how do I ask the CEO if I can “borrow” his assistant for my projects?

A reader writes:

I am eight days into a new job. It is a rather large corporation. When I was hired, I inquired about an assistant to answer my calls, emails, etc., because I had one at my previous job. My boss, the CEO, mentioned they would look into this after a month or so of me working to evaluate whether I would need the help.

His assistant is great. I noticed that because she is so quick and precise with her projects that she sometimes helps out other departments when she has some free time during the work day. I figured this might be because she doesn’t have enough assignments of her own. I asked her to help me on something a few days ago, but she said she was unable to help me on finance-related projects without expressed permission from her boss. She did let me know that there were other assistants in the finance department that might be able to help me, but they were all busy at the time.

He was out for the day, and she didn’t feel like it was appropriate to disturb him to ask him about this issue. I understand this and appreciate it, but I don’t think the project is what she thought it was. I am actually pretty sure she could have helped without the CEO having an issue with it.

I would like to approach the CEO about borrowing his assistant when she has free time to act as my assistant until the company appoints me one, but I am unsure of how to phrase my request in a way where it won’t undermine his position and what he told me about an assistant when I was hired. I don’t want to come off as sounding that I am entitled to an assistant, but his assistant is bright and quick, and seems to have a great grip on the industry. I am new to the industry and would like to make the most of my new situation. I also think that sharing an assistant with my CEO would give a chance to make a impression and prove myself at this job. I would love for him to mentor me since I am new to the industry and the work world in general.

I should note that I am a supervisor and have one other employee under me who is a designer and doesn’t have any assisting responsibilities. I would ask the designer to stand in for one, but it would seriously cut into their other work duties.

How do I go about asking the CEO this? How do I sell it as a benefit for him? Am I out of line in asking?

What?!  Dear god, no.

Do not ask him.

Do not ask his assistant for help again.

Do not under any circumstances ask anyone else to be your assistant either.

Do not, do not, do not.

When you asked about an assistant originally, the CEO was skeptical. He then said they’d consider it after you’d been working a month. If you ask to start borrowing his assistant after eight days, you will look like you’re ignoring what he said earlier.

And, actually, I think you probably are ignoring what he said earlier. For instance, you wrote, “until the company appoints me one.” But there’s no “until” here, because it’s not a given that it will happen — the CEO said they’ll assess in 30 days whether you need one. That means it might not happen, ever. (It probably also means that he really doubts you’ll need one. And it’s pretty unlikely that he’s going to create a whole new position unless you can really demonstrate it’s needed.)

Most jobs don’t come with assistants — for anything, but especially not to answer calls and emails. In most offices, you’re going to be pretty high up before you have a dedicated assistant (if ever), and it’s especially unusual to have someone else handling your emails and calls. If other people at your level don’t have that in this office, you need to accept that that’s just part of the deal with this job and this particular culture.

Pushing for an assistant in a culture that doesn’t operate that way is a really good way to signal “this is not a good fit.” So proceed with caution.

And holy crap, do not try to get your designer to act as your assistant. Not only would it cut into her other work, as you noted, but that’s not the job she signed up for. You will alienate her, and probably piss off your CEO too (who, again, explicitly told you the company isn’t prepared to pay someone to assist you). If your job doesn’t come with an assistant, do not try to co-opt someone else’s job to fix that for you. That is not nice, and it’s not playing by the rules you were hired under.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 254 comments… read them below }

  1. Laurie*

    Ahh.. ” His assistant is great. I noticed that because she is so quick and precise with her projects that she sometimes helps out other departments when she has some free time during the work day. I figured this might be because she doesn’t have enough assignments of her own”

    This bothered me deeply. She does good work and helps out other departments in addition to her own work, and the OP thinks it’s because *she doesn’t have enough to do*??! Wow. There’s this saying that goes something like, ‘If you want something done, find a busy person to do it’. I think this wonderful assistant falls in that category – and it also means that she’s doing all this extra work because she wants to help people she respects, not because she doesn’t have anything else to do. The OP will have to earn her respect over time if he/she wants this assistant to do his/her work.

    I agree with AAM’s response 100%.

    1. jmkenrick*

      Agreed. Or maybe it was part of the work load she took on when she was hired. Or maybe it’s because she expressed an interest in learning more about *blank* and so the CEO said that she could help out with some projects in that area.

      There are a 1,000 potential reasons. After only 8 days, I think the OP is getting overly hasty to establish themselves at this company

    2. Candice*

      And eight days in this person is qualified to determine whether someone else has enough work to do? Eight days is barely enough time to get a read on your own job, let alone the office culture and jobs of everyone else there!

  2. K.*

    My first reaction was literally “What? No!” I assume the OP reports to the CEO, and wow, what a way to piss off your boss in your first couple of weeks on the job.

    I cannot think of a way that having HIS assistant work under you is a “benefit for him.” Even if you’re able to produce more as a result of having her help you, that’s time she’s spending NOT getting the CEO’s stuff done.

  3. A Bug!*

    This question is a funny little bookend to the one posted earlier this week. I get the feeling that her “ask the CEO because I don’t have authority to work on this” is a sly way of saying “this isn’t something you should be asking me to do.”

      1. Yuu*

        Of course. Her way of responding is one more example of how awesome she is at her job – and that’s probably how she got to be the assistant of the CEO. The assistant of a CEO often holds a lot of power herself in behind the scenes way.

    1. Kelly O*

      And that bothers me more than anything else. Because it implies that the new person, eight days in, knows more about her knowledge and function in the company than she does.

      Did you ever watch Scrubs? There’s one episode where the main character talks about wishing there were some sort of warning system for when you were about to do something apocalyptically stupid? He imagined an opera singer, in full dramatic mode, singing “MISTAAAAAAAKE” – for some reason I am picturing that now.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I was literally talking about that episode with someone yesterday.

        Because I sing that out loud sometimes if I do something stupid. (Like um, singing out loud, for example.)

    2. Nichole*

      Yes, the assistant’s response was spot on for this situation. I assumed when the OP mentioned being new to the work world and the industry that this was the reason why such a direct hint got missed, which is unfortunate. I hope the OP takes AAM’s answer and the comments to heart, not as criticism but as valuable information about how his/her attitudes and expectations could be perceived by others.

    3. Mishsmom*

      here at my office, “i’ll have to get approval from my supervisor” is what we say instead of “you’ve got to be kidding me, you want me to do what??!”

    4. Liz*

      That was exactly my take. “I need express permission from someone who cannot give it right now…” is assistant-speak for “No. This isn’t going to happen.”

      Overall the OP sounds like someone who takes things very literally in a workplace where they prefer to hint (I have been there). Context is everything.

    5. Op*

      I get this now. I didn’t pick up on it in the beginning, I just thought she didn’t understand. Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Roja*

    Eight days into a new job and you already notice that someone else can be your assistant because she supposedly hasn’t enough assignmentst of her own? OP are you aware of the fact, that this alone might tell your CEO that you actually have enough time to answer your own calls and emails, if you mind your own business?

  5. Karyn*

    My first thought was, “How does this person, with eight days experience at this office, know that the CEO’s assistant is helping out these other departments in her ‘free time’?” At my old job, PART of my job was helping out other departments when I wasn’t helping out my immediate supervisor.

    If I were the OP, I would pray and hope the assistant doesn’t tell the CEO about all this, because the OP now risks coming off as entitled and unaware of how to behave when you’re new in an office.

    1. Karyn*

      ETA: CEOs generally don’t like sharing their assistants with others, either. Particularly if it’s a “rather large corporation.” Just something to keep in mind.

      1. Heather*

        God, I know. My husband has been desperately looking for work for two years now and has barely had any interviews. He has way more common sense than this. GAH.

    1. Laura L*


      Plus, the person seems really young. I wonder what they do or studied that lets them be hired as a supervisor so quickly.

  6. Lilybell*

    There is so much wrong with what you want that I don’t know where to start. I am the assistant to a very high level person and I’m not sure you understand how these things work. I have paid my dues in the assistant world and there is no way I would go back to assisting more than one person at a time – it’s lower level admins that assist teams or a few executives. A CEO’s assistant is much higher-level and I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes more money than you do – I am paid and considered the same level as a VP here.
    It is obvious to me that she has no interest in assisting you – she was polite about it, but she was definitely shutting you down. You will only annoy the CEO if you bring this up to him (honestly, I think you probably already have by asking for an assistant at all). Most people don’t get assistants, and if you aren’t one of the very top executives there, I would back off on this request. You can answer your own emails and phone – it seems to me like you like the prestige of having an assistant more than you actually need one. I apologize if I seem harsh but you really need a wake up call that what you are asking is way out of line.
    Oh, and the fact that she is efficient doesn’t mean she doesn’t have enough work to do, it just means she’s efficient.

    1. fposte*

      “I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes more money than you do.” And even if she doesn’t, she’s almost certainly more valuable to the organization at this point.

