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Deirdre McGovern is Assistant to the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs and Assistant to the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Director of Honors & National Collegiate Athletic Association Representative at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, New York. Here’s a look at her world.
A full morning, even without burpees
I’m up by 6:30 a.m.; I must have my coffee and then I start making lunches. I then do not complete 100 burpees, nor 55 squats. I am working on motivating myself to exercise in the morning!
Instead, I make sure everyone is up and moving and then drive my youngest daughter to high school. I head back home, feed the dog and cat and then walk the dog. Afterwards, I shower and perform an emergency make-over on myself so that I look presentable for the day. I check my emails to see if the Assistant Vice President or Associate Dean have emailed me. I then then run out the door, jump in my car, take a sip of my coffee and off I go! I drive to the Molloy College campus in Rockville Centre, NY, which is about 25-30 minutes away.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I try to find podcasts that pertain to my mood or current obsession. I like to listen to podcasts about being organized in the home, and the helpful hints type of podcast; they make me hopeful! My goal is to be as organized at home as I am at the office. Is anyone else out there never home?! While driving, I also enjoy listening to YouTube videos by Joan Burge of Office Dynamics, or Bonnie Low-Kramen’s and Vickie Sokol Evan’s “Be the Ultimate Assistant” podcast and Liz Van Vliet’s “Being Indispensable”. I seek out podcasts that pertain to the administrative profession.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: I execute multiple and competing priorities for two academics who serve in the administration of Molloy College, located in Rockville Centre, NY. I collaborate with senior management to meet and support the Molloy College mission and goals by providing support to the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs and the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies & Director of the Molloy College Honors Program, and National Collegiate Athletic Association Representative (he wears many hats).
I am the gatekeeper in a highly confidential division (Office of Academic Affairs) of this higher education institution. We deal with faculty members and with students. I serve as the initial point of contact for all internal and external visitors. I assist with the organization of the many initiatives and competing priorities assigned to the AVP of Academic Affairs. I manage and coordinate the Molloy College Honors Program student recruitment process, and manage and coordinate the annual Honors Convocation ceremony. There is also extensive scheduling and calendaring involved.
Morning Routines: When I arrive at the office, I check the thermostat, then turn on all the printers and copy machine. I do this while I am waiting for my computer to load up. I then answer emails, check the calendar for the day and make sure everyone has what they need to make their days go smoothly. I try to check in with both the AVP and the Associate Dean every morning to see if anything new has come up since the day before.
How long is your work day? It depends on the time of year. During the height of the Honors Program recruitment season, from September to February, I often work from 9:00 to 7:30 or 8:00, depending on the day. Additionally, come January through April, I coordinate and manage the annual Molloy College Honors Convocation Ceremony and work many hours. May, June, July and August are my favorite times as I get to organize the office and take a breath.
I speak up for myself
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? I am petrified about the idea that “sitting is the new smoking”. Over the past few years, I definitely have not been moving as much as I should. I have been trying as of late to get myself moving during the course of the day. Molloy College just started offering Restorative Yoga (free) twice a week to its employees. It is not only good for the body; it is fabulous for the state of mind. This class is such a gift.
What might be a typical lunch? When I forget my lunch, I eat a grilled cheese on whole wheat with tomato, and a small bag of chips from the student cafeteria. When I bring lunch, it is usually a healthy one! Salad with chicken and corn salsa is my favorite.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? Yes. Come Fall 2017, I will be serving a two year term on the Priorities & Planning Committee as one of two staff representatives. For the past two years, I served on the Financial Resources Committee. Before that, I served for two years on the Community Health & Welfare Committee.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? That would have to be the constant inquiries from the Leadership offices, Division Deans, Departmental Chairpersons, faculty, students and staff. I am constantly interrupted while trying to accomplish my other duties.
They give me the power to work independently and make decisions on my own
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy assisting my AVP with simplifying processes and procedures. My AVP is so open to suggestions and she has allowed me to make changes in office policies and procedures. I have been able to put a few new efficient systems into place.
My Associate Dean too, is extremely open to suggestions on how the Honors Program recruitment process runs; I have implemented many changes to procedures over the years. I enjoy being in the thick of things. I love the “business” of higher education, particularly the Academic Affairs area. We deal with both faculty and student issues, both good and not so good, so every day is different.
I feel there is a mutual level of respect, and that is a wonderful feeling
I value my relationships with both the AVP and the Associate Dean; we have relationships based on mutual respect and trust. They give me the power to work independently and make decisions on my own. They are extremely flexible and I truly enjoy working with them. I am extremely blessed! I know that, often, that is not the case.
Do you have or create leadership opportunities for yourself? I manage a very large academic ceremony and I basically am the leader on that project. I also am the lead point person for all of the academic department administrative assistants, so, yes, I do believe that I hold a leadership role.
On Saying “No”
I regularly say no when I am unable to assist. I like to think of myself as a very helpful person/professional; I will assist just about anyone. However, in saying that, if someone enters the office to ask me something ridiculous or if the person is trying to pass the buck, I have a plan in place. I stand, look them straight in the eye and very politely say, “I am unable to do that. I really do not have the time as I am very busy” – which is not a lie! I speak up for myself.
