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Megan Bishop is an Executive Assistant in Northern Virginia, USA. Here’s a look at her world.
I have two young children and my day starts with them. As a family we get up at 6:30 a.m. and dig into breakfast. My husband and I help them get dressed for the day while we get ready for work. After I take my youngest to daycare, I go back home with my eldest to wait for the school bus. Together we finish up chores and I check my work email for any fires to put out. It’s a generally quiet morning, but I accomplish a lot of “at home” things that I’m usually too tired to do after work. My daughter and I connect about her day while we head to the bus stop.
My commute is nice and short, an easy ten minute drive. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I always have a Dean Martin CD playing. I was not around for the Rat Pack era, but I’m in love with the music.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My first and foremost responsibility is to help keep our CEO’s plate clear and organized. I assist him with many of the usual tasks: travel arrangements, expense reports and document preparation. I also partner with him on strategic initiatives. I support his direct reports in a variety of things like budget tracking, invoice processing, project management, event planning and execution, and nurturing team culture.
Morning Routines: My work day always begins with reviewing that day’s to-do list. If needed, usually at the beginning of the week, I’ll have a meeting with my executive to learn about new projects, give status updates, and generally check in. The rest of the morning is spent on standing, recurring tasks, like mass mailings and invoice processing. After lunch, I focus on projects, usually two a day.
My group is very respectful of workload balance
How long is your work day? I will typically spend a full eight hours in the office. Because I do put my daughter on the school bus every morning, I’m not in the office early. Therefore, I will log in most evenings on email, either tying up any leftover tasks and/or sending a “just checking in” note to my executive.
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 is very supportive of health initiatives. We have access to an in-house gym and an annual wellness fair. My executive kindly gifted me a standing desk and I’m loving it! We also have a group of employees who regularly participate in monthly exercise challenges.
What might be a typical lunch? This may be bad, but I go out for lunch a lot. We have a lot of great food joints in our area, plus food trucks, plus my husband works in the building next door and so we go out for lunch dates frequently. It’s the perfect way to connect quickly on at-home issues, chat about the kids, and just spend time together.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Remembering that I’m a valuable, important part of the company. The #NotJustAnAdmin movement has to start with you. I struggle with positive self-perception and it can be very challenging to remember that I am making respected contributions to my organization’s goals.
I love the fluidity of the role. I’m not boxed into any one thing at all times.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the fluidity of the role. I’m not boxed into any one thing at all times. I get to interact with all of our departments and see a cohesive, complete picture of how our company works.
On Saying “No”
Outright saying “no” to a request is rarely necessary, thankfully, as my group is very respectful of workload balance. If needed, I will ask for more details (deadlines, how the request fits into the big picture) and I will suggest alternatives, including other admins who may appreciate the opportunity to work on the request.
I was born in Delaware, in the United States. I currently live in Northern Virginia, about twenty minutes outside Washington, DC. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I’m definitely a suburb person. I can tolerate the city for a short bit of time but would not want to make my home there.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I am a geek at heart and love to play video games, collect comic books, watch anime, and read sci-fi novels.
How long have you been an admin. professional? I’ve been an admin for coming up on 10 years, and not always in a corporate office setting. I’ve learned that some of the best administrative professionals are simply “admins at heart”. What was your first such role? My first role as an admin was during high school; we had a co-op program where you could go to school for half the day and then go to work during the afternoon. I worked as a personal assistant for a lady who had recently lost her job as a therapist and needed help purging and organizing her floor-to-ceiling filing cabinets.
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? After the birth of my first child, I had a hard time getting back into the work force. I signed on with a temp agency and had short assignments over a couple of months. One morning I was called in as an “emergency” temp for the agency’s prized client. It ended up being my current company and I walked in having zero clue as to what I would be doing. Five and a half years and two roles later, here I am.
