Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Layfayette Wilder from the USA.
Layfayette Wilder is an Executive Assistant and Production Coordinator in Atlanta, Georgia. Here’s a look at her world.
Pre COVID: My alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. and I either wait for the second (6:30 a.m.) alarm to go off or sit on the side of the bed for 10 minutes, just to take a moment. I watch Good Morning America as I am getting dressed. If I eat at home, it is a piece of toast with peanut butter on it, but I need to be out of the house no later than 7:10 a.m. to beat traffic. If I eat at work, it is a slice of sourdough (buttered) and two slices of bacon with hot tea or coffee with heavy cream, a guilty pleasure.
I drive to work. On a good day, my commute is 15 minutes; on a bad day, it can take up to 45 minutes. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? It depends on my mood. If I am feeling particularly energetic, I will listen to some old school hip hop (Kool Mo Dee’s “I Go to Work” or QTip’s, “Vivrant Thing”; they are two of my favorites). On an average day, I listen to one of our local radio stations or a playlist I have labelled “Chill”.
At the office
Primary Responsibilities: I have several different roles. As the EA to the SVP of Brand Marketing and the VP of Brand Strategy for our organization, I act as the point of contact between my executives, employees, clients and partners. I manage their daily calendars, file and organize documents, manage meeting set ups (conference room scheduling, technology needs, preparation and distribution of printouts, and handling food and beverage requests) locally and at multiple locations if necessary. I have managed several office renovations as well as travel arrangements, and plan and execute events for colleagues’ respective teams.
As the department administrator, I manage, track and approve technology purchases, repairs and upgrades for laptops and cellular phones. I am responsible for ordering all office supplies and computer equipment for my respective teams.
As a Production Coordinator for our Post-Production group, I work with external vendors and with internal groups in relation to voiceovers and music licensing.
Adaptability is key
Morning Routines: I must have coffee or tea to start my day. I turn on my television and mute it. Once I am logged into my computer, I scan my inbox for any email responses to requests I have made regarding meetings, technology or facilities requests and more. I print out those responses and make any relevant notes. I then check voicemails and makes notes to respond accordingly.
How long is your work day? My typical work day is around nine hours. I work with a lot with groups on the west coast and, because they are three hours behind us, I find it easier to stay and work from my desk. I also work late because when I get home, I do not work at all; that is my time. Friday is the exception; our group has something called “Summer Fridays” where we may leave work at 2:00 p.m.; I take full advantage of that.
Always be respectful, but know your line in the sand
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? My company has taken tremendous steps to encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle, and we have several programs and resources at our disposal. We have an onsite nutritionist and a mental health counsellor. We get a Weight Watchers discount, and have an onsite gym and walking trails on campus. There are also several vendors who come in monthly and sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade breads and jams. Our company has a Fit Nation (walk/run) program that promotes moving; the more steps, the more prizes you can win.
Our offices are undergoing a renovation and the new standard is to have stand/sit desks for everyone. The older spaces do not have stand sit/desks, but we are able to request stand/sit desk converters.
What might be a typical lunch? I do sit at my desk for lunch and work most days, but I do occasionally break away and sit in the courtyard with coworkers.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? Before COVID-19, I had planned on signing up for several programs and groups for professional development.
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? It’s time management; because I have so many responsibilities, I must be very aware of my time and tasks.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy my coworkers and the opportunity to grow professionally.
Our leadership team is seeing that the quality of work has not suffered because we are working from home
The career during a pandemic
Please feel free to offer brief remarks on whether you’ve been working remotely and, if so, the challenges and benefits of working from home. I am working from home. For me, one of the biggest challenges has been finding a dedicated and comfortable place to work – and having the proper chair. The dining table was fine for a few months, but long term it doesn’t work for me. I have enjoyed the one-minute commute to my work area, and the ability to dress more casually. I also really enjoy being able to tackle some home projects.
How would you rate your productivity while working remotely? Has it increased or decreased, or does it depend on the day? Overall my productivity has increased. I log on at around 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. and work until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.
Collaboration and communication are still happening, and producing exceptional results
What would be your ideal workplace situation once things settle into a new norm? Do you think your hopes and aspirations would be just that, or might they be something that could be put into place?
I would like a hybrid arrangement, working one to two days in the office and anywhere from three to four days at home. I believe this is something that could be put into place; our leadership team is seeing that the quality of work has not suffered because we are working from home. Collaboration and communication are still happening, and producing exceptional results.
What’s been your biggest career lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? Adaptability is key. What about your biggest life lesson? Again, adaptability is key.
How many professional development-focused webinars do you estimate you’ve attended during the COVID-19 pandemic? Surprisingly just one; I was a part of an amazing talk at the Executive Secretary Live Global conference. Now that things have settled a little, I hope to participate in more. Do you enjoy learning via webinars, and/or are you very much looking forward to the next occasion you can attend an in-person conference or learning event? I do enjoy webinars; I look forward to learning.
When I get home, I do not work at all; that is my time
On saying “no”
I believe I say “no” 30 percent of the time. If I do say “no”, I make sure I have first exhausted every avenue and/or provide another option, if possible.
I was born in the United States, in the state of Florida. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Honestly, I would say I am 50/50. When I am in the city, I enjoy the people watching, nightlife, museums, gardens, etc.
