Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Erin Floss of Wisconsin, USA.
Erin Floss is an Executive Assistant. Here’s a look at her world.
Up on current events
My typical day starts with making sure my husband and two daughters have what they need for each of their days before starting my 30-minute commute by car.
On my way into the office, I typically listen to news radio to get updated on current events.
At the Office
Primary responsibilities: My primary responsibilities include supporting a busy sales executive through the following.
- Planning and organizing work for my VP by staying ahead of email and the calendar, and prioritizing activities
- Strategic thought partnership and communication planning and execution
- Providing a solid support structure for my VP’s direct reports, through both direct support and leading the team of assistants in my department
Morning routines: My day starts with a quick preliminary check of in boxes, both my own and my executive’s. I look for any urgent requests or other items that require immediate attention, and then I finalize my executive’s packet for the day. I include her agenda and any materials she will need.
From there, I process my email using the 4 Ds method (see link at base of interview) to quickly knock out and organize the inquiries in my inbox into tasks. It has taken me a while to build this skill, but now I maintain a zero email inbox most of the time.
Then I take a deeper dive through my executive’s email, looking for deliverables and other important information. We’ve built a categorization process that enables me to call out any items she needs to act on immediately, things that I have handled, or things she simply needs to be aware of. This makes it easy for both of us to track deliverables, ensure timelines are met, and stay organized.
Once I resolve any items from my or my executive’s email that require urgent attention, I move on to my Task list and execute various deliverables based on when they are due. These deliverables run the gamut from basic administrative tasks to complex projects, depending on the priorities of the business.
Networking has had a significant impact on my career and has helped prepare me for new roles and responsibilities
How long is your work day? I’m lucky to have a very early start to my day. It works well for my family, and it also allows me to catch up on any emails from the evening before and get ahead of the day before my executive comes to the office. Most of the time, I work an eight-hour day. When called for, I stay later or check in from home in the evenings.
Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. may have had on your quality of life. I have an employer-provided smartphone. It’s a great way to stay connected and up to date when I am not at my computer, and it allows me to keep up when I am away from the office. I continue to work at maintaining a discipline to help ensure I maintain balance.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I am a member of Grainger’s Administrative Business Partner Business Resource Group (BRG), whose vision is “Helping Assistants make the step up to Business Partner.” I am the Workforce Lead, with responsibility for providing BRG members with training on business acumen and other relevant content to help assistants make this step. Right now, I am working with another member of our BRG to bring personal brand training to the admins at Grainger. This training will include the core principles of personal brand training, and then we’ll unpack it and break down what this really means for an administrative professional, with examples and activities they can put into practice.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect of a typical day is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that I would like to get done. This leads me to prioritizing and scheduling tasks or activities to ensure that I meet deliverables and set fair and reasonable expectations with my partners and teammates. Even so, I still wish I could do it all right now.
I realized the importance of linking the value of the tasks I complete to my leader’s strategic priorities
What do you most enjoy about your career? I find what I do extremely rewarding, and I feel lucky to have found a career I am passionate about. I most enjoy and am fulfilled by the sense of partnership, knowing that I am a key part of the business and its achievements, and helping others reach their goals.
On Saying “No”
Regretfully, we can’t always do everything and we have to say “no” from time to time. I make it a point to explain at least at a high level the reason behind the “no”. I can’t always give an explicit explanation, but a simple apologetic statement goes a long way. In my experience, most people are extremely understanding.
I’m a Midwesterner through-and-through. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, and I now reside in rural southeastern Wisconsin. I definitely prefer a rural lifestyle; the vast farmland in and around my hometown, the peace and calm, and the dark country nights which are best for stargazing. But, I love a jaunt into the city!
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I’ve been an administrative professional for about eight years. I actually wasn’t trying to become an administrative professional when I got my first admin role. I was interviewing for a Project Manager role, but didn’t get it. Instead, that hiring manager offered me an admin role as a way for me to get more experience and exposure.
In that first role, I was supporting five managers. As the organization evolved, my role evolved with it to support a new Senior Director of that same department, and I have been working with her ever since then.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? When I am not working, you can find me spending time with my family, going where the wind takes us. We enjoy traveling to new places and trying new things like snorkeling and zip-lining. When we aren’t finding adventures, I like to decompress through embroidery or dance practice.
I also serve on the board of the Music Parents’ Association my daughters’ high school. The Association’s mission is to “keep the performing arts alive”, and I spend a fair amount of my time helping organize events and fundraisers for that organization.
Education and Professional Development
Education and professional development have been key for me, and so I take these opportunities seriously. During my career as an admin professional, I’ve completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Business with a concentration in Project Management. In my role, I’ve been able to directly leverage quite a bit of what I learned through my formal coursework, from strategic analysis to accounting to project management.
Additionally, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend the American Society for Administrative Professionals’ (ASAP’s) Executive Assistants’ Summit for the last couple of years. This event has been invaluable for me as it provides unparalleled networking opportunities, training I am able to put into practice immediately, and insights into the state of the admin professional career around the world.
American Society of Administrative Professional’s (ASAP’s) Executive Assistants’ Summit:
I’ve found it invaluable
Tell us how your networking through ASAP has been beneficial to your career, and your employer. I am a member of the American Society of Administrative Professionals and have obtained my Professional Administrative Certificate of Excellence (PACE) certification through that organization. The greatest benefit of being a member of ASAP is the vast offering of training opportunities they provide throughout the year. Their annual conference is a vital component of my annual plan.
