Perhaps it’s the time of year, as our thoughts turn to giving even without being bombarded with advertising to that effect. Perhaps it’s also serendipitous timing, reading the words of Sammy Davis, Jr., a child of vaudeville (“What have I got? No looks, no money, no education. Just talent.”), during a week when two distinctly different events in my schedule gave reason to pause, and consider again how we as assistants choose to apply our talents.
Both Ends of the Spectrum
Talent, or skill, assessment is something in which I’ve been heavily engaged this week, along with some colleagues. We invested a couple of days interviewing candidates for a new assistant position in our organisation’s executive office/C-suite, and worked from predetermined questions to gauge candidates’ skills, knowledge, education, professional development and other attributes in terms of alignment with our stated needs. If you’ve enjoyed your current position as an EA, PA, Office Manager/Coordinator or Admin. Assistant for some time now, it may be easy to forget just how daunting the job search and interview process can be for candidates. From interviews you’ve conducted, though, you’ll know that the degrees of calm and confidence vary from applicant to applicant, and interview to interview; in any case, the aspirations each candidate invested in this particular job search were apparent.
Turning my thoughts now to some individuals at a distinctly different career stage, there’s a big bash planned at our organisation for this evening, where colleagues will honour the collective contributions of our retirees of the past year – including those of one particular couple who met in the workplace and have subsequently enjoyed almost four decades of marriage to date, while jointly dedicating more than 80 years of loyal service to the same organisation.
Yes, I can hear your jaws dropping at one or both of the distinctions achieved by this one couple, but I digress. When scanning the list of this past year’s retirees, it’s not merely the years of service that stand out to me; rather, I’m more intrigued by the service in some of these individuals’ years. Service, not merely to the organisation, but to the people around them. Capacity to stand by one’s word and commitments, of course. Beyond that, though, I’m thinking of friendship, timely and constructive advice, good humour, a thoughtful gesture or a helping hand.
Generosity of Spirit
Back, now, to Mr. Davis’ words. Toss them around in your mind alongside those of Michael Jordan, who observed, “I built my talent on the shoulders of someone else’s talent”, and think about other assistants or mentors upon whose shoulders you’ve developed your talents, or achieved comfort or success beyond your working life. All of us are busy, and many assistants begin each day with numerous commitments beyond those that are career related. That needn’t negate our capacity, though, to look beyond our own challenges to see how we might positively impact others’ lives.
How might you apply your talents, or build on your good fortune, to help others develop?
Mentoring and Development Opportunities
The act of informally coaching and sharing insights, or providing structured mentoring to a more junior colleague – or to a peer who happens to be new to your organisation or locale – is seen as an act of generosity, but anyone who’s ever engaged in such an endeavour will know that this is an undertaking in which both parties win. As mentioned in an article earlier this year, sometimes the seasoned pro who may have reached a career plateau and has reached as a mentor will find s/he benefits at least as much as the mentee.
If you’ve recently formed part of a selection panel and found that all candidates were well prepared for the interview process and any accompanying technical testing, lovely. Hands up, though, if you’ve encountered internal candidates who possess the desired skills and attributes yet, for a range of reasons, don’t readily articulate them in the interview process – where success may be governed by point allocations. If this reflects experiences in your organisation, touch base with your Human Resources colleagues as to whether they’ve considered providing development opportunities focusing on interview techniques. Independent of treating people with respect and kindness, the business case for such workshops is that proactive planning can support internal succession planning and reduce investments of time and financial resources in recruitment and subsequent training endeavours.
Those with capacity and a desire to support others through infusions of cash have options limited solely to your imagination; here are a couple of approaches.
- Bursaries and Scholarships If you’re part of an association, consider advocating for financial sponsorship of an annual bursary or scholarship for students aspiring to a career such as yours. Approach the foundation/fundraising department of a post-secondary institution in your area offering such education, and you’ll find the staff keen to accommodate gestures you or your association may wish to make. Contributions may be made in lump sums once annually or, in many instances, in the form of monthly contributions. Never underestimate the impact that an annual award of even $250 or $500 can have, both financially and in terms of moral support, for a student in need.
- Supporting Families In our workplace, all departments are invited, each November, to take up collections to sponsor a needy family in celebration of Christmas. A small group of people in one department reaches out to identify prospective recipients based on documented financial need; these colleagues then provide each sponsoring department discreet information on the family they will support: the number of children, their genders and ages and insights from the parent(s) on what may be desired or useful. Once the monies are collected, colleagues sort out a budget and then share the varied responsibilities: shopping, which includes stretching every dollar, wrapping, and then the discreet drop-off of the eventual bundle of gifts. Some years, the gift recipients are new to our country and have belief systems that typically preclude celebration of Christmas; that doesn’t detract from their appreciation of the gesture.
Peer Support and Advocacy for One’s Profession
Are you a member of an association or affiliation of peers? Before shaking your head, consider whether you participate in any internal groups of counterparts. Are you part of an in-house committee, or a regional, provincial, national or international listserve or organisation? Do you attend conferences focused on your administrative skills, or the sector or industry in which you work? If you’ve nodded your head at mention of any of these groups, you have opportunities to contribute in this fashion.
- If part of a listserve, actively contribute as your schedule permits. It may be tempting, when part of a listserve, to treat it as superfluous to your demanding workload unless you need help – and there may be occasions when you simply can’t lend a hand to offer insights. When you can, though, carve out the time to provide concise contributions to counterparts who post questions on matters reflecting your expertise.
- Association groups sometimes seek presenters, or hosts to offer particular welcome to first-time delegates to meetings or conferences. Have you offered to serve in either capacity? If you’re confident in your knowledge base but not in your presentation skills, consider whether stepping outside your comfort zone and learning a bit about public speaking may help others.
- Next time you attend a conference or meeting, you needn’t abandon your regular seatmates, but you can seek out a way to draw in and welcome a newcomer who may be at the periphery of the crowd.
- Explore and assess new opportunities for involvement. Watch for more here in the weeks ahead on IYOTSA, 2014’s International Year of the Secretary and Assistant. Counterparts in South Africa are organising an international celebration of our profession, and advocates in the UK and elsewhere are contributing to plans.
Your Talents, and Your Call
Enjoy the weekend ahead while also giving thought to the talents you have, and how everyone can benefit through a thoughtful approach to sharing.
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