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 Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Turkey, the USA and Wales. Today, we return to California – this time for a visit with Jessica Davis.
Connecting Over Coffee
My day can start as early as 5:00 a.m. At least a couple of mornings each week, I have coffee with some amazing ladies before I head in to the office. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected, share experiences and sometimes just laugh first thing in the morning. I only wish I had started this practice sooner. Regardless of the day, coffee is a first. I cannot get out of bed until I’ve had my first sip of coffee.
My commute is only about 13 miles (21 km)/15 minutes. I drive in, although I have recently considered riding my bicycle to work. As soon as I’m reminded that it’s probably uphill most of the way home, though, I get over that idea real quick.
What two or three musicians/composers are on your playlist for your commute? My playlist will always consist of something loud and uplifting in some way. Something that changes my mood to happy and excited before I start my work day. Queen is always at the top of my list, Toby Mac is another must have, and who can survive a day without a song from the Black Eyed Peas? If you don’t have them on your playlist, you are missing out.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I use VIP alerts on my iPhone, so I usually check messages first thing in the morning when I get up, coffee in hand. If I don’t have emails or messages that are urgent or require an immediate response, I wait until I get to the office. Typically, once I’m in the office, I do a quick scan of my emails and then spend some time in my bosses’ email, usually checking their sent messages first to see what I missed while I was sleeping. Once I’m settled, email has been checked, and knowing that the building isn’t on fire, I’ll usually grab a hot cup of tea to get my morning in the office started.
Primary Responsibilities: I spend the majority of my day trying to conserve as much of my executives’ time as possible. Albeit it can be a daily challenge, I do my best to keep track of deliverables and follow up items, and maintain calendars on a regular basis. Planning, scheduling and note taking also consume a large portion of my day, but they allow me to stay in touch with all of the happenings within the company. Constantly staying in touch with what is happening around me is extremely important.
I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a typical day when you’re an EA. Most would agree that working for an executive or multiple executives means that you work for a personality that is not at all typical. They are consistently inconsistent. It’s important to be the most flexible you can be each day and exude confidence in every situation, because chances are you’ll walk in thinking, “It’s Tuesday” and they will walk in thinking, “IT’S TUESDAY????”
How long is your work day? I typically arrive at 9:00 a.m. and end my work day around 6:00 p.m. or shortly after.
There is always something good to come out of any situation, even if it’s just a lesson learned
What might be a typical lunch? Food – how I love food. I shamefully admit that I think about lunch before I even log in to my email every morning. I am a creature of habit, though, so if I like it, I can pretty much eat the same thing every day. Chicken is usually on the menu. I do try to avoid the constant battle between my head and my stomach and pack a lunch, and it’s usually chicken and brown rice. Big surprise, huh? I do love to go out with friends or coworkers and enjoy sushi and the occasional slice of pizza and really, there is nothing better than a cheeseburger for lunch. Although, I do eat it dry. Meat, cheese, bun.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? In the past, I have allowed my work schedule to interfere with my home life and it quickly became a very bad habit that led me to working on weekends and answering emails as soon as they were received.
In the past, I allowed my work schedule to interfere with my home life
I did this thinking that I was being efficient, but I later found that this was not really a good use of my time away from work – nor was it fair to my family. Sure, there have been several instances where I have responded, communicated or worked in my off hours – but I simply take each instance into consideration and decide if it’s worth me taking time away from my family or if it is simply something that can wait.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Calendars! This was exceptionally worse years ago when I couldn’t view multiple calendars. Coordinating was such a nightmare. These days, the ability to view multiple calendars is fantastic; it’s just that everyone’s schedules get in the way. Once you think you have it all down, you receive that “Decline” or “Tentative” from someone you need to have in the meeting. You try not to have a meltdown, and then you just figure it out.
I use VIP alerts on my iPhone
What do you most enjoy about your career? I absolutely love being an Executive Assistant. It actually brings me joy. I love the interaction with my co-workers and I love being a partner to my executives. I appreciate the trust in my abilities, the collaboration, and the knowledge that I gain from listening and working closely with them. The success of my executives and the success of the company are both a rewarding feeling for me personally.