But when I am in the country, I enjoy the quiet, the slower pace – waving to passersby, listening to the wind blow through the trees, the water running over the rocks in a river, and the sun reflecting off a lake.
How long have you been in this career? Over 20 years; my first job was as a summer intern at IBM. How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? It was an internal promotion.
My personal networks have led me to most, if not all, my employment opportunities
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I love traveling, or dinner with friends and family. How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Massages are my favorite way to decompress.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? Anywhere near water and a laid back atmosphere … someplace like Key West. It has fresh seafood, the water, spirits, a great nightlife, and it’s easy to get around.
Education, networking and accomplishments
I am still working on completing a BA in Sociology, which is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior.
Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. My personal networks have led me to most, if not all, my employment opportunities. I have found my best job opportunities – and my longest lasting jobs – through my networking relationships. How do you and your network contacts stay in touch? Before COVID, we communicated via text and in-person get togethers. Since COVID, we communicate primarily via text, video chats and calls.
I am working on completing a BA in Sociology
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. In one EA position, I was responsible for managing a contract with our phone vendors. I negotiated a rate and secured a $14,000 refund for the company. In another instance, I coordinated the delivery, staging and stuffing of over 100 Christmas stocking for our department’s employees in three locations. Everyone felt special and appreciated; I am proud of that moment.
Inspirational reads? Becoming, by Michelle Obama; it is a book for all seasons.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? I listen attentively; many people underestimate the fine art of listening. I also ask questions for clarification; this lets your manager know you want to get it right.
Spend time with people who are doing the job you want to do; shadow them
Role models or mentors? My first professional role model was Patra Marsden, a former coworker and EA. Patra is very clear about who she is; she is unwavering in her character and does not mince words. You know exactly where she stands, so she is trusted and respected. My second professional role model is my former manager John Shaw; John is smart, calculating, sociable, personable and 100% fearless. I am lucky to have two such talented and accomplished people in my life; people I not only cite as role models but more importantly as friends.
Have you received any awards or recognition within this career? I have been nominated by several executives for performance awards; the department I supported also regularly recognized my efforts.
Patra Marsden and John Shaw: professional role models and friends
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I ask for more responsibilities and/or volunteer to participate in work activities that challenge my comfort.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I plan on returning to school to complete my degree in Sociology, and I plan to spend more time on personal care.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I plan on completing my degree in Sociology in the next two years as well as learning ASL (American Sign Language) and Spanish. I would also like to get certified as a project manager; so much of what we do is project management, but without the title. As well, I would like to become more proficient in Microsoft Access and Photoshop.
Pick a goal and take a step, just one step, and then another – and find allies
The Digital Age
What are your preferred forms of social media? Instagram, and I just recently joined Twitter. What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Dropbox, Concur, OneDrive, Microsoft (Excel, Work, PowerPoint, Office 365, Teams), Uber and OpenTable
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? OneDrive is amazing.
Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones may have had on your quality of life. In the beginning, I would always check my phone when it beeped; I felt like I was never off. I had to learn to disconnect. Now, I keep my personal life separate from my professional life; it is easier to disconnect.
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? When we were in the office (pre-COVID), we were very paper-centric. Since COVID, we’re now nearly paperless.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI, digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the assistant of 2025? I believe it will make the connection/working relation between assistant and manager stronger.
Stay up to date on new technology and software; YouTube provides free tutorials on many software programs
How have digital assistants and artificial intelligence (AI) impacted your role? Digital assistants have helped me in my role by making communication easier and more fluid, and making access to information seamless.
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? Stay up to date on new technology and software (Slack, Monday Morning, Delve, Teams, OneDrive, etc.). YouTube provides free tutorials on many of the software programs. My laptop is a PC, and my manager has a Mac; I made sure I knew shortcuts for the Mac. If I didn’t know how to do something, I looked it up and learned; I created a folder and kept notes in case the issue happened again.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? I like TripIt for keeping track of travel itineraries. It provides travel updates on flights, car service, and traffic. Concur is great for tracking expenses and booking travel. Both have desktop and mobile applications.
My company has taken tremendous steps to encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Be patient and prepared. Take the time to write down everything you did in your last position; seeing it on paper will make you realize you are more than a title.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be yourself and relax. Practice interviewing, and research the job you are interviewing for. If you are able to find out information about your prospective manager, that would be helpful.
Pay attention to office dynamics
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Always be respectful, but know your line in the sand.
What advice might you offer a new parent returning to the workplace? Don’t jump right in; take time to catch up and don’t stay past 5:30 p.m.
You are more than a title
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? Before you jump out into the office pool, pay attention to the office dynamics.
Your most effective time management strategy? Write it down. Take notes/make a list of tasks.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Talk to them about their work and personal priorities, and make sure they understand your priorities.
Talk to your new executive about priorities – theirs and yours
Your thoughts on goal setting? Pick a goal and take a step, just one step, and then another – and find allies.
For those interested in promotion: Take advantage of any professional development opportunities at your job. Spend time with people who are doing the job you want to do; shadow them.
Through Exceptional EA, Shelagh Donnelly showcases Real Careers – and assistants from around the globe who generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 25 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Ghana, 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.