You don't need to tell an EA that there is usually a massive gap between what is written in their job description stating what they're employed to do and what they actually do on a day-to-day basis. It's no secret that most job ads that detail available EA positions and their accompanying position descriptions are usually just copied and adapted from whatever can be found floating around on the internet from job ads posted previously. Unfortunately though this contributes to much of the incorrect stereotyping that attaches itself to our roles, especially when the responsibilities listed are just the usual run of the mill, diary and email management. Much of the time, the job description that you apply for may not match what you end up doing depending on the actual Manager you are paired with and the approach they take towards the EA/Exec relationship. You can be hired to a role that may look extensive on paper, promising a partnership and much respect in the team you'd be working in, but in actual truth can be overstated based on what the expectations are of you by your Manager. And vice versa, I've had many EA's come to me concerned that what was listed on paper is incredibly far from what they are asked to do extensively on any one day. It's important that when the brief is taken for an available EA position that it is captured and adapted to what the actual expectations are of that Manager, so that the successful EA that accepts the role walks in to exactly what they are expecting, and nothing different. When the hiring manager is not involved in this recruitment process, a gap will usually unfold weeks into the EA's employment where they realise that the role is not what was promised.
Throughout my career I've been in both the 'over promised, under delivered' scenario, and the 'under promised, over delivered' scenario. So what does that look like exactly? And what should you do if you end up in either of these situations? Because the reality is, when you accept any EA role your intention will be to stick it out and create a fulfilling relationship between you and your manager, and not to have to walk away after a few months because the job isn't what you thought it was.
The over promised, under delivering scenario
Ok, so you land yourself what you believe to be the perfect job and think it will fit in well with your current skill set and experience. But when you start the job you realise as the weeks go on that you've landed yourself into a team that not only doesn't respect you, but that the Manager assigned to you doesn't respect or value the experience and skill set you bring to the table. So what do you do? I've spoken with many EA's before in this position who either just ride it out, unhappy as they are for years on end, or at the other extreme end up walking away straight away, leaving those that hired them high and dry and having to start the recruitment process and orientation training all over again. Neither is ideal, and I myself, at some point in my career have unfortunately done both, which I look back at now and think how silly I was and how easily the scenario could have been fixed if I had of known what I know now. It's no revelation that successful EA/Executive relationships are built on communication, but if you don't open those communication doors up straight away in the first weeks of your employment in a new role you can leave yourself stuck in a rut and with a Manager that either just accepts that you are sulky and unhappy, or worse still they actually think you're happy with the current state of communication levels (being none) and working relationship (being poor). It takes balls to sit down with your Manager and have a frank and honest conversation about your ways of working and what they (and you) could do better to improve the relationship, especially when you are just first starting out with them and wanting to make a good impression. No body wants to rock the boat or seem like a real 'up-start' when they first start a role and are developing that relationship, so often EA's will come in and take the stance that they are 'observing' what's going on and how the Exec works before they make their move. Meanwhile, many of these EA's won't ever make that move after thinking that their Manager is stuck in their ways of working and probably will never change. The fact of the matter is, everyone can change the way they work. If we can, then they can too, so using the excuse that they're set in their ways is not acceptable, especially if you are seeking an ideal relationship with them (which you should be!). So what do you do? Well that's easy, you talk to them! From the get go, before your 'observation' starts its important to sit down with them and have that 'ways of working' conversation. And after that initial conversation, have follow up check point meetings with a two way conversation on what's working and what could be done better.
