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, and now make our way to Syracuse, New York to visit with Suzanne Benderski, CTS, CAP-OM.
Easing into the New Day
I’ve spent my whole life trying to become a morning person, but I’m just not one to spring out of bed perky early in the morning. Now that I don’t have to get kids ready in the morning anymore, I linger in bed as long as I can, though I’m usually awake between 6:00 and 6:30. I’m guilty of checking my phone pretty much as soon as I’m coherent in the morning, so I usually spend about 30 minutes lying in bed, petting one of my dogs, while I scan my various email and social media accounts, make sure there aren’t any immediate fires that need to be tended to, etc.
Around 7:00 a.m. I get up and take a shower and dress for work. I do my best to plan my morning the night before as far as what I’m going to wear, packing my tote bag, etc., because I’m not really fully functional until I down that first cup of coffee at work. Most mornings I prep a travel mug of coffee, make some toast with peanut butter or fruit and cottage cheese, grab my things for the day and blow out the door shortly before 8:00. My commute is blessedly short, about five miles, which generally takes 10-12 minutes. That time can easily increase to 30-45 minutes if we’re having one of the snowstorms we’re famous for, but those days are rare.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? My musical tastes are very eclectic, but to get myself going in the morning, I usually listen to the Hair Nation or Classic Rewind channels on Sirius XM or one of my Def Leppard CDs. I still love my 80’s classic rock bands. For the trip home, I’ll listen to anything from current pop music to country or rock or even a local radio station.
At the Office
Morning Routines: As soon as I get to work each morning, I pour the coffee from my travel mug into my very large “time to get stuff done” coffee mug and eat breakfast while going through my email. I manage some of our company email accounts as well as our social media pages, so I review resumes that have come in overnight and distribute them to the appropriate recruiters. I check our social media pages for anything that requires a response or action, and look for any other hot items that need immediate action. I generally try to map out my day the night before, but always in pencil because things are ever-changing! I try to set a framework for each day while still allowing for the flexibility my job and our industry require.
Every day is different, but there are some consistent responsibilities each week. I prepare some reports on Mondays and attend several meetings that day to review the weekly priorities for several different departments. On Tuesdays we have staff and sales team meetings. I try to earmark Wednesdays and Thursdays as project days, so that’s when I schedule conference calls, webinars, and can plan on doing more time-blocking for research projects and such. Friday is always busy with job postings and advertising, and making sure everything is current for the weekend job hunters!
Primary Responsibilities: I wear a number of different hats in my role and can wear many of them all in one day. I love that about my job; I’m never, ever bored! I provide administrative support to our company President and Vice President when needed, prepare meeting agendas and take notes, and provide research support to our sales team. I work on a variety of sales and marketing initiatives for the company, including website maintenance, coordinating with an outside marketing company for e-newsletters and blogs, ordering promo items, etc. I prepare RFPs (Requests for Proposals) when needed, and manage our job boards and job posting process, including vendor contracts and relationships. As well, I coordinate all of our digital and social media presence, including advertising. I also back up our internal tech support person if she isn’t available. Plus, there is always the “miscellaneous duties as required” component! If we receive a high volume order from a client, I can be processing applications and drug testing, reviewing resumes and sourcing candidates, or anything else required to get the job done! I love being one of the “go-to” people in the office; helping other people be successful is the most rewarding part of my job.
How long is your work day? I usually work from about 8:15 to 5:30 each day, but I’m not a clock watcher and often times I leave closer to 6:00 if I become caught up in a task. If I have a particularly heavy workload due to a special project or something, I then try to come in early in the morning before the office gets busy. It always amazes me how much work you can get done between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. when no one else is there. If only it weren’t so darn early!
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? Most days I go home for lunch to tend to my dogs. They are older now and can’t go all day without being let out, so I stop home to take care of them and then usually eat lunch there or grab something to take back with me to eat at my desk. My daughter also works at my company and occasionally we will go out to lunch together as well.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I do monitor my email and our social media accounts during my “off” hours. In the land of Twitter and Facebook, there is no such thing as routine office hours. I am able to log in to my work computer from home, and will do so if there is an urgent matter that needs to be taken care of immediately.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The challenges can vary, that’s for sure. I’m in a unique role where I support almost every person in the company in some capacity, so there can be times when there are multiple projects that are all “urgent” and they just can’t all be completed at the same time. Those are the times when open and honest communication about deadlines and expectations usually smooths things over. Everyone in our company genuinely wants everyone else there to also succeed, so people are good about adjusting priorities to accommodate the greater good. Another big challenge is trying to stay on top of changing technologies and social media platforms – they seem to move at the speed of light sometimes, and keeping abreast of changing algorithms and requirements is daunting. I read a LOT in my spare time!
I’ve really enjoyed the evolution of the administrative role
What do you most enjoy about your career? I’ve really enjoyed the evolution of the administrative role over the years. I’ve always felt valued and respected by my co-workers, and knowing that I play a critical role in the success of our company. It’s very rewarding to be one of the “hubs” of the office, and I really enjoy the camaraderie and support we all give each other here.
On Saying “No”
Very rarely do I say no, but I often ask, “How soon do you need this?” if the request is project-related. For tasks that can be done in 15 minutes or less, I generally just take care of them immediately if I can. Staffing is a business that moves extremely quickly and so, frequently when someone is asking for something, they needed it five minutes ago!