I love being a partner to my executives … the trust in my abilities, the collaboration and knowledge gained
I also appreciate the people I meet. Being an EA means that you must know everyone, including the cleaning staff and that amazing guy who takes care of the interior plants in your office building. I’ve been known to run down to the mailroom just to say hello to the FedEx guy or save a lunch for the UPS driver. Connecting with people is one of the most important parts of what I do and what I love – and it’s safe to say that no two days are the same.
On Saying “No”
I wanted to skip this question, but I just can’t say “NO!” This has been a challenge for me all of my life. I am a people pleaser; it is in my nature. Saying “no” to someone makes me feel like I have somehow let them down without even starting anything. Projects, events and committing to things that I really just don’t have time for, I just can’t resist. This is something I am actively working on and I struggle with it all of the time. Feel free to pass along some friendly advice.
If I feel I’m spending too much time on something and becoming unproductive, I walk away for a minute
I was born and raised in Southern California; this will always be my home. I grew up a real “Valley Girl”. Although I live in Ventura County now, I’m not more than 40 miles (64 km) from where I grew up.
At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? I am a city mouse, for sure. I love the excitement of the city. I love having access to restaurants and sporting events, and did I mention restaurants? Yes, I love food and trying new places to eat.
Away from the office, we really enjoy being outdoors. My husband and I enjoy being in our camper on the beach with our two dogs in tow. Sometimes we just enjoy small road trips out of town or overnight. If we’re not doing that, we are probably having dinner with friends at one our favourite local restaurants.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? It’s probably going to be a Black Eyed Peas song, none in particular – just something fun with a great beat. I truly do enjoying singing in the car and typically my passengers would prefer I did not. So any chance I can get, I’m probably putting on a mini concert in my car.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Depending on how tough a day or week I’ve had, this could range from shoe shopping to just a quiet night at home to decompress. Typically tough days don’t get me too down; there is always something good to come out of any situation, even if it’s just a lesson learned, so sometimes just going home is all the reward I need.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Fiji. It’s been on my list for a while. No real reason except it looks amazing and warm. Anything warm and tropical, really. I’m not picky.
Peer and Professional Associations
I belong to the IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals), ASAP (American Society of Administrative Professionals), EAN (Executive Assistant Network) and the AEAP (Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals). I try to stay active in each group and I also “attend” as many webinars through Office Dynamics International as possible. It helps me to stay on track with new and useful tools, create new goals, get encouragement and find out what other EAs do in different or even similar situations.
I also serve alongside some amazing women in my own community as a member of the Westlake Village Junior Women’s Club (www.westlakejuniors.org), where I am currently co-chairing our Spring event. It gives me great joy to serve my community, and my involvement allows me to connect with other women who share the same charitable spirit that I have.
It’s important to be the most flexible you can be each day, and to exude confidence in every situation
Preferred form(s) of social media? I stick to the basics, with Facebook.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Ha! As silly as it sounds, I would love a GPS on my bosses. Anything that will beep when they are on the move would be a dream come true.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I am a blazer / jacket kinda gal. No matter how casual or dressy I am for the office each day, I usually have on a jacket of some sort.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? At a minimum I would have MAC powder and some mascara; typically I don’t even run to the grocery store – much less anywhere else -without a bit of makeup on. Carmex! May there always be Carmex for as long as I live.
Heels or flats? Although the majority of my shoe collection (yes, collection) is heels, because I stand all day at my desk, I typically wear wedges and boots and the occasional heel.
Preferred scent: I have a very sensitive nose when it comes to scents, so something fresh or vanilla.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Gum, mouthwash, some kind of stationery with my name on it and Wonder Woman Post-it notes, guaranteed.
Travel or travel planning advice? Travel planning means that you must know every single need that your executive expects when s/he travels. This comes from years of working with and for the same people, and asking a lot of questions. I have personally found that having an amazing travel agent who has also worked with you and your executive for a long time is even more beneficial.
