Ray Weikal's Blog

Office professionals know they’re the jack of all trades at work. They’ve always been expected to find solutions to last minute crises like MacGyvering the copy machine right before a critical meeting. Then there are the extra duties like picking up the boss’s dry cleaning, Mad Men style, not so common anymore but still practiced in a few old-school offices. Plus, technology and the recession have conspired to put even more tasks on their desks.

People outside the profession are often less familiar with the wide variety of jobs done by admins. IAAP recently asked office professionals on its Facebook page what they do at work that might surprise people. Some of their answers caught even us off guard. If anything, it proves that office professionals can be found in almost any type of business or organization. Here are 14 of our favorite responses:

1. Take photos of construction sites

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Sheelah Kolhatkar, features editor for Bloomberg Businessweek, is working on an article about the way that the recession and other economic changes are affecting women, in particular those employed in the administrative field. She would love to speak with IAAP members who have experienced job losses or whose jobs have changed (become more complicated, added new responsibilities or become obsolete due to new technology, etc.) as a result of economic shifts. She told me that she would be happy to explain what she's doing in greater detail to anyone who'd like to know more before deciding whether to participate. If you think you can make a contribution, please consider contacting her directly, since she'd like to make some connections quickly. Here's her contact info:

Sheelah Kolhatkar
Features Editor
Bloomberg Businessweek

Thank you ahead of time for any help you can offer! Please contact me at ray.weikal@iaap-hq.org or 816-801-1328 if you want to talk about this before reaching out to Sheelah.
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The link between money and happiness is tough to unravel. It's a tugging match between esoteric thirsts like love and satisfaction, and very real demands like food and shelter. But a recent report involving office professionals suggests that the old cliches are at least partially true: you don't need a lot of money to be happy.

U.S. News and World Report parsed through it's "2012 Best Jobs" list for positions that need more workers but have a relatively low pay scale (less than the national average). What's interesting, though, is that employees in all these these jobs report a high level of satisfaction at work. The list includes administrative assistants, who make about $31,000 a year, or approximately 25 percent less than the average for all American workers.

The report credits "corporate culture and outstanding office benefits" for this high level of job satisfaction among administrative assistants. I'm never quite sure what "corporate culture" means, so let's set that aside. It is true that office professionals report decent benefits, according to IAAP's most recent
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Two interesting trends have started to emerge among administrative professionals. The first is an increase in the number of admins who are now working on a freelance basis, either by choice or due to the economy. I don't have any objective data for this, but the evidence can be seen in the number of postings related to this subject in the IAAP Web Community and on our LinkedIn group page. All Things Admin founder Julie Perrine, an expert on being a virtual admin, was certainly busy and popular during the Office Expo at EFAM 2012 in July. Her booth was packed with admins interested in cutting their ties with the traditional office.

The other trend I see developing is the need for admins to master cloud computing. Cloud computing essentially means using tools online that used to be done on your machine's hard drive. It's not a new development, but it is beginning to be widely adopted across our personal and professional lives. Think Google Docs. It's wise to get ahead of the curve on this because cloud computing is more flexible and efficient than traditional software. Businesses are going to want all their office employees to be comfortable using these tools. (Check out the piece on cloud computing in the "On the Run" section of the August/September
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I used to believe that all mature, working adults in modern business understand the value of professional development and certification. A surprising question I recently fielded proved me wrong. I've learned there are admins struggling to improve their careers by becoming certified because they work for people who are afraid of the consequences.

In this case, an administrative professional asked me for advice about taking the Certified Administrative Professional exams scheduled for this November. The problem, she explained, is that her current employer might think she's preparing to look for a better job. She was concerned that there would be some backlash if she asks her boss to complete the employment verification required to register for the exam, and asked if she could refer us to a previous employer.

I had no good answer for her because it had never occurred to me that an employer would be anything less than thrilled to have an employee so eager to earn their professional merits. So I turned to the talented and hard-working folks in the Certification Department here at IAAP's headquarters.

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You should be on Twitter if you're not already. Despite the fact that it has become one of the largest and most ubiquitous social media websites (with half a billion members, by one count), I'm surprised at the number of people I encounter who don't use Twitter. These are often smart people whom I would think would jump at the chance to engage in what is fast becoming a powerful tool for business and networking. In many cases, they express doubts about the seriousness of Twitter, considering it a medium for celebrity gossip and teen angst. Unfortunately, there is a lot of both those things. But there's also a lot of potential value for anyone serious about their careers, including administrative professionals.

