Ask IAAP: Working for a Top-Level Exec

Q. I am currently seeking and interviewing for Executive Admin positions. Although I have supported VP-level management, I have not officially supported CEO-level management. What should I expect when interviewing with a CEO? What do they typically look for in Exec Admins? If hired, what would be the most important aspects of a successful exec admin?

A. A past president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) once worked for a top exec at a large manufacturing corporation and here's how she said her job differed from admins at lower levels:

  • More diplomacy and tact required to deal with upper-level execs within and outside the company
  • Strict confidentiality is a necessity
  • A superior personal and professional appearance - no trendy looks or sloppiness, mirror your boss's look
  • Work often given/done at home; accessibility 24/7 sometimes, since higher-level execs travel frequently, many times abroad - which requires a different set of skills, information, and cultural know-how to make sure his trip is uneventful (currency, time zones, international hotels and connections, customs, visas, safety status, embassy information, suitable gifts, access to other leading professionals in foreign cities (lawyers, translators, etc.), and so on
  • Independent decision-making is required, since many days the exec is out of the office and you work all alone (other admins and managers may not even be on the same floor)
  • Excellent organization skills are imperative, since the admin has to organize the exec to go and return and not miss a beat
  • Comfort with wireless and other distance communication methods/vehicles
  • A list of who to go to for what when the exec is out of the office and knowledge as to how the exec would handle certain matters so that nothing is bogged down when he's unavailable
  • Discretion and good judgment to know the relative importance of calls and communications so they can be screened, rerouted, etc., without offending the communicator
  • An aloof yet professional relationship with the other admins; a certain distance must be maintained by virtue of the position
  • Working your schedule around the exec's and having it disrupted as needed for his high-priority needs
  • Being unflappable and reacting well in crises
  • Being proactive and thinking ahead to anticipate problems
  • Good education background, broad reading base, a willingness to go into new situations without fear or discomfort; must meet people well and converse with them on topics of their interest and choice
  • Thorough knowledge of the industry, the business, the organization, and the strategic plan
  • No gossiping or spouting personal opinions within the office; treating all employees as important; withholding your feelings and judgments from events and decisions
  • Having a thorough knowledge of policies and procedures and being accountable for anything that might have a legal ramification
  • Experience handling the media and deflecting callers/visitors to allow exec preparation time
  • A solid ethical base
  • Keeping your ear to the grapevine to let the exec know what the rank and file are thinking, doing, how they are reacting

These are just a few differences, but you can see that there is less being "you" and more adopting a persona that represents the corporate image well.