  7. fposte*

    I think you’re still thinking in the I-have-an-assistant culture. But what you’re doing in *this* culture is actually trying to get somebody else to do your job, and that’s been made pretty clear to you.

    If you haven’t already, you might consider apologizing to the assistant and thanking her for being gracious about your newbie misunderstanding. It could help patch over the error and get you on a better footing for the future.

    1. Jamie*

      This. If ever there was a time to mea culpa it’s now – before she has a chat with her boss about the new guy.

  8. Jamie*

    I just checked the calendar thinking it must be April 1st…but it’s not.

    This must be real then. Wow.

    I have a question, though – how does one answer your emails? I mean calls, okay…but it seems that reading and responding to job related emails should be done by the person who has that job. No?

    1. cf*

      I was a temp secretary at the World Bank years ago. One VP had me print out all of his emails. He would handwrite his response and I would type it in.

      SOOOO efficient. I was being paid by the hour, so whatever, but it was not the best use of taxpayer money.

      1. Anonymous*

        I don’t suppose this VP had some sort of disability that makes typing difficult. Did he do other computer work?

        1. class factotum*

          Nope. No disability. He had never learned to type and had no interest in doing so. I would not have noted this if there were a specific physical reason keeping him from doing it. :)

          I temped all over the World Bank for several months. He was the only exec who did this. All the others did their own email. (Perhaps when their secretaries were there, they answered what emails they could – my current boss often has his secretary email on his behalf – but I did not have the knowledge to do so.)

      2. doreen*

        I work for a government agency that’s at least 10 years behind in terms of technology, and we only got real email in 2005. Most of the male managers over a certain age handwrote or dictated anything to be sent by email and had their secretary/admin assistant actually send it. You could tell when one of these managers actually answered an email himself, because it was a one or two word reply – “yes” , “no”, or”call me”

    2. Ellie H.*

      I’ve been someone’s assistant (pretty low level) and she would forward email to me and I would respond to it as me. However, for higher level assistantry (??) I think that the email is available to the assistant as well as to the manager/CEO/dean/whatever so she can answer it. I’m in the process of taking over one of these higher level assistantry positions for an interim period, and with the person I am taking over for, I’m pretty sure that for the most part, people just know to send all but the most confidential content to her instead of directly to the dean. I think when you get super fancy then the assistant is in charge of the CEO’s PDA or whatever (like in the Sophie Kinsella novel “Got Your Number” . . . really cute book).

    3. Kelly O*

      I’ve screened emails before; I had read/write access to the inbox/calendar/whole deal.

      Granted, I was also that person’s assistant and filtered out things that needed to go other places, and we’re talking a director-level person so he got tons of stuff that needed to go elsewhere.

    4. jmkenrick*

      Eh, I know people who have assistants that do this. If you e-mail my doctor, for example, his admin will respond unless it’s something only he can answer (medical questions versus scheduling confirmations, for example).

      This doesn’t bother me, because little things like that can really pile up.

      That said, there are almost invariably e-mails that can only be responded to by the person e-mailed. (Although I can see from the chain that he forwarded her the e-mail, so it’s not like she’s actually going through his messages, which would be an issue with patient privacy, I’m sure…but in another industry, I could see just giving her e-mail access.)

    5. Lilybell*

      Like Kelly wrote, many high-level assistants have full access to the boss’ email and calendar. I answer emails as my boss and people don’t even realize it’s not him (mainly little things like rsvps – I wouldn’t pretend to be him to answer work questions from colleagues). Just the things he doesn’t need to deal with (like a question from our computer dept. about an upgrade). The email will say “Lilybell on behalf of Big Boss” but most people don’t notice that and assume it’s coming directly from the boss.

      1. Jamie*

        Thanks, everyone for clearing that up for me. It makes sense – well except cf’s having to type up handwritten emails (!) – yikes.

        Well, those among us toiling away answering our own phones and reading our own email should be really proud of our self-sufficiency.

        j/k – I’m sure some positions need that level of support. My industry runs lean – that kind of thing is about as foreign to me as having a Mr. French at home to my Bill Davis – drawing my bath and popping into the room to fetch me a pen when I want to jot something down.

        1. Kelly O*

          I will totally come answer your email for you. I will even not tell people they’re being dumbasses when I’m sure you might be tempted.

          Now to break the news of our move to my husband…

          1. Jamie*

            Kelly, please, if we were to work together it wouldn’t involve you answer email. I imagine it more of a world domination thing – introvert style. Taking on workplaces one private office and guaranteed block of solitude at a time.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          I think the higher you go, the more e-mail you get. It isn’t an efficiency issue so much as a volume issue. I may get 300 emails per week, my manager gets that every day. Then he spends weekends doing catch-up with the non-urgent ones.

          By the time you are director or higher you are getting all sorts of emails for things that really can be answered by the admin – when is this meeting, or can you arrange a visit for that visitor, etc. I would say it is a wonderful use of the companies money to have an admin that is able to handle this sort of stuff.

    6. Cassie*

      I have access to my boss’s email – he takes care of it himself (though he gets a lot of email so it might be delayed), but if he’s traveling or there’s something urgent, I will take care of it. I prefer to forward it to my own email, and then send a response from my email account rather than pretend to be my boss.

      I posted a comment in the open thread earlier this week – I know one guy whose wife answers his email for him (pretending to be him; with his blessing, I’m sure).

    7. Op*

      My former assistant will help me by responding to emails that required obvious or simple answers she knew or who needed report numbers, then filter the ones with more urgent or pressing matters to me.

  9. Anonymous*

    The OP seems like that dangerous mix of insecure and cocky. She supervises exactly one person. There are people who have whole teams to supervise who don’t get assistants. I think she feels like having an assistant would validate her and make her look important, knowing that she really isn’t that valuable. But she also seems to think she’s too good to answer her own emails and so on.

    The assistant does understand what you’re asking, OP. Don’t write her off as a dummy. She knows exactly what your game is and just has more tact than you in how she manages whiners.

    1. Piper*

      This OP sounds like my old boss – the one I mentioned in an early post’s comments – who thought anyone who reported to him could fill in as his assistant, no matter what their level or pay grade. Boy, am I glad I don’t work for that guy anymore (and also for the OP). How awful.


    Whenever I encounter someone who has an assistant to handle email, I assume this person is wildly out of touch and is going to be a major PITA to work with. (exceptions for public-ish people who get massive quantities of unsolicited mail)

    Also. The CEO’s assistant is the last person I ever want to piss off. They are the gatekeepers and can make your life easy or they can make it difficult. They have the ear and respect of your boss. This is a person you want on your side.

    1. K.*

      Word. See also: career receptionists who have been with a company for decades. They’re usually held in high regard.

  11. Adam V*

    The only caveat I have to this advice is that this person *could* be fairly high up themselves – after all, they’re reporting directly to the CEO of a “rather large corporation”. Despite that, I get the feeling that they’re working on a finance-related side project for the boss, and they’re not the CFO or other bigwig in the finance department.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I was thinking that too, until he wrote that he’s new to the world world as well. I actually wrote back to ask what the job is because this is curious.

      1. Jamie*

        I would argue that even if he was the CFO it wouldn’t matter. His boss said they would revisit the assistant thing in a month (which is probably code for “in 30 days you’ll be embarrassed you asked for such a silly thing.”) – it’s been 8 days.

        1. Adam V*

          I completely agree – no matter how high up you are, if they don’t tell you “you’re also getting an assistant, we’ll put out the job opening now”, then you need to live with it until they change their mind or until you have enough piling up that you can make a legitimate “I’m drowning here!” case. It’s unlikely you can do that after only 8 days.

    2. Dan*

      Honestly, you picked up on what really confused me. How does one get to “report to the CEO of a major corporation” and yet be “new to the working world” all at the same time? The former implies someone very high up; the later refers to someone much more junior.

      1. Jamie*

        And he had an assistant at this prior job – but he’s new to the working world – so did he come out of the gate with an EA on his first job?


        I’d rather have a crappy first job and realize that things get better than the other way around.

      2. Op*

        I have only had one other job as a manger of an sales department for a small business. I have an MBA.

        The corporation has over 500+ employees and has international appeal. I consider them fairly large.

    3. Lilybell*

      If he only has one direct report he probably isn’t all that high-level. For some reason I assumed the OP was a woman.

      1. Ellie H.*

        I did too, I felt quite sure it was written by a woman from the writing style. I wonder why I thought that, especially because I feel like, if anything, over-assertiveness/presumptuousness is a stereotypically masculine trait (and I mean “stereotypically” literally!).

        1. Jamie*

          I just reread it and I’m getting a totally male vibe from the letter.

          Now, even though it’s totally irrelevant, I’m curious.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Well dang it, I missed the second sentence “rather large corporation” in my other comment below.

      Like everyone else, I’m puzzled by this. Then again, someone’s “rather large corporation” is someone else’s itty bitty business.