Set aside the personal posts by your favorite celebrities and instead think of Twitter as an ultra-efficient news feed. It's a chance for you to quickly scan dozens of articles, blog posts and materials for products and services that are most relevant for your professional needs. Let's say your manager recently added "meeting planner" to your job description. There's a convention-center-load of insightful bloggers and journalists out there with great information about planning meetings (
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IAAP members are a passionate group. They're serious about being the best at their jobs. A cursory glance at the IAAP Web Community reveals people who are focused and determined. This is a good thing, but can it tip over into something that has a negative impact on your personal and professional success? That's the question posed by a couple of recent blog posts on the Harvard Business Review.

In "Why Your Passion Could Ruin Your Career," New York University cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman unpacks recent psychological research suggesting that there are two basic types of passionate employees: harmonious and obsessive. Harmonious passion allows someone to work hard but maintain perspective, flexibility and balance with the rest of their life. Obsessiveness leads to an unhealthy compulsion to work, rigidity and a sense that your self-worth is tied to your success at the office. Most importantly, obsessed employees are more likely to become burned out, and that could cut your career short.

There's hope for passionate people who have reached the tipping point. Time management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders offers an antidote in
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Secretaries have been getting a lot of attention these days and it's raising some interesting questions for administrative professionals. All this started last year when Warren Buffett revealed that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, Debbie Bosanek. That prompted President Barack Obama to launch a political campaign in favor of tax reform. Obama has specifically mentioned Bosanek several times, including during his State of the Union address and yesterday during a White House appearance.

All of this has led to a series of stories about the "secretary" job title (see these pieces in Forbes and Slate). Reporters want to know how and why that title started to disappear and what it means to administrative professionals - like Bosanek - who still carry it. This morning, CNN ran a piece about Bosanek and secretaries
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One of the consistent complaints voiced by admins is that they're simply overloaded with work. I recently heard one IAAP chapter president encourage her fellow members to start saying "no" to the boss when they're expected to do too much with too little time and resources. Companies will eventually reap negative returns on all this task juggling as their admins become less effective and efficient.

In a recent blog post, "Just Say No: 5 Ways To Turn Down More To Get More Done," self-discipline strategist Rory Vaden suggests that much of the anxiety induced by over commitment is actually a form of self-flattery and procrastination. In other words, saying yes to everything makes us feel good and allows us to avoid our more challenging but higher-priority tasks. "Realize that sometimes a service to one creates a disservice to many," Vaden writes. "When we say yes to the person in front of us it satisfies our short-term fear of conflict, yet we don't accurately account for the negative impact that overextending ourselves has on the other stakeholders we've previously committed to."
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Last week, I posted about The Energy Project CEO Tony Schwartz's call for office workers to increase productivity and satisfaction by focusing on one task at a time and giving themselves periods of real renewal. Schwartz's article is brilliant, but lacks specifics. I'm following up with a New York Times piece, "When Office Technology Overwhelms, Get Organized." It's an excellent bookend to Schwartz's thoughts. In it, productivity expert David Allen lays out steps to clear away the fog created by multitasking at home and work. Allen believes the key is to inventory all your commitments, clear out what's not needed, clarify your goals, prioritize, then repeat on a regular basis. Modern office workers will increase productivity "by integrating all the chaos of the workplace and staying focused on the most important things, as they relate to your
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I recently spent a wonderful hour with members of the City of Fountains chapter in Kansas City, Mo. The meeting topic was about reducing stress at work. Several of the members talked about how juggling tasks is a job requirement for all admins. They also described how stress from work carries over into the rest of their lives. Their comments certainly align with the increase in job responsibilities admins reported for IAAP's most recent skills benchmarking survey.

