In this article, Author Jan Jones discusses the challenges associated with career transitions for Executive Assistants.
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FlyPrivate: For over 20 years you were an Executive Assistant for some notable business names. You eventually started your own business. Are career transitions challenging for executive assistants?
Jan Jones: Most executive assistants are happy with their career choice and are not considering transitioning out of the EA career. They feel fortunate to work for a good company that meets their professional needs and provides the opportunities they want. I think many are looking for ways to enhance their role as an EA, rather than transitioning out of the role completely.
From time to time, I do get asked by assistants how I transitioned from being an EA to being a business owner. For most it seems to be a curiosity question, rather than truly considering starting their own business.
I wish I could say I had a plan and I could lay out the steps for people to follow, but that’s not how it happened for me. I actually didn’t have any plans to leave my career as an assistant and start a
business, but the opportunity came my way and I took it.
Starting a business was something I fell into, much like my career as an executive assistant. It was not my ambition to be an assistant when I was considering college and thinking about a career. It evolved over time and I’m glad it did because when I was traveling around the world, I had no problem getting a good-paying job as an assistant. It’s a profession that travels well and I’m eternally grateful to my father for suggesting I give it a good look. The EA role gave me a breadth of experience and access to high places that few other professions can provide. I urge EAs to grasp the extraordinary
opportunities this profession can offer for long-term career
development, but you must be willing to put in the hard work and prove yourself before doors will swing open.
For assistants who want to know how they can get to higher levels in the EA role, and also for those who are wondering how I transitioned to business ownership, the reason opportunities came to me is
because I had a reputation for excellence, for being extraordinarily creative, diligent and service-oriented. I was always looking for ways to do more, so I could learn more. The words “It’s not my job” never
entered my mind, much less passed my lips. Same with “Pushing back”, or saying “No”. If it was necessary, I found a way to do it myself, or found a way to make it happen. That’s what being resourceful is all about. It’s a skill every executive wants in their assistant and what a business owner needs, especially when you are starting a business. Instead of “No”, I would say “Let me see what I can do,” or “Leave it with me”, and I did my best to accommodate the request. People
respond better to those phrases than “No”. Even if you can’t make it happen, they will know you tried. But don’t use them if you don’t
intend to try, because pretty soon, no one will believe you and you’ll lose credibility. If you think lack of credibility is bad for an EA, it’s
fatal for a business owner. If there is a secret I can share with EAs it is be known as someone who is at the top of their game, someone who is fully invested in sharing the load as a real business partner would. Then people can’t help but notice you for all the right reasons and they’ll seek you out and recommend you for opportunities. All these things will help you if you intend to become a business owner. They’ll certainly help you if you want to become an exceptional
I’ve said it repeatedly, much of the reason I’m successful in my
business is because every day I use the skills I learned as I evolved from a junior secretary into a high-performing executive assistant. I go to extreme lengths to produce results for my clients just as I did for my executives. I don’t easily take no for an answer and I follow up meticulously. Things don’t get dropped or overlooked. I keep my commitments and people know they can rely on me to do what I say. I gained a reputation for all these traits as I matured into a
Whether the transition from EA to business owner is easy or not will depend on what business you go into, and how much homework you’ve done about the market’s need for your product or service. Many EAs are trying out being a business owner by doing virtual EA work. There certainly isn’t a better time for it than now with work-from-home being the norm, since people have become accustomed to seeing home offices set up in bedrooms and kitchens. I would advise assistants to present a more professional look than showing your bed in the background, especially with options like Zoom
Background being available. No matter the circumstance, there’s never an excuse for being sloppy, or coming across as inappropriate or unprepared. No matter how expert you are with the latest Apps and technology, you’ll tarnish your brand if you look unprofessional because working remotely, your clients have no idea how you are treating their customers and what image you are projecting on their behalf.
It takes much more than being a capable administrator to be a
business owner. If you decide to go out on your own, you’ll need an appetite for risk. If you rely on the comfort of a steady income, you might struggle when the bills are due, no money is on the horizon and your savings are dwindling. As you are developing your business, you’ll have times when you are flush and times when you are skint. You need a good product, the ability to market yourself, find solid, preferably long-term clients who provide well-paying, repeat projects. You’ll need to be a confident negotiator and not afraid to ask for what you are worth. You must be able to cope with
uncertainty and weather the highs and lows of business cycles and manage cash flow. You’ll have to find ways to innovate and showcase yourself as having a better product or service than the competition. As a business owner, the responsibility for everything is on your shoulders.
Another secret for EAs is establish networks and keep up the ones you have. Don’t burn bridges. Business is about relationships. Whether you remain an EA or start a business, foster relationships, grow your connections. Develop your social skills and the art of
conversation. Broaden your interests.
If you decide you are cut out for the life of a business owner and are willing to put in the hard work, you’ll be rewarded with an immense satisfaction when you accomplish your goals. There’ll be hard days and there’ll be triumphant days. There’ll be days when you ask
yourself “Why am I doing this?” and there’ll be days when you won’t be able to contain yourself from the joy and satisfaction of living your dreams. On those days you’ll know exactly why you are doing this.
Jan Jones: I can say categorically that the reason I’m able to function successfully in my business is due to my background as an executive assistant for so many years. But I’m also a business owner so I know what a business owner needs from an assistant, and I was able to marry the two in this book. As an assistant I was fortunate to be
exposed to successful entrepreneurs, learning from them, absorbing their habits, learning calculated risk-taking, learning to trust my
instincts, learning that everything that related to the business was my business. I had to know the business inside and out if I was to represent my bosses seamlessly and make important decisions on their behalf. Saying “This is not my job” or saying “No” to my boss would have been unthinkable. Everything was always an
opportunity to learn and showcase my executives in the best
When I went into business, I was disappointed to find that some of the famous executives I worked with, had poor-quality assistants. Obviously, these executives did not know what to look for in an
assistant. When they don’t know what to look for, odds are high they won’t know how to effectively utilize a top assistant either. My book evolved out of my desire to not only help executives to hire correctly and work effectively with their assistant, but also to help assistants learn what they need to do to step up their game. If you take time to learn and develop the skills I discuss in my book, they will be there for you as an assistant, or if you venture out on your own. I have great admiration for people who have the courage to start a
business and give themselves a shot at the life they’ve dreamed of. It’s not easy to be a business owner, but there’s tremendous
fulfillment in doing what you love and being able to earn a living from it.
©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. The ideas expressed in this article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the,
intellectual property and copyrighted to Jan Jones. All rights
reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author.
Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series!
Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and
Effectiveness”. The book debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New
Releases in the Office Management Category. It has received
widespread acclaim from executives and executive assistants worldwide. Jan spent 20 years as an esteemed international
executive assistant to well-known business people, including
personal development icon and author Tony Robbins. Jan is
passionate about the executive assistant role and continues to champion the profession through speaking, mentoring and offering timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant.
Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ book and visit her website:
The CEO’s Secret Weapon.
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