I want to tell our CEO to fire his incompetent assistant and hire me for her job

A reader writes:

The company I work at has about 13,000 employees, and I work in a department of about 350 employees. I have over 20 years of experience as an administrative assistant.

Where my desk is located, I am able to overhear conversations between the CEO and his assistant. While I can’t hear every word, I can get the gist of what’s going on. The CEO is new, he’s been in this department for almost a year now, and when he came on board he immediately promoted the front door receptionist to be his assistant. It’s become obvious this was a mistake.

Many times I’ve overheard conversations where it is obvious the assistant has messed up. For example, the CEO had to remind the assistant several times to schedule a meeting with a manager and she kept forgetting to do it. Other times folks have shown up for meetings she did not tell the CEO about, or she scheduled two different meetings at the same time, etc. Just today, the CEO came into the office, and from what I could hear, it appears he missed a very important meeting because the assistant gave him the wrong time. A year ago when he first started working in this department, he was understanding when the assistant messed things up. But now I can tell it’s starting to get old.

Regarding the meeting he missed today, I could hear him lecturing the assistant on “lessons learned” so it would not happen again. He was not mean or rude, but you could tell these mistakes are starting to wear on him. Many of his meetings are in other buildings, so not only has he missed a meeting, but he’s made a trip he did not have to make.

When this assistant was the receptionist for our department, she had to enter our time off requests into a time keeping software. Several times I would turn in my time off request, but she would fail to enter it in time for the pay period. When I got my paycheck, my accrued time off was inaccurate because my time off had not been deducted. As a result, I would think I had more vacation time than I actually did. I mention this to show what this employee’s work performance is like.

When the CEO calls her out on a mistake, she never acknowledges that she made a mistake, she just brushes past it. For example, the CEO will say “Be careful because last time you checked the wrong box on this form.” The assistant acts like this is the first time she’s filled the form out (even though that’s not the case) and says “Okay, so we have to check this box, not this one. Okay.”

Sometimes she’ll make it seem like it was the CEO’s responsibility to schedule the meeting when it was not, or she makes it seem like she was just too busy to get to the task. In my experience, the executive should not have to keep following up behind his assistant to make sure she does things. In the case of not entering my time off requests, she told me that she was so busy she did not get to it in time and told me that many other folks did not get their time off entered either. I feel that there is no excuse for not getting an employee’s time off request entered on time each and every pay period.

So here is my question. I know this sounds horrible, but the fact of the matter is, this assistant is not good at her job and I know I could do it much better. This position would be a promotion for me and an increase in salary. How do I get the CEO to think about firing her and hiring me in her place? Or am I just an evil person for even thinking like this?

Nah, I think it’s pretty normal to get frustrated when you keep overhearing things like that, especially if you know you could do the job more effectively and are currently being paid less than the incompetent person. And it’s also pretty normal to start feeling very eye-rolly when someone handles corrections as poorly as she seems to — blowing them off and even acting like the CEO should have done her job for her (!).

So no, I don’t think you’re a horrible person for thinking about this.

But I also don’t think that you should suggest to the CEO that he fire her and hire you. It’s actually possible that he’d welcome the suggestion; he may have been avoiding firing her because he doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of hiring a new assistant. (To be clear, that’s bad management, but it’s also something that people sometimes do.) But it’s also possible that he’d be put off by such that approach. After all, this is someone who hasn’t already fired an assistant who has given him plenty of reasons to conclude that he should, so that tells you that he’s probably not someone who’s super comfortable with letting people go. And even aside from that, making that kind of suggestion might just seem like overstepping boundaries.

But what you can do is say something like this: “I wanted to mention to you that if Jane ever moves on, I’d love to be considered for that role. Sitting so near to her desk, I hear a lot of the work that she does for you, and I’d be thrilled to do that work if the job opens up again at some point.”

Then you’ve got that part of it in his head, and what he does with it from there is up to him.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. Barbara in Swampeast

    Oh yeah, some people just don’t understand how wonderful a good assistant can be and they muddle along with stuff like this.
    I worked at a major state university thirty years ago for a vice-president. I was a newbie secretary at the time but I learned a lot about what good secretaries and assistants can do to keep a large organization running smoothly.

    1. BRR

      Good assistants are priceless. My team has a terrible one and it’s incredibly frustrating because she’s costing the rest of us time. We’ve had to take on what are supposed to be her responsibilities. Unfortunately her manager is pretty ineffective as well so her job is safe.

    2. Marillenbaum

      What kind of things would you say are important for a good assistant? I’m a graduate assistant for a professor (just started), and while I seem to be doing all right for what they need, I’d like to learn more about it, both for now and in the future.

      1. Jadelyn

        Anticipation is a huge part of it. You get to know the staff you’re supporting and learn to anticipate their needs. My grandboss has a standing meeting with the CEO every Thursday afternoon, so I know to check with him on Tuesday or Wednesday to see if there’s anything he needs me to get him in advance of the meeting. I know which of my hiring managers wants all resumes and which ones want me to filter them first; which ones insist on Spanish-bilingual even if it’s not officially required for the position; that kind of thing.