But what if you are already stuck months in, maybe years, in a role that has under delivered on its original promise to you and you are really at loggerheads with your Manager, who you feel is just not utilising you properly? Well I'm sorry to say, you are just going to need to sit them down and have that difficult conversation with them. But rather than make it a whinge session it's important to bring fact to the table. No Manager likes to be presented with problems, only solutions, so you will need to go away and work out how you can actually work better. Present to them what you were on boarded to do, and what you are actually delivering on, pointing out how far it is from what you are doing now. What more could you be doing? List out what skill sets you actually have that you could put in place to make their life easier, and ultimately give them the time back to perform the things that only they are capable of. At the end of the day we can't do their job for them but there are many things that can be done that will make work life less frustrating for them. If you aren't getting what you need out of them, then say so, and tell them how you can. If for example, you find yourself constantly chasing your tail and running around trying to collect overdue material from them or on behalf of them for submissions way past their deadline, then suggest a new process and present how this will make things better for both of you and the team. The key is getting them on board with your plan, and if after your conversation you feel them straying from the plan then you need to be prepared to call them out on it. Many EA's shy away from calling their boss out on things like that, but if you want to escape the stereotypes that have latched on to us, then we need to be prepared to speak to them with confidence and maturity as any other team member on the leadership team would.
The under promised, over delivering scenario
But what happens if you're in the opposite scenario? What happens if you've landed a job that you think your skill set is a match for, but when you start in the role you find the job is so much more than they promised to you and you're delivering on things that are way out of the realm of what you ever thought? I've seen this time and time again, and even experienced it myself, where you expect one thing and on arrival find out you are doing ten times the workload you thought, and have responsibilities that are way out of what's deemed acceptable for the role. Yes you manage, but as time goes on you start to become bitter that you're not being paid in line for with what you're delivering which in turn just tarnishes the relationship you have with you Exec. So if you find yourself in this situation where you are seriously being taken advantage of, and perhaps they're even pushing you to do more, it's once again time to have one of those difficult conversations. Again the advice is similar, you aren't going to sit them down and present them with a problem, but instead a solution, all presented along with the facts. So list out what you do, everything you've done in the time you've been in the role, and match it up against what you were brought on to deliver. Point out to your Manager how big the gap is on what you are doing in comparison. If you're not coping, unfortunately its important to spell this out, as difficult as it is, as quality of work as an EA is more important than quantity. If you aren't keeping up to your usual standards because your workload is too large then its important they see this and should be quick to adjust things as they won't want things leaving their office that aren't up to their standards. Are there things on your list that others could be doing? Are you been given projects that aren't part of your role and are taking away from your duties of looking after them as your Manager? If you work in a team of EAs the solution may be right in front of you and may be a case of spreading the workload around more evenly, as not all EA's workloads are even as we've established, based on who they work. Identify the things on your work list that either shouldn't be there, or are taking away from your other responsibilities, and make suggestions on whom else could do these or where the work should be spread. Don't make this problem your manager's problem, but rather a suggestion of how things could be better based on your new process.
If you are coping on the other hand, but just feel bitter that you are being underpaid then it's time to ask for that timely pay-rise. Again present the list of what you're doing and the huge difference in what the role was originally structured to deliver on. Whilst you may be delivering on everything that they're asking of, you must make them understand that the pay doesn't match the responsibilities. No body likes asking for a pay-rise, but if it's going to make you happier in the long run then its the conversation you're just going to need to have. It's like that saying, "happy wife, happy life", perhaps we should create a saying just for EA's that says "happy EA, better day".
The key takeaways in either scenario is to communicate, speak up, be bold and be confident. I've always been a firm believer in EA's adapting to the working style of their Manager (not the other way around), and I still believe that, but it's about being adaptable and coming up with processes that will fit in with them and their working style. That's what makes our role so unique, we facilitate and deliver working styles that are customised for each Exec/Manager we work for. Its never a one-size fits all scenario of EA's just performing a role of diary management, even though that's what we are stereotyped as doing time and time again. The more we are prepared to speak out and speak up in our roles, then the more respect and credibility we will gain, not only as individuals but also as an industry. Never settle for what is dished up to you, especially if it doesn't make you happy. If you are being treated poorly, being disrespected or being utilised in a way that is unacceptable, then speak up. This in turn will help change others perceptions of what we are there to do, whether its your Manager or your team, or the colleagues that work around you. The EA/Exec relationship is a true partnership, and that's what it needs to be seen as. But if we don't have the confidence to speak up when we are not happy and not in working relationships that are working, it demonstrates to others that the role is only there to perform the admin of the Manager and the team, which we all know is so far from what we actually do.