Tony Schwartz, CEO of the training and development firm The Energy Project, recently wrote an excellent blog post for the Harvard Business Review titled "The Magic of Doing One Thing At A Time." Schwartz argues that all this multitasking is actually making companies less productive and workers more miserable. He suggests a few simple steps that managers and employees can take to reduce work flow clutter and become more effective and efficient. His main point is to regularly set aside time to focus at work. "The best way for an organization to fuel higher productivity and more innovative thinking is to strongly encourage finite periods of absorbed focus, as well as shorter periods of real renewal," Schwartz writes.
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U.S. News & World Report included administrative professionals in its "Best Jobs of 2012" list, which was released this morning. Both "receptionist" and "administrative assistant" are among the top jobs in the business category, according to the editors and experts who compiled the list. IAAP Education and Professional Development Manager Susan Fenner, PhD, was interviewed for the write-up on administrative assistants. This is great news after years of economic recession when admins everywhere struggled. As we approach the association's 70th anniversary, it's clear that admins remain a vital and growing facet of the world's economy.
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IAAP and its chapters and divisions are busy preparing for the 2012 Administrative Professionals Week. This annual event is a great opportunity to generate positive stories about administrative professionals and the association in your local news media. But that prospect can also generate chills of terror for admins who may be facing their first experience being interviewed by a reporter. If that's the case for you, check out "The Three Questions Reporters Always Ask," a blog post by media training expert Brad Phillips.

His basic point is that reporters tend to ask the same types of questions regardless of the subject, so you can do yourself a favor by preparing for the interview ahead of time. I'll add that reporters working on an APW story aren't looking to spring "gotcha" questions like they might with politicians, officials or used car salesmen. I know from experience because I was a newspaper reporter for about 10 years. They just want to know why the story is important and interesting details from your personal experience that they can use for their piece. For instance, let's say the reporter wants to know how admins have become early adopters of technology in the office. You might talk about how some new piece of software was dropped on your desk by IT, and you were expected to master it, then train your managers and executives how to use it.
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Slate.com's "The Hive" blog is running a series of pieces about starting your own business or reinventing your career. In their entry, business and organization experts Dan and Chip Heath outline what they believe are the four main skills everyone needs in order to overcome tough times and achieve their dreams. The key, they write, is to "focus on what you can control: not the macro-economy or specific trades, but the way you steer your career." The four skills are ...
  • Focus on replicating what works.
  • Spend time with the people you want to emulate.
  • Network with your casual acquaintances.
  • Go where your work will stand out.
What do you think of this list? Have you used them? And if so, how did they work?
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Things my be looking up for administrative professionals. Our partners at Office Team are reporting that Robert Half International has just released its latest projections for corporate salaries. The good news for IAAP members is that admins should expect a 3.4 percent salary increase over the next fiscal year, according to the report. Significant pay increases are also projected for employees in accounting and finance, creative and marketing, IT and legal departments. The Robert Half International website also has tools for calculating average salaries for local markets.
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Texting and social media have spawned a digital shorthand that's increasingly encroaching on the office. The proper use of capitalization seems to have become one of the primary victims of this trend in post-modern communication. Missing, misplaced or misused capitalization can make an important business document appear awkward and uninformed. If you've got a co-worker who can't correctly capitalize (or if you're the guilty party), check out this handy guide from award-winning corporate communicator and blogger Laura Hale Brockway. Rule number one? Check a recent edition of a reputable dictionary. It's a great way to remember your Darwinian from your arabic numerals.
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If you haven't already, please don't forget to check out the new, updated and upgraded Research and Educational Foundation Web page.

There's now a small library available on the R&E and its 2012 EFAM scholarship program. The scholarships are for admins who have either never attended EFAM before or who are temporarily unemployed. You can also learn how to help the R&E advance its mission by spreading the word or raising money.

Please note that I've also placed copies of all these materials in the IAAP Web community's International Library. It seems some people are unable to use the latest iteration of PowerPoint, so I've uploaded a copy of the foundation's PowerPoint presentation that's compatible with earlier versions.
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If you'd like to get a taste of Windows 8 before it shows up in your office, swing over to the tech website Arstechnica and read its preview. It appears to be a pretty major overhaul of Microsoft's usual M.O. According to Arstechnica, the House That Gates Built may finally have figured out a decent operating system for tablets. We'll see if it's too little too late.
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Since everyone is fallible and makes mistakes, conflicts are inevitable. As much as we may try to avoid them, tough conversations are bound to happen many times throughout your career. Unfortunately, these talks often turn unnecessarily ugly as people become defensive, aggressive or swing between emotional extremes. Using advice from Holly Weeks' new book, Failure to Communicate, writer Sarah Green of the Harvard Business Review outlines 10 ways to keep things civil and productive. It may be worth checking out before the next sticky situation develops.
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If you're looking for work, you might want to check out this brilliant infographic produced by Colorado Technical University. Too often, resumes rely on tried and true formats that simply disappear in a sea of applications. This piece will help you creatively use modern tools and techniques to carefully craft a resume fit for today's office. The big takeaway? Your resume should use all the media tools available to tell your story and sell you to an employer.
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