Settings boundaries isn’t easy for everyone, but it’s necessary and applicable to using your phone for work
What might we find in your desk drawer? I keep a supply of quick grooming items, like floss and a small hairbrush. I hide keep my favorite colored sharpie pens in there. Also, I keep a deck of Oracle cards.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? It might sound odd, but I clean. Cleaning is my “moving meditation” and I find my head is clearer and my heart is lighter afterwards. For a reward, I’ll bake some cookies, cuddle with my husband and play a video game.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? We have family in New Zealand and I dream of retiring there some day; it’s a stunningly beautiful country. I also love a few days in Las Vegas, taking in the sights, the energy, and the food!
Education and Professional Development
I am very blessed to have both educational and professional development support in my company. As my company is in higher education, I have an excellent tuition assistance benefit that is allowing me to finish the Business Administration undergraduate degree I started after high school. My executive is extremely supportive of my professional development pursuits.
I am a member of the American Society for Administrative Professionals (ASAP). I also consider myself part of the Office Ninjas.
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role in such an organisation? For 2018, I serve on the EA Summit Advisory Council. How has this role impacted your career? I am humbled to be included in this group of fantastic admins. I am thankful to be able to give back to an organization that thoroughly changed my life.
How have these networks or associations helped you? The first time I attended the annual conference hosted by ASAP was one of the biggest “aha” moments of my life. I realized I wanted to be a career EA. I had no idea there was so much support for the administrative role. I’ve met some stellar admins and connected with many vendors and tools that make me better in my role.
Have you earned any certifications earned through the association? I currently hold the Professional Administrative Certification of Excellent (PACE) through the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP).
What are the primary means of communication for members of your professional association? ASAP members can keep up through newsletters, webinars, and the annual APC conference. I’ve connected directly social media with many of the admins I met through ASAP.
Describe any positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. I’ve met a whole host of vendors thanks to networking, particularly at the Administrative Professionals Conference (APC), including one who just finished a new swag item for our company. I also met a fellow EA during a networking session hosted by Office Ninjas, and our companies started working together this year. Fellow admins that you meet from networking become valuable allies and good friends; I am so happy to have learned from so many people I would have never met outside of this profession.
Fellow admins that you meet from networking become valuable allies and good friends
Inspirational reads? Chrissy Scivique’s The Proactive Professional is the single most immediately applicable book I’ve ever read regarding the administrative profession. Rosanne Badowski’s Managing Up is full of great stories and valuable advice from her time supporting the legendary Jack Welch, who happens to be my executive’s boss.
Role models or mentors? Chrissy Scivique, for sure. Her resource materials are concise, applicable, and supportive. She herself is an accomplished career coach and is a very delightful lady. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the 2017 Administrative Professionals Conference (APC) and took her workshop on decision-making. I aspire to be as nurturing and effective as she is for the admin community.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? I have been formally and publicly awarded within my organization as a Most Valuable Player during two years. I was also nominated in 2017 for the Office Ninja’s All-Stars award. Formal recognition is important to the administrative community. This is a role that can be very much behind the scenes or in the shadows. We are usually the ones arranging awards for other employees, so it’s a great feeling to be gifted with recognition.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I struggle with anxiety and many things feel beyond my comfort zone. What works for me is focusing on the end goal. I recognize that there is something that unequivocally needs to be accomplished and I am responsible for making that happen. That thought process serves as a great bridge to leap over my anxiety and get things done.
I realized I wanted to be a career EA
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I’m honing in on mentoring and collaboration. I have pulled together the other admins in my organization and we are working on a year-long group project to document all of our company’s procedures. I’ve invited one of the junior admins to come with me on some off-site training opportunities.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I will be finishing my undergraduate degree in the next couple of years, but concurrently, I will be looking into some Microsoft certifications. I want to become more involved in the admin community, be it through networking at conferences and events, discovering new resources, or engaging on social media.
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I sometimes publish to LinkedIn (in a shared account) for my company. Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? No.