        Organization is the next biggest thing. Lists EVERYWHERE. That way you minimize the chance of things falling through the cracks and coming back to bite you later. Document your processes so if you’re not there, someone else can figure out how to do urgent things as they happen.

        Make use of the data you have. If you have to do supplies ordering or anything like that, build a spreadsheet where you keep track of the usage rates. How often do you run out of paper? That way you can be on top of it and make sure you don’t run out while waiting for an order to come in.

        Know as much as you can about what your staff actually does, so you can keep an eye out for ways you can help. Look for automation options, especially if you’re good with technology. For example, I took my department’s old paper forms and created fillable and signable PDFs that we can save on the shared drives instead of printing, signing, scanning, and emailing them around.

          1. jaxon

            I’ve had a variety of professional jobs with a wide range of responsibilities, but a couple years ago I unexpectedly ended up as an executive assistant to someone at a big nonprofit. I LOVED it. Even though at first glance it seemed like a step away (i.e. down) from what I had been doing before, it absolutely wasn’t. AND it paid really well. Really made me rethink my career goals.

            1. Jillociraptor

              You get unbelievable access as a trusted EA. My role is only about 10% EA but in that capacity, I’m in every senior leadership team discussion in my organization. You get so much context, and so much opportunity to grow really fast if you take advantage of it. I don’t enjoy the administrative part of the EA role (scheduling, copies, etc.) so it’s not long-term for me, but I’m not sure I can think of a more fruitful place for a really driven person to gain context and access. The issue is getting typecast in a support role but that’s a problem for another comment!

              1. Jadelyn

                That’s true – as much as I am not a big fan of the admin stuff, I know and am known to all the team leaders and executive staff, we have each other’s cell #s so they can get to me if they need something outside of regular hours and vice versa, and if I were looking for references in a job search or anything like that, I’ve got a wealth of C-suite people I could turn to, which is absolutely invaluable. So that’s definitely a big plus. And you mention context, which…if you’re the person who’s going to be doing the gruntwork of implementing and administering the decisions the executive staff are making, then you tend to be included in the discussions leading up to the decision as well, so you know not only what but why.

                TLDR the trust you build as a good admin – especially at the EA level versus the AA level – is worth not only your own weight in gold, but the weights of all the people who rely on you too.

        1. Crystalline

          As someone who’s currently looking for this line of work, I loved reading your comment. Really insightful!

      2. Morning Glory

        I’m not the most experience, but I’ve been an assistant 4 years now and I think one of the most important things is attitude, which has been reinforced by reading a lot of these comments. People don’t tend to get annoyed at you for not knowing something but they will get upset at you for not putting in the work to learn it – this is true from standard operating procedures to new software.

        Also, never hint that you think you’re above a task, even for things like getting coffee or picking up dry-cleaning (not sure if you do these things as a grad assistant?) I’ve found that doing these kinds of tasks with a smile has done just as much to build goodwill and my reputation as a team player as any of the more challenging responsibilities that I do, like helping with reports and accounting.

        A lot of people aren’t used to being able to use an assistant or else have dealt with unpleasant assistants, etc. and are sometimes uncertain with ‘what’s okay to ask.’ Having a nice attitude goes a long way toward making them value your help.

        1. Chriama

          The getting coffee and picking up dry-cleaning thing is advice I’d be cautious about following. If it’s a reasonable expectation as part of your job then sure, but we’ve heard time and time again about women doing traditionally domestic work and having it affect how they’re perceived as professionals. It’s the same as note-taking. I understand that the line is harder to draw if you’re in an actual admin/support position, but if it’s not part of your job make sure you’re not accidentally undermining yourself.

          1. Morning Glory

            Sure, for any woman in a position other than an assistant. But I think it’s reasonable to expect that this kind of task as an assistant – there have been several have been several posts on this blog about it too, like the HR Assistant who didn’t want to clean out the refrigerator, or the receptionist fired for refusing to get her boss coffee, or the woman upset that the female admin was cleaning up after meetings.

            General consensus has been, that’s the job they hired the assistant to do, and it’s not going to reflect well on the assistant if they refuse to do that job.

            1. EA

              I agree for the most part. In my experience, dry cleaning does fall into personal assistant territory, and I wouldn’t be expected to do it as an EA. I am paid by the org to do the work of the org, not really to pick up dry cleaning and plan person travel. I specifically screen for not having to do personal work, and I think it is usually a conversation people have with whoever they support.

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                Yes, I agree that doing things like picking up dry cleaning starts being more personal assistant. If the company is willing to pay the salary for the assistant to do that, and that’s truly considered part of the job, sure. But I wouldn’t give a blanket recommendation to all admins to start doing stuff like that just earn goodwill. It’s not that anybody is too good for those kinds of tasks, it’s that for women it’s easy for people to start seeing you less as a professional and more as a caretaker. There are any number of things that you could do that are more in the line of PA stuff, which could well make your boss like your more without making your boss or others see you as a professional.

                But yes, if it is truly part of your job and what you were hired for, then as with any other task that’s part of your job, you should do it without complaining.

