Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Jean Cocco of Massachusetts, USA.
Jean Cocco CAP, OM, PM is an Executive Assistant. Here’s a look at her world.
Early to rise
Working in a global organization, I am an early riser. I have breakfast, shower and get ready before driving to work. During the summer in New England when school is out, the commute to work is about 30 minutes. After the Labor Day holiday when school is in session, the commute could be between 45 minutes to one hour.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I usually have a local radio station on for updates on traffic and weather conditions.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My primary duties include executive administrative support to the Vice President of Human Resources for North America.
Morning Routines: I insert my laptop into the docking station to boot up and put my lunch in the refrigerator. I unlock my desk drawers and pull out my files / notes for the day’s activities.
How long is your work day? Since I’m an early riser, I will be in the office about an hour before the rest of the team comes in. After dinner time at home, I will be online for about an hour to check emails for any important action items.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? No matter what is going on in the office, what the weather conditions outside (rain/snow), I leave my desk and take a 15-30-minute walk.
What might be a typical lunch? My lunch usually consists of a salad with fruit. Sometimes, I will have a turkey sandwich instead of a salad. I try to not eat my desk. We all need to take a break from working on the computer and need to recharge.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? Yes, I am the Coordinator for the Women’s Employee Resources Group. The main focus of this group is to address women’s issues in the workplace – pay, benefits or health and mentorship programs geared towards women.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Getting time with my boss to finalize action items
Jean is a 2018-2020 IAAP Board Director at Large
What do you most enjoy about your career? Being the hub of communications and point of contact for my teams
On Saying “No”
Instead of saying no, my approach is to ask about a colleague’s deadline. I explain that I am working on a priority for my manger but that I can get to my colleague’s request in a day or two.
I am a life-long resident of the state of Massachusetts in the USA. I live in the suburbs north of Boston, which is the state capital. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I definitely prefer the suburbs. The country is too quiet for me, and the city life is too hectic.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Family is very important to me. I like to spend time with family and friends.
How long have you been in this career? I always wanted to be an admin. I went to secretary school. What was your first such role? My first role was as a clerk/typist at a small company.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Office supplies, and no snacks. Snacks bring unwanted guests.
I raised my hand and ask if I could support this VP
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? The company was creating a new team for my division. When they started interviewing for the VP role, I raised my hand and ask if I could support this VP.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I like to have a nice glass of wine or Prosecco.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? My husband and I honeymooned in Aruba. I’ve never visited Europe, and would like to visit my roots in Italy.
I’m a member of IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals. My manager appreciates the value of professional development. How has this membership helped you? I’ve been able to expand my skills set and have met many great friends along the way.
Have you earned any certifications earned through IAAP? Yes, I’ve earned my Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) with specialties in Organizational Management (OM) and Project Management (PM).
On IAAP: I’ve been able to expand my skill set and have met many great friends along the way
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role in IAAP? I’m a 2018-2020 IAAP Board Director at Large. How have such leadership roles helped you? In these leadership roles, I have gained confidence to know I’m good at what I do.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? Social media is the way to go.
Describe any positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. Being from the US, I may not know the best restaurants in Germany – in the Frankfurt area, for example. Just by reaching out to my global contacts, within minutes I can have my manager going to the best places in Europe.
Find out all you can about the goals, mission and objectives of the business
Inspirational reads? There is no one specific source. I take bits and pieces from all leadership type resources.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? I stay up to date with both soft and hard skills.
Role models or mentors? That would be various managers who have seen the potential in me over the course of my career.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? I have not received any performance awards, but my manager understands and appreciates the need for professional development for the administrative professional.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I plan two offsite sales meetings with up to 500 attendees each year. I coordinate all the logistics for these events.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I am actually an introverted person, so meeting new people allows me to go outside my comfort zone.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I would like to become more efficient with Office 365.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would like to support more C-level executives.
The Digital Age
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your job? Yes. What apps do you make use of in your professional life? We use Concur. It enables travellers to upload receipts right into the system; no paper is used.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? an app with vacation recommendations
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Social media keeps me up to date with what is going on with my company.
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? Yes. We have digitized purchase requisitions, and use Concur SAP for travel and expense reporting. We use Kronos for electronic time sheets, and WorkDay for performance management.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? No. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. can have on your quality of life. With 24:7 availability, you are constantly on duty. We feel we have to check these devices all the time. On the other hand, in instances of severe weather, you can check driving conditions.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? We use both. Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? Yes.
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals?Yes; I am the system administrator for some of the SharePoint sites.
Professional development is very important in the administrative field
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. Do you see variations in how people adapt to change? Change is hard for many to accept. Sometimes, there is resistance, which slows down the pace of change.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? There will be less need for paper, and more focus on technology.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? We use Concur.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Research the company thoroughly. Remember that you are interviewing the company/leadership team as well. If something does not feel right, go with your gut.
On interviews: Remember that you are interviewing the company/leadership team as well
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be yourself. Do your homework on the company. Be ready to provide any type of example/scenario asked of you.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I thought I was handling a project appropriately, but come to find out it was not correct. If I had asked questions at the beginning of the project, I would not have had to redo everything.
The administrative field is a career. Early in my profession, I did not take the role as seriously as I do know. Professional development is very important in the administrative field, just as it is for any other role.
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Find a mentor, whether it is another assistant or a manager. Find out all you can about the goals, mission and objectives of the business and department where you work.
Your most effective time management strategy? I stay on top of emails. Some requests are not as urgent as others, so learning how to prioritize these requests is critical.
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? Remember work / life balance; family comes first.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive / principal? Learn the manager’s likes/dislikes. Ask about pet peeves.
For those interested in promotion: Find out if this career promotion is what you really want. List the pros and cons of such a move. Is this career move the best for your long term goals?
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Jean mentioned may be interested in checking the following link.
Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 23 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.