What are your preferred forms of social media? Twitter to follow career resources and television news, Facebook to keep up with distant family, LinkedIn for my professional life, and Reddit to learn what the internet is buzzing about
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? I use Slack to quickly share files with other teams, and Trello for event planning.
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Social media lets me stay connected with my admin network. Connecting on LinkedIn is almost like the new business card, so I’m able to shoot a quick message over to say hello or ask a question. I will also use social media in my research when I’m working on projects for my boss. If I have to gather data on another company, it’s easy to find that information on the company’s LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook site.
I will also use social media in my research when I’m working on projects for my boss
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? I did, but ultimately returned it. I hardly used it and opted to use my own instead. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. may have had on your quality of life. It’s great to have an instant line to your team when you need it. It’s also a very handy tool when you’re not at your computer and your boss needs something quickly – for example, if they need to suddenly change a flight, having your phone makes that doable. I can see why people feel having your smartphone involved with your work pressures you to be “always on” and at the ready, but that’s where communication comes in. Settings boundaries isn’t easy for everyone, but it’s necessary and applicable to using your phone for work.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? It’s a healthy combination. We have in-house and remote employees, so we will gather in a conference room and use GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, or any conferencing service to bring everyone together. Digital copies of the presentation materials are distributed, but paper copies are usually provided in-house as well.
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. We live for innovation and disruption in my company. We firmly believe in “eating and dreaming,” which means we tackle our short-term goals (eating) all while thinking of the next big thing (dreaming). Our team members are excited about innovation, as we strive to serve our students the best online education experience, period. One of our core values is having every brain in the game; we encourage any team member to contribute their ideas and get involved with implementation. And when innovation comes, it’s all hands on deck to get it lined up and ready to quickly deploy.
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources such as Siri and OK Google and more? Our current and prospective student base will benefit from AI-based assistants that can quickly answer their basic questions right on our website, allowing our staff to spend more time on building relationships.
We live for innovation and disruption in my company
AI, Digital Assistants and the IOT: Their Impacts on this Career
It’s not unusual to read that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact employment prospects across a range of occupations. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? I feel it’s worth getting right into the arena when it comes to the digital age, artificial intelligence, and machine learning; find some great courses online. Lynda.com and Udemy are both user-friendly platforms with a host of developmental material. Many fantastic administrative allies, such as Office Dynamics and Chrissy Scivique, have free monthly webinars.
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? All of these advances will deepen the toolbox of the administrative professional of 2025, and allow them to move beyond the basics and elevate themselves to star status. AI, digital assistants and IOT will help us file, manage data, stay organized, book travel, set up expense reports, and tap into a bevy of resources. With those items taking up less of our plate, we are free to deepen our contributions to the team.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? I recommend being proactive and utilizing all the great resources that are available. There are many companies dedicated to helping admins specifically in travel planning; TRAVO comes to mind. Also check out the airport’s website; it will have maps and food/shop information so you’ll have a general idea of where to go and what to do if you or your executive has some downtime before catching a flight.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? Having the airline’s app is a must. It’s freeing to go without printing paper boarding passes, and the app helps with that. Also, you can get up-to-the minute information regarding delays. Thanks to the Southwest app, I was once able to navigate several gate changes when a storm caused a major delay, all before the gate attendant even addressed the crowd. Our company uses Concur for tracking expenses. I like that all of my company card transactions are captured by Concur so I know exactly what I need to expense. If your executive travels often in the United States, they may be interested in a CLEAR membership, which will help them bypass TSA and literally stroll right through security.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. I recommend making sure you know yourself: what’s your brand? If you don’t have a portfolio, make one; it’s what will make your resume stand out from the crowd.
Another recommendation? Research, research, research. Whatever company you’re checking out, investigate what problem they are trying to solve. Put together a list of how you would contribute to the solution. A company can hire anyone to file papers and answer phones; show them that you’re there to ensure they become winners in their industry.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Ask questions about the culture! It’s obvious you’ll want to learn about your role, your tasks, and what problems you’ll be there to solve, but the other part of the equation is understanding what your peers are like. How does the team have fun together? What motivates everyone? Does the person interviewing you know the company mission statement by heart, or is it just wallpaper in the cubicle?