            2. JAM

              I think it’s definitely something to seek clarification on. My firm has made it very clear that we are not to do anything personal for our staff. It’s considered okay to help manage a personal calendar (since there’s crossover) or task lists but we aren’t to run errands. For coffee, we have a team devoted to hospitality admin so they don’t want the other admins doing it since our work basically frees up attorneys to do billable work. We are given a chance to use our discretion but they have a sheet they gave us on day 1 with boundaries and ask at reviews if there’s any slippage.

        2. Bethlam

          I definitely agree about the attitude. My stock reply to most requests is “I’ll take care of it,” even if they’re just asking “Who should I see about [whatever]?” It’s amazing how many things that are so small and involve practically no time for me seem like a big inconvenience to them, and all of the little things I do cheerfully (and competently) to make their lives easier are vastly appreciated.

      3. FCJ

        In your case I think it depends on what you’re doing. Are you acting in the capacity of secretary, research assistant, teaching assistant, or a little of all three? Those can be very different jobs, and have very different meanings depending on what field you’re in (e.g., your work as an RA if you’re in the sciences might be very different than if you’re in the humanities).

        Really the most important thing is to learn what your individual boss needs from you in your role and how independent they want you to be. After that your job is to become as indispensable as possible within that framework. Get very, very good at the things they want you to do, and learn to anticipate what they’re going to need. Some professors want to be able to ask you for something and then forget about it until you bring it back to them a week later or whatever, and some want to work more closely with you. My advisor basically defers most computer-y things to me (which can be a lot, since my institution is doing more and more online courses), and even though I make sure he signs off on it before we actually go live, it’s usually more a case of me telling him how it’s going to work rather than asking. For his own research, though, he prefers to do most of it himself and just occasionally asks me to find articles and things for him.

        Also, remember that part of being a graduate assistant is learning the business of becoming a professor (or whatever the usual path is in your field). That’s different from being an executive assistant, which is a career path in its own right. If you can, develop the kind of rapport with your professor where you can ask for opportunities or responsibilities (“I’m really interested in this project you’re researching–Is there something I can do in the capacity of a co-author?”), and take advantage of their network–go to conferences and presentations with them; if they’re doing collaborative projects offer to do some of the grunt work, like scheduling or coordinating, that gets you in contact with their colleagues. If your professor takes their role seriously they’ll want to give you as many opportunities as they can to grow your own network and CV, so don’t be afraid to ask.

      4. Koko

        GAs are usually a little different from a PA or EA, but I would say this:

        You know the cartoon/TV trope where an innocent, hapless baby is teetering on ledges and walking into traffic, and another character is frantically running around them, blocking cars from hitting them, putting a board down just before they need to step on it, and the baby remains oblivious the whole time?

        Your job is to be that other character who is running around saving them from themselves without them even noticing what you’re doing.

        1. Jadelyn

          That is the best analogy I’ve ever heard for this. I usually go to the analogy of the air-traffic controller, but I like this even better.

      5. Bonky

        My assistant is wonderful. I’m three times as productive as I might be without her. She is supremely organised: information is always at the tip of her fingers, and her processes are as tight as can be. I have never had to tell her how to do something more than once: she listens, takes notes and asks questions if I haven’t been clear about something, then carries out the task to the letter. She understands what can be automated and does it well. She anticipates which tasks might become recurring tasks and has process ready when they do. She is precise, friendly, always raises a question well before a situation turns into a problem, and I love her to death.

    3. Cass

      My organization had quite a few administrative assistants leave recently. Of course, to save money, they are trying to divvy up the departing person’s work to other assistant’s instead of hiring a new person. I can already tell how that will turn out…

  2. Same here

    Oh boy. I work in an office with a similar type of receptionist/admin assistant. She’s been grandfathered in and is basically unfireable, refuses to retrain on things she should know how to do, and constantly announces that “she’s not our mother” when asked to do basic parts of her job like ordering office supplies. Raises are given every year regardless of your performance and she’s been her so long she’s out-earning all of us. She agonizes over small tasks and yells at people who talk anywhere near her desk (which is a reception desk and is prominently place in our foyer near the kitchen). Management has essentially told us to just deal with it an accept that it’s terrible for morale. No advice here, just hoping people commiserate.

    1. animaniactoo

      fwiw – I found a good reply to comments like “I’m not your mother”.

      My son did the whole “I’m not your slave!” thing over doing chores and I had just gotten off working overtime at work, it was a really busy period and I just snapped and thundered back at him “And I’m NOT YOURS!” and pointed out that I was out here earning the money so that we had our home and the food in the fridge, etc. and since he lived in it and ate it he could damn well contribute to it too, instead of acting like it was all supposed to be mine to take care of. He never came at me with that again.

      So the next time she says “I’m not your mother!” I suggest telling her (calmly tho) “And I’m not yours. I was told that you’re the person who handles this, so I’m bringing it to you to do. If that’s a problem, I’m not the person you should be discussing it with.”

      1. fishy

        Yeah, I was thinking that if someone said this to me, I’d respond with something like “I’m not asking you as a personal favor, I’m asking because I understood that this was part of your job.”

        1. Adam V

          +1

          Maybe follow up with “I’ll be right back, I need to ask your boss who we should be bringing these requests to, if it’s not you.”

