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Five tips to being a great assistant


Many people aspire to be the boss, lead the company or become a big-shot manager. At least that’s what is said in theory but not everyone is cut out to be a leader. Some people have the skills to be great support staff and help keep an organization running like clockwork. But don’t be fooled—the job of support staff to a group of people or the assistant to one person is not an easy one. In fact, it’s tougher to be an assistant sometimes because the skills set to thrive as a successful assistant is so large.{{more}} Here’s what you need to know.

Do you have the personality? Yes, not all personality types are designed to be an assistant. You must be outgoing, pleasant, and possess a love for people because you are the gatekeeper, and visitors and phone calls have to be filtered through you before getting to your boss. If you are not a people person, you can cause much damage to the professional relationships with the organization. We’ve all encountered the rude person who refuses to be pleasant.

Can you follow directions? When you are the assistant, you are constantly bombarded with directions: do this, go here, call this person. If you are unable to do what is expected of you without developing a bad attitude and feeling dumped on, then maybe you have a chance to prove skills in other areas of the job.

Can you think on your feet? Very often you are given some basic directions and you are expected to fill in the gaps when problems arise. Your boss is only concerned with results, and if you are not able to figure out how to solve complex issues without your boss’ input, that could be a strike against you. Unfortunately, that skill can also work against you. If you overstep your bounds and make a decision without clearance and it backfires, your boss will be less than happy. The trick is to know when to think on your feet and when to go back and ask for help.

Are you a good listener? We all hear and we all have ears but hearing and listening are two different skills, and too often professional relationships are derailed because assistants hear but do not listen. Get into the habit of paraphrasing when listening. Say something like, “Did I understand you clearly when you said…” and then repeat what you think you heard so the speaker can correct you at that time.

Can you handle pressure? Assistants become the verbal punching bag when things go wrong. The boss yells, the staff and the clients yell and scream, and it all seems to be aimed at you. A good assistant must learn how not to fall apart or take those comments too personally. They just happen to be the face that seems most vulnerable.

What many people don’t realize is the amount of power an assistant has. Even though the job may seem horrible, being the gatekeeper will put you in touch with many different people and, if you are good at networking, the job can prove to be a goldmine.

Karen Hinds is “The Workplace Success Expert.” For a FREE SPECIAL REPORT on Avoiding Career Killers in the Workplace, send an email to

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