Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Juanita Mort of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA.
Juanita Mort, CAP, OM, PM, MOSM is Executive Assistant to the Vice President, IT/CIO, and adjunct instructor, Adult Education at Harrisburg Area Community College, Harrisburg, PA. She is also Chair-Elect of the Board of Directors for IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals. Here’s a look at her world.
On top of any issues
I am usually up by 5:00 a.m. and in the office by 7:30. I check emails, calendars (my exec’s and mine) and text messages before I get in the shower and again before I walk out the door, to make sure I am aware of any issues that need to be resolved immediately – or issues that my exec needs to know about before arriving at work.
My commute is between 10-30 minutes, depending on traffic and the lineup at Dunkin’ Donuts. I drive and use the time on the way to work to listen to local news and think about the day’s events. On the drive home, I usually listen to music and decompress to leave work at work. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I’m eclectic when it comes to music. What I listen to depends on the type of day it was. My go to on a good day is anything Motown/R&B. On a not so good day, my go to is Prince or Carlos Santana; they both often make me think and always make me happy!
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My primary role is to support the Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer. I also provide limited support to five directors and other company executives as necessary. My duties include calendar management, coordinating itineraries, travel planning, creating communications and various departmental status reports. Additionally, I am responsible for assisting with budget development and monitoring, and for processing procurement requests for college-wide hardware and software. I conduct extensive online research, maintain our divisional website (www.hacctechnews.com) which I created, and more. I am a liaison to the other senior executives and their assistants and am often called upon to interview, train and mentor new EAs. I strive to be a resource for other administrative professionals by sharing best practices, knowledge and resources.
It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions
Morning Routines: I am usually in before my executive and most of my team. I use this time to again check email and listen to any voicemail messages that came in since I last checked. I make sure I have everything I need to ensure my executive is ready for his day when he arrives.
I don’t know that I’ve ever had a typical day in my career! I think that is the beauty of this career choice – each day brings new challenges and opportunities. Working on a college campus with thousands of students makes each day very interesting. Our main goal is to make sure the students have the best educational experience possible, and we do what is necessary to make that happen.
I am also proud to be a member and servant leader for IAAP
How long is your work day? I am fortunate that my company encourages employees to work towards a good work/life balance and encourages employees to work a normal schedule and not work during our off hours. However, as with most EAs, I am always “on” and often scan email during off hours to make sure I am on top of what is going on.
Most evenings, you can find me working on my other passion – IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals. As a board member, I have meetings to prepare for and attend. I am a liaison to several committees and working groups, and mentor three Region Directors. I am also an IAAP-approved speaker and am often preparing presentations and/or speaking at IAAP events.
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 takes health seriously. We have a Wellness Committee that plans employer-sponsored fitness, health and wellbeing educational programs and challenges. In the Spring of 2018, we held a company-wide Healthy @ HACC event, a friendly competition which encouraged healthy eating and exercise – and, for some, just moving. Each participant received a Fitbit and joined a team and, at the end of the competition, awards and prizes were given out at a celebratory luncheon
What might be a typical lunch? I typically eat lunch at my desk – usually something light from our student cafeteria or yogurt and fruit from home. I spend this time catching up/posting on social media and on IAAP.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I am the Social Media Coordinator for my employee group, and a member of the Shared Governance – Promoting Excellence Committee. I’m also a member of the newly formed Next Generation Task Force, charged with helping our college meet the ever-changing needs of our changing educational and business landscapes.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect of my day is checking work at the door when the day is over. Our department is always busy and it’s often hard just to walk away.
The most challenging aspect of my career overall is staying ahead of the next curve – in education, in technology, and in the role of an administrative professional.
Recommended focus for professional development: critical thinking, strategic planning and leadership
What do you most enjoy about your career? If I can pick only one thing, it would have to be the organized chaos – being the eye of the storm. By that, I mean being the calm that helps everyone do what they need to do to succeed – and to do it calmly and patiently. The role of an EA is one of service and leadership; we play a key role in today’s workplace. I enjoy interacting with people and helping them be successful, and seeing the difference I can help them make.
On Saying “No”
I say no, when it is absolutely warranted, if the request clearly doesn’t fit within my responsibilities or the due date does not align with my current priorities. More often than not, I say “not now” instead of “no”. If I can’t help a person in the proposed time frame, I let them know that and advise when I would be able to assist. I offer alternatives, and/or offer to find someone else to assist them.
I was born in Leonardtown, Maryland and spent most of my childhood in Daytona Beach, Florida before moving to Central Pennsylvania in my teens. As a young Navy wife, I spent a little over a decade in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I currently live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I am definitely a city mouse. I appreciate the country, but can take the quiet and slow pace for only a brief period. I prefer the city and the hustle and bustle it offers.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. Sitting on the back porch with a glass of wine chatting with my hubby is one of my favourite ways to spend time.