          1. animaniactoo

            I thought about that, but *didn’t* go there for this because management has been telling them to suck it up and deal over her attitude – and I suspect that the answer to this would be to reassign it, not reinforce to her that it IS her job.

            In order to avoid that, I think it’s better to reinforce that it’s her job and if that is a problem *she* is the one who needs to go talk to somebody about it.

              1. animaniactoo

                And since they are, let’s not make life even more difficult by encouraging them to offload her duties on to other employees – unless the goal is to have another employee handling them so you don’t have to deal with her.

            1. Jen S. 2.0

              There’s some value in having the task reassigned, if there is someone else to whom it makes sense to give the task. You’re clearly not going to get her to act right, so it doesn’t make sense for that to be your goal. So what is your goal? Do you want to keep struggling with her — a losing battle, and you still don’t have your supplies — or do you want to get your supplies? Yes, it sucks when an employee insists on being a roadblock, but you’re trying to get your problem (supplies) solved, not win a moral battle here.

        2. neverjaunty

          Seriously. “I’m not asking you to bring me a glass of water and read me Dr. Seuss. I’m telling you to do something that is part of your job.”

      2. Anonymous in the South

        Been there! Both my kids now do their own laundry and load/unload the dishwasher, keep their rooms clean, eat what’s made for dinner or make something else, etc.

          1. Sarianna

            This++

            My mom has OCD and would not let me do my own laundry. I figured it out pretty quickly within a week of moving to my freshman dorm–with a frantic phone call to Mom, way back in the days of landlines–but I wish I’d had the opportunity to learn over time rather than at 10pm with nobody around.

        1. Prismatic Professional

          My parents were super sneaky about this! When I was younger and I asked to help with chores around the house, I got the line, “This takes a lot of responsibility. I’m not sure you can handle it until you are X age.” And then when I was X age, I thought I was being given a huge privilege! I think was *allowed* to start doing my laundry when I turned 10. :-p

    2. Artemesia

      You have crappy management as you know. We had a secretary/receptionist like that who was protected for years. She wouldn’t work with clients; she wouldn’t learn to use the computer; she basically did almost nothing (we did not need a ‘receptionist’ who wouldn’t work with clients) and got paid. Then a new senior person was hired — not her manager — who took about 3 days to see that she was a waste of space and money and he had her fired in about a month by putting pressure on the departmental director to do it. She had been untouchable until management was willing to manage and voila she was gone. You have crappy management.

      1. Whats In A Name

        Proof that “protected” and “unfireable” are not actual things. It can get done with good management.

        1. Lady Blerd

          Yup. Just before reading this I had a conversation with a colleague from another department about firing an incompetent worker. We have particular rules setup to avoid arbitrary firings but their are not unsurmountable, it just requires a lot of paperwork, patience and the will to see the process through. Unfortunately in that particular case, that person may well make it to the end of their contract because of our process but it can be done.

    3. Tomato Frog

      “That’s good, because I’d feel really weird asking my mom to order our office supplies.”

      These stories are really making me appreciate our admin. She’s oversensitive and will go off on people for perceived slights, but at least she does her job!

      1. Margali

        >“That’s good, because I’d feel really weird asking my mom to order our office supplies.”

        Love this!

      2. Whats In A Name

        That’s good, because I’d feel really weird asking my mom to order our office supplies.

        Winner winner chicken dinner!

    4. JAM

      I definitely have experienced that. In fact, at my last job my boss basically made me do double duty, my job and her job, because he got sick of her and he was too incompetent to actually fire someone (a past firing got reversed because he wouldn’t document problems with HR so instead of documenting he just gave up on ever firing people). I lasted about 3 months before I wanted to go insane. I was the lowest paid support staff, she was the highest, and I was doing her work and mine while she literally read magazines. I left.

      She waited 2 more years, put in her retirement notice to HR, and didn’t tell the boss she was leaving and neither did HR so when there were 3 days of no call/no show he announced his intent to fire her and had to be told by staffers she’d already retired. That about sums up the place.

  3. AndersonDarling

    If it was me, I would try to do some work for the CEO. Not bust in and take them away from the current assistant, but if there was an opportunity…”Good Morning Mr. CEO. I noticed that you have a lot of meetings coming up with Mr. Vendor. I’ve put together similar presentations and I’d be happy to work on these for you.”
    Then you would be on the radar if things change.

    1. Catabodua

      I was thinking something similar.

      Pounce on the opportunity if his assistant is out for vacation or even just a day.

      Step up to the plate and tell him you can help cover for her (if it’s reasonable for you to do so) and then show off your skills. Make sure at the end of the day / week or whatever that it was great working with him and how interesting what he does is, you know, blah blah.

    2. Lily in NYC

      I have mixed feelings about this because it might cause tension. I’m an executive assistant to a big cheese and I don’t think I’d be very happy if someone encroached on my “territory” like that (and I’m really not a territorial person).
      But your idea gave me one too! OP should tell or maybe email CEO to let him know that she has admin experience and that she’d be interested in covering for crappy assistant when she’s on vacation. That way it won’t seem like she’s stepping on toes and if it works out, CEO might then see how much better his life would be with OP as his admin.

