Friday, July 17, 2009

Out of the Mailroom and Into the Fire

You've been rotting in the mailroom for what feels like an eternity. Although you've been floating for months, forging some fabulous relationships with assistants, coordinators and executives in desired departments along the way, it all seems to disappear once the assistant you've been covering for gets back from their dentist appointment/ covert job interview/ Vegas bender/yoga retreat. Meanwhile, a smorgasbord of soulless sycophants, gorgeous trophy assistants and former practicing attorneys get their permanent due on a desk before you in spite of your seniority. As your hopes for a promotion begin to fade to the point where you're referenced by your entry-level colleagues with such buzzwords as "seasoned vet", "old sea dog" and "lifer", the unthinkable happens: you're called into your manager's office, and are then told a desk opened up which you'll be covering indefinitely. Your new boss will be interviewing candidates (who probably have way better resumes than you), but you'll get the first shot at impressing him/her and foregoing the need for further interviews. At first, a sense of unsettling disbelief overcomes you upon hearing the news. While you nod like a bobblehead doll and babble on about what a great job you'll do, you can't help feel as if a piece of your innocence just died. The quick games of blackjack dealt by the Fedex dude, the goofing off in the copy room, and the hourly gossip blog checks are all about to become fond memories. Now, the work part of your career is about to begin. If you find yourself in the situation where you get first crack at floating/temping on a desk that's essentually up for grabs, then there are five keys to getting and staying on your new boss's good side, and landing the gig permanently.

1. Learn as much about your boss as possible - Since you're a new assistant, you need to prove yourself to your boss. Don't be afraid to ask about friends that may call in frequently, or family members that you may need to connect to your boss. These are the right kinds of questions to bring up when you're starting out. The more time you spend together, the more comfortable he/she will be around you, and the more he/she will reveal about him/herself. It is important to get a sense of your boss' taste, ranging from restaurants to fashion to entertainment. This will ensure that you two will be on the same page when you're asked to book a restaurant reservation, when discussing movies, TV or music, or testing the limits of how casually you can dress at work.

2. Get in good with boss' family/friends/boss/clients and coworkers - As a new assistant, you rarely have your boss' ear. Instead, be as helpful and friendly as possible with everyone both you and your boss associate with, and hopefully these people will rave about you to your boss when you're not around to sing your own praises. Log a cheatsheet of their names along with anything noteworthy about their lives/personalities so you can ask about it next time they call.

3. Keep impeccable contacts - You're not in a permanent setting yet. You're ALWAYS networking, and even if you're on the clock as a temp/floater, you may talk to someone on the phone that can help you in some facet of your aspiring career. Always get people's contact info, and store it on something digital or with a carbon copy. If your boss hires someone else and your stint turns out to be short-lived, then at least you made a contact or two while you had the chance!

4. Develop the Intangibles - This is only attainable through experience, as intangibles, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, are loosely referred to as the "little things", or in this case, the ability to think like your boss and act as your boss would act. A quick-reference guide is their calendar. Find out what time your boss typically goes for lunch, how long his/her lunches run, favorite restaurants, cafes, and parts of town to eat, what time he/she gets into the office and leaves, regular meetings and appointments he/she keeps. Calendar aside, how do they like their office looking when they show up? Trades on the table with soul-sucking flourescent lights kept off in the morning? Phone sheet, faxes and opened mail on the desk? The more you think like your boss, the more predictable their habits will be, the more they'll likely be impressed with your ability to read them, and, in turn, the easier your job will be.

5. Bring ideas to the table - If your boss has a job in which you envision a possible future for yourself, make sure you get some face time with him/her. Throw some ideas out at him/her AFTER getting a sense of their taste. If you pitch an idea that is totally outside their realm of interest or expertise, you may not get the positive response you're hoping for. I'm not suggesting you tailor you tastes toward your boss'. I am merely suggesting you know your audience. You wouldn't book a meeting with Marty Scorsese and pitch an idea for an animated family film, would you? If you can at least share a creative vision with your boss, this may lead to more confidence and, possibly, more autonomy down the road. Once you're seen as a source of viable ideas, you'll prove yourself indispensable to the company as a whole, not just your boss!

It may seem like a drastic change in your life is underway, but remember that you've worked toward this, so do everything possible to stay in your boss' favor. If you have to work late, remind yourself how badly you want this desk when your buddies start texting you from happy hour. If you screw up and can't cover your ass, explain with a smile to your boss that you're still learning certain intricacies of the job, and after learning "the hard way", that nothing like this will ever happen again (studies show it's harder to stay mad at someone while they're smiling at you). But above all, stay on top of of your boss' whereabouts and calendar, and stay on their emotional good side. Find out if they have a favorite snack treat that will calm them down during a stressful afternoon if you pull one from your desk drawer (or the company fridge). This mundane treat could serve as a veritable "Get out of Jail free" card during your darkest hour, but if you do a fantastic job of being an assistant by implementing some of the aforementioned suggestions, then hopefully you won't need to use it!

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