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri and spent most of my childhood in various places in the mid-West, moving often. I’ve lived in the Syracuse, New York area since 1986. At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? Country mouse, for sure! Although visiting the city is fun, I don’t like crowds or traffic very much, so I don’t stay very long!
How do you spend your down time? I read a lot, enjoy going to concerts and sporting events and playing card games. I LOVE the penny slots at the casino, going on wine tours, and just generally spending time with my husband and/or our collective five kids (all adults now!). The weather in upstate New York is amazing in the Summer and Fall, so we try to make the most of it.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? My dogs are the best therapy ever; it’s hard to hang on to a bad mood when they’re loving you up. Wine is also wonderful.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Most trips I take involve visiting family somewhere, and those trips are always wonderful. I dream of going on a Caribbean cruise, though; maybe next year!
There are things to be learned even from bad situations; accept the lessons
Education and Professional Development
Education: I wouldn’t have been able to get the job I have without the education and certifications I’ve picked up over the years. I’ve spent many, MANY hours in the past few years learning everything I can about managing social media platforms and advertising – attending seminars, workshops and webinars, and reading, reading, reading. I’ve been learning to do things I couldn’t have even studied in school because the field didn’t exist! Continual professional development is crucial. The world is moving at break-neck speed, and you have to always keep learning.
Network, both in person and online, and join a professional association
Peer and Professional Associations: I’ve been a member of IAAP since 1998 and, over the years, I’ve held every Chapter Officer position. I also served on some of the District committees until the recent restructuring.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I use most of them, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, SnapChat, and Instagram. Facebook is probably the one I use the most, followed closely by LinkedIn.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I love the Indeed app; it’s very helpful for me with work. I’d also be lost without my Dunkin’ Donuts app; it helps me in my career more than just about anything!
Appreciation from your colleagues is the most rewarding compliment for a job well done
Awards and Recognition
I’ve been fortunate to receive the Star Search award during my tenure at Robert Half International; I was nominated by a Regional Manager as one of the best admins in the company. I have received the peer-nominated Employee of the Month award several times in my current job. Appreciation from your colleagues is the most rewarding compliment for a job well done!
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Black pants or a skirt, with a black tank top, colorful jacket, and either a matching necklace or a scarf, depending on the season. I think I have about 50 scarves; they’re kind of my “thing” and are always practical in a northern climate!
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Mascara and lipstick
Heels or flats in the office? Flats; often boots For your commute? Flats and, again, often boots! Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I’m not really brand conscious. I buy what looks good and fits comfortably!
Preferred scent: Japanese Cherry Blossom body spray – it’s my husband’s favourite
What might we find in your desk drawer? A lint roller (black dogs), a hair brush, dental floss, assorted note pads, and lots of pencils!
Travel or travel planning advice? I don’t coordinate as much travel now as I have in the past, but I generally check multiple websites for the best pricing and travel mid-week whenever possible for the lowest fares.
Inspirational reads? Do What You Are, Nurture by Nature, Blink, and What Color is Your Parachute?
Role models or mentors? I’ve learned so much from many of the leaders in IAAP. It would be hard to single out just one, as I admire many of them! In addition, my current manager has taught me invaluable lessons about the importance of loyalty and integrity, and the value of having a true partnership between a manager and an admin.
Set each other up to succeed by making the most of each other’s talents
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Attaining and continually recertifying my CAP-OM credential through the International Association of Administrative Professionals is one of my most significant career achievements. In addition to being a great source of pride, it also helped me complete my degree in Business Management. I also hold a CTS rating (Certified Temporary Staffing Specialist) from the National Association of Personnel Services. I firmly believe that maintaining professional certifications is one concrete way to demonstrate commitment to your field.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I’m constantly learning and growing in my role and plan to continue to expand on my social media skills and become more knowledgeable of metrics and ROI (Return on Investment) measurements.
Keep an eye on the end game and longer-term goals
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? When I was in my early twenties, I was very focused on the immediate tasks and situations. Now, I would tell my younger self to keep more of an eye on the end game and longer-term goals, and not to be so short-sighted – especially in some of my decision-making. There are things to be learned even from bad situations; accept the lessons.
Ask questions; don’t assume!
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Ask, “How can I best help you do your job? What is your preferred method of communicating?” Some people like email best, while others would rather meet or have a phone call. Some managers want to be fully reliant on an assistant, and some prefer to handle most things themselves. Don’t assume! Clarify expectations and build a valued partnership from the beginning.
Your most effective time management strategy? Outlook task reminders save my life! I keep a weekly list of tasks and each night identify two to three key things to accomplish the next day in order to continue making progress on that task list.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Be kind to yourself. It’s impossible to be everything to everyone at all times. Prioritise, let the unimportant stuff (there is a lot of it) go, and don’t feel badly about wanting to maintain a professional self in addition to the “mom” role; it may be what will keep you sane some days!
Maintaining professional certifications is one concrete way to demonstrate commitment to your field
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant? Identify the strengths and weaknesses each person in the working partnership has, and strive to build upon each other’s strengths. Set each other up to succeed by making the most of each other’s talents.
For those interested in promotion: Network, both in person and online, and join a professional association. There is so much to be learned from others in your field!
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Suzanne referenced may be interested in checking the following link.
- IAAP – International Association of Administrative Professionals