    3. Non-Prophet

      Eh, I’m not sure this is a good idea. For one thing, presumably OP reports to someone other than the CEO. I can’t think of many managers who would be happy to find out that their direct reports were offering to do work for a different department/manager, even if it is the CEO.

      And as Lily has rightly said, OP would almost certainly get on the current EA’a bad side by doing this. Depending on how loyal the CEO feels towards the EA (maybe not very loyal at all, since they haven’t worked together for long and she’s such an underperformer), this could turn out badly for OP. I previously worked as an admin for an EVP. There were a few times when he felt like someone else tried to undermine me or sabotage me, and it did not end well for them.

      All that to say, tread lightly OP. I think AAM’s advice is spot on.

  4. Tiny_Tiger

    Definitely go wit Alison’s advice on this. And if you want to take it a step further, if you notice the CEO getting frustrated with certain tasks not being met by his assistant, you can always jump in and proactively ask if there’s anything you can do to help out. This might create more work for you but it could also help plant the seed in the CEO’s mind that “Hey, OP is willing to take on extra tasks and is doing a better job at them than my assistant even with the added workload.”

    1. Camellia

      But unfortunately this might also mean that those tasks become the OP’s forever and the assistant stays right where she is.

      1. JacqOfAllTrades

        Particularly with poor managers, this is more likely to be the outcome. He will be relieved that the work is getting done, and he didn’t have to do the heavy-lifting of coaching, mentoring, or terminating. I would consider one-off projects, but not any on-going tasks or they will become yours, and she will have less to worry about.

      2. pope suburban

        Yup. We have a department assistant who…fudged her resume to get her job, and unfortunately she does not have the drive to make up for those deficiencies and get up to speed. The obvious solution would be to put her on a PIP, and then dismiss her if she didn’t get up to snuff. The solution that our non-managing management attempted was to come to me to get things that are clearly, explicitly, not my purview done. Thankfully I shut that down (and I have no idea how they’re muddling along with the assistant), because if I hadn’t, I’d be doing two jobs for one job’s pay again. People who take the path of least resistance tend to be really, really hard to train away from that. Best not to open that door in the first place.

      3. Mike B.

        “I’ve taken on several of the duties that the higher-paid executive assistant is supposed to be doing” is a pretty good argument for a raise. Eventually the CEO is likely why he should have to pay for someone to cover work that should already be paid for.

        I’d also try to find a way to bring the time off issue to his attention, since I don’t imagine he knows that she’s failing the other people she’s supposed to support.

        1. Mike B.

          Ugh, I misread the part about time off and didn’t realize that this wasn’t part of her role anymore. #badcopyeditor

      4. Tiny_Tiger

        That was the one thing that had crossed my mind, since I’m going through something similar at my job. But it also can never hurt to make yourself more valuable to the company you work for. It’s gotten to the point for me that I’m borderline un-fireable because of how much I do.

    2. Lemon Zinger

      100% this. I’m currently doing this for a manager in my office who really needs extra help. I’m getting TONS of great feedback and I know my manager (who works remotely) is hearing good things about me.

    3. Sadsack

      I disagree with this. If I were the CEO or his assistant in that situation, I am not sure I’d appreciate someone getting involved in our conversation without being asked. I’d also follow Alison’s advice on how to approach the CEO, and would not mention that I overhear his conversations with his assistant to the point that I get a lot of details about her mistakes. General knowledge of the work they do is one thing, but details like what box to check or form to use is a bit too much knowledge. It makes it seem like OP is really listening in on their conversations.

    4. Lily in NYC

      I am an EA and would not be happy if someone did this and would put a stop to it immediately. Like I wrote above in a similar thread, it would be better if OP offered to cover for crappy admin when admin goes on vacation. Less chance of a bad reaction from admin.

      1. Tiny_Tiger

        But there’s also the factor that this assistant is doing a highly mediocre job and doesn’t seem too concerned about trying to get better at her tasks. From what OP is saying, her mistakes are costing the CEO a lot of time and potential business for the company. If she were doing a good job or learning from her mistakes then it would be an entirely different story and I would argue that the OP is doing Snoopy dances across that line to try and push the current assistant out.

        1. Gadfly

          Just because she is a crappy EA doesn’t mean she isn’t a territorial one, however. Just because she’s not doing her job doesn’t mean that she won’t fight anyone else taking it.

        2. Lily in NYC

          I hear ya but I think there’s just too big of a chance it could backfire. We have an awful admin where I work and her boss knows she sucks and is very protective of her, even though he does get frustrated with her lack of ability to do her job well. It’s maddening!

  5. Morning Glory

    I think it was incredibly weird that a new CEO would promote a front-desk receptionist to be a high-level executive assistant, unless there is an important piece of the puzzle missing. I’ve been a receptionist, an administrative assistant, and I’ve taken on executive assistant responsibilities a few times short-term when people went on vacation or emergency leave.

    The responsibilities and experience required are completely different for the two positions – there’s a reason that most executive assistant positions require 5-7+ years experience. Do you have any insights into why he made that decision in the first place?

