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, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Toronto, Canada to visit with Cindy Moeser.
Cindy Moeser is Executive Assistant to the Founders, VarageSale, Inc. Here’s a look at her world.
A True Morning Person
I am what you would consider a “morning person”. I am up at 4:45 a.m. and have a routine that I follow every morning to get out of the house at the same time. Being a commuter, I make sure that I know the weather and am prepared for the day (jacket, umbrella, boots, etc.).
My commute is about an hour and 15 minutes long. I leave my house at 5:45 a.m. in order to make my way to downtown Toronto via GO Train. It is a combination of driving to the station, taking the train and then walking for 20 minutes when I get downtown. Many people cannot understand how I can do this so early but I get great parking, the trains are not packed and the walk is less crowded. For me, avoiding all the congestion makes it worth leaving early. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I go to the gym before work so I typically arrive at the office around 8:15 a.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get to the office at 7:15 a.m.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist? I listen to a huge variety of music but some of my favourites are James Blunt, The Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer and Pink.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I usually review my emails on my smartphone on the train to make sure I am prepared if anything needs my immediate attention. Once at the office, the first thing I do is grab a green tea, and then settle in to answer all urgent emails and review my to-do list so that I can prioritize the tasks that are key for my executives. I use a physical to-do list for all of the larger projects and also star/flag all of my emails that require a follow-up. It is usually very quiet in the office when I arrive so once I get the high-priority tasks out of the way, I take the time to work on projects that will require more focus and attention to detail.
Primary Responsibilities: My role consists of all the typical EA responsibilities including calendar management, travel arrangements, preparing my executives for their meetings, taking minutes as required, as well as expense reports and tracking. I also help run and organise management and staff offsite events. The difference with this role is that we are a rapidly growing start-up, so I have taken on more responsibilities (as required) such as instituting a benefits plan and acting as the plan administrator. My role is evolving as we bring on staff members who are dedicated to these particular functions. This means I can concentrate on making sure my executives have the support they need. I enjoy the “all hands on deck” atmosphere and willingness to do what it takes to make things happen. My main goal every day is to make sure my executives are prepared for the day ahead, and able to focus on their priorities.
I would not say that I have a “typical day” as there are always new and different things coming up! That said, there are core responsibilities that are consistent on a day-to-day basis.The great thing about this role is that things change at the drop of a hat and it is always fast paced.
How long is your work day? A typical work day is between eight to nine hours, but my executives understand that if they need me, they can reach me at any time. I typically leave the office somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. and work remotely if needed. I keep my laptop with me at all times just in case any issues come up when I am not on site.
What might be a typical lunch? I typically bring my lunch to work. Not needing to go out and get lunch allows me to be flexible about when I eat. I usually eat with my coworkers in the kitchen or at my desk, depending on how my day is going.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Not too often, but I watch my emails at all times on my smartphone in case anything urgent comes up that needs my attention. I am extra alert if my executives are flying or if someone is flying into Toronto to meet with them. In those cases, I will track all flights and deal with a delay or emergency situations if they come up.
If your executive is travelling, or someone is flying in to meet with her/him, track all flights
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? It can be very challenging when both of my executives need something urgent at the same time. At times like these, I have to make sure to communicate to them that I am working on another urgent task, and then determine which one will take priority. This can happen often enough, and staying calm and focused is key to making sure all of the issues are resolved in a timely manner.
Knowing I am making a difference in the lives of those I support gives me drive
What do you most enjoy about your career? I have always enjoyed working in fast-paced environments. It is very important to me that my executives see me as their “right hand”, and I find this is key for me to feel successful in this role. Knowing that I am making a difference in the lives of those I support is what gives me the drive to continue to find more ways to help their days be more successful.
On Saying “No”
I typically will not say “no” to my executives but instead suggest alternatives. If I know that I do not have time, or if the request is best suited for another staff member, I will suggest this solution and then follow up to make sure it has been completed. When it comes to everyone else in the office, I typically say “no” if I need to devote my time to projects for my executives. Instead, I will offer ideas if I have completed a similar task in the past and make sure they know I am available for questions. As an EA, this can be a tough thing to master, and in the past, I have not been able to say no. You are an extension of your executives, so of course you do not want to appear unhelpful. But if a request is going to impact your executives’ deadlines, saying “no” is a must.
I was born in Toronto and now live in Ajax,which is just outside Toronto. At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? A bit of both. I am a city gal at heart – I think that is why I like the high-paced environment – but I do love the quiet of my suburban neighbourhood after a long day.
Off hours, my family keeps me busy – I have a wonderful hubby and two kids (13 and 9). My son is a soccer player and my daughter is a competitive baton twirler. I have a large extended family as well, so I also enjoy seeing all my wonderful nieces and nephews. I am especially close to my identical twin sister – she is such a blessing in my life.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I love Jennifer Lopez’ On the Floor and any Keisha song – those are the songs I would typically sing aloud.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I usually need some down time at least once a day, so I will curl up on the couch and watch some reality TV. After a tough week, I’ll organise a fun outing or activity with my hubby and kids.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I love to go on cruises, so my dream vacation would be going to either Hawaii or the Mediterranean. In just a couple of weeks, my husband and I are taking a cruise to the Caribbean for 13 days and I am super excited! I haven’t ever taken more than one week off in a row in my entire career.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have had the opportunity to go to several conferences, including The Behind Every Leader (BEL) Conference, which was a career highlight. I hope to have the chance to attend again soon as being with other EAs who are as passionate about the role as I am is very inspiring. My educational background is not in administration, but as a Child and Youth Worker. I learned a great deal working with troubled youth, but unfortunately the sometimes violent nature of this role and my petite stature sent me looking for an alternative.
