Better Than Ever.
I'm 48...going on 27. I can work embarrassingly fast circles around 98.5% of the 20-somethings out there in my industry. I'm insanely curious. I research the most random shit on the planet simply because I want to know about it and how it works, especially if it will affect my job, my boss, or my company. I love being able to contribute to conversations that most would assume I would know nothing about. It's the ultimate F.U., especially as an Executive Assistant who has dealt with more than my fair share of condescension over the past 26 years in this role.
I'm constantly contacted by Assistants of a certain age who struggle to compete. They make assumptions based on not getting jobs or perceived ageism, etc. I'm not the type to blow sunshine up nethers and say that ageism doesn't exist. It's very real and pervasive in certain industries. But just like I say to everyone with the courage to step to me whining: "So, what are you going to do about it?"
The Executive Assistant role has evolved a ton in the last 5-10 years. Employers are wising up to the fact that EAs come from all walks of life. They've worked in numerous industries because the role is industry agnostic. They've been exposed to CEOs and teams from numerous industries and have watched, learned and adapted on the job in order to be most effective in a particular environment.
What amazes me, however, is that companies make these uninformed decisions to hire "the hot, young thing" with only a few years of experience assuming that they will be more apt to "get it," arrive more tech savvy, be more willing to step up, etc. Man, are y'all stupid! Let me show you the error of your ways.
- Emotional Maturity. To be a beast in this role you need to have gone through some shit. You've needed to have successfully dealt with a certifiably crazy exec or two. You've needed to have been fired, forced out or quit at least once because of a misunderstanding that was 99% not your fault. You need to be able to navigate a screaming exec, a team that's ready to quit, a co-worker who's not pulling their weight, book a last-minute ticket to a city that is essentially "sold out," and deal with a ridiculous request for bean-less chili all with a believable smile plastered across your face when you greet the billionaire CEO who arrived unannounced needing to chat with your back-to-back boss because he was in the neighborhood. This takes years in the seat to handle effectively and an emotional maturity that most of the young ones simply haven't had time to develop. I coach so many younger Assistants who get flustered and thrown off track by the simplest sleights or off-color comments. I remind them that they're doing themselves a huge disservice and irreparably harming their brand and respect level by getting visibly emotional, especially in front of the ones who sign their paychecks. Older Assistants know the game. They know that someone's always watching. They know how to suck it up in the heat of battle, put their head down, and plow through. They're also not afraid to walk into their exec's office, close and lock the door behind them, and masterfully tear them a new one while still maintaining their employment. Respect goes both ways. Mature Assistants understand that. The young ones, not so much.
- Been there. Done that. Younger, ambitious Assistants espouse the motto, "Fake it 'til you make it." What a steaming pile of bullshit. Here's the thing. As much as your ambition can take you from unemployed to the C-suite, the business acumen, emotional maturity, execution under duress, critical decision-making all while being downright paternal is something you can't "fake" despite your best efforts. It takes time and being in the situation over and over again in order to build the muscles that make your reaction times shorter and your decisions and judgment more sound. Older Assistants' motto is, "What else you got? Bring it on!" We've been there, done that, and have the t-shirt. That's a great position to be in especially with the ever-changing nature of business these days. That type of experience and adaptability is invaluable, yet older Assistants get passed over in favor of a perceived "no brainer" hiring of the fresh, newbie with the impressive degree. Big mistake. HUGE!
- CEO, Jr. So...you do realize that a mature Assistant has the ability to literally run the company in their exec's absence, and kinda already do, right? When their execs are out of the office for days even weeks at a time, notice how the office actually runs better than it did when the execs were there? That's not by accident. Mature Assistants have likely already worked for some of the best in the business. They've ascertained what it takes to successfully run a company administratively and operationally and work like mad behind the scenes maintaining relationships and lines of communication throughout every level of the organization. They work with a sense of pride to make sure that everything runs smoothly in their exec's absence and will literally fight someone in the hallway trying to derail the process. Younger Assistants aren't quite wired that way yet. They're still trying to establish "who" they are in the seat and are often too concerned with not stepping on toes or not to being labeled "that bitch" because they had to check someone trying to undo something their boss put into play. In short, they don't have the confidence or experience to fall back on that mature Assistants have in spades.
I'm not here to malign younger Assistants. In fact, my classes are geared toward making them insanely successful in the shortest time possible by teaching them the perfect combination of old school business acumen and soft skills with a healthy dose of today's strategy, aggression and negotiation skills that allow them to be a force in their exec's lives vs. a mere "convenience."
But I am here to shame hiring managers, recruiters and execs passing on mature Assistants during the recruiting process making assumptions that we're past our prime or can't keep up. Your tired, backwards-ass attitudes about the MODERN mature Executive Assistant is the problem. Not us. We're survivors. We've dealt with more BS than any other role in business. Those of us 20+ years in the seat can (and do) run your companies. Newsflash. And we take great pride in doing it on your behalf. We'll rock your baby to sleep on one knee, while booking a complex, multi-city trip to Europe and the Middle East, and ordering your last second request for a vegan, gluten- and soy-free salad for the meeting you're now 3 minutes late to. PS...where TF is your nanny? Never mind...I got it.
Before I bolt, I will offer this to my fellow OGs. STEP YOUR GAME UP....AGAIN. Falling victim to the "I'm too old to compete" BS is a cop out. I know Assistants in their mid 60s who have more respect in the organization than their C-suite bosses, who actually hired them specifically because they know they're better because of them. Just like younger Assistants who try to downplay their lack of experience by trumpeting how they bring their own, unique value to the role, older Assistants must be diligent in doing the same. Your experience is your biggest asset. LET THEM KNOW! You should be owning these interviews instead of passively answering a bunch of Google-sourced interview questions. You should be telling a story so rich and compelling based on your past, all you're learning in the present and what you plan to do in the future to help the company move to the next level. Not texting Phoenix to see if you should wear a suit or not so that you don't come across as "old." Wear the f*cking suit! Especially if it makes you feel confident and powerful. If a company is too shortsighted to ignore a beautifully crafted, compelling argument about why you are perfect for the role and not hire you because your suit gave them questions about "culture fit" two words: BUH. BYE. Don't waste even a moment of your time with that BS. Their loss. Move on to the next and the next, if necessary. Know your worth. Do your homework. And be the most prepared (and confident) person in the room at all times. That type of maturity can't be overlooked or denied for long.
ONE LAST THING...
Startups!! You're missing the boat here. A young C-suite needs a mature, established, high-level Executive Assistant at the helm. They will pull your shit together administratively and operationally in record time and help you create a culture that is inclusive and fun, but with boundaries set from the jump. Their paternal nature will always keep you and your employees from running afoul of the law and if you empower them correctly, they will create a level of respect and love for the C-suite FOR YOU that you would never be able to accomplish on your own. WAKE UP and give the true gangstas some love! We're a lot hipper and wiser than you think.