    1. EA

      That is my thought. It is insane at that large of an organization. The assistant makes mistakes, but I couldn’t imagine how over my head I would be, if I got a high level EA job with only receptionist experience.

      1. Morning Glory

        Yeah – like you wrote below that doesn’t excuse the assistant – she sounds like she hasn’t been very receptive to constructive criticism. But it shouldn’t be a surprise she’s letting things slip through the cracks.

      2. JB (not in Houston)

        Eh, I can see it in the right circumstances. I once worked at a company that started admins out as receptionists who did some a little work. If the receptions proved herself (it was always a woman) by being able to handle some admin tasks, touchy but important clients, and other front office stuff. If the receptionist could do all assigned tasks well, seemed easy to train and picked things up quickly, and was friendly and professional, they figured they could train her on other admin stuff. That company had many, many problems. But that was one system that actually worked for them. This obviously wouldn’t apply across the board to all organizations.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          I should clarify, I said they were promoted to admins, but the only people with admins there were executives, so really they became EAs (and some were promoted to other positions in the company, not as assistants). But the company was screening for personality, mindset, and (perceived) intelligence, prioritizing that over prior EA experience. As I said, it worked well–but I can’t see it working in every situation. Without going in details, it was a niche company in a niche part of the financial industry.

    2. Myrin

      I still have the recent update of the spicy food OP fresh in my mind so I immediately and stereotypically jumped to “he fancies her”. But then again, the actual interactions OP describes between the two don’t really seem like it.

      1. Anon1

        I do wonder, though, if the CEO hasn’t taken a sort of professional shine to her, and is trying to mentor her. Maybe that was the intent even if it hasn’t actually worked out well.

        1. pope suburban

          I could certainly see this being a gesture based on principle. Which, hey, I can’t say as I fundamentally disagree with the idea that there are a lot of absurd barriers to entry in employment, or that being willing to take a chance on an employee who’s stuck in a dead-end position is inherently wrong. But man, is it ever clear that this person, in this role, is not going to be that scrappy breakout. It’s time to admit that this didn’t work and figure out how best to proceed.

    3. Whats In A Name

      I am assuming that some people don’t realize there is a fundamental difference in the 2 roles – even the people they work for.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        That’s what I think it is; that some people don’t realize that there is any difference between a receptionist role and an executive assistant role. They think that all admin-type roles are basically the same and don’t realize that there are different skill sets involved in different types of admin work.

    4. Anon 2

      It depends. Sometimes all a CEO wants is an administrative assistant. They want someone to keep their calendar and so basic admin tasks for them. They are not looking for higher level support. They don’t have complex travel arrangements or need someone to serve as a gate keeper for them.

    5. NW Mossy

      The first that comes to my mind is salary cost. The salary requirements for EAs with experience at this level can be sticker shock for those unfamiliar with the role, so I can picture a CEO thinking, “No way am I spending six figures on an EA! I can promote Cressida for half that!” #yougetwhatyoupayfor

      1. EA

        I didn’t think of that, but its very possible. People are often shocked I make more than like $10-15 an hour.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          When I was looking to move cities, a friend mentioned that his father was looking for a new EA and sent over the job description.

          I was completely shocked by the salary *and* the responsibilities.

          1. SJ

            I started an EA job last month and I was honestly shocked (in a good way!) at the salary they offered me. It’s like I’m raking in 6 figures or anything, since it’s my first EA job, but it’s so much more than I was making at my last entry-level job that had a ton of responsibility, and it’s more than I asked for.

            I think like many people, I used to underestimate exactly how much an EA does and thought it was basically just an admin assistant role supporting fancier people. I was also used to seeing the EA for my old boss (an org president) shirk basically every possible responsibility, so she definitely wasn’t living up to the potential of the role. But even after just a month I already have a lot of responsibility, and after I’ve settled in more I’m going to be doing high-level project management and all kinds of good stuff.

          2. Aurion

            Out of curiosity, what are these higher level EA responsibilities?

            The internet often erroneously conflates admin assistant and executive assistant so the descriptions I’ve seen for EA probably isn’t an accurate one for what a good EA truly does. I know they’re not actually “admin assistants for fancier people with a fancier title”, but I don’t really know what they do. (Pepper Potts is not a good metric to go by, heh.)

            1. EA

              Usually EAs have more opportunity to take on more responsibilities- think projects, budgets, etc. You are also expected to anticipate needs at a higher level, and work with much less instruction. Oh and being the gatekeeper- I have the authority to schedule without my boss involved, because I know his priorities and what is important and needs to happen.

              1. EA

                Oh and another not talked about thing- often (but not always) people who get EAs are difficult people. So there is more emotional labor in dealing with that. A bitter EA use to joke she was paid the big bucks to deal with him.

                1. AnitaJ

                  You’re so right on the money with these statements! I get very little instruction and have worked with some extremely difficult (and sometimes downright mean) individuals. It’s not an easy job, and it takes a special person to fit the role.

                2. JAM

                  Yes! I always forget this part in the job description but I definitely live it. My one troublemaker was so happy with some work I did this week that he gave me a double exclamation mark thank you in an email. That’s the best praise I’ve ever received from him.