How long have you been in this career? I had my first secretarial position immediately after high school, and then went on to other positions in retail management and accounting before returning to my admin roots in 1991. What was your first such role? I was a secretary in a small insurance office, where I worked for the principal. After taking time off to raise a son and work in retail management, I enjoyed a 17-year role as the EA and corporate secretary to the President of a family-owned automotive group that included a leasing and livery company as well as a financing company.
If you don’t have to, don’t settle for any position – make sure it is one you’ll enjoy
Describe any positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. Networking has benefited my career in so many ways. I would say the biggest benefit is that I can tap into the network/resources and get help or find the answer to almost anything I need, thereby enabling me to work more efficiently and effectively.
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? Several admin colleagues I’d met through IAAP worked at the company and let me know of an opportunity that they felt was a good fit – and it was. I’ve held several roles since coming to the college in 2010, and have benefited from education and the other opportunities each role offered.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I listen to Prince very loudly on the ride home, and spend some time playing a video game before I really engage with anyone at home.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? I love spending time at the beach. As for a travel adventure, I would love to visit Europe and explore the countries I’ve read and heard so much about.
Education and Professional Development
I am a firm believer in lifelong education. I believe that, to truly excel in your chosen field, you must always be on the lookout for the next learning opportunity. I have an Associate’s degree in Business Administration and hold several certifications: Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) with specialty designations in Organizational Management (OM) and Project Management (PM), and I am a Microsoft Office Specialist (2010, 2013, and 2016), Microsoft Office Specialist Expert (Word/Excel 2016) and Microsoft Office Specialist Master (2016).
By far, IAAP has been the most influential (professional organization) on my career
Peer and Professional Associations: I belong to several peer/professional organizations that support my role as an admin/EA. By far, IAAP has been the most influential on my career. Through IAAP, I have attended numerous local, regional and national educational events, attained certification (CAP, OM, PM) and grown my professional network to include contacts from around the world. Additionally, I belong to the Administrative Office Management Advisory Board at Harrisburg Area Community College.
How have these associations helped you? Membership in these organizations have enabled me to expand my knowledge and expertise, which has helped me become a more valuable member of my team and my organization. Through professional development, I have learned leadership and professional skills that have helped me to lead and be part of successful teams. I’ve been called upon to help interview potential EA candidates, and to mentor others on the EA team and those wanting to move into the EA role.
Have you earned any certifications earned through the association? I’ve earned the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) and CAP Specialty designations: Organizational Management and Project Management.
Tell us about your leadership roles within IAAP, and how they’ve impacted you. I have held leadership roles on local, regional and international levels, and am the Chair-Elect of the board of directors. Each of these roles has had a positive impact on me and my career. They have provided me opportunities to grow and learn in ways that I may not have had access to otherwise. The skills developed through these roles have enabled me to be a more productive employee and leader in my workplace.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? With the exception of IAAP, all communications are pushed to members via email. IAAP does a wonderful job of offering many avenues of communication to its members: email, internal (Social Link) and external (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter) social media sources. If needed/wanted, we can communicate by phone with any of our leaders (at any level) and our headquarters staff.
To truly excel in your chosen field, you must always be on the lookout for the next learning opportunity
Inspirational reads? As with music, I have a very eclectic taste in books/authors. I find Bonnie Low Kramen, Joan Burge, Melba Duncan and Anel Martin to be very inspiring for admins. However, one of my all-time favorites is “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum.
This short read is about how we learn to live and treat others. This book teaches basic humanity and is described like this: “Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.”
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? I believe my three top competencies are critical and strategic thinking, organizational management and financial acumen.
Role models or mentors? I have had so many that it would be difficult to pick just one. One mentor was a former employer who saw potential in me, when I wasn’t really looking for it. That mentor encouraged me to reach for more, and supported me as I did so.
The most challenging aspect of my day is checking work at the door when the day is over
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? While I don’t need recognition to feel accomplished, it is nice to be recognized. I am particularly fond of person-to-person recognition (both to me and from me) – a nice word or note is a wonderful way to recognize someone.
I am a recent nominee for the President’s Award at my place of employment, and a past YWCA Women of Excellence Award winner.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I am proud of the certifications I hold: CAP, OM, PM, Microsoft Office Specialist Master, and Google Educator, Level 1. I am also proud to be a member and servant leader for IAAP.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? Breathe, take a moment to step away. Think, breathe, and start – it doesn’t necessarily matter what I do first (it’s usually a list); the most important step is to start!