I absolutely love being an Executive Assistant; it actually brings me joy
It’s imperative to know their preferences and their secondary preferences and in some cases, their “in the case of emergency” preferences. I’ve had executives who simply would not sit in a middle or window seat unless it was the last plane to fly to the last country left on the last day of his life! Plan for a boat ride or an emergency rescue from NASA. My point is that you have to know how to plan; you need to know how they travel and how they react under stress. I have personally picked up a few bad habits from travelling with some of my execs over the years. I find that I become quickly irritated with my own family members for not being so travel smart, and have to remind myself that they don’t do this for a living. Patience.
Have thick skin – it’s usually not about you; don’t make it about you
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I would have to say that a couple of my biggest career accomplishments were both large events I led. The first was an annual incentive trip to Hawaii with 200+ people; I coordinated two such trips. I had, over a number of previous years, scheduled many meetings and workshops – but nothing quite as extensive as the Hawaii trip. This was an incentive trip for employees and their families. It required that I lead all of the travel planning, transportation, hotel, teams, events, dinners, golf, and everything in between – including meals which, as anyone who has planned events knows, is the hardest part. When you’re in charge of menus, it’s difficult to make everyone happy and you’ll always have that one person who is allergic to everything. You know who you are!
The second biggest accomplishment was an event I organised out of state for 500+ people. I did have the luxury of a nice budget and a wonderful event planning company, but we did struggle with planning around a huge Ebola scare right smack in the middle of the city we’d chosen. Despite the threat of the virus, we managed to pull off a vendor trade show, an indoor (thanks to the weather) carnival, and an offsite dinner and concert. We built a couple hundred bicycles for a local charity and announced a complete rebrand of two companies that became one on the very last day of the meeting. I feel silly when I say it, but the week was pretty epic. I’m very proud to say that I was a huge part of that.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I try not to think too far ahead as I start to imagine all of the things I’d like to do, and then I spend the next few years feeling anxious about doing them.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Embrace public speaking and practice it at any and all opportunities. Start in comfortable settings and practice often. It’s important. as you grow in your career, to be able to speak comfortably in all settings. You could potentially be speaking with other executives and/or public figures and you want to be sure you’re comfortable. Or, at least, you want to sound or appear to be comfortable and confident.
Embrace public speaking and practice it at any and all opportunities
Your most effective time management strategy? I really do my best to prioritise my day as early as possible. I add to my calendar things that I don’t want to forget, and set reminders for things that need to get done. If I feel that I’m spending too much time on something and becoming unproductive, I walk away for a minute. When I return to my desk, I try to knock out one other small task or respond to an email before going back to my previous task.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Be confident in your choice of childcare while you’re away from home. It’s hard not to be distracted thinking about your family when you’re away from them, but set aside a couple times of day that you check in, and try to be sure that you have a backup childcare provider for emergencies.
Do remind yourself that it is okay to put your family first. Often times we work for executives who have someone at home full-time to handle medical appointments and school meetings, and they don’t always remember that we are the ones who handle those types of life events for our households. Try to get things scheduled on the same day if possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Prioritise; it’s what we do!
Read EA blogs, share experiences with other EAs and stay relevant
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant
- Be clear about your expectations.
- Understand their expectations.
- Create ground rules. Ask if your assistant is willing to handle personal items/tasks.
- Include your assistant in everything from the start. Together you can decide where your assistant adds the most value. From there, you can decide what aspects of your day you need her/him to be a part of.
- ASK! Your assistant has observed you working; ask where s/he thinks you need the most help.
- Let go. Learn to let your assistant do more for you. Trust in her/his abilities and allow yourself to work on things that require a bit more of your attention.
- Ask your assistant to discuss her/his long term goals. You should be aware of your assistant’s future intentions. Is s/he working her/his way up to be an executive? Is s/he planning on retiring with you and the company?
- Become partners; accomplishments are a mutual success.
For those interested in promotion: Have thick skin. It’s usually not about you; don’t make it about you. Read EA blogs, share experiences with other EAs and stay relevant.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Jessica mentioned may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.