              2. Aurion

                Ha, so Pepper walking up to Tony and telling him “you have a meeting with X at 9, Y at 10, Z at 2:30, your dry cleaning has been picked up, and the notes for project A’s budget is on your desk” is actually somewhat accurate? I thought it was just Tony being Tony XD

                1. CA Admin

                  I actually have similar conversations with my boss! And he’s nowhere near as difficult as Tony. But, yeah, EA has given a good description of the differences in the roles: complex travel & calendaring, gate keeping, more autonomy, required to anticipate needs rather than react to them, more difficult people, event planning with budgets, database/contact management, transcribing notes, putting together presentations, etc.

      2. Bad Candidate

        This is what I’m thinking. I’ve seen quite a few job postings for EA to the CEO or President of the company and they list the pay as $12/hour. I mean thanks for listing it so I don’t bother applying, but seriously?

    6. Pwyll

      Sometimes these decisions can be fairly short-sighted. Something like, “I’m a new CEO coming in. I need an assistant ASAP, but I don’t want to disrupt the current working environment by moving someone else’s assistant. I also don’t have time to do a real hiring process. Let’s take this ‘assistant’ who doesn’t assist a specific person and have them assist me, because it’s all the same skills (it’s not), and we can do the process to hire a receptionist because that role isn’t as time sensitive.”

      I’d be curious if this is his first CEO role, too. I worked with someone promoted from VP to CEO once, and he had only ever had a departmental assistant, so it took him a looooong time to really figure out how an EA was supposed to work. Frankly, the EA struggled too, as the role of a Sales Department Assistant, while similar, is markedly different than the EA to the CEO of a 1,000 person company.

      1. JAM

        That’s how I got my first chance at admin-ing. Thankfully it turned out to be a great role for me but the actual boss wasn’t a great fit. There’s such a chance of that not working out that people should really avoid it.

      1. Cleopatra Jones

        I know you weren’t trying to be patronizing? belittling?…
        This happens to women of color all.of.the.time as well. When you say blonde & attractive that implies that being hit on/sexually harassed at work only happens if you are young, blonde, and attractive. Then when it happens to WOC either we think…”no, he couldn’t be doing that to me because because I don’t fit the type’ OR others imply that. It’s the same as when young women are told that a celebrity or athlete couldn’t have possibly raped/sexually assaulted them because he could have any woman he wants.
        /rant

        1. pope suburban

          Looking at this person’s choice of user name, I think there’s a strong possibility they’re here to troll.

          Not that your comment wasn’t astute, and hopefully valuable to anyone who reads it and needs that kind of primer about workplace harassment.

        2. Observer

          Women of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors get hit on. But, I do think that it’s mostly the young and attractive ones who get promoted for it…

          1. Candi

            Which is another kind of harassment. Promote for brains, talents, and skill, not for conformation to an often biased standard of beauty.

    7. Lily in NYC

      Is sounds like the guy wasn’t very experienced. I find that most managers have NO CLUE how to manage admins and know nothing about there being a career path in administrative work just like any other industry. My boss just could not understand why I wasn’t pleased that she expected me to start assistant junior staffers on our team (I am way higher than they are on the org chart and am not supposed to help anyone under EVP level). I explained that I already paid my dues as a dept. admin years ago and she just didn’t get it. I finally got her to understand when I asked her if she would expect her favorite direct report (AVP) to go back to doing low-level project management work.

    8. HRChick

      Might be like how we got our admin.

      Friend of a previous CEO. Previous CEO called in a favor. Now, we can’t find our files because she can’t alphabetize.

  6. NW Mossy

    I’ll note that Alison’s suggested approach is great for any situation where you see a role in your organization that you want to move into eventually, not just a “fire her and hire me” one. I used something similar with my grandboss to express my interest in a role then occupied by someone considering retirement. That individual ended up retiring about a year earlier than expected and I was selected to succeed her. My grandboss explicitly said that knowing I was interested really helped her cope with the vacancy because she knew she could count on a smooth transition.

    It can be challenging to explicitly say “I am interested in X job,” particularly if you’re someone who comes from a background where being that direct is perceived as grasping or pushy. But from a manager’s point of view, having a secure succession plan for key roles is crucial and knowing who wants to be in the pipeline makes that planning much easier. If you’re a good fit for that role, you’re actually doing both yourself and your prospective manager a favor by pointing out the possibility for a match.

    1. Sneech

      I did something pretty similar at my job. I knew the person who was currently filling a position was going to school for something entirely different. I mentioned to my boss that if the role ever opened up I would be interested. When the position did eventually open I think it really gave me a leg up that I had expressed interest early on and I got the job.

  7. EA

    I don’t think there is much you can do, AAM’s script is a good start.

    To be fair, and I am not at all defending the incompetent assistant, but the CEO did hire someone with very little assistant to be the CEO’s assistant. This seems insane to me at a 13,000 person organization. Usually at that level, the EA would have a ton of experience. I understand she makes mistakes, but taking on a job of that magnitude with little experience is rough. He obviously needs someone else, but I don’t think he is at all blameless in this situation.