For me, networking has had a significant impact on my career and has helped prepare me for new roles and responsibilities along the way. By building relationships with other administrative professionals, I have been able to gain insights into their roles and learn transferable best-demonstrated practices. I also help them in return, which is always rewarding.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? I think competencies are a critical component of recruitment, as we can teach technical skills. However, personal competencies tend to be more innate and are harder to teach or change. In my experience, I’ve found that successful admin professionals are well-rounded in terms of ability to demonstrate several leadership competencies ranging from planning and priority setting to conflict management, dealing with ambiguity, business acumen and interpersonal savvy – to name just a few.
Valued: Maintaining a sense of calm regardless of the road ahead, and bringing order to disorder
Personally, I’ve learned that my most valued competencies as an admin working in a fast-paced, constantly changing environment are as follows: learning on the fly, demonstrating patience and persistence, maintaining a sense of calm regardless of the road ahead, and bringing order to disorder.
Role models or mentors? Put simply, my mother is my career role model and mentor. As a working mom, she made sure we had everything we needed and wanted while balancing her successful career in supporting roles. She is a frank but gentle coach who never lets an opportunity to lift up or provide guidance pass by. She has always been my biggest cheerleader, and I value her advice and experience both personally and professionally.
Erin’s mother and her current executive
I would also like to thank my current executive for being a mentor to me. She is a fierce champion, always in my corner, and selflessly makes herself available to me any time for anything I need direction on or support for. She challenges and pushes me to continue to grow and stretch beyond my comfort zone, and is unwavering in providing guidance or assistance to help me develop. I can’t thank her enough for helping shape my career and for helping me become the professional I am today.
These two women have had a significant influence in my life and career, and I couldn’t imagine being on this path without either of them.
Additionally, I have been fortunate to have several instrumental peer advisors along the way. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their encouragement!
What steps do you take when you recognize that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I am not the type of person who typically avoids leaving my comfort zone. I enjoy learning and trying new things, and I am pretty adventurous. When it comes to stretching myself professionally, the first thing I do is consult with trusted mentors to get their perspectives and advice. This helps keep me grounded and tethered, and allows me to leverage their experience before treading into the unknown. This also prevents me from going down the wrong path.
When it comes to stretching myself professionally, the first thing I do is consult with trusted mentors to get their perspectives and advice
Then, depending on the situation, I typically do as much research as I can in order to learn what I can expect if there is anyone else I know who is going through the same situation, and make a high-level plan.
From there, I check back in with those mentors as I progress into the new space, to share what I am learning along the way and ask for their advice and feedback. This also gives me an opportunity to share with them what I have learned.
My key development goal is to continue to grow into an increasingly effective informal leader for the administrative professionals in my department
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? My key development goal is to continue to grow into an increasingly effective informal leader for the administrative professionals in my department, through better demonstrating work planning and priority setting as well as mentoring and development.
Setting and Achieving Goals
Tell us your perspective on goal setting. Very early in my career, goal setting was challenging for me; I felt unsure of where to begin. I was focused on the tasks I completed on a daily basis and found it difficult to expand them into goals. What I realized was the importance of linking the value of the tasks I complete to my leader’s strategic priorities. Once I had mapped out those strategic connections, I was able to quickly document my work as goals that support my leader’s strategic goals.
This was a gratifying mind shift for me. Suddenly, even the most basic administrative tasks had strategic value. While I had enjoyed the work prior to this realization, the shift in perspective made those tasks inherently more significant. Thus, it made me realize how the significant my role is in the organization and how much I was contributing to the success of the business.
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of building effective business relationships within the office? Relationships in the office are invaluable to development as well as for getting things done. Especially when an assistant is new to a department or organization, I would recommend he or she ask their executive for an overview of the key partners in other departments they work with. Then, I would recommend the admin proactively reach out to their counterparts in those other departments to make the first connection. Once the connection is made, then a meeting over lunch or coffee is a convenient way to formally introduce yourself and learn more about the other person.
I enjoy learning and trying new things, and I am pretty adventurous
Your most effective time management strategy? My most effective time management strategy is planning, planning, planning. I use Tasks and Calendar in Outlook to plan and schedule work based on the priorities of the day. This ensures I am focused on the key projects and allows me to build time into my day for tasks, while not overloading my day with meetings.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? The first conversations working with a new executive are critically important as they deliver your first impression and set the foundation of your working relationship. What that translates to is putting your best foot forward, seeking to understand your new executive’s preferences and peeves, building trust, and getting to know each other.
Interested in a promotion? Once you have a plan in place, work it relentlessly, checking in with your advisors along the way
For those interested in promotion: My best advice to an admin who’s interested in growing or getting a promotion would be to set a clear goal or set of goals. Make a connection with someone who has the skill or role you want to understand the key competencies and attributes needed for the role. From there, work with your manager, your peers, and your trusted mentors. Self-reflect on where your development opportunities are, and then build a plan to close those gaps. Once you have a plan in place, work it relentlessly, checking in with your advisors along the way to ensure you stay on track until you achieve the promotion you want.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Erin mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- ASAP – American Society for Administrative Professionals
- ASAP’s Executive Assistants’ Summit
- The Four Ds of Email Management
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