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I have a busy year with IAAP, shadowing our current Chair/President Nora Onishi, in preparation for assuming that role in July 2019. I am working towards my Microsoft Certified Trainer certification and Google Educator certifications.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? That will include serving as Chair/President of IAAP.
The Digital Age
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? Yes, to Facebook for an employee constituency group.
What are your preferred forms of social media? LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and (for the IAAP community) Social Link
Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? Yes; it’s www.hacctechnews.com.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Office Lens, Smart View and HP Reveal
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I would love an app that would give my exec a nudge whenever he was running late! All kidding aside, I would like to see a productivity app (MSOffice, Office 365 and Google) that is truly agnostic.
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. It has been a positive learning experience. I have gained knowledge in HTML programming, graphic design and layout. I have also learned how to plan and schedule social media posts so they “hit” at the right time and have the most impact.
A nice word or note is a wonderful way to recognize someone
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? My department (IT) has assisted with the digitalization of most of our organizational forms, recruiting tools and annual reviews by performing process mapping sessions to determine flow, need and future use. This information was used to create systems written by in-house programmers and third party services to digitize our processes and forms.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes. 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 am available 24/7 for work and IAAP matters. That doesn’t mean that I need to or will respond to everything – it means that I monitor the calls/messages and determine if an immediate response is required.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? Most of our meetings are primarily digital.
Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? Yes, we have a robust portal for our students and employees. The implementation process was well planned and well communicated, making it a success. It is widely used and was well received.
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? We are moving from an intranet to SharePoint, and are currently in the planning and development phase.
Digital Innovation: Impacts on this Career
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. We introduce change in a very planned and logical manner. The first and most important aspect is the impact the change will have on our students, and how we can implement it with the least amount of disruption.
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources? While we have started using AI such as Alexa in some classrooms for some simple, repetitive tasks, I don’t see it having a big impact on employee roles in the near future.
Your experience and thoughts on cyber security/data security practices? We are taking a very proactive approach to cybersecurity and how we approach it to ensure the online security of our students, faculty and staff.
Don’t underestimate the value you bring to the organization
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI)? While I think that AI will increasingly influence how we do business, I don’t believe it will take the place of admins/EAs. AI will take on the repetitive tasks that we do, leaving us to become more focused business/strategic partners for our organizations.
AI not human, it is not creative, it can’t exercise good judgement and it won’t be able to offer the personal touches that we can. I would recommend that admins focus on professional development in the areas of critical thinking, strategic planning and leadership.
What positive impacts do you think AI and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? By moving some mundane, repetitive tasks to technology applications, admins will be able to grow their talents in leadership and strategic planning, etc. and demonstrate the value they bring to the workplace as a strategic/business partner.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? If you have a travel agent at your disposal, use them.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? Waze and Expensify
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Be true to yourself. If you don’t have to, don’t settle for any position – make sure it is one you’ll enjoy. If you settle, both you and your employer will be unhappy.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. I haven’t interviewed in a long time, but when I am interviewing EAs I’m looking for a few particular things:
- How much do they know about the company, the division and the executive?
- What do they understand the role of an EA to be?
- What questions do they have for me?
A candidate’s answers to these three questions provide me with information on a their research ability, their attention to detail, and what they think the role should be as opposed to what it is. Their questions of me also indicate how they’ll do in the role.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Don’t underestimate the value you bring to the organization; ask a lot of questions. It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions; it is the opposite.
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? Meet with every member of the team. They are all important; find out each individual’s role and how it fits into the organization. Let others know what your role is, and how it fits into the organization; ask how you can work together to help the team succeed.
Your most effective time management strategy? I work remotely one day a week. This provides me an uninterrupted work day, allowing me to get more done than I can during two days in the office. I also add everything to my (and my exec’s) Outlook calendars, including project time and buffers between meetings.
Assistants are often so in the fray that we don’t take time to set goals – which is a big mistake
Talk to us about goal setting. I don’t think goal setting is something all admins do easily. I think we are often so “in the fray” that we don’t take time to set goals – which is a big mistake. Goal setting is not only important to you and your professional development, it’s important to your executive and your organization as it helps you connect with and become accountable to the whole, giving you something to work toward.
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? Make sure you review expectations (yours and your exec’s) as soon as you return. Make sure you have a good work/life balance so you can be effective at both.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Discuss expectations (yours and theirs), preferred communication methods, and your professional development plan.
If you don’t have to, don’t settle for any position – make sure it is one you’ll enjoy
For those interested in promotion: Find someone who exhibits the professionalism, skills and experience in the areas you want to grow and ask them to mentor you.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Juanita mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- IAAP – International Association of Administrative Professionals
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.
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