I seek out podcasts that pertain to the administrative profession
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I am definitely a city mouse; I love the multicultural aspect of living in NYC and all the wonderful opportunities for entertainment. You could spend an entire day in Manhattan or one of the Boroughs and barely spend any money … if you know how! Lastly, you can find any ethnic food you can possibly think of AND everything stays open very late. I do love the beach, and I do like going to the country … for a few days.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? In the summertime, I love being on the beach with my family and our extended family. I sit under the umbrella, enjoy the breeze and just relax! I do like to garden with my husband and enjoy going to yard and estate sales with my sisters and mom. When I am home and in the cooler weather, my favorite thing to do is go into Manhattan on the train (a 30 minute ride) and go to places that only those of us born in NYC know about. My favorite place to go to hear wonderful music (mostly light jazz) is Winnie’s Lobby Bar in the Refinery Hotel. My second favorite spot is the Rooftop at the Refinery Hotel; the views and the cocktails are superb! A caveat: My brother-in-law is an investor in both Winnie’s and the Rooftop.
In the wintertime, we go up to the mountains and my family snowboards. I, on the other hand, will enjoy a good book and the quiet time, or go antiquing.
How long have you been an admin. professional? Over 15 years. What was your first such role? When I was 18, I worked as a secretary in the Operations Department at Gimbels Department Store on 33rd Street in Manhattan. Remember the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”? Gimbels was Mr. Macy’s competitor. It was a fun place to work. I worked there for a year or two and then left to finish college full time.
When I was 18, I worked as a secretary at Gimbels Department Store on 33rd Street in Manhattan
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? On Friday nights, I like to have a nice glass of wine and a great meal with my husband and/or friends. I also like to catch up with my four daughters who are 23, 21, 19 and 17. We have lots of laughs and I just love it when they are around the house!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I love to travel to Italy with my parents and sisters. We travel to Northern Italy (my mom is ¼ Italian, from the Genoa in the North) and it is heaven. I also love going to Northern Ireland, which is the most beautiful place that people do not know about. Paris is my favorite city in the world (sorry, NYC). I could see myself living in Paris – but it is hard to speak French beautifully when you have a Queens’ accent. Think “The Nanny”. Just sayin’, and I am half only kidding!*
* I do not sound like Fran Dresher in “The Nanny”.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I believe that having a college degree has opened many doors over the years. I hold a Bachelor’s of Science from St. John’s University in NYC. I attend every training session I can at work, but I would love to go to an external training opportunity one day. I find many of them to be overseas and, due to funding, it is not easy for me to make that trip.
I am a new member of IAAP and hope to network with other members
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a new member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). If there is anyone from NYC or Nassau County reading this, please contact me via LinkedIn as I would really like to meet up with others in the profession and talk shop!
How have these networks or associations helped you? I get much out of their website and newsletters and I hope to eventually network with other members in the New York City/Queens/Brooklyn or Nassau County chapters. I need to find them!
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? Yes. Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I am responsible for maintaining the Molloy College’s Honors Program web pages. I write content and maintain and monitor those webpages. I used to publish a Faceook account for the department I was working for at the time, but it is now defunct.
What are your preferred forms of social media? LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter are my preferred social media outlets. I am on Facebook, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. It is a time sucker!
Social media: a plethora of information about new tech and apps that can make our lives easier
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Aside from those previously mentioned, I have Haiku Deck, Dropbox, Docs, Flipboard, LinkedIn, Lynda.com, Pocket, Trello (have not used it yet), Pages, Numbers, Gmail, It’sTime and Tiny Scanner. I have most on my iPhone and some on the mini iPad that I use at work.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? My dream app would control the robot that would make the lunches and drive my daughter to school so that I could do those 100 burpees and 55 squats. Or … maybe I would have the app do the 100 burpees and 55 squats for me.
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Social media has allowed me not only to connect with others in the administrative profession; it has also helped me become very knowledgeable about different opportunities for training. It is also a plethora of information about new tech and apps that can make our lives easier.
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? Yes, I have been working on going paperless for the past year by utilizing the most amazing desk scanner! Many/most of my files are now electronic. I utilize many different apps that I have learned about through social media. I plan all our meetings utilizing Doodle; I have been using It’s Time!, a free app that acts like a tickler file for reminders. I just created a Voxer account.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? No.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? Both; it depends on the meeting. Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? Yes; last year they introduced a portal for the Board of Trustees’ meetings. What about an intranet/employee portal? The College introduced an employee portal two months ago. It is great!
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. I find many assistants resistant to utilizing the latest tools and technologies that are now available. Learning is living; if you do not keep up with the latest tools available, you will become antiquated.
Learning is living; if you do not keep up with the latest tools available, you will become antiquated
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources such as Siri, OK Google, and more? These applications will assist the Administrative Professional in ways that were unimaginable back in the day. Do you feel prepared for such changes? Yes, I feel prepared. Educate yourselves! It is not rocket science; it’s really not! Do not be intimidated by change … or the internet!