      If you came from a 5-person firm, a 300-person incorporated business could be a “rather large corporation.” I don’t think anything that’s not Fortune 500 size qualifies as large, but who am I.

    5. Kimmie Sue*

      Having worked in several very large organizations I sincerely doubt a “supervisor” would report to the CEO. Their direct reports would be VPs and Directors.

      1. Piper*

        I’m thinking the term “very large corporation” is somewhat subjective here. When I think very large, I think global behemoth. But this OP might think very large is 200 people.

      2. Op*

        I report to the CEO at the moment. There is some restructuring that is taking place to install a head of our department that we will answer to, I am trying to convince them I should be this person.

        1. H*

          And by assuming that people don’t have enough work to do so they can do yours that isn’t going to impress him at all that you are the right person for that job!

    6. Anonymous*

      I’m chalking it up to the anon comment above calling him a mixture of insecure and cocky. I’d bet money that he does not actually report to the CEO, but works nearby him (near enough to see what his assistant does). The CEO might have talked to him when he started as an introduction, and OP now assumes he’s somehow in close with him and thinks it’s ok to start asking for favors.

      1. AliH*

        I agree…It sounds like he “reports” to the CEO how I “report” to my Executive Director (I don’t): my office is next to his. We don’t talk about anything but college football and dogs, but even if we actually talked about work, I would never assume this gives me free reign to ask his assistant to do anything for me.

    1. Adam V*

      My reading is that they had experience in a different area – maybe academia or government work. (Granted, I would still call that “the work world” myself.) I assumed the OP had some amount of experience, since a) they’re supervising someone else and b) they had had an assistant at their previous position.

      1. fposte*

        Academia seems plausible; student assistants aren’t that hard to get there. And they can be treated as sort of a collective commodity, which might explain where he got that idea.

        1. Adam V*

          Not to mention, if the OP had been a professor (or similar), I could see them having enough experience in some obtuse area that a CEO could seek them out for a specific side project, and they’d report directly to the CEO instead of being fit into the normal corporate structure…

          Now that I think about it, a lawyer might work as well. They could have had a paralegal doing a bunch of the “scut work” and not thought twice about asking them to also answer phones or emails?

          (Maybe I’m wrong there, I have no experience with the legal world at all.)

    2. K.*

      Oh, I missed the “new to the work world” bit! I caught the “new to the industry” part and it didn’t faze me because skills are transferable across industries, but this person is “new to the work world” and landed a job that reports to the CEO of a large corporation? Sigh. Now I’m even more depressed about my MBA, nearly 10 years of experience, and crappy part-time job.

      1. bradamante*

        As we apply the collective vision to this letter, it’s sounding more and more likely that “reports to the CEO” means CEO > boss > boss > boss > OP and that this person is clueless enough to think that establishing a work relationship with the CEO’s assistant will get him an “in” with the CEO.

        Also, did anyone else find it creepy that he’s proposing bonding with the CEO over their shared “girl toy”?

    3. AnotherAlison*

      And yet the OP also says she had a previous job with an assistant. So which is it? You’re new, or you’re experienced?

      I work at a place where you don’t report to the CEO unless you yourself are also a Grand Poobah of sorts, so this really makes me wonder if this is small business (best guess – it’s a smallish business and the OP is a marketing manager, new to the role from being a marketing coordinator at a larger business where there was a departmental assistant that she could sometimes assign things to). Then again, the OP says there is a finance department, so perhaps it’s bigger than I think. . .Just reinforces my agreement with Jamie that this is an April Fools hoax.

      1. Blinx*

        “…this is an April Fools hoax”

        Alison — On the actual April Fools day, you could have an open thread where we post situations which may or may not be true – we get to vote for which are the hoaxes! Or maybe we submit them ahead of time…

        1. Kimmie Sue*

          +1 LOVE this idea Blinx. I’m afraid we’d all have our share of true or not stories that were painfully true.

          1. Marie*

            Perfect! At one of my former workplaces, we seemed to be saying, “You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried,” all.the.time. It was nuts! I’m game!

        2. Ivy*

          Great idea! :D…. AAM could post a few and then we vote and then she tells us which are real and which are not :D I’m really excited for this for some reason lol..

        3. Jamie*

          I love this too – like a Fact or Fiction thing.

          Now I want to make up bizarre, but almost plausible workplace problems just for my own entertainment.

    4. Op*

      I have an MBA from a great school. The same school the CEO attended actually.

      Plus, I have solid experience in growing a department over a short amount of time in my previous job. The CEO was fairly impressed with the great work I did in such a short amount of time.

      1. ml*

        AND this is what’s wrong with corporate america. Hiring is based on too much on who you know, where you went to school, etc. So many underqualified people are hired just because they went to a “great” school, or the same school as the boss. Meanwhile, the more experienced, hard working people at the company are stuck at the lower level while these people get hired. An MBA is nothing compared to working experience. I have two masters degree (one is MBA) and my most valuable skills and knowledge are those I’ve developed on the job, and through my own curiosity/desire to learn. You my friend, need a reality check.

  12. AV*

    A thought and a question:

    “I also think that sharing an assistant with my CEO would give a chance to make a impression and prove myself at this job. I would love for him to mentor me….”

    I think the best way to make an impression and prove yourself at this job is just to be a rockstar. I don’t actually see how sharing an assistant would facilitate what you’re looking for.

    “since I am new to the industry and the work world in general.”

    I was confused about this comment about being new to the work world in general, given s/he has had a previous job?

    1. Laurie*

      Could happen if this person went directly from a bachelor’s to an MBA…. some companies employ people just because they have an MBA, even if they don’t have too much industry experience.

  13. Ruth*

    Everyone’s picked up on a ton of strange things about this letter, but another thing that bothers me is that the OP is writing like he’s asking to borrow the CEO’s calculator! The assistant is a person and should be treated like one, and the OP should know that people who treat assistants and other admins like inanimate objects get a reputation.

    1. Jamie*

      “The assistant is a person and should be treated like one, and the OP should know that people who treat assistants and other admins like inanimate objects get a reputation.”

      Yes! I knew there was something else that was bothering me.

      You don’t borrow people.

      1. Op*

        I used the wrong term here. I wasn’t trying to imply that she was less of a person. I know she is a person.

    2. Flynn*

      Yeah – it was the whole ‘hey that assistant is really good! Can I play with the shiny assistant toy and get it to do all my work for me?’ attitude.

      That/and or the entitlement in going straight for the ‘really good’ assistant. I’m pretty sure if she was up for grabs in that respect someone would have already leapt at the chance to work with her.

  14. Yuu*

    My guess is he’s in his 20s, and did something like college->mba->managing job with an assistant for a year or two-> new job at this company.

    1. Op*


      MBA, good school, one and half years managing a decent sized sales force at a small company, and then this job.

  15. Jamie*

    Alison – I so wish you had a letter in your queue right now that starts:

    Dear AAM –

    I’m the Executive Assistant to a CEO of a large corporation. There is this new supervisor that started eight days ago…

    1. Roja*

      Something tells me if said assistant needed advice about this matter, she wouldn’t be the CEO’s assistant in a rather ”large corporation” in the first place! I think you are underestimating the skills of assistants, who have to deal with this kind of requests more often then you think, here.

      1. Jamie*

        No problem :). And yes, I was totally kidding.

        The deft way the assistant handled him proves she knows just how to manage these situations.

        1. Kelly O*

          If it’s any consolation I might be tempted to write her in a pseudo “Letters to Penthouse” style –

          Dear AAM,
          I never thought this would happen to me, but…

    2. Brett*

      Funny, I was just thinking that two weeks ago Alison probably got an email that read:

      This new college grad was recently hired by my company. From day one he started ordering me to do weird things like answer his email and make coffee, even though I am several levels higher in the company than he is. He has since quit to join another company, stating that he felt I was an inadequate assistant. How strange is that?

      1. class factotum*

        Except I don’t think a military person would demand an assistant or be so insensitive to nuance. The military – at least when my dad was in it – was highly, highly political.

  16. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I emailed the OP and asked for more information, since the combo of “new to the work world” and “I’ve had an assistant before” seemed so odd. He’s 26 and in charge of special projects for one of the company’s three graphic design department.

    OP, with the additional information (and thanks for indulging me in providing it), I’m going to go a little easier on you, since you’re young and it sounds like your earlier job simply didn’t prepare you for the reality of how most workplaces work. The answer remains the same — so very much the same — but maybe this is why it wasn’t obvious to you.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I can’t think of any company I’ve ever worked with or for where a graphic design manager had, or needed, an assistant.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I’m still confused by how “rather large” this company could possibly be where a graphic design manager with a one-person team is one step away from the CEO. In a large corporation, my experience is that a position like this is routed through a chief marketing officer or communications department. (Unless the CEO has some of his own pet graphic design needs, and that’s what this guy is doing with his special projects.)

        1. Just a Reader*

          “Rather large” could be $100m or so with this structure, if you have only worked in small companies, academia, etc. I agree that rather large actually means Fortune 500.

        2. Blinx*

          You’re right — normally, there’d be quite a few levels between a supervisor and a CEO. The fact that the OP is reporting directly to the CEO I’m sure has elevated his sense of worth or entitlement. But if you look at it from the CEO’s stand point, he still sees all the [invisible] layers of authority that exist between their positions.

        3. Anonymous*

          Does “boss” necessarily mean direct manager?
          I’m in the same age range as the OP in a smaller organization. I have my immediate manager -> manager’s manager -> director, and consider everyone higher on the ladder to be my “boss,” though maybe that’s another part of inexperience.

          1. Lala*

            I think it’s grey. Informally I refer to everyone above as “my boss”, just to be ambiguous on who I’m actually referring to

          1. TW*

            I would really not consider 500+ employees a really large company. I know many departments with that many employees (mine included).

            1. Anonymous*

              Agree. My region has 1200+ people, and it’s one of 9 regions (a larger one admittedly). We have 6000+ people nationally, and we are only UK focused – 500 would feel pretty small over here.

      2. Jamie*

        I don’t know. If on my very first job they had someone coming around to do Swedish massage and a drink cart every Friday – I might ask what kind of oils they used and how their French Martini’s are…

        We often have to unlearn habits from former jobs – and going from the first to the second is often the biggest reality check because it was all we’d known up to that point, so there’s more of a danger of thinking that’s the norm.

        Yet another way work is like dating.

        1. Going anonymous, to protect the innocent*

          > Yet another way work is like dating.

          Yes! And it’s even worse if you get two jobs (or significant others) in a row with the same quirks. Then you get really trained into thinking that that feature comes standard, for better or for worse. Because of this, it took me a while to realize that when my current boyfriend gets terse and says “I’m not mad at you, I’m just tired,” what he means is, “I’m not mad at you, I’m just tired” – not “I’m mad at you but you have to guess why and then plead for me to forgive you.”

          But wow, was I happy when I did figure that out!

        2. KayDay*

          In general, I completely agree with you about unlearning habits from previous jobs. But you don’t think of human beings as equivalent to office equipment (as Ruth so wonderfully put it) because you learned bad habits.

        3. BW*

          I totally get this. I worked for 2 companies, each about 200 employees for 10+ years. That’s actually pretty small and intimate, and I was used to interacting directly with high level folks like the CEO. When I had a technical issue, the Help Desk was down the hall. I could pop my head in there when needed. I had to handle all my own outgoing mail and packages. Facilities issues all went directly to one “Office Manager” – supplies, work space, parking, security badges and keys – all the same person. 500 employees is bigger, but really not that much bigger.

          About a year ago I took a job at a 30K+ employee multinational corporation. I love it, but it was definitely culture/procedure shock. It took me months to wrap my brain around the fact that all my IT/Help Desk support wasn’t even in the same city. :D

      3. Blinx*

        It depends. My old creative department had an assistant, and she was assigned to maybe a dozen people. There were several very busy design managers who were in constant meetings with agencies. The (invaluable) assistant had control of their Outlook calendars and kept their schedules for them. But nobody, except maybe a VP and upwards, had their own assistant.

        I do think the OP needs to learn the difference between an administrative assistant and an executive assistant. And I’m sure there are other postings on AAM that deal with learning about your new job’s culture and how not to rock the boat your first 6 months or so.

      4. K.*

        Me neither. I’ve worked in marketing at some very large media companies (in one case, the largest of its kind in the world). There were teams of graphic designers on staff. The art directors would manage teams of designers, but none of them had assistants. The executive director and VP of marketing didn’t have assistants – the only person at that company who did was the CEO (his assistant was in her late forties and had been with him for years). But hey, if he says he had an assistant before, he had an assistant before.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Hmmm … I can’t say I have ever worked in a corporation or with graphics arts, but “special projects” perhaps mean projects near and dear to the CEO’s heart so that’s my guess as to why he’s the OP’s boss and not because the OP is actually only one management level below him

      OP supervises one person and is 26 years old. I don’t think I am going too far out a limb here to say that your position does not call for an assistant to answer your phone and emails. And I think the CEO saying that they’d “would look into [getting him an assistant] after a month or so of me working to evaluate whether I would need the help” was a brush off because he feels you don’t need an assistant.

    3. Anonymous*

      I still don’t think this lets him off the hook. At my first job out of college, I shared an assistant and we had great perks — literally, those massages mentioned downthread, plus beer in the fridge for after 5, etc. Never in a million years did I think that was the norm or expect (demand!) it in my next workplace. It’s not youth; it’s a disturbing sense of entitlement.

  17. Bridgette*

    It is so awkward to be asked to help with a project by someone who is not your supervisor. This has happened to me a few times, and while I’m really flattered that other supervisors want to work with me, dear god ask my manager first! I hate being put into the position of going to my manager and asking if Other Supervisor can borrow me. I don’t mind a quick question or two, or helping out with a weird problem – I do specialized tech support so that happens often – but full blown projects are a different matter.

    1. JT*

      Perhaps you can say – “That would take enough time that you should check with X (manager’s name); if you can, CC me on your email to her.”

      Put the onus on the requester to make the ask.

      1. Bridgette*

        That is what I typically do, and most of the time it turns out okay. However recently one of the supervisors asked me and a couple of others to a “quick meeting”, and didn’t tell us what it was about…she didn’t tell anyone what it was about…I figured it was another one of those quick question type things, but then she bought us all lunch and took about 2 hours of our time and asked us to work on a huge project with her. My manager flipped out because he saw this mysterious meeting on my calendar. Ah, people.

  18. moe*

    I think OP may have a problem with the request he already made to the assistant. CEO is going to hear about it, probably won’t like it.

    Allison/others, curious if you’d recommend OP address this by, say, acknowledging to assistant that he shouldn’t have asked? I don’t think an apology is necessary, but I think it could help his standing to acknowledge he misread the situation and won’t do so again.

    1. NewReader*

      I was struck by how OP stressed this assistant is SHARP and QUICK.

      I suspect she has already told the CEO what is going on.
      OP, assume everything you do and say is repeated to your boss. This sharp, quick employee has already figured out what is what here.

      I can’t imagine on day 8 of a new job, that one could possibly have enough work to need a second set of hands.

      OP, if you want a mentor, that is reasonable. At this point, look for an informal mentor- quietly.
      But targeting a particular person, hog tying them and making them mentor you will not work out. Ever.

      Next time you have a question, just ask the question. Don’t design an ideal solution and ask for that. If the wheel is broken on your chair, don’t ask for an “extreme office makeover.” Just ask to have your chair fixed.

      Keep reading AAM, OP. It will help.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        ” If the wheel is broken on your chair, don’t ask for an “extreme office makeover.” Just ask to have your chair fixed.”

        This is rather brilliant.

  19. anomanomnom*

    I don’t want to come off as sounding that I am entitled to an assistant, but his assistant is bright and quick, and seems to have a great grip on the industry. I am new to the industry and would like to make the most of my new situation.

    You don’t want to come off sounding entitled … but you do. You are not entitled to her time, no matter how bright and quick she is (heck, even if she was dim and slow you wouldn’t be entitled to her time – she’s not your assistant). You should make the most of your situation by spending more time understanding the office culture, the way things are done (perhaps learning from this great assistant!) than from poaching her from your BOSS. How is that not shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve truly started your job?? I’m baffled that you don’t see how badly you’re going to damage your standing with your boss by pursuing this.

  20. CatB (Europe)*

    So, to echo everybody else so far (and sum it up), what I would do (and fast) is:
    1. Go back to the Assistant and apologize (I’d also blame it on “beginner’s fever”, apologize profusely and give her a little gift – here a bunch of flowers works miracles, but I’m not an American so I don’t know if it is doable…)
    2. Hope and pray she didn’t break the news to the CEO yet and will never do it
    3. Get to work, work hard, produce results and learn the company culture inside out
    4. wait for the CEO to notice, in a few months time, how good I am (without “easing” the noticing process by, say, witty comments)
    5. drop by the Assistant now and then with a smile and a little something that’s appropriate (a donut? a cupcake? whetever the culture says it’s innocuous enough), maybe ask a question or two about little bits of professional company life (like “I want to do X better, how was it handled before?”)
    6. Oh, did I mention working hard and efficiently?
    7. Learn from every mistake I make and from every mistake anyone around me makes.

    Big success needs a solid foundation. This is one of the ways to do it.

    1. Jamie*

      “here a bunch of flowers works miracles, but I’m not an American so I don’t know if it is doable…)”

      NO!! This is a cultural thing – here flowers from a man you barely know in a work context would be highly inappropriate. Unless they are Get Well flowers, there can be a romantic overtone you really want to avoid.

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        Right, Jamie. That’s why I used paranthesis (I was afraid culture might interfere…). Down here flowers in an office context have no romantic meaning at all (at one of my previous ou-of-office jobs I had monthly meetings and I came in the central office each time with flowers for every female co-worker). The idea was to signal something like “I know I screwed up and here’s another way of apologizing” – maybe you can translate this into a culturally acceptable form, please?

        1. Jamie*

          Oh I know – this is a totally cultural thing.

          Just a quick apology for not understanding the org structure and letting her know it won’t happen again is more than enough, as long as it doesn’t happen again.

          Here flowers are so associated with romance that the poor gentleman in the shipping department (who had received the flowers delivered for me – don’t know why they didn’t come to the office) got so much teasing about just bringing them to me that I felt so bad. Even though my husband was the one who sent them, this poor guy got the grief for handing me roses.

          Although I do still want a cupcake. I wonder who I can get to offend me so they can apologize and bring me one…

        2. Jen*

          To be honest, I would find the flowers weird too. I’ve never gotten flowers at work except on March 1st/8th… I’d be a bit suspicious if someone suddenly showed up with them. (Then again, I’m not really a flowers person – my boyfriend bought me one bouquet in 6 years and I’ve never missed them.)

        3. Elise*

          Easy way to look at it (in most cases). If you wouldn’t give it/say it/do it to a man in the office…don’t do it to the women. And vice versa. Equality is key for work environments in the US.

      2. Liz*

        Ditto! Nix the flowers! And the questions!

        I like the spirit of groveling here, but the OP already looks like he was caught being manipulative and entitled, since the assistant probably picked up on the fact that the OP was trying to use the assistant to get an in with the boss, too.

        Now the last thing the OP needs is to look like he is hitting on the assistant to get free advice. (Not assuming the assistant is a woman – I’m sure a man would be just as weirded out by the flirty vibe paired with even more requests for helpful tips).

    2. K.*

      I would NOT give flowers or keep dropping by with little treats. It’s likely to look like he’s hitting on her and make her uncomfortable – it would me, and I’d end up telling him to knock it off (politely but firmly). I also wouldn’t offer effusive apologies. I think he should apologize, but just once, directly. “I’m sorry I asked you to help me with Project A. I’m still learning the chain of command around here. It won’t happen again.” Then put his head down, get the work done, and treat the CEO’s assistant as he would anyone else.

        1. Jamie*

          Yeah – notice I didn’t warn against the cupcake idea.

          Not because I don’t think treats are inappropriate, because I agree that they are….I just really want a cupcake right now and I’d overlook the political implications if someone showed up with one.

          1. CatB (Europe)*

            Can I e-mail you a whole box (and political implications be damned – chalk it up on cultural differences)?

            1. Jamie*

              If you can find a way to email cupcakes, my friend, I will quit my job and help you launch that business.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Oh, wow, I did not need to know I could print a cupcake! (I want one so bad… chocolate with chocolate icing and a chocolate center would do nicely… well, 12 of them would…)

    3. Op*

      I will definitely try to be more respecting of her in the future. I was unaware that I had offended the assistant.

  21. Alice*

    Aw geez. This smacks of condescending entitlement and disrespect. One of those cases where someone does a good job, and someone else thinks it means you can swamp them with work.

    I’ve seen this happen and it created a culture of “don’t ever give 100% or you will be expected to give 150% at all times”.

    “I would like to approach the CEO about borrowing his assistant when she has free time to act as my assistant until the company appoints me one…”

    I’m happy that this person isn’t this assistants boss. Geez. Nobody deserves to be treated like a commodity.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but this one hit a nerve.

  22. Just a Reader*

    *He was out for the day, and she didn’t feel like it was appropriate to disturb him to ask him about this issue.*

    Did anyone catch this? It sounds like a request was made to call the CEO and ask him to approve the request.

    OP, best advice is to put your head down and not ask for help until you really, really need it. You definitely can’t need it 8 days in. Do your entire job, by yourself, and do it flawlessly. That’s the best way to make your reputation.

    1. Kelly O*

      Yeah, definitely caught that bit.

      Although I will say that I am never ceased to be amazed at what people think is appropriate to call someone out of the office regarding. My personal favorites are cold-callers who insist they are Very Important People and naturally our person would be thrilled to the very core that they deigned to call.

      Sure. Just hang on a sec whilst I put you through to voice mail…

    2. some1*

      It sounds like a request was made to call the CEO and ask him to approve the request.

      That’s what I thought, too! As my mom would say, this guy sounds like a piece of work.

    3. Sdhr*

      Yes I noticed it. Cringe-worthy. Can you imagine how annoyed the EA was when he said “well, let’s call CEO out on the golf course and see what he thinks.”

    4. Op*

      I did ask her to do this. I guess I just got a bit frustrated in the moment because I thought that she didn’t understand my request. I will take your advice.

      1. Kelly O*

        Her response does not indicate at all that she does not understand your request.

        Sometimes, people try to use a tactful response to dodge an issue. By pulling the CEO’s busy schedule into it, she was trying to tactfully say no and buy some time to figure out how to tell her boss “Here is the request he made of me. Would you prefer handling this since he’s so new, or would you prefer I handle this one?”

        You are new. She is busy. You have no idea what her workload is like, and yet assumed that she would and should drop everything to help you with your perceived problem. I know you are “awesome” and wonderful and produce great results and all that, but there are a plethora of soft skills that go along with being part of a company, even a mid-sized one like this (500 employees is not large by any stretch. When you get into the tens of thousands, then we can chat about largeness.)

        Honestly, the best thing you can do is say “I’m sorry. I’m new to the company and made an assumption. I hope I did not offend you.” And then stop talking. You’re not going to want to, but stop talking. And if she’s half as tactful as she has shown herself to be in your comments about her, she will accept your apology and you can move on.

        And then wait the thirty frickin’ days. Find out for yourself what the workload is like, and whether you still feel like you need an assistant (and be realistic. Don’t make up your mind now and try to find things to support that hypothesis.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, and that last part is key — it does seem like you’ve already made up your mind, OP, which will really harm your credibility with your CEO.

          You need to genuinely wait the 30 days and start with the assumption that you DON’T need an assistant (since that’s his assumption) — then let reality show you if there’s really a case that you do. (I think we’re all guessing here that you don’t, based on what you’ve said about your work.) If you’re convinced from the start that you do need one, you’ll see everything through that lens, and you will lose a ton of credibility with your boss.

  23. Zee*

    I don’t want to come off as sounding that I am entitled to an assistant […]

    Then why are you obsessed with the idea of having one?!

    He’s going to become the male version of Miranda Priestly, isn’t he?

  24. Roja*

    Btw, I love the I am actually pretty sure she could have helped without the CEO having an issue with it.. I mean really, afther only 8 days you are trying to go behind a CEO’s back?

  25. some1*

    If the LW is reading this, if this assistant didn’t tell the CEO, I guarantee she told her friends in the office and it’s gotten around by now. I have been an admin asst for many years, and all the admin assts in every place I have worked share “Can you believe s/he asked me to do this??”. Not be unprofessional, but just because we can’t believe it happened. I would suggest dropping this right now, because you’ve already made a poor first impression.

  26. Elizabeth West*

    “I don’t want to come off as sounding that I am entitled to an assistant…”

    But that’s how you are coming across. You haven’t been there long enough to even KNOW if you need one. And your CEO said no. If you want him to mentor you, the first thing you will need to learn is to listen to what he says.

    Do your own work and let your coworkers do theirs.

  27. kristinyc*


    1. The way he talks about the assistant being “quick” and “bright” is SOOO condescending. It sounds like he’s shocked that an assistant would be good at her job. Asking to borrow her just sounds like he doesn’t really see her as a colleague with skills, but rather something that will help him get closer to the CEO.

    2. “New to the work world in general.” Oy. You don’t need an assistant, especially not for answering emails.

    1. Anonymous*

      The way he talks about the assistant being “quick” and “bright” is SOOO condescending. It sounds like he’s shocked that an assistant would be good at her job.

      I know! It’s like he started off by talking to her really slowly with a lot of pantomime, and then when she actually responded with two-syllable words, he was stunned and pleased. Probably felt the urge to scrub her head until her ears flapped and say “That’s a good girl! DIZZA GOO GUR…Paw? Gimme paw?”

    2. clobbered*

      That’s funny – I didn’t pick up on the condescending vibe, my first thought is that he (maybe sub-consciously) fancied her because maybe that would explain the complete lack of blood-flow to the brain evidenced by the rest of the letter.

      My other guess for some of the weird assumptions (like “borrowing” somebody who quite obviously doesn’t “belong” to anyone) was that the OP is not Anglo/US culture.

    3. Meg*

      It’s the same kind of people that ask great workers why they are “just an assistant” or “just a secretary.” I used to get those comments all the time. “Why do you do this type of work? You’re so competent that you could be doing your supervisor’s job!” Ever stop to wonder that she just might actually satisfied with her role and enjoys her work and is content because she’s great at what she does? Key words being “what [b]she[/b] does”.

      My company has the same stigma. Our store levels are made up of two types of employees – the store manager, and the sales rep. The company assumes that every top-selling rep should be a store manager. They don’t understand that this great sales rep could be the best rep in the company, but just not manager material. Meanwhile, you have excellent manager-type people who aren’t that great at sales, and never get the manager opportunities because they aren’t top-selling reps.

    4. KayDay*

      on condescending compliments: I had someone do this to me when I started out (and was in an assistant role). Essentially, they said something to the effect of, “thank you so much for doing such a good job placing the catering order for our 8 person meeting. Thank you so much for keeping track of all 8 sandwich orders! And the food arrived right at the scheduled lunch time!”

      I felt like I was being congratulated for coloring within the lines. Seriously, a “thank you for helping” would have been enough. No need to commend me for my awesome ability count to 8.

      1. sophylou*

        Makes you wonder if their previous assistant could only make it up to 5 or 6? “She tried and tried but poor thing, she’d always get stuck at 4…”

      2. Mary-Christine*

        This made me laugh out loud – exact same thing happened to me. And complimenting me in front of a room of execs on my ‘counting to 8 skills’ is just embarrassing – not to me, but to yourself. Really, it made me lose respect for the person doing the fawning!

      3. Liz*

        I don’t doubt the person was condescending. I do know how hard it can be for some smart-but-no-common-sense types to coordinate lunch orders! I worked with a group of about 12 people who liked to order a comped lunch together for delivery. Every single lunch order involved at least four emails requiring a decision. Every darn day. It was chaotic and annoying.

        I stayed out of the whole thing for months, until people got offended that I wouldn’t eat with them.

        So I thought I would show them how it was done. When it was my turn and I sent one email with a link to a menu and instructions to email me by 10 am so I could get the order to the restaurant. Then I called and picked it up.

        I was SO PROUD of having avoided all the drama. Until I opened the bags and realized the restaurant had given us half of the wrong order and I had to figure out what we had that was right and start all over again to order replacements for people who didn’t get their order.

        Seriously. If you can do lunch for eight without a hassle that actually is pretty good :)

        1. EM*

          Glad I’m not the only one who does stuff like this! For me it’s travel plans, whether personal ones for for work. More than once I’ve screwed up dates or flight times or what have you. Now I make my husband check all the flight times or just have a AAA travel agent do it.

          I’ve arrived for meetings an entire day early, and had to change the flight back, I’ve left for conferences half a day late because I realized I had the dates mixed up. Apparently it’s genetic, as my dad has done the exact same things.

      4. Dan*

        Ha. The summer after my freshman year of college, I wanted to stay in the city and REALLY didn’t want to go home. I didn’t have enough experience to get an internship, so I ended up working for a temp agency.

        My first assignment was a two-week stint with the International Monetary Fund, doing a bunch of filing in one department. (This was 13 years ago, ack!) For a week, I kept getting tons of compliments on my filing skills. Finally, I looked at my supervisor and said, “Theresa, I’m glad you appreciate my hard work, and that I’m getting done what you need in a timely manner, but really, filing isn’t that difficult. I learned to alphabetize in second grade.”

        Her reply: “I know it isn’t difficult, but you should see the people the temp agency sends us.”

    5. sophylou*

      Yes! That sentence is so ridiculous: “I don’t want to come off as sounding that I am entitled to an assistant, but his assistant is bright and quick, and seems to have a great grip on the industry.” I don’t want to sound entitled… but I was so dazzled by her quickness! and brightness! and shininess! and uh… quickness! that I just can’t help myself!!!

      The way the sentence is structured, it sounds like her quickness and brightness is what justifies his sense of entitlement. … And they’re also what got him shut down! Good for her.

    6. Emily*

      Coincidentally, I was just having one of those long, heart-to-heart, bonding catch-ups with an old friend on Friday night. In the course of the conversation he expressed how much he loves my intelligence, and my response was that I was not only warmed by his compliment, but by his choice of words. As a woman I find that so often when men compliment my intelligence, they use words like “bright” and “clever” rather than “smart” or “intelligent.” Before I even finished explaining how these words end up coming off like a backhanded compliment, he instantly knew and finished for me: “It’s like they’re patting you on the head for doing a cute trick.”

  28. Meg*

    The most help he should ask of his CEO’s assistant on a project is if he needs a third pair of hands to hold down something so he can glue it or sprinkle glitter on it or whatever. Anything relating to doing work directly FOR him or FOR the project is unacceptable and that EA handled it admirably.

    1. Blinx*

      Oh, SNAP! Sounds a little like a dig at the graphics industry. For the record, we don’t use glitter on EVERYthing!

      1. Esra*

        Geez really. It’s so hard when you design for smaller clients who can only afford glitter or whatever, not both.

  29. Sdhr*

    I also just noticed that OP writes that the EA recommended an assistant from Finance to help but they were all busy at the time. Do you think this means OP went and asked other assistants for help?!?

  30. Steve G*

    I’m suprised at how negative so many of the comments are. What I really want to know is what the OP needs help with. Can he really have that much work already and be so burdened and burned out he needs help? And how do you accumulate so much work so quick?

    1. Zee*

      He’s spoiled. At his old job, he had someone doing specific tasks for him. Now here, he is left to his own devices and apparently can’t handle it. He needs to get it out of his head that he has to prove himself before the company even considers one for him, if he even needs one.

      1. Zee*

        Correction: He needs to get it out of his head that he can have an assistant right now. He needs to prove himself before the company even considers one for him, if he even needs one.

      2. moe*

        I tend to agree with an earlier commenter that there’s some insecurity here, too. Being new to the industry and wanting so badly to appear competent, I suspect he’s not only looking for someone to assist with things, but also give some reassurance that he’s doing OK. Working for a CEO and now (for the first time) not having an assistant, he may just not be getting as much constant feedback/support as he’s used to. He’s also super young!

    2. Blinx*

      He’s overwhelmed. Maybe by the work, or just the fact that everything is new for him — the industry, the size of the corporation, the culture and customs. Any new job made MY head spin for the first six months!

    3. Alice*

      He’s completely fixated on his image and getting an assistant to do menial things for him. Nowhere did he mention work being piled on him or being overworked.

    4. anon*

      Maybe its not that he has so much work but it’s something he doesn’t know how to do and so her being ‘bright and quick’ would cover for his own ineptness? I think he is way out of line (8 days? really? but this could explain his desperation (maybe).

    5. Op*

      The work is new and challenging, but not really overwhelming. I thought perhaps she would be able to really help better define the work I am doing, and add to it. I was also hoping that, to some degree, sharing an assistant with the CEO would open some doors for me with him. I can see that my thinking was wrong here.

      1. EM*

        CEO’s don’t generally share assistants. Also, if you’re looking for someone to help define your work, that is what experienced colleagues and (some) bosses are for. Part of the challenge of starting a new role is figuring out who you can go to for questions about different areas.

      2. TW*

        I understand wanting to ask her about details related to your job. The truth is she very likely has that information, most good assistants do. Most new employees (no matter the level) need some time to adjust to a new place and assistants want to help. The key would be to ask in a way that makes it obvious she is doing you a favor not the other way around. If you apologize she may be more helpful to you.

  31. Answeringbeforecoffee*

    My immediate thought was “Does he think Mad Men is a documentary?” Then I realised that was unfair, as I’ve not actually watched the show myself, and rephrased my internal comment to “Does he think this is 1948?” I’m curious as to how much of the entitlement is sexism and how much is pure unrealistic expectations. I’m also wondering how much of it is a crush on the assistant.

    1. Blinx*

      Go and watch Mad Men already! And when you do, picture the OP as Peter Campbell, especially in his quest to get an office that didn’t have a pillar in the middle of it.

  32. fanofaam*

    Could the previous job have been work done as a grad student as part of an internship? And the previous assistant
    undergrad intern? Would explain the cluelessness.

  33. Cassie*

    My problem is that my boss will say to others “if you need help with anything, you can ask Cassie.” When I’m toiling away at my desk and hear whispers of this, I think “dear god, no! Like I don’t have enough to do already.” Thankfully, it’s usually not a major task (takes a few minutes out of my time, though it does interrupt whatever else I’m working on).

    It makes me annoyed when people ask me to do stuff that should be done by other people (i.e., there are people whose job responsibilities encompass said task) – they come to me because I’ll do it, in a timely fashion, without giving an attitude. Meanwhile, those other staffers are joking around and chit-chatting because they don’t have anything to do.

    Back to the OP – he’s only 26. I can’t imagine he’s a technology luddite, but he can’t check his own email and take phone calls? And how many emails would the head of the graphic design dept get? No wonder the CEO said that they would revisit it in 30 days – he probably didn’t want to laugh in his face on his first day at work!

    1. SW*


      “if you need help with anything, you can ask Cassie.”

      I can totally sympathize with this as a fellow executive assistant, although my situation has a twist: the person who says this is NOT my boss, just one of the other directors who thinks it’s a great idea to pass me around.

  34. Antony*

    Am I the only one that thinks it odd that the OP considers himself to be a ‘supervisor’ with only one direct report? I guess its technically correct but definitely inflating the level/amount of supervisory responsibility. That reminds me of the amount of times people have Manager in their title but when you interview them, actually have no team, nor management accountability in any form.

  35. Jojo*

    OP is definitely young and inexperienced and probably does not have very good EQ. Asking the CEO to share his assistant with him is WAY out of line and a career stopper for him. If there is ever any suggestion about sharing an Assistant, it should come from the CEO or the EA herself, not the other way around. In my previous job (I am an EA), I did ask my boss if I can support so and so as well. Didn’t turn out very well (the person turned out to be a b**tch and a spain to deal with and that hurt my performance review, but that’s a different story).

    I honestly got really annoyed when I read the OP’s question. Just the thought that someone at work – even if the person has been there for YEARS – has the audacity of asking me to be his/her assistant in addition to my current job is just totally inappropriate and degrading. I’d go to my boss and tell him what a jerk (not necessarily in that word) this new guy is. I gotta tell you, most EA’s have that special relationship with their bosses and this is the case with this CEO’s EA, oh man, you can start counting your days now in that company.

  36. Diane*

    OP goofed, but let’s have some compassion. Let’s look at this another way.

    Assume you’ve started a new job, maybe in a new or vaguely defined role like “special projects.” Your boss is out of town. You may not have had much training on the basics (where to get your own red swingline stapler or how to order specialized software), but your boss’ assistant has helped smooth the transition, answer questions, and point you to the right people and resources.

    I think the OP is jumping to the solution (own assistant) in absence of more elegant solutions to transition to a new job and get a handle on a new workload. Even if I’m wrong, it’s a more positive and helpful approach for other readers who haven’t leapt to the same conclusions.

    So OP, can you please weigh in and tell us where you’re getting hung up at work and where you need help?

  37. SW*

    This question was so frustrating to read because I have to deal with this sort of entitlement as the only Executive Assistant in the office. My boss has the same sentiment as Cassie’s boss in earlier comments: “if you need help with anything, you can ask SW.” And generally I’m fine with helping out departments that actually need it. But one of the department heads is trying to abuse this privilege because he’s spoiled — he used to have an EA at his previous job, and now he has to adjust to not having one.

    This director amassed a huge pile of unsorted invoices (a year’s worth) and asked my boss, the General Manager, if I could come down and sort them for him. I was new at the time and just went along with it. It took me four hours, spread out over a couple of months, but I finally got it all in order. While I was sorting, the director sat at his desk complaining about how he used to have an assistant and how unfair it was that he didn’t have one anymore, etc.

    On my second trip to sort the rest of the invoices, I noticed that the new invoices coming in were being added to the pile! Instead of simply filing them away as he received them, he decided he’d rather turn what I thought was a one-time task into a regular, recurring duty, never mind that other departments needed my help way more than he did.

    What made this aggravating for me was how easy it was to file invoices — so easy that he just needed to take one second of his time to do it himself! He wasn’t busy — he was one of the few department heads who left at 5 on the dot every day, while others stayed much later. These other department heads have their own invoices to deal with too, and they’ve never asked me for help with them. I got the impression that he just didn’t want to sort his own invoices because he felt it was beneath him.

    I decided to just stop coming down to his office. When we crossed paths in the cafeteria, he started making noises about “Hey, I haven’t seen you in my office in a while,” “who’s gonna sort my invoices?” That attitude sealed it for me.

    I had a talk with my secondary boss, who this director reports to, and he agreed it wasn’t a good use of my time. He said, “[Director] needs to be a grown-up and file his own invoices like the rest of us.”

    I’ve learned that one of the skills you’ll need to have as an EA is dealing with the kind of entitlement that the OP has.

  38. Op*

    Hi, OP here. I hesitated to respond because I was getting a ton of hostility here. I am sorry if I offended anyone with my question or behavior.

    Thanks for the advice, AAM. I appreciate you taking the time to post this.

    To answer your questions:
    I am a male. I am young, and I do have an MBA. In my previous job, the one with an assistant, I worked in sales. I was a manager there for a year and a half right out of school. I had an assistant that really made my job easier since managing a sales force was tough. She did the normal stuff like set up meetings, log expense reports, data entry, answer my phones, etc.

    The way the company is structured now I report directly to the CEO along with the heads of the other team. They are looking to appoint a head over the entire department. I would like to prove to them I can be that person.

    The assistant is female. She is youg and attractive but I am not motivated by a crush. She seems to have a fairly close relationship with the CEO and has been at the company for 8 years now having worked her way up somehow. I am still new so I am going by what others tells me about her, so I don’t know the whole story.

    I am not saying that her efficiency is related to her not having enough work but when the other assistants look frazzled and overwhelmed and she is calm and collected, I am right to be drawn to her.

    I get that asking to have her help me out in that capacity is out of line. I didn’t see it as such and thank you for setting me straight. I would still like to make an impression on both her and the CEO, but I will look for another more appropriate way now.

    Thank you!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      OP, kudos to you for wading into this storm in the comments and posting! We’ve been hard on you here, and I’m glad it didn’t deter you.

      I think we’d all be glad to help you figure out how to navigate this if you’d like (and it’s certainly time to stop piling on and start getting constructive).

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Good to hear. There are other ways you can get your CEO’s attention. And really, doing the work as best you can will help you learn the job. It takes time to figure out the office politics, too. When in doubt, better to hang back a bit and observe.

      I think it’s okay to ask for help if you need it, but maybe a better way would be “Hey, Mary, you’ve been here a while; who should I go to about this?”

    3. Dan*

      Hm. Maybe it’s just me, but you seem to have this weird focus on the assistant. Your second-to-last and third-to-last paragraphs focus specifically on the assistant, and provides specific detail about her that really isn’t relevant to your job, or for that matter, the rest of your post.

      And you say this: “I am right to be drawn to her” as if you are trying to defend… what… asking for her to help you one she already told you it ain’t gonna happen? There’s a present-tense-ish connotation to your word choice that makes it sound like you haven’t realized you did something you need to issue a “mea culpa” for. You *aren’t* right to be drawn to her, because you were more or less told from the get-go that you won’t get an assistant.

      1. H*


        Not to pile on again here but the OP still seems to think its part of his role to look around for any spare capacity and utilize it. I’m not sure why that would be true. And it doesn’t make you look like a good manager either.

        If someone doesn’t look frazzled or doesn’t look ‘busy’ that doesn’t mean they aren’t. Many people I work with are totally professional on the outside and you wouldn’t know if they were 3+ days ahead or 10+ days behind! I also work with people who are constantly frazzled even if they don’t even have enough work to keep them busy for today.

        1. Blinx*


          This took me a long time to learn, and then it dawned on me that some people always complain about how much they had to do, and other folks never complain. They could have all had the exact same amount of work to do, but you’d never know it from their different attitudes.

    4. Spreadsheet Monkey*

      “She seems to have a fairly close relationship with the CEO and has been at the company for 8 years now having worked her way up somehow. I am still new so I am going by what others tells me about her, so I don’t know the whole story.”

      I’m not trying to pile on more negativity, but I’m really creeped out by this comment. After talking about how “quick” and “bright” she is, now she’s “worked her way up somehow”? And you’re basing this on what other people have told you? After only 8 days on the job? Who are you talking to, and did you discover this before or after the EA shot you down? Because to me (and this is based on my life experiences, not actually knowing you), it sounds a LOT like, “the hot chick at the bar wouldn’t give me her phone number, she must be a lesbian.”

      1. Blinx*

        I picked up on that “worked her way up somehow” comment too. Not sure why, but the “somehow” makes it a derogatory statement, as if the assistant used more than her brains to get a promotion.

    5. NewReader*

      OP, I think I am getting what you are saying…
      The assistant looks like one of the few people that knows what is going on and how to get things done.
      It is just good sense to stand next to the competent employees.
      The frazzled employees may or may not be that helpful.

      Having been that “go-to” person myself, I can understand that this has nothing to do with physical attraction, etc. It has everything to do with getting the job done. I got very drained from the bombardment. (This was not my imagination. Others would say “I want to actually do something here, so I am asking for your help, because you actually get things done.” A compliment, for sure. )

      I really think what you are saying is you need a mentor. If the CEO will not assign someone- then look around for others to help you. Look for informal mentors. Spread out the requests. Do not ask one person all the time- you will drain that person.

      I am seeing a CEO that hires a direct report and then takes off. wth. The CEO left no one in charge of helping the new hire to acclimate to his job? And the CEO expects WHAT to happen?

      You are doing well with the hard hitting advice here. You know how to take a punch. This is good. Because if this is how this CEO operates then you will have to have thick skin.

      I think that under all this “stuff” we are talking about here, you are actually anxious/nervous about your job. You think that if you “take charge” you can begin to calm that anxiousness.
      It’s not working.
      Come in a a more friendly plane, speak with as many people as possible. Say “thank you” OFTEN. Smile OFTEN.

      In the future do not allow the boss to leave without having a clear cut set of goals to be accomplished in his absence. Know what you are supposed to get done. Also, directly ask him “If I have questions, who are the best people to ask about X or Y or Z?” You may have to say to the CEO- “Will you tell so and so that I may be checking in with them?”

      Once you learn the company and the people, you will not have to keep doing this. But for now….

      1. khilde*

        NewReader – I like you more with every comment you leave. You’ve got some really solid advice. And so far one of the very few that’s really trying to give the OP the benefit of the doubt and hear what he’s trying to say!! I don’t have any advice (do I ever?), but just want to echo to OP what NewReader has said.

        And with re: to the entitled mentality: Perhaps. I can see someone making a case for OP barging into the job and being entitled based on what he told us. However, by his willingness to respond to the comments here and say “I can see it in a different light now,” tells me that he’s not so entitled that he’ll completely disregard constructive comments when he gets them. I’m 32 and absolutely cringe to think of the expectations I had of the workplace when I was in my mid to late 20s. It’s just part of the learning curve–I want to give the OP a little mercy here (unless we find out that you ignore the advice and still insist of being a dope. Then my compassion ends).

        I think the suggestion to apologize and blame it on newcomer intensity is an appropriate move in the short term. Don’t underestimate the power a sincere apology has on people. In the long term – I echo what others say to just work really hard at your job. Your CEO will take notice of you when you do the job he hired you to do without scheming of ways to highlight yourself. You’ll highlight yourself by not being the guy that needs to highlight yourself.

        Good luck – I’d love to hear an update from you on this one.

        1. NewReader*

          Thanks, khilde, I appreciate your kind words. Made my day.

          I, too, am impressed with OPs willingness to go through hoops.
          I remember being in my twenties and trying to adjust to a new job. It was horrid. It’s not much better now, but at least I have perspective and a comparative basis to work from.

          There are things that are not taught in school, such as “Do not ask for too much. It is better to prove that a new resource is needed by actually doing the work and letting circumstances show the evidence.” If you make requests such as more personnel or capital expenditures, you will probably tick someone off somewhere.

          In short, I have done my own version of what OP has done here. I honestly did not know “Make do with what you have.” I was just too enthusiastic, trying to be very helpful and oh man! it did not come off that way at all!

          Like you said- there are good things here that we need to keep in mind.
          OP definitely has something on the ball in order to get this job.
          OP realized “hey, something is not right here” so he wrote into AAM to find out.

          Knowing how to keep a job/work with others is not in our genes at birth. (It should be, though. What is up with that?) We all have our weak spot that we have to work at. I do admire OPs willingness to work at his situation. And I must say- I don’t know if I could have withstood the deluge as well as OP has.

          Lastly, OP, khilde raises an excellent point. If you want to be that rising star- give other people the opportunity to shine, too. Everyone remembers the time that someone else pointed out their excellent work. Karma. It comes back to you.

  39. Rachel*

    I have worked as an assistant to two CEO’s over the past 12 years and I can tell you that her response about needing the supervisor’s permission is code for “You are out of line, buddy”.

    Also, it’s important to know that part of the assistant’s responsibility is acting as a sort of “guard dog” for their boss. We notice potential difficult employees and/or situations and alert our bosses when appropriate.

    A similar situation has happened to me before. I kept it to myself at first because I didn’t think it was worth my boss’s time to concern her with it. But then the department manager started acting as if I WAS his assistant by bringing me assignments, and he never did ask my boss if he could. So I alerted my boss in the most professional manner I could that this new hire was potentially a bad fit as he didn’t seem to respect my boss’s authority nor my position as HER assistant first and foremost. You can bet that it pissed my boss off to have someone go around her like that. Needless to say, that department manager was watched rather closely over the next few weeks and was indeed let go after a short time.

    I would also like to add: Assistants work hard to make others look good so please respect them and lastly NEVER underestimate the power a good assistant has.

    1. Jojo*

      Definitely true, and couldn’t have said it better. There was a new member joining our team a few months ago as one of the directors. Nice lady, but she started acting as if I were her own assistant (she reports to my boss) by asking me to schedule her meetings etc. I asked my boss if there was a discussion between the two of them of what she can/can’t ask my help with. Like I said, she’s a nice lady, but apparently not one that has enough intelligence to maneuver the culture of this new team. She is being let go now, next week is her last week with the company. Not because she asked me to do stuff, but I guess when you can’t have a good (common) sense of these kind of things, the chance is you don’t have a good sense of reading your boss succesfully either. Two important things in keeping your job.

    2. Kelly O*


      And honestly part of the job is learning to stay cool and collected, no matter what is going on around you. People are going to look to you when the executive’s door is closed, and your reaction (or non-reaction) is going to go a long way to calming fears, stopping gossip in its tracks, and keeping things moving along.

      I know we’ve done the Mad Men analogy a ton of times, but if you watch the show, watch how Joan acts compared to the other secretaries, especially in the earlier episodes. I love the comparisons between her and Peggy, and how Peggy evolves and you can tell through some of her body language that she was really paying attention. No matter how frantically the legs are paddling underneath, everything looks calm and smooth on top of the water.

      I’m certainly not 100% there yet, but it’s what I’m striving toward, and part of the “meaningful learning experience” I’m taking from a less than awesome work experience.

      One more thing – you said you feel drawn to her. Well of course you do. People are drawn to those who can deal calmly and rationally with the day to day dramas of an office, and who keep the proverbial ship on an even keel. I honestly think that’s just a bit of human nature. You look for that solid center that stays the same no matter what is going on – and you pay more attention when that person raises a red flag, because it’s not common for them.

  40. Tiff*

    Yeah, I’m late to the party. I don’t really get this “entitled” vibe from the op – I’m actually wondering if English is his first language. Not that his spelling and grammar are incorrect, but I feel like something is getting lost in translation. I’m also getting the vibe that he may not be a “people person” and there could be some disconnect in how he thinks he’s being perceived vs. how he is actually perceived.

    Also, I think that he is definitely feeling the assistant. He may not be willing to move on it, but for some reason he can’t stop looking at her and she seems to have taken up a lot of his brainspace in 8 days.

    1. Jamie*

      For me it was the “I am right to be drawn to her” line.

      Like you said – not incorrect but it read more formal to me than typical speech from someone with English as their first language.

      Not that it matters, it doesn’t, but I think it’s interesting others picked up on this as well.

    2. NewReader*

      People who are inside their own heads too much, can pick out awkward wording.
      I hear complaints from engineer type people that they miss a lot of social cues. Now these are super brainy people. But in order to be excellent at their jobs, some of the nuances of how the world operates flies past them entirely. They are very focused on their own work, to the exclusion of developing people skills or learning to express their thoughts accurately, not ambiguously.
      In extreme cases, a party can be more challenging to them than any task assigned at work.

      In a parallel example, I know teachers who have no clues about how to handle money. Again, because of the intensity of their work, other things get by them. I had a family member who was a very technical person. Extremely technical. He missed the memo about the joys of having a dog. What an eye open that was.
      Simple examples- but this stuff happens.

  41. Rachel*

    As an executive assistant myself, this post just made me say “ugh.” Support staff is the only title that I can think of where it’s acceptable to say that they’re “borrowing” someone. If someone wants to “borrow” me I feel like I’m property and not a real person. I don’t know maybe I’m sensitive but it just feels degrading to me. Certainly he wouldn’t borrow a manager, analyst, or any other higher paying profession.

    1. Jamie*

      If more people would understand that if you aren’t directly producing the product (or service) or selling it we’re all support staff.

      It’s AAs and EAs as well as the CFOs, analysts, IT, HR, all of management.

  42. Rachel*

    I guess I should comment after I read the other comments, didn’t mean to pile on. This just struck a nerve since I’m an EA myself. Thanks for posting OP!

  43. iceyone*

    I can relate to this (from the side of the assistant!).

    As an already overworked assistant (because she is fantastic at her job and gets things done without being asked!) the last thing her boss would want is a new manager to come in and give her work (which they may/may not be expected to do!)

    Not only is this behavior unwanted, I would suggest it would be making the director/ceo question whether the new hire is a good fit for the company.

    My current boss has this dilemma with me (i am fantastic at my job/get asked to do things by other departments all the time!) and he has asked me to simply say “please see my boss about this request!” (if it’s something quick/someone I know needs help I don’t mind doing it! If however I think their being lazy/don’t want to do it/am super busy then I’ll say this standard line!)

    Not only would I suggest never doing this, you may have already made the hire up’s question why you need an assistant!

    To the op – stop trying to get out of work, do your job and go about proving they hired the right person!

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