The most important thing for me is the personality fit with my executive(s); a bad fit can be challenging and often demotivating
Peer and Professional Associations: Unfortunately, I don’t belong to any – I would love to participate but have not had the chance in Toronto. I understand that EAO (Executive Assistants Organization) now has a Toronto chapter that I would love to be part of. I find all of the EA LinkedIn forums very helpful.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I use Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter quite actively.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? There are so many apps now to help make an EA’s life easier and I have been quite intrigued by the local food apps coming out such as Ritual and Hurrier. These apps make getting food (for meetings or for my executives’ lunch) more seamless and easier to track.
Awards and Recognition
I have been recognised for work on larger projects I have led, such as coordinating office moves or leading large events—but nothing formal as of yet.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Our office is very casual, so comfort is key. Wearing a nice, comfortable pair of black pants or jeans and a fun top is typical for me. A comfortable pair of running shoes is necessary as well.
Preferred scent: I have a hard time with perfumes as they give me a headache, but I love the smell of vanilla or coconut.
What might we find in your desk drawer? A snack (likely almonds or protein bar), some green tea, my to-do list and all the typical EA office supplies.
Travel or travel planning advice? I have found that every executive has very different preferences when it comes to their travel arrangements, so quickly learning exactly how they prefer everything is key. This way, I can take all of these preferences into consideration when booking and work proactively to avoid issues I know will make their trip more frustrating. On the days that my executives travel, I make sure to track their flights (using FlightAware) so that I am notified via email if any changes are made or if there are any delays. This allows me to assist as quickly as possible if flights are either cancelled or delayed.
Learn and act on your executive’s travel preferences, to avoid issues that will cause frustration
Role models or mentors? I did not find many role models in my field until recently when I attended the BEL (Behind Every Leader) conference. This is, in large part, due to the fact that I have typically been the only EA at every company I have worked at and I am not part of any Toronto organisations that afford the chance to meet other EAs. I truly enjoyed learning about EAs who also work in the technology start-up world as I do. Google’s Ann Hiatt really stood out for me. I was fascinated by some of the great leaders she has worked with during her career, and I found her presentation at the BEL conference very enlightening. Learning about her and experiences, and others’, has continued to give me the drive to learn more. Just recently we had another EA start working at VarageSale, so it is wonderful to learn more about how others work and to have someone I can easily relate to.
Always remember that you are an extension of your executive, and you want to help build his/her brand
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. When I look back, I’m most proud of the fact that I took risks in my career. When I was starting out in administration, I learned that many of the EA positions required five to seven years of experience; I had worked in similar roles but needed a break in order to get my first EA job. I was working at a mutual fund company as a Regional Sales Coordinator, and in that role, I was performing all of the typical EA responsibilities (travel, calendar management, expenses, events, etc.). Unfortunately, it was not recognised as formal experience when applying for EA positions.
I started to look for roles that would give me other skills and started working as an Office Coordinator for a media company. This was a leap of faith and it paid off. About a year into this role, they required an EA for their VP of Corporate Sales and I got the job! They told me they could see the passion and eagerness I had for this opportunity. I think you need to take risks to get what you really want in this life.
You need to take risks to get what you really want in this life
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? My next career goal is to become a mentor to another EA. I enjoy helping others and this would be a great way to give back to my fellow rock stars. Along the way, I have discovered many things I feel would be helpful to someone starting out and wish that I had had a mentor at the beginning of my career.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? This role is ever changing and requires the balance of an expert juggler. You could have your whole day planned out, but then arrive at work to find things in a state of flux. It is essential to be reactive and adaptive. Other requisite skills include the ability to prioritise and stay calm during stressful situations, empathy, problem solving, creativity, and of course, a sense of humour. Having a good laugh with coworkers and developing strong bonds is important. Do not take things too personally, and learn to say “no” when required. Always remember that you are an extension of your executives and you want to help build his/her brand inside and outside of the company’s walls.
Having a good laugh with coworkers and developing strong bonds is important
Your most effective time management strategy? My most effective time management strategies are my to-do lists and email flags. After I complete every task, I review all items to determine the next biggest priority. To be clear, this does not include the things that take only a couple of minutes – I am referring to the larger projects and tasks. For example: do I book the flights next or finalise meeting minutes/action items to be distributed?
This means that, no matter what is added to my plate, I always know the most important items are being completed first. If something urgent comes up, and my priorities are shifted, then I can come back to determine what is required next.
Network with other EAs and attend as many events as you can to understand the role
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Work/life balance can be hard to achieve in this role, but do your best to disconnect at times so that you can focus on friends and family. Going back to work can be tough, but it will get easier as you get re-situated at work.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Take the time to fully immerse your assistant in your business world, as this is key for her/him to be able to fully support you and your goals. Trust is developed over time, and once established, do not be afraid to tell your assistant what is troubling you or what challenges you are facing. You may be surprised by how s/he may be able to help or how supportive s/he can be. Work closely to develop processes and routines that decrease your stress and workload and be very clear on your expectations. It is important to communicate how things are going, and feedback (both positive and constructive) will only help strengthen your partnership.
Pay attention to gut instincts; if something does not feel right, there is a reason
For those interested in promotion: In my career, I have found that the most important thing for me is the personality fit with my executive(s). A bad fit can be very challenging and often demotivating. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to go with your gut when moving from one role to the next, and keep an eye out for red flags during the hiring process – if something does not feel right, there is a reason. I once ignored my gut to get out of a job that I was not enjoying and it landed me in an even worse situation. For career growth, I would recommend that you network with other EAs and attend as many events as you can to understand the dynamics of this ever-changing role.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Cindy referenced 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.