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? I have the Tiny Scanner app on my phone and use it to take pics of all receipts that come in. I then send them to the proper online file in my Accounting folder.
You cannot do your job if you do not (or cannot) communicate with your executive
Style and Substance
Name a go-to piece or two from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I love dresses. Over the head, throw on some jewelry and bam … out the door! But I do wear blazers and dress pants, etc. In the summer, I go for lightweight fabrics and lots of accessories. In the winter, I do like to wear boots and a dress or skirt. Comfort first, but I definitely like to be styling!
What might we find in your desk drawer? My mini iPad with every app under the sun. A pretty cosmetic bag with items packed in it, “just in case”. A big can of aerosol hairspray. Pepper spray is not legal in our state, so the next best thing is a big bad can of Aquanet … extra hold. We all laugh about it, but it makes me feel like I am being proactive if we were ever to have a lockdown (I work on a college campus). Sad, but it’s reality.
Inspirational reads? I really enjoyed Joan Burge’s book, “Who Stole My Pen?” It was the first book I ever read about the administrative profession, and it really motivated me.
Deirdre’s AVP is a true role model and mentor
Role models or mentors? My AVP; she is a true role model and mentor. I believe that we both work very well together because we have a similar motto: “There are no problems, only solutions”.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? Not yet, but I am hoping that maybe this is the year that I am nominated for an award given out during the College’s President’s Award Ceremony. Fingers crossed!
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Over the past ten years, I have been extremely proud of the relationships with not only my AVP and Associate Dean, but also the relationships I have fostered with the members of the Leadership Team. That includes the President, Chief of Staff, Vice Presidents, AVPs and the Council of Deans. I feel there is a mutual level of respect, and that is a wonderful feeling.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I take a deep breath and just do it! I often say to myself,”Self: you had four babies, dealt with 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy …You can do anything!!!!”
You can do anything
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I am going to enroll in Project Management courses so that I can take the exam.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would like to get certified in Project Management. Additionally, I plan on continuing to educate myself and keep myself informed by utilizing the internet and fabulous newsletters and magazines such as Exceptional EA and Executive Secretary Magazine. I may or may not go for my MBA in Management; still deciding!
Talking to Executives
Imagine that a cohort of executives invited discussion of the business case for working with (or without) an executive assistant. Anticipate that they’re tech savvy; how do you make the case for having an assistant on the payroll? The first thing I would like to say is this: If a business is to truly run in a professional manner, they must employ an assistant to free up the executive’s time. This enables the executive can get to the business … of their business!
When a business employs an assistant, the business appears more professional. An assistant manages all aspects of maintaining the physical office, making the business look professional. It sounds much more professional, because the assistant is most likely answering calls on their executive’s behalf. Valuable time is saved because, most often, the assistant will answer the questions meant for the executive. An assistant can also act as the gatekeeper, discouraging the random “drop by” visitor who thought they would just pop in. Assistants can conduct research and utilize those same apps available to the executives! With assistants utilizing apps these days, the executive saves time AND the assistant completes his/her assignment in record timing.
How would you advise them on building an effective business relationship with an admin. professional? In order to build an effective business relationship between the executive and assistant, there must be excellent communication. With excellent communication, there are no questions unanswered; you have all the information you need. Sometimes it takes a few conversations to get all the required info, but having the freedom to ask the questions is key. The assistant must build trust with the executive (and vice versa). Once the trust is in place, it is smooth sailing for both of you.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Wear at least one new item (I have gone to consignment shops and bought an entire outfit for $25!), stand up straight, put a smile on your face and look directly into the interviewers’ eyes when they ask you their questions. Most importantly, research the company and the executives you could potentially be working with. It is okay to ask the name of the person you will be meeting with. Do your homework!
Stand up straight, put a smile on your face and look directly into the interviewers’ eyes
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? It would have been good to realize at the age of 18 that EVERYONE makes mistakes in a work setting. There is not one person in this world who has NEVER once made a mistake.
Your most effective time management strategy? Setting the timer on my phone
Advice for a new parent working to the workplace? Your family should be your main focus. When you are at work, be at work. When you are home, be present for your family.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? I like to meet with my AVP and the Associate Dean at some point in the day to ask questions, give them reminders and follow up on things we’ve previously discussed. Ask your new executive/principal about doing this daily. It could be a six minute interaction. Communication is key in our role! You cannot do your job if you do not (or cannot) communicate with your executive.
When you are at work, be at work; when you are home, be present for your family
For those interested in promotion: Get a degree, certification or some training. YouTube is a great free resource for training, and so (although it’s not free) is Lynda.com.
Advocate for yourself! Your job is to make others happy and to make them look great. You need to do the same for yourself. If you’re not happy, your executive will not be happy. “Happy assistant … their work will be consistent” – I just made that up (LOL).
Having a sense of humor always helps in our profession. Remember that.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Deirdre mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- Executive Secretary Magazine
- IAAP – International Association of Administrative Professionals
- Office Dynamics – Joan Burge
- Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Sokol Evans: “Be the Ultimate Assistant” podcast
- Liz Van Vliet: “Being Indispensable”
- Apps and tools: