Have you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be an Executive Assistant? If so, I interviewed one of the best, Danielle Zamora, so you can gain insight into a “typical” day, as well as what she recommends if you are interested in pursuing that field.
To give a little background on Danielle’s path, she actually didn’t seek out to be an EA; her skills lead her to the role. She worked at the Hyatt in downtown Austin in a Food and Beverage internship, which lead to being a Food & Beverage Management Trainee, which then led to a full-time F&B Assistant Manager position there. She then became an Administrative Assistant and eventually an EA at SXSW Interactive for four years. She currently is the EA to the CEO at GasPedal.
Danielle began describing her “typical” day by starting at the end. She prepares her to-do list for the next day before she leaves the office. This allows her to control her own work when she walks into the door the next morning. Assignments come in randomly, so being prepared at the start of the day with an organized to-do list is key. She has found success in utilizing a few different task tracking systems, such as virtual sticky notes on her desktop, Asana, Basecamp, Evernote, and Salesforce.
At her company, there’s a daily stand-up meeting each morning for the Operations Team. Her team makes sure they all are in the loop on who is coming in the office that day, discusses priorities and reviews big projects. These meetings also allow her team to jump in and help each other out when their plates are full. These daily meetings are in addition to two weekly 45-minute Operations meetings. She also works very closely with the Ops Admins and another executive’s EA.
Danielle and her CEO have meetings scheduled a few times each week, but they are constantly communicating when things pop up.
Emails are a big part of her role, so she set up a system for tracking and prioritizing how to handle the influx. She uses Outlook (Gmail for personal) and categorizes emails as follows: waiting for a reply, follow up, hold, to do and to process. She also protects her executive’s inbox by consolidating the emails she sends him so his inbox is not cluttered, at least by her.
Scheduling and calendar management are also main tasks, but she goes beyond that by monitoring her executive’s time so he can stay on track for meetings. For example, giving him a quick 5 minute heads up when he needs to wrap up a current meeting so he isn’t late for one that’s immediately after, which she and her executive established as a preference at the start of her employment. Another way she goes beyond basic scheduling is to plan meetings that are several months out. One example is booking quarterly strategy meetings for her and her executive, which she actually initiated, that she keeps an ongoing agenda for.
A few other tasks she encounters on a “typical” day are answering questions from other employees in the office as well as research projects. She is regularly asked how to explain how something is done, where to find things and if her executive has any time available on his calendar, for example. For research projects, they could be anything, such as researching the best stage and stage skirt for presentations in the office.
She also continually is looking into systems and process improvements. An example of a long-term project she is working on is the candidate experience. Basically, this is how the candidate is taken care of and interacted with from the application phase to the interview phase, and analyzing all the granular details.
One interesting fact is that she, as well as the rest of the employees, keep their process documents on the internal wiki. This is because the company has the initiative to move from “tribal knowledge” to “organizational knowledge”. However, she did create a cheat sheet for herself to be able to look up key information quickly.
Danielle’s usual schedule is 8:45/9am-5:45/6pm. The cultural norm in that company stays onsite for lunch since the kitchen is stocked with healthy food and refreshments to fuel the employees’ day, but she could step out if she wanted to. She is not contacted in her off time and there’s no pressure for her to check work email when she is off.
The main goal at the end of the day for her is keeping her executive afloat and helping keep the office and company going. That is where her success and job satisfaction lies, which I’m sure other EAs would agree with as well.
If you are interested in exploring this field, Danielle had some great insight into the necessary skills. Some of the top ones are as follows: a positive attitude, patience, empathy, organizational and leadership abilities, great time management, flexibility, great written communication, being able to multi-task, prioritize, work with low supervision, being a team player but also being able to be independent, and finally, being the right-hand person to the executive you support. She recommends reflecting on what you are good at, as those are indicators of the skills you already possess which could translate into success as an EA. To her, if you find it rewarding to be an integral part of a well-oiled machine where you help get things done but also are entrusted with high priority responsibilities, you’ll love being an EA.
Danielle also highly recommends attending conferences geared towards admins. Some she recommends are Behind Every Leader, Be the Ultimate Assistant, as well as the Administrative Professionals Conference, where she actually was a speaker in 2015.
No two EA jobs will ever be the same, however, there are similarities in tasks carried out and similar skills are typically needed. I hope this article helps to paint a picture of what the experience would be like and what skills you would need to work your path towards that direction.
Danielle's contact info: