terse answer Thursday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. How to hire a great administrative assistant

I keep reading that admin assistants are one of the hardest roles to hire for — and I agree totally — but I have yet to see any great advice about how to actually do it! The law office I work for is looking for a full-time admin assistant (the sole admin support for the office). The last few employees in this role have not worked out — they lacked in attention to detail, punctuality, or interaction with clients; or it was clearly a very short-term stepping-stone for them. The law office has previously had several admins work out well, for 5+ years.

The pay is competitive for the area and position, and references have been checked (though perhaps not thoroughly enough). The on-boarding wasn’t great — which we’ll correct next time — but I am also wondering if our approach to advertising and interviewing is lacking.

It’s really the same as for any other job:

* Think critically about what the must-have qualities and skills are for the role (for instance, you might want to look for people who are organized and uptight about attention to detail rather than simply people who have admin experience; you can train for the job but you can’t train for those fundamental traits).
* Write a job posting that’s engaging, and recruit aggressively from your networks as well as just posting it and passively waiting for candidates.
* Ask probing interview questions that are designed to get at your must-have’s (focusing on times that they’ve used the skills/traits you need in the past, not just on hypothetical situations).
* Always, always find ways to simulate the work so you can actually see your top candidates in action.
* And do very thorough reference-checking — including ensuring that you ask to talk to recent managers, even if they’re not on the initial reference list provided to you.

2. I don’t like the raise I’m getting with my promotion

I’ve just been promoted to a team lead role (yes!). 5 weeks after the fact they send me a “letter of offer,” which includes my new salary — that I’ve had no knowledge about until today. Here’s the bad news. It’s quite a lot less than I expected and is considerably less than one of my direct reports. What’s the usual procedure for pay increases via promotion? Is there negotiation? They’ve never discussed it with me, just this letter.

It sounds like you never discussed it with them either.

I get a surprising number of letters from people who accept promotions and try to negotiate salary afterwards. Just like with new jobs, once you’ve already accepted a promotion, you have very little negotiating power. You’ve already signaled you’re willing to do it regardless of what raise you might get. The time to negotiate the raise is before you take the promotion. You can certainly try now, but realize that you’re in a pretty weak spot.

3. Raises, part two

Is it ever okay to ask about discussing salary in an email? Per a previous conversation with my manager, I am preparing an updated description of my job and I’m going to email it to her. I would like to include something like, “I would also like to discuss salary with you sometime.” I wasn’t totally clear in my last meeting with her that I was hoping for a raise with my updated description, so I am wondering if it’s okay to say that in an email now, just to make sure we’re on the same page. Her plan is to take this updated description to our director and discuss getting my job description officially updated, and I would hope that would include a raise…but I’m worried that instead I will just be rewarded with a new job description with more duties than I previously had and no raise to compensate for it. As a little background, I am updating my description because my responsibilities have significantly increased over the past year and a half and I’m doing a much different job than what I started out with two and a half years ago.

Yes, but don’t word it that way. You don’t want to discuss salary with her “sometime.” You want to discuss it in conjunction with this new role. As with the question above, if you accept the new role without first agreeing on salary, you will lose all your negotiating power. So instead say something like, “I’d also like to discuss my salary in light of the increased responsibilities I’ve taken on in the last year.” However, there’s also no need to foreshadow it in the email — you can just bring it up in person the next time you meet (which is probably what I’d do). (And if you have no regular meetings, ask for one.)

4. Responding to emails from candidates who are out of the running

I am chairing a search for a position that will report directly to me. After combing through about 30 applications, my hiring committee offered interviews to our top 7 candidates, and 4 followed through with the interview. There were two stand-out candidates and two who were not such a good fit. We are following our next steps with the two candidates we are still interested in. My question is that I have received follow-up calls and emails from the two candidates who we are no longer interested in, including one who was so presumptuous that even if I had been interested in him, the call and email could have changed my mind. It is our policy not to dismiss any candidate until an offer is made. How do I respond to these two candidates? I don’t want to give them false hope.

I’m a big believer that you should reject candidates once you know for sure that they’re out of the running. But if you’re bound by some policy from above you that won’t let you do that yet, then you can respond with what your likely timeline is for getting back to people. (If you’re allowed, it would also be kind to say something like, “While we don’t expect to make a final decision until X, we’re identified two finalists who we’re currently moving forward with.”)

5. What to wear for a thank-you coffee

I’m buying coffee for a partner of a big four accounting firm on Friday. I’ve been working on a job search for a staff accountant position for a year. My friend connected me with their brother — the partner — who’s been an enormous help getting my resume and cover letter in front of the right people. I offered to buy the partner coffee as a way of saying “thank you.”

I suppose it’s natural to want to make a good impression, but when does my desire to make that impression become over the top? Do I wear jeans and a button down? A shirt and tie? A three-piece suit? Should I bring a copy of my resume, just in case? In such a situation, where is that fine line between sloppy and overdone?

Wear what you’d wear to work in that industry, so in this case it’s probably a shirt and tie. Do bring a copy of your resume, but only bring it out if you’re asked.

6. Blackballed by last employer

I worked for a law firm for years until my coworker threw a chair at me. He is the son of the managing partner, so they refused to fire him or reassign him somewhere away from me and in the end they laid me off claiming “lack of work.” I consulted with a few lawyers who basically told me that suing lawyers for anything was pointless because of their connections and lack of legal fees.

They have now blackballed me out of the legal field by giving bad references to other firms I have applied with (I had a lawyer friend call for me and check) and I am finally starting to get interviews outside of the legal field. I have an interview next week and I don’t know what to say if they ask about why I left my last job. I worry that if I say I was laid off that they are going to call my former employer and get a terrible earful. Any advice?

This is a situation where I’d be really direct, especially since you don’t really have any other good choices: “My coworker threw a chair at me. He was the son of the managing partner, and relations haven’t been good since. But I have tons of other references who can speak to my performance and what I’m like to work with.”

7. Receptionist is never at her desk

I’m currently an accountant, but in my previous job, I was a receptionist and accountant. I now have a coworker who is the receiptionist for our department and who is constantly away from her desk. Sometimes she announces she’s stepping away, and other times she just disappears. At least once every 30 minutes, she is away from her desk. This is very disrupting to my day because i have to cover her. I feel from being the receptionist previously, that one should ALWAYS be at their desk, with the exception of bathroom breaks and the standard lunch and 2 breaks per day. I feel she is being completely unproffessional and inconsiderate. She’s been here for many years and I’m not sure if I should say something or not.

It’s not really your call whether the receptionist should always be at her desk with the exception of breaks; I think you’re being overly rigid on that. That’s really her manager’s call, and should depend on how many visitors and calls your office gets. However, it is your business that you have to cover for her every 30 minutes — that would be disruptive to anyone. So talk to your manager and explain how frequently you’re having to cover for her, but leave the judgment out of it and stick to the facts: You don’t mind covering for her on lunch, breaks, and bathroom runs, but you’ve having to cover for her every 30 minutes, and it’s getting in the way of your being able to do your own work.

This is a problem that your manager needs to deal with.

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. Tax Nerd*

    #5 Standard candidate attire in the Big Four is full suit, including jacket and tie. (But not three-piece, as that’s kind of dated.) This isn’t an official interview, but it may be an unofficial interview, so dress for one. If the weather is sweltering where you live, you can take the jacket off at the coffee shop when you sit down unless the partner is wearing a jacket and keeps it on. This is your dress rehearsal for a situation where you’re meeting a potential client, and they want to see that you recognize wear-a-suit occasions.

    1. #5*

      Hi, I’m #5. Thank you for taking my question, and thank you Tax Nerd for you insight! Anyone else have an idea of the dress code at a Big 4 firm?

        1. Tax Nerd*

          Thanks for the vote of confidence, AAM!

          #5 – I worked in the Big Four for ten years, and I was on both sides of the interviewing table. The official dress code for most offices is business casual, though more business than casual. For candidates, especially new hires, a suit is expected at interviews, because they want to see that you’re capable of scrounging one up and looking presentable and comfortable in it. Someday you’ll have to meet clients wearing one, and they don’t want to find out then that you have to borrow your dad’s leisure suit from the 70’s. For that reason, they want to see you in one at the interview.

          I know this is a ‘thank you’ coffee, but rest assured that the partner is going to go back to the office and give his opinion of your general business acumen to the people who received your resume from him. Showing up casually dressed when you’re trying to impress the one person who can put your resume in front of the right people is not going to fly, because part of the job is to wear a suit when you want to impress. My bosses always donned a suit for a client meeting, even if the client was business casual. If you hate and loathe wearing a suit, you will not go far in public accounting unless you hide your discomfort with a smile.

          1. #5*

            Thanks for all the insight, Tax Nerd. I really enjoy wearing a suit, and am glad that’s your advice. I suppose it can never hurt to try to look your best!

    2. Nameless*

      Thanks Tax Nerd, one time a recruiter (former BIG4) asked me to meet for coffee. I went there dressed in business casual and he came on without a jacket but with a tie. The first thing he did was apologize for not wearing a suit and I felt bad because at least he had a tie and I just had a shirt and pants. Lesson learnt – always dress BUSINESS!

      Unrelated question but still accounting #Tax Nerd – I worked 2 years as a tax associate at a local CPA firm, left to start a business (not accounting related) and 3 years later I am trying to get back into public accounting but want to get into auditing, what’s the easiest way to transition? I am currently working as a staff accountant?

            1. anon*

              Thank you for letting me know that! It’s been one of those words that drives me crazy. I did google it before I made the comment and didn’t see a reference to it. Obviously, I should have gone beyond the first few entries.

              I always learn new things from this blog!

              Thanks, Amouse!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Let’s not correct other people’s typos here (or even our own, for that matter). It’s unnecessary. This is a comments section; people aren’t expected to write perfectly.

          1. anon*

            I’m not correcting a typo (except my own). It’s a word I’ve seen used often that sounds incorrect. Amouse has set me straight. It is used in other countries correctly. Here, not so much.

            And I’ve seen you, and others correct folks on incorrect words before so did not feel out of line for taking a moment to correct it here. But, as I said, Amouse has set me straight.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think I have, actually, with the exception of asking people not to use text speak. In any case, I discourage it — I’d like people to feel free to comment here without feeling that they’re going to be graded on stuff like this. (An exception would be someone writing poorly and wondering why she wasn’t getting interviews.)

  2. I'm#2*

    Hello, I wrote in with qu#2. I agree I’m in a weak position and normally I wouldn’t have let myself get to this point, I should explain.. The company performed a “restructure” where we had to preference for 3x positions. One of the one’s I preferenced was this role, it meant a promotion for me, but equally someone else could have been chosen who was already at that grade level for the role.

    Add to my woes that I was on holiday when the outcome of he restructure was announced and I pretty much walked back into work into this new role with no real option to say yes or no – as I had nothing specific to say no to – if that makes sense? It has been assumed the whole way that I won’t decline, hence they have me over this barrel. I actually worked out that I’ll be no better off financially than in my previous role (before promotion) and they’ll expect me to be “available” 24/7/365 – apparently this is different to “on-call” – I personally fail to see the distinction.

    I could say that it’s just not worth my while (which it’s not) and to demote me to my old position – but they could just say, there’s no position there any more (which is half true, but half not). I’m wondering whether they think enough of me to back down on that one… The whole thing has left me very de-motivated. I have a 1:1 with my boss tomorrow, he will likely bring this up.

    1. saro*

      Why don’t you just tell your boss that you were expecting a bigger raise? And then start negotiating?
      My old company had a tendency to ‘rush’ you into signing new contracts when given a promotion. I just told them that before they draft anything, I wanted to discuss my raise. I was already ‘acting’ in the new position. I was friendly but very matter of fact. I just acted like it was the normal course of things to get a raise (which is not really my style but am trying to be better about these sort of things).

      My colleague, b/c she was out on vacation, told them that she wanted a raise even though they had already drafted the contract. They gave her a raise. Good luck!

    2. Grace*

      I understand your situation. A few years ago, the same happened to me, although it was a complete surprise. When I came back from maternity leave, an office-wide memo went out that I’d been promoted! So whoever checked their email first actually found out before I did. And of course, there was no raise.

      I think since you have new responsibilities and must be available around the clock, you have a good case for a higher raise. But I think you’ll have to take the position, because the ramifications for declining it are too high. You can always start looking for a new job. Or maybe you’ll find after some time in the position that you do like the new role and the extra time demands are not too frequent. But I know how demoralizing it is to not be monetarily valued at work. Good luck in your meeting tomorrow!

    3. Jamie*

      You mention pay grade. Often times (not always) in companies with fixed pay grades there isn’t much room for negotiation since each position has a pre-determined range.

      This is one reason they may not have discussed money with you prior to the promotion (although they should have) – maybe they thought you knew the pay based on the grade of the new job?

      Just one consideration.

      1. New_to_this*

        The company I work for considers their salary grades commercially sensitive and so they are not published anywhere in the organisation. I don’t think even senior managers know the grades, they are told the mid-point of the grades when they recruit new hires, but the range is completely unknown – except to HR (I assume). The whole situation is very weird in that sense, so I had no idea what the range might be or where I was in my previous range to know where I might fit in the new one. Confusing much?

  3. Henning Makholm*

    I’m wondering what can possibly motivate an explicit policy not to reject anyone until a hire has been made. I can see the sense in keeping the first few runners-up in the process in case negotiations with your current first choice break down, but even ones where you know you’d rather repost the position than hire them?

    Is there a reason companies do this that I cannot see? The most tangible benefit I can imagine is that it makes it slightly easier to brush off the occasional rejected candidate who tries to argue the decision.

    1. KellyK*

      I don’t get it either. The only other explanation that comes to my mind is that if someone wants to claim discrimination based on a protected class, it might be easier to refute if you have a candidate selected (so that you could say, “No, that has nothing to do with it; the person we hired has more Chocolate Teapot experience than you did.” or even “The person we hired was also [protected class].”

      It seems far-fetched (and not necessarily useful), but I can totally picture it coming from a legal CYA angle. Other than that, I’ve got nothing

    2. Joey*

      Laziness. It’s frequently easier to reject everyone at once. Some applicant systems are set up to notify all applicants once a vacancy is filled. Other times people don’t want to keep tabs on who has received rejections and who hasn’t so they send one mass rejection and bcc everyone.

      1. Anonymous*

        Ha, I wonder if that’s what happened to me yesterday. I got a form rejection letter from a job *I* turned down nearly a month ago!

        1. saro*

          This happened to me, except I turned them down a year earlier and then they sent me a form rejection letter!

    3. Liz*

      The question from #4 struck me as callous and entitled, rather shockingly so. I don’t think there’s a policy. I think the writer is just self-absorbed.

      1. Question #4 asker*

        Actually, I am the original letter writer and work for a Political Subdivision of the State of New York where we have very specific rules and regulations on the hiring process. I feel bad that I can’t dismiss these candidates because I don’t want them wasting their energy on pursuing this position.

        1. Liz*

          Please don’t start a response with “actually.” It sounds… what was your word again? Presumptuous.

          I don’t think we see the same thing in the situation. I’m fine leaving it at that.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Agreed! I think the OP should push back more against this policy (and sound more concerned about treating candidates well), but I don’t have a problem with “actually” and so forth…

  4. Elle*

    Maybe I’m missing something but I can’t understand why you wouldn’t get the heck out of dodge as soon as your work situation began to deteriorate so badly that someone threw a chair at you. I wouldn’t have waited until they fired me. This cannot be a large firm because they have anti-nepotism policies. This can only be a small firm and their reputation would have preceded them in this market in a way that would have smoothed over a lot of the bad reference, if you could have gotten out before being fired.

    Also, mentors!

    1. B*

      My assumption is that she was laid off, not fired (which is a very big difference). This way she was still able to collect unemployment.

      In addition, your assumption about their reputation preceding them is a bit off base. Some places you truly do not know about, a large or small firm, until you are in it. And sometimes you do not have the luxury to wait out for a better position to come along.

      1. Elle*

        I mean that the firm’s reputation as unprofessional would be known in a small marketplace such that a bad reference shouldn’t destroy her legal career. Lawyers work with other lawyers. Crappily run, unprofessional firms are known about. If he threw a chair at you, he’s probably thrown a chair at someone else.

        Also, get mentors so that they can serve as references.

    2. Suzanne*

      I can tell you why you’d stay. A paycheck. Many of us don’t have the luxury of not working. I quit a horrible job a few years ago with no prospects lined up (first time I’d ever, ever done that) and it took me 6 months to find even a temp job. I still don’t have what I would consider a good job and that year long job to quit stint has come up in interviews more than once. It’s hard to gloss over, as saying “It wasn’t a good fit” can be interpreted either as “I worked for a bunch of soul eating lunatics” (true) or “I’m a prima donna” (not true) depending on the interviewer. I have a good reference from that position but the potential employer has to get that far first.

      1. Anonymous*

        I am in the same position, Suzanne. When I have made it to interviews, I’ve also gotten the impression interviewers think I was fired and am not being honest about leaving on my own terms. It’s very frustrating not to be able to be honest about a toxic environment, a bullying boss, and subsequent high turnover.

      2. A Bug!*

        In addition to this excellent point, in my experience, a lot of smaller law firms are really, really dysfunctional. Legal assistants often put up with an awful lot just as part of being employed as such, so sometimes a person’s perspective can be warped as to what are reasonable workplace expectations.

        1. Anon*

          This is slightly off-topic but I am currently marathoning Ally McBeal which is a comedy-drama parody of a law firm. I would highly recommend that series to any frustrated legal assistants who need a good laugh.

            1. Anon*

              ha! I’ve have to check that one out. When I was hating my office job a few years back watching The Office really helped get through it. I figure for a legal assistant maybe some of the same principles could apply :-)

  5. RE #4*

    I went through 3 rounds of interviews about 2 months ago for a company. Since my 2nd interview the job has been reposted a handful of times. It seems clear that the company is not happy with their batch of candidates. I finally followed up after 3 weeks of not hearing back and was told they were finishing interviews and would let me know a decision by X date. I followed up a week after that date passed, and after seeing the job was reposted AGAIN on the date they told me a decision would be made. I emailed HR stating I’d noticed the job was posted numerous times since our meeting and wanted to know if they’d moved on/started the search process all over again. I mean, after 2 months I deserve some type of answer! Unfortunately, HR gave me another bs answer stating they were conducting a few more interviews and would let me know their decision “soon.” That was 2 weeks ago. At this stage if they’re still searching I’m clearly not a front runner and I’m incredibly frustrated/confused as to why they won’t just cut me loose.

    1. Josh S*

      “I mean, after 2 months I deserve some type of answer!”

      You’re right–you *do* deserve some type of answer. But recognize the reality of the situation–you aren’t going to get a straight answer out of this company. Mentally drop it and move on. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a pleasant call someday. If not, you’re already acting to further your interests.

      1. Liz*

        I think the universe accidentally gave me your closing moment :) I literally was called yesterday with a rejection for a job that I interviewed for exactly two months ago. I took something else in the meantime, luckily. Good luck with your search! Some of the interviewers out there are just unbelievable! A friend of mine was just burned by the infamous courtesy interview, and another got the “we want you to work full-time hours as a volunteer but we won’t even consider you when a paid position opens” treatment.

  6. Number 6*

    Hello! I’m #6. Thanks for answering my question. Being honest seemed like the best approach, but the general advice you get for these thing is to put a positive spin on it. I couldn’t really figure out how to do that.

    Just to answer Elle, the work situation wasn’t all that bad. Nepotism for certain with the partner’s son getting paid to basically come in the office and do his homework all day, but the pay was decent and I enjoyed the work and the attorneys that I was working with. He has a history of violence (fighting at school, in the street) but had never acted out in the office before. While it was unexpected at the time, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. (And, yes, it is a small firm, but it is a newer firm made up of a few lawyers from a larger, more respected firm that closed their doors a few years back. I think they are still coasting on that reputation.)

    I’m just looking forward to being able to get this all behind me!

    1. K.*

      I dated a guy who worked at a giant international law firm, and his boss, a partner at the firm, threw office supplies (staplers, etc.) with some regularity. I asked “Does he throw them just around, out of frustration, or does he throw them AT you?” He replied, “Both. I have quick reflexes.”

      1. Ivy*

        Lol K, that sounds like something Boston Legal. I’ve dodge markers before (from profs so not exactly a working environment). Staplers are a lot heftier though and those hurt when they hit you!

        1. Liz*

          I had a boss who threw a phone. It ripped the cord out of the wall and he had to make up an excuse story to cover when he had to ask to have it repaired.

    2. Mike C.*

      Do you know how long I’ve been trying to shoehorn the phrase “six of one, half a dozen of another” into a response to you? Bah, it’s just not working.

      Now that you know you can just tell future employers that “I left because they threw furniture at me”, do you have any other crazy stories to share? :p

      Also, I too used to work at a really crazy place, and I want you to know that it will take some time, but it’s possible to transition into something much better. Just know it will take some time. :)

    3. Anon*

      If the lawyers were from a nationally known lawfirm, I might be inclined to tip off some of their crazier behavior (perhaps not the chair-throwing thing, since you want to be able to tell people about that without it being linked to you) to abovethelaw.com. That’s their bread and butter, and everyone in the legal community reads it; getting the firm known as crazy might lessen the impact of them trying to blackball you.

    4. Nodumbunny*

      I’m pretty sure Alison would not approve of this, but I’ve been in a similar situation and called the old boss to tell them I knew what they were up to and to remind them that it wasn’t in the best interests of their reputation for me to spread my side of the story. On the other hand, they were guilty of sexual harassment (not of me, but I was the reporter) which raises more liability issues than chair-throwing. At least, right up until the chair hits you.

  7. Sabrina*

    #1. Hire an AA based on their experience. Someone with an MBA or other degree who’s never done AA work is likely not going to stick around long.

    1. Sabrina*

      That posted too soon.

      I also wanted to say that I see a lot of AA postings now that want at least a bachelor’s degree, which I don’t think is necessary for the role, especially if they have the experience to back it up. I also hear people with advanced degrees saying they’ll just apply for an AA job as if it’s easy and something they can do to bide their time. It makes me wonder if they are getting the AA jobs and if that’s why I see them reposted so often.

      1. ChristineH*

        I have an advanced degree and have thought off-and-on about applying for AA jobs myself, even if on a temporary basis. The only thing stopping me is the dreaded “overqualified” label.

        Also wanted to point out that the AA jobs at my university all require a bachelors degree, sometimes higher, and other fairly meaty skills.

        1. Maria*

          I’ve applied to many openings and never get called even though I have lot of stellar AA experience. in spite of my advanced degree. I do think “overqualified” is a factor.

      2. Anon*

        I wonder if the same people who bemoan the fact that AAs don’t stay in the job for long are the same ones requiring a bachelors for the role. It seems crazy to me – I know it’s an employer’s market right now, but surely most graduates will use the AA position as a stepping stone to something else, rather than committing to the AA role for several years?

        1. Jaded Admin Assistant*

          I used to think that too because that’s what my admin job is. But no, some people really do love it and are proud of it as their profession. And i totally respect that. We need people in the world like that. That’s just not me.

          1. Rachel*

            Me either! 12 years as an AA/EA and I have an advanced degree, and I only get those positions because that’s only been my experience, and these jobs have no room for growth, so I’m stuck.

      3. Kelly O*

        I will add that it is endlessly frustrating to have an Associate’s and not be “qualified” for all these administrative support roles because I don’t have a Bachelor’s.

        The job will clearly describe things well in my skill set, sometimes even less complex or confidential. But they require a Bachelors. Don’t apply if you don’t have it.

        I mean I would seriously consider the proverbial Underwater Basketweaving if I thought it would help.

        It frustrates me even more because I know people use those positions to get in a company, prove themselves, and move on. I want to do the same thing, but I never even get the chance to prove what I can do, because my circumstances at 20 didn’t allow me to go farther in college.

        (And can I also say I really, really get tired of hearing people who don’t know specifics about others situations start judging you because you “only” have an Associates, or “only” got through two or three years of college. I mean really, who are you anyway? – excuse me while I climb down off that soapbox.)

        I will add, as way of suggestion, that you want someone who can be calm, even when things are hectic and crazy. Even in the calmest of offices, the admin can have fifty things going on at once and needs to be able to deal with them all, without losing her stuff. (Literal and figurative.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Kelly, if you’re not already, apply for some of those jobs that require a bachelors. Sometimes the requirement isn’t really that rigid, even though it’s in the ad.

          1. Amouse*

            Agreed. My current admin job “required” a Bachelors and I applied and got it because of experience and my ability to speak french. You never know what random skill they might be looking for. In my case I had no idea my french immersion would come in so handy later in life.

            Job descriptions in postings always look like requirements for the Nobel Peace Prize. Apply anyway.

            Also may I suggest admin jobs in academia? Usually (at least here in Canada) admin jobs at universities or affiliated organizations are usually unionized and pay really well compared to the rest of the market.
            Good luck Kelly O.

        2. Anonymous*

          Agreed with the others. I know how frustrating it is to see, but I apply to stuff anyway. My current job (receptionist/admin that actually pays pretty well) required a Bachelors, and I’ve only completed two years with no degree, but I got the job anyway.

      4. Sara*

        I’ve been trying for YEARS to get an AA position, but haven’t so far–I have alot of transferrable skills from my other jobs and some office background…..but I don’t know what employers want, and it drives me crazy when someone says “why don’t you apply for admin jobs?” Makes me wanna rip my hair out in frustration. (same goes for receptionist, office assistant jobs etc)

        1. Jamie*

          The problem is there is such a wide range of duties that fall under the admin umbrella.

          Much like a job in IT, the only thing you know is that it involved computers in some way – but there’s a wide spectrum.

          What an employer wants in an entry level admin jobs which involve reception and filing, etc. is different from a higher level admin with strong specific skills in office software, business reports, accounting, schedule management, event planning, or a million other things.

          The two things I think all admin positions require are really strong attention to detail and people skills. Without those I don’t know how you can be successful (general you) no matter how good you are. There is more multitasking required with these jobs than most.

          I really wish, on behalf of you and others who are frustrated, that employers would figure out exactly what they want and be clear in he ad. The scope of the positions is too vast to expect people to intuit what the job entails without details.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People aren’t generally looking for MBAs for admin work, but it’s also the case that experience isn’t always the whole story with this position. In my experience, I’ve often gotten much better results by hiring admins for traits like detailed-orientedness, being uptight about logistics, etc. than I have by hiring career admins. For that role, I often found that in an especially fast-paced office, it was easier to train the right person than to hire someone who was used to a different pace or way of doing things.

      1. Kelly O*

        The only time I’ve seen Masters-level requirements that really made sense to me was for a person to help manage some graduate assistants that were doing case studies for a group of doctors who are also instructors.

        But, this person also needed some really high-level skills that your average two year program or even five to ten years of admin experience wouldn’t realistically provide. And it was a rather specific Masters requirement that would sort of naturally eliminate people who weren’t right for the role. The plus for the person hired is that her background was Healthcare IT Administration, and this gave her a whole other set of skills to help her move in her career once the study was over. I think that was a two year contract, but it was worth it for everyone involved.

        But that’s a rather unique and specific case, and wasn’t necessarily your receptionist, office manager, or general admin. I know some people at executive level who have assistants with advanced degrees, but I will say that most of the EAs I know with Masters degrees got them while they were still working, and have been with executive level individuals for some time. Again, you’re talking higher-level things than basic day to day office management.

  8. Long Time Admin*

    For OP # 1 – There are office workers, and there are Administrative Professionals. If you want a professional, go to a professional association and find out who in the membership is looking for a new job.

    I suggest The International Association of Administrative Professionals (www.iaap-hq.org). Click “About”, then “Chapter Locator”. There will be contact information on the chapter’s website. I’ll be surprised if you don’t find a great candidate there.

    1. MaryTerry*

      While I think this is a great idea, just remember that all great admins are not part of a professional association. (Kelly O – comments?)

    2. AnotherAdmin*

      @Long Time Admin – you stole my answer! Definitely use the IAAP as a way to find someone who sees being an admin as a profession and not a stepping stone.

      Also, ask questions about the candidate’s professional development. Being an admin is a lot more than typing letters and answering phones and good/professional admins continually pursue training to keep us with the latest innovations and trends. Look for candidates that have (or are interested in getting) CAP certification (IAAP) or Microsoft Office suite certs, etc.

      At my current job, during my interview, my boss-to-be asked who prepared my resume. I was shocked – I’m an admin, that’s what I do! Turns out the previous admin had been “a piece of work” and only lasted a few months, so feeling a bit burned by that experience, I got the full on strobe and probe.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t know about where you guys are, but here a lot of admin jobs don’t pay very much. There are still receptionist positions where that person is the sole administrative support in the office and they are giving compensation that doesn’t allow for much in the way of training, and barely enough to live on. IAAP and certificates are expensive.

        1. anon*

          I agree with Elizabeth-
          “I don’t know about where you guys are, but here a lot of admin jobs don’t pay very much. There are still receptionist positions where that person is the sole administrative support in the office and they are giving compensation that doesn’t allow for much in the way of training, and barely enough to live on. IAAP and certificates are expensive.”

          Very true.

    3. ThomasT*

      While I agree with the other responses to this comment that an association isn’t the only way to find a good admin, I do think you need to be very clear about what you’re trying to hire for and ensure that your compensation matches that. At my organization, we’ve been clear that our budget (and in some ways our mission) benefit by hiring a smart entry-level person with interest in our field. But we do that knowing that they will move up or move out within 2-3 years, tops. And they don’t walk in the door as great AAs – the successful ones learn quickly, have innate customer service and organizational skills, can imagine and anticipate needs, and don’t consider the work beneath them intellectually.

      If you want to hire a solid, career administrative professional, the payscale is different, and you need to make sure that you are reaching out to those people, and not the ones who see it as an early step on the career ladder. A law firm should be able to get a pretty quick return on investment through increased billable hours for attorneys and paralegals when the administrative support is top-notch.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s always been my approach too, ThomasT, and it has generally gotten me better results than when I deviated from it and hired a career admin. Obviously, this not always the case and I’m in no way knocking career admins — but in my experience, for this role it’s worked better when I’ve hired someone with the right innate skills and trained them.

      2. TL*


        Also, as a non-career admin looking for entry-level admin jobs (with the idea of hopefully moving up in the company over time), it helps me when an ad clearly states that they’re looking for a career admin. I can avoid wasting my time on an application, and the hiring manager isn’t bothered with a candidate that doesn’t fit.

        However, I’ve noticed an alarming number of ads that ARE requesting long-term admins…and then the salary is something you’d expect for an entry-level, non-career job. I am, on occasion, tempted to apply for these, because I know that career admins can get better and probably won’t apply. So, yes, make sure the salary matches the expected length of commitment.

    4. Kelly O*

      A couple of things – and I’m replying to LTA and Elizabeth here. I’m an IAAP member, although I’m lapsed right now because I need to pay my dues and quite frankly it’s not in the budget at the moment. I’ve never had a company pay my dues – it has always come directly from my own pocket, as well as 90% of my own professional development.

      I’m a member at large. I do not belong to any one chapter, and this is why. Every time I have joined a chapter, I have found it was considered more a social thing than a truly business networking environment. Perhaps it was the chapters I was associated with, perhaps I expected too much. One chapter in particular had an annual seminar – and they proceeded to blow through the material, every year, so they could move to the social portion of the day.

      So I’m a member, but you could call me backsliding I guess. I’ve considered joining the virtual chapter that was started some months ago, just to see if it’s less cliquey and social and more actually oriented to business.

      I will also add that part of what makes me frustrated is an ad will say “competitive salary” and then I find out it’s $12/hour. I have been with my current company nearly three years, and I just barely make over $13/hour. No insurance. I mean, until recently they had it, but there was no way I could afford it and still be able to swing the other financial responsibilities I have.

      I guess I’d say be realistic about what you want, what you’re willing to pay, and the potential trade-off you’re going to make between those two. I know some career admins who are awesome. I never intended to be a career admin, and quite frankly I don’t know that I want to – my goals are different and they’re changing as I evolve. But it’s a great way to get in a company, learn how it works, and figure out what path would be best for you.

      Now, if you know anyone in North/Northeast Houston who needs an admin who is dying to move into an HR/Organizational & Training Development area, please, give me a call. No Bachelor’s Degree, but I will work my ass off. That used to count for something. (/end cynical rant.)

  9. Anonymous*

    I guess I picked the wrong decade to try to be less cynical. I really shouldn’t be stunned by ask A MANAGER’s response to #2: chastise the employee instead of management for not discussing salary. This wasn’t a new hire. This was a promotion for a current employee. Good management–even bad managers with good intentions–would have discussed salary when offering the promotion. If this is how they treat their good employees I’d hate to hear how they treat their customers. If #2’s management isn’t open to negotiating the salary then #2 has got to leave. Losing someone they wanted to give more responsibility is the only way they might learn the lesson, but I doubt they’ll be that self-aware. More importantly, #2 has to get away from a bad company. The lesson here for employees is simply not to trust management. If you don’t keep them honest they will take advantage of you.

    1. fposte*

      Nobody’s saying that it’s cool for management to do these things. The point is that when they do, you can either hope it’ll mean what you want, or you can ask for what you want. (Another one of those “employment is like relationships” things.)

    2. Patti*

      I agree that management should have discussed with her up front, but the point is they didn’t. And there is nothing the OP can do to make them bring it up. If she wants something to happen, she needs to make it happen. And she won’t know if they’re open to it until she asks. Blaming management won’t get her a raise, even if they did handle it poorly.

      P.S., That doesn’t make them a bad company.

    3. Natalie*

      I can predict Allison’s answer!

      The manager didn’t write in, the employee did. Advice for the manager, who isn’t listening, isn’t really going to help the employee.

    4. Ivy*

      I don’t really think management is necessarily taking advantage of OP2, and I think the “don’t trust management” sentiment is a little extreme. There are many cases where management is blatantly taking advantage of their employees, but this doesn’t yet feel like one of them. I don’t think we can expect our managers to watch out for us the way we watch after ourselves. It is up to each individual to carve out their career and that includes negotiating pay. Raises and promotions don’t usually just drop on your lap (or they are few and far between). Yes, in the perfect situation management would have approached OP2 first, but I don’t think its showing they’re a bad company yet. Now if they refuse to discuss it when OP2 approaches them, then that might be a red flag. Really though, I feel like OP2 is in the position of anyone asking for a raise in their company after they have taken on more work.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What everyone else said.

      And really Anonymous, employers are not your mommy. You need to advocate for yourself. It’s a business arrangement on both sides.

    6. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      What others have said, and also I feel it’s worth saying that it’s the employee’s job to look out for #1. Your company has a vested interest in paying you the minimum amount they need to in order to keep you at work and humming. While they have an interest in paying you well ENOUGH, they have no reason to go out of their way to pay you more than they think you’ll take. And especially in this case, they GAVE a raise for the position. They have no idea what “enough” is in this case. And if you accepted the promotion without ever discussing a raise, it sorta implies you’re willing to take it without a raise at all… they probably thought they were being generous!

      I’ve had this conversation with people dissatisfied with a raise that they got, even though they didn’t negotiate. They didn’t feel valued because they didn’t just get offered more. No, he offered you the bare minimum of what he thought you would take and, guess what? You took it! If you want to make more money, YOU have to ask for it. That’s it.

    7. Josh S*

      You are always your own best advocate.

      If you don’t stand up for yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to.

      In the business world, it would be great if employers brought up compensation and raises on a regular basis. But it just doesn’t happen, and it’s a bit naive to expect them to. If you want a raise–even when it should be obviously expected as part of a promotion–you need to be sure you take the steps to make that happen.

  10. Joey*

    #4. I would argue to your employer that people out of the running are not actually candidates anymore since they’re no longer in the running. They go back to just being an applicant. The candidates should only be the folks who are actually being considered who you haven’t totally dismissed as you progress through the hiring process.

  11. some1*

    #1 I have worked as an admin for 10 years, 6 in a law office. At my last job, after the interview, I was asked to complete three writing samples as a test. (Ex. “Write an email to X client saying you are sending them a report and when it will arrive, and what they need to do with it next.”)They were three common scenarios that the position would have to deal with. For example, you might have your candidate draft letters that they will be sending out each each day.

    I would also address in the interview specific examples that will some up & how s/he will handle it. “An angry client shows up without an appointment and his attorney is out for the day. What do you do?” “You received a response from opposing counsel but you realize they forgot to include X or Y in the materials, what do you do?” Don’t worry if you have specific policies in place, these are just hypotheticals to gauge the candidates instincts and experience.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One modification to the second paragraph: Don’t ask hypothetical “how would you handle X” questions. Ask them to tell about about an actual time they had to handle something that requires the skills you’re looking for. Much easier to BS your way through the hypothetical questions than the “tell me about a time when…” questions.

      1. A Bug!*

        Ah, yes, the difference between “Well, I would try to work with the upset customer to determine the root of his issue, and then offer the best solution available to me,” and “I told him to eff off and hung up.”

      2. Kelly O*

        I really dislike the hypothetical situation questions, because most people can B.S. their way through them. I know the *right* answer, but will I do it every time? Will the *right* answer always be the *right* one? It’s a long story and kind of an inside joke, but I mean, what if Jesus was a mongoose?

        Being able to explain about a past event can also show what you learned, either from what went right, or what went wrong. One of the things I think that gets overlooked in the hiring process is – what did you learn from failure? So you have two years worth of six month jobs. It looks like job hopping, but what did you learn? (And then, hiring manager – LISTEN. Not just to what I’m telling you, but what I’m not saying.)

        I have found that sometimes I learn way more from failure than I do from success. I really appreciate an interviewer or manager who can understand that, instead of seeing “failure” and moving on.

        1. anon*

          “It’s a long story and kind of an inside joke, but I mean, what if Jesus was a mongoose? ”

          Oh Kelly, please please expain this!!

  12. OP #3*

    Thank you, Alison! I do like that wording better. I telecommute most of the week and my manager is often out of the office when I am there, so we don’t have many opportunities to speak in person. I would have to set up a meeting with her, so I was concerned about the best way to word that. I don’t want to come off sounding demanding or entitled – however she is the type of person who appreciates plain, straightforward language and there is no need to sugarcoat or beat around the bush with her.

  13. Brett*

    #7 sounds like they are “covering” the desk without being asked. Especially given that they notice the desk empty without any notice. It sounds like constant coverage may not be the norm in that office.

    1. KellyK*

      That’s a good point. They should definitely clarify with their boss whether that’s expected, and–if it is–point out the impact and ask how to handle that.

    2. anon*

      I had a long term temp position where I was required to check the kitchen 2x a day and restock as needed. They were very generous with coffees/teas/supplies and so sometimes it would take more than a few minutes. And I was required to do the same with the 2 copy rooms on opposite ends of the floor – so, one trip to see what was needed/one trip to go to the supply closet and grab what I needed. Oh, plus sort the mail and put it in mailboxes on opposite ends of the floor. And direct guests to the numerous conference rooms. And set-up/clear those conference rooms. Your receptionist may have similar duties and so her being away from her desk is expected by her manager.

      1. anon*

        and no, they wanted the kitchen and copy rooms to be stocked twice a day – no overstocking /doing once a day or a few times a week to save me time and keep me at my desk.

  14. Louis*

    For #2

    “… and is considerably less than one of my direct reports.”

    I don’t think this relevent to the pay you are getting. I a lot of field, hard to get technical knowledge is worth more on the market than management skills.

    A pro hocket/baseball/backetball/… coach doesn’t earn more than his players.

    An IT projet manager make less than the technical expert on his projet.

    It might not apply to your situation, but the pay you are getting is based on your market value. They pay of your employe is based on their market value. The two aren’t related.

    1. Jamie*

      Louis makes an important point. A recent thread addressed a manager earning less than her report, and that’s more common than people think. How much you earn really boils down to the scarcity of your skill set (how hard are you to replace?) and how well you negotiate.

      1. Grace*

        All true, but in a number of industries there are still more clear divisions. If you were the Chocolate Teapot Marketing Coordinator and then were promoted to the manager of that department, you would expect to make more than your reports.

        1. A Bug!*

          Yes, you’re absolutely right, but I do think it’s a valuable point to make that “A is higher on the org chart than B” does not necessarily mean “A is worth more than B”.

          Some people get it in their head that their spot on the report ladder is more significant than the value they actually bring to the company. It’s an easy mistake to make, so it’s worth pointing out that while sometimes it correlates it’s not a direct cause-and-effect.

  15. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    RE: #1: I totally agree with requiring candidates to complete a simulation exercise. For my current position, all the top candidates (about 15) had to do a test before interviews were even offered. It consisted of an Excel spreadsheet with a small amount of data (4 lines and 4 columns), a Word document with the org letterhead, and instructions to write a letter detailing conclusions that could be found from the data, including a chart. It required you to know how to sort the data, create a table from the data and copy/paste it into Word, do a basic data analysis, and compose a quick note summarizing the information. And it absolutely is stuff I do every single day. Those that couldn’t do it within 20 minutes (or at least most of it) were not asked to interview. I admit I had a leg up because I’d been temping here for a couple of weeks before being considered for the permanent position (and let me tell you, it was really weird to watch competitors for the job walk past my cubicle to take the test), so I was familiar with the type of data I was looking at, but any halfway decent admin should have been able to do it, no problem. More than half couldn’t even create the table. They never would have made it in the actual position.

    1. twentymilehike*

      Emily, admin extraordinaire, This is brilliant! I wish my bosses would do something even remotely similar here. Once in a while we hire part time assistants that NEVER last more than a season and I’m so tired of trying to teach people Quickbooks and Excel because they have zero experience and were hired based on how well my boss got along with them, regardless of skill. I’m still trying to teach one of my coworkers how to use Gmail …

      OP #1 … for the sake of your coworkers, take this advice :)

      1. AgilePhalanges*

        And please USE the results of the test to help guide your decision. After a spate of people who weren’t fully qualified coming and going as my counterpart in a position, I finally convinced my boss that a test of the actual skills they would need would help weed out some of the less-qualified candidates (we had someone in the past who, while she was a total sweetheart, used the number keys above the letters on the normal keyboard to do numerical data entry, not the 10-key pad, which would be fine if she was as fast and accurate as people who do it the proper way, but she was not).

        I created the test, and we had a couple candidates take it, and while neither was stellar, one was clearly better than the other, but he hired the one who didn’t do as well (if it were REALLY up to me, we would have kept looking). And guess what? That person does okay but not great.

  16. Jaded Admin Assistant*

    Oh how I wish I was an enthusiastic admin assistant that actually should be and admin assistant but I know I’m not. Sometimes you just need a job especially when you’re saving for university as I am.

    I would agree with AAM on the admin assistant advice. All good co-workers I’ve worked with who were great admin assistants or administrators have been uptight about details not just with work but with everything. It’s a personality trait that seems to fit well with the job. Bigger-picture thinkers like myself who have to force themselves to be conscientious about attention to detail tend to dislike their jobs in the long run.

    1. Kelly O*

      Jaded, I feel you sister. (I’m assuming you’re female. If you’re not, my apologies.)

      I think your company or group can have so much to do with how you feel about your own job, and there is nothing worse than feeling like a piece of furniture or “just another cog” that can be replaced easily because some manager thinks anyone can be a good admin.

      And while I agree that being good about digging in the details is crucial to being a good admin, I would disagree that bigger picture thinking isn’t also important. It can really help you deal with the details better if you understand how it all fits in the bigger picture. The times I’ve been most discouraged at work were those when I was just in this grind of daily detail, all day every day, and never got a good grasp of the bigger picture and what the longer term goal was. (And yes, that’s part of the problem now.)

      So maybe if you’re a big picture person, think about all the steps that need to happen to make those big picture things real. Steps toward the higher goal, if you will. It might make it easier to deal.

      1. Jaded Admin Assistant*

        I appreciate that :-) I am a girl yes, lol
        I think this job is a financial step right now to going back to school but I’ll definitely try to apply my big picture thinking here to help deal with the details better on a day to day basis. I get most frustrated when I’m mired in details without a good grasp of the big picture too.

        1. Kelly O*

          And don’t forget, you can always ask questions. The worst someone can tell you is no, but maybe asking a question about how something fits in, or even why you do something the way you do, can show the initiative it might take to get you a more exciting assignment, or at least something to take your mind of the pile of data to be entered or files to be put away. (Pick your poison. I’d rather file than do data entry any day of the week.)

          1. Amouse*

            I think I’d rather file too. One aspect of my job I enjoy is doing certain excel spreadsheets where I have to find creative ways to do mail merges and compile data and there’s an end result that’s rewarding. I think I just like creating things that make a difference. Also compiling the spreadsheets if there’s an end goal as opposed to just entering ridiculous amounts of data that don’t go into any sort of final document can be super tedious.

  17. Maria*

    #1, please see #6. I have worked at enough law firms to know the scenario in #6 is not surprising. I don’t know you or your firm, so maybe it really is just your hiring process. However, I would suggest you look at your firm closely to see if someone, or several people, are behaving badly to the assistants. Hot tempers, sexual harassment, bullying? I’ve experienced at least one or a combination of those at every single firm I’ve worked for.

  18. Josh S*

    Re: #4

    This is completely besides the point, but I find it hilarious when people write things like “I am chairing the search committee.” I get the image of someone beating up the search committee with a chair. I know it feels easier than saying, “I am the chair[person] of the search committee,” but it just makes me laugh. Every time.

    Relevant: madshakespeare.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/calvin-and-hobbes.jpg

  19. Elizabeth West*

    #1- Please, please, PLEASE, put the duties in the job description. Some of us who are looking would like to know what the job entails, especially now that many positions have been consolidated. In my case, I cannot do accounting and it’s a waste of your time and mine for me to apply. I’ve actually had this not be disclosed, even when I ask, until I come in for an interview.

    #7- She may have some new duty that is making her have to get up and down a lot. I have had this happen–having to be away to get stuff. I had to talk to some people and reorganize the process and even physical inventory of supplies so I could do these things at my desk. Being a receptionist is hard when you are expected to do everything else too. We can’t be in two places at once.

    1. Cassie*

      I was going to post this in my comment below but forgot – the company 37signals was hiring an assistant position a couple of years ago and rather than the usual listing of job duties, they listed stuff that actually happened during the week (that the assistant would have had to take care of). I like it because it’s different from the usual vague “handle customer inquiries” or “answer phones”. Although if I wrote a job description, I’d probably be too detailed!


  20. Cassie*

    #1 – I agree about hiring based about traits like being detail-oriented, uptight about logistics, etc. You can’t really train that. Experience is helpful, but not ultra-crucial if you have someone with the right traits and is willing to learn. Same about a degree – I know our former dept head wanted all the admins to have degrees but it’s not necessary.

    As far as testing the applicants – it’s not a bad idea but at the same time, there’s no way to test the applicants’ willingness to learn. I get that it may not be the company’s obligation to train someone on rudimentary skills, but if you find a diamond in the rough who has everything else, it wouldn’t be a bad investment.

    I thought of this recently when my coworker was interviewing student workers. The student would be doing a lot of filing, so she wanted to have each applicant take a filing test. She ran the test by a few of us to get an average score and reasonable completion time. I was able to get the test right, but I know about the various filing “rules” only from civil service exam test guides. It’s not something that’s taught in schools. She wanted to reject everyone who couldn’t pass the test which I thought was silly – there are a lot of different things to look for when you’re hiring someone (and same for the applicant) and it can’t be measured just by one test! Back when I was a student worker, I may not have been able to get 100% on that filing test, but if I was hired, I’d make sure I’d learn all the filing rules.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, you want to make sure your test isn’t testing for knowledge that you could easily give them with some quick training. You want to test for the fundamental abilities you need to hire for, which in this case might be stuff like logic, good writing, tone, etc. (For instance, you might have admin candidates write responses to some tricky sample emails or situations, or do a timed scheduling exercise involving multiple meeting requests and a sample crowded calendar.

    2. Sara*

      Interesting about the filing rules in civil service jobs vs what we’d normally learn in school….how is it different?

      Also, #6 scares the bleep outta me. To know that a company like this can still be successful. Awfully depressing and scary

    3. KellyK*

      Good point! I can see a filing test being valuable, but it wouldn’t make sense as an automatic disqualifier unless you wouldn’t be able to provide any training at all. Like, I can see including it in an interview for a career admin (along with “here’s a situation, write the email to address it” and “how have you handled x, y, and z?”) but much less so for a student worker.

  21. Question #4 asker*

    So I brought this question up with our director of HR, and her response is that it is best to just ignore them, and that I couldn’t tell anyone they are out until the position is filled. I don’t like it and don’t agree with it, but that is the way it is.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “It’s best to just ignore them.” Can you go back and tell her that actually, it’s not best to do “just ignore” people because it impacts your organization’s reputation and you’d prefer to be known as a courteous person/employer/organization, and that unless she outright bans you, you intend to let them know you’re focusing on other candidates?

Comments are closed.