick video chats with colleagues that you admire. Talk them through your goals and action plans. They will undoubtedly provide advice and—just as importantly—encouragement and reassurance as you begin your development journey. Also, take advantage of online EA communities on LinkedIn and other social networking sites. This will give you access to a wide variety of perspectives from people in different industries and geographies.

Finally, consider investing in these recommended resources for administrative professionals from respected community leaders and advocates:

  • The Leader Assistant: Four Pillars of a Confident, Game-Changing Assistant, by Jeremy Burrows
  • The Invisibility Cure: How to Stand Out, Get Noticed and Get What You Want at Work, by Chrissy Scivicque
  • Executive Secretary Magazine, from Marcham Publishing

6-12 Months: Demonstrating Leadership

This intermediate-term period is where you begin putting your newfound skills and expertise into practice. Communicate your recent development efforts to immediate supervisors and relevant leaders within your organization. Ask for more responsibility directly related to your chosen area of development. Look for opportunities to be included on cross-functional project teams, or to allocate some percentage of your time each week to supporting a different project, executive or team. One important caveat here: be cognizant of your bandwidth and realistic about how much you can take on by utilizing effective time management strategies. Most companies will happily let you take on additional responsibility, but it is up to you to determine how much you can reasonably handle without negatively impacting your current role and responsibilities.

If you are currently furloughed or between roles, consider taking on short-term or contractor opportunities where you can further refine your skills. Offer to support friend or family businesses by helping them build campaigns or achieve short-term business objectives. You can even use your skills to support your own personal projects or a small side business. All of these can be included on your resume or used as examples of your relevant experience in future job interviews.

In this stage, you should endeavor to build your business network across other parts of your organization, or even across other organizations relevant to your career goals. Particularly focus on the areas where your developing skills can provide the most added value. These cross-functional efforts will establish your reputation as a key strategic business partner in any organization and will give you ample opportunity to demonstrate your strong leadership capabilities to others. They will notice!

As always, continue to refine and expand on your goals based on your experiences and learning along the way.

12+ Months: Long-Term Planning

Beyond one year, your career plan should be truly focused on your long-term career development goals. Ask yourself broad, but important questions and answer them as honestly as you can. Are there other areas of your organization you would like to transition to? Are there other specific organizations where you would like to work? Is there another industry entirely that you would like to move to? Do you have entrepreneurial ambitions that you would like to pursue? Also ask yourself important questions about your leadership ambitions. Do you want to manage other people? Entire teams?

Be willing to stretch yourself and set more ambitious goals during this period. Your successes in the first 12 months will not only give you the experience you need to refine the scope of these goals in a way to make them achievable, it will also give you the confidence you need to achieve them.

Finally, make sure these long-term career goals are aligned with your personal goals and values. Do you want to adjust your career commitments to make more time for family, hobbies or travel? Do you have a desire to move to another state or even another country? Are there other areas of yourself that you want to work on beyond your career, such as taking on a philanthropy or kicking a bad habit?

Long-term goals require honest introspection, and a focus on alignment between your personal and professional self. You are the only person in the world that can set these goals for yourself. Trust your internal compass and instincts, resist the temptation to doubt your capabilities or resolve, and move forward confidently with your plan of action.

Plan for Success

Administrative Professionals are critical business partners within their organizations and are increasingly representative of the business community as a whole. As such, EAs should place the same level of priority and attention on their career development as any other business professional. Taking the time to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself and investing the time and energy required to see those goals through will pay dividends in terms of your professional fulfillment—as well as your financial compensation.

Remember that Savoya remains strongly in your corner. We believe that EAs are important leaders within their organizations, and we have complete confidence that they will play an even larger role as business resumes and companies set themselves up for continued success long after this is over.

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