Going to a job interview? Ask questions about the culture
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Something I wish I’d learned early on is that it’s not about me, or any one specific person, really. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that no matter what or who I’m faced with, there’s something that needs to be accomplished. My job, no matter the industry, is to accomplish that Thing quickly, efficiently, and as best suited to the customer as possible.
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer a new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Be available, be a sponge, and strive to be a “T-shaped” employee. Ask permission to sit in on your executive’s meetings or any departmental meetings (and offer to record notes for everyone). The quintessential admin soaks up organizational information and you have to expose yourself to the day-to-day in order to do that. One of my favorite groups, Office Ninjas, put out an article on the T-shaped employee that completely elevated my perspective of the administrative role, and you can read it here.
Mapping out goals is important to career success. What lessons can you share? The number one thing I’ve learned when it comes to mapping out your career goals is that it’s all on you; no one will do this for you. That may be a bit scary to some, but it’s also invigorating. You’ve got a clear blue sky – where do you want to go? Unlike other professions where you focus on one or two single certifications or paths, being an administrative professional is like ordering a la carte from the entire menu of professional development. Admins do everything and can pursue practically anything they want in their careers.
Mapping out your career goals is all on you; no one will do this for you
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? Be honest. Be honest with your peers and your boss about how you’re feeling – because it’s not easy whatsoever to return to the workplace. You’re tired (spoiler alert: that doesn’t go away), you’re emotional, and you’re vulnerable. Be honest with yourself. It’s okay to feel all of those things. It’s okay to go cry in your car or the bathroom or even at your desk because you miss your child. But understand that you were strong enough to help bring a life into the world and you are strong enough to work hard and provide for that child.
For those interested in promotion: I urge you to map out your own career. We are in a delightfully special role with no one singular path to promotion or growth. Also, frankly, many executives don’t entirely know what to do with us. Talking about being a career EA might get you some odd looks from executives. So, I encourage you to dream big and think about what you want to learn. Then utilize all of the existing resources out there, such as free monthly webinars with Office Dynamics, free membership with ASAP, annual conferences, and resources such as Udemy, Lynda, edX and Coursera.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? It’s important to note that these connection conversations don’t have to happen only in the beginning of an executive/assistant relationship – you can and should have them again and again throughout your career as a way of realigning. Lucy Brazier has fantastic thoughts around a “clean slate” meeting with your boss and if you ever have a chance to hear her speak on the subject, I highly recommend doing so.
One of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is your Achilles’ heel?” I want to know where my executive is deficient, so I may come in and support him or her where it’s most needed. And share your Achilles’ heel with your boss! I also strongly recommend discussing the depth of your role: will you be expected to help out in his personal life? What does she definitely not want you doing? Lastly, don’t be afraid to exchange preferred communication styles – take out the guesswork early on.
Your most effective time management strategy? Staying very organized. I keep a running Master To-Do list. At the end of each day, I craft my next day’s to-do list from that Master list. I designate what is a task and what is more of a project or collaborative effort. Then I carve out specific blocks on my calendar for the tasks and the projects. I also leave empty space on my calendar to make wiggle room for interruptions, just go for a walk, or take a breather between items. When something new comes along, no matter how trivial, it goes right onto the Master list.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Megan mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- ASAP – American Society of Administrative Professionals; also on YouTube and LInkedIn
- APC (Administrative Professsionals Conference) Advisory Council
- APC 2018 Conference on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/apcevent/
- Office Ninjas on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OfficeNinjas/
- PACE – ASAP’s Professional Administrative Certification of Excellence
- Badowski, Rosanne – Managing Up
- Scivique, Chrissy – The Proactive Professional