    I get irritated with people thinking anyone can be a good EA, like this is not a skill at all, but this is probably me projecting :)

    1. NW Mossy

      EAs and other types of support staff tend to get unfairly maligned because some people assume that all of these roles are considered entry-level with minimal experience/education requirements simply because the titles along the way are all pretty similar. The people actually in them realize that like most career tracks, there’s a clear progression in the skills and abilities required to rise to the most senior positions and the title alone doesn’t necessarily tell you that much about what the role requires.

      1. Hlyssande

        This CEO needs to realize that he can’t have a Pepper Potts by promoting a mediocre receptionist without EA experience at a low salary.

    2. Sadsack

      Yeah, didn’t the prior CEO have an executive assistant? You’d think a company that large would have processes in place around hiring and HR would be involved. Why would they just take someone and shove her into a completely different role that she apparently is not qualified for?

      1. michelenyc

        That is what I found interesting too. Most of the large companies I have worked for when someone that was executive level was hired they for the most part brought their assistant with them that way they did not have to train them. It was always part of the negotiation process.

        1. Sadsack

          I have seen it differently. Old CEO goes out, but his assistant stays and assists new CEO, since the assistant has so much important knowledge about processes and contacts, etc., that the new CEO will need.

          1. Bad Candidate

            I’ve seen it both ways. I know someone that recently followed her executive to a new company. Only because it was a good move for her too. And because she knew who likely would replace him and didn’t want to be their assistant. Sometimes the assistant doesn’t want to move though or isn’t offered it and stays with the company. Could be either.

    3. Mustache Cat

      Oh, you’ll get a kick out of this. So I was advising a colleague about possible future careers. I suggested executive assistant, since she has experience that could put her squarely in that career path, and she said: “No offense, but I think I’m better than that.”

      I clapped my mouth shut and very soberly agreed, conveniently forgetting to mention that good EAs pull down six figures routinely. I mean, if she’s better than that, then…

      1. michelenyc

        Unfortunately a lot of people equate Admin Assistant to an Executive Assistant not realizing that there is a huge difference.

        1. SJ

          Yep! I posted this above. I just started my first EA role about a month ago and I took it because of the promise of high-level project management and stuff like that (plus the salary was great!). I also have a Master’s degree, so people look askance at me when they hear I’m an EA, but I think they just don’t understand all the great things it can entail. Not that I can blame them — the EA for my last boss (an org president) spent all her time actively avoiding doing anything that remotely involved work, so even I didn’t truly understand what EAs can do until I started researching before applying for my current job.

          1. TootsNYC

            There’s an Agatha Christie book in which the secretary to an important financier goes missing, and as you read the book, you realize that this secretary is someone who makes decisions, crunches data, deals in secrets, etc., and is exactly as powerful and influential as her boss.

            We’ve dumbed down the term “secretary” too!

        2. Kiki

          Question– how does one go from being an AA to an EA? I have been an AA for 5 years and I really like it, but would also like a promotion and salary increase (I’m making the same salary as I did on Day 1). Obviously you don’t jump from one to the other immediately, but what does the career path look like?

          1. Katherine

            My limited experience of seeing this across organisations is, where possible, by doing what has been suggested above: offering to help the EA, offering to cover times when they might be away, and talking to your boss about the possibility of moving in that direction if anything relevant exists in your company.

      2. EA

        HAHA!

        I do get a kick out of that. I am friends with a very senior EA and she always laughs about how people look down on her that are paid less than her.

        1. LBK

          I had a friend who was the EA for the CEO of a fairly well-known company (might not know them by name but most people have used their product) and if she wasn’t the best-paid out of all of my friends, she was certainly in the top 3.

        2. Kiki

          Hi– I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what’s the general career path look like for someone to become an EA? I’ve been an Admin Assistant for 5 years and I really enjoy it, but I’m still making entry level money and would like to promote eventually. How did you get to where you are today?

          1. EA

            So I would go on indeed and look for EA positions in your area. Most in mine start at 5 years experience, so you could be qualified. Then assess what you do. If you are an AA to a director/manager, or multiple directors, I could see making the transition now. If you are more like a department assistant (assisting the department, but not a dedicated assistant to 1-3 people), then I will be harder. In that case, find an AA job where you support a high level person, then transition into an EA job.

            You want to emphasize that you 1. Have experience supporting high level people (generally calendar management, expense reporting, travel coordination). 2. Can deal with difficult personalities, as well as interact professionally with all levels of the org (basically EAs represent their boss). 3. Are good at anticipating needs, can do a good job with little direction. 4. Want to get involved and grow your role.

            EA’s are AA’s to high level people, IMO, but not just that. More is expected of you. Also, different orgs title the position differently. I know people who are clearly EA’s and have the salary, but their title is Senior AA because their org doesn’t have the EA title.

            1. Kiki

              Thanks so much! Right now I am in a hybrid role of AA for our director as well as general office manager for the rest of the team (there’s only 5 of us total). I may want to move on to a role solely supporting a high level person before becoming an EA. But it’s good to have a path in mind. I’ll check out the EA listings in my area and see what I need to do to work towards that.

            2. TootsNYC

              Also emphasize that things like expense reporting, calendar management, etc., are things that you can streamline so that, while they get done, it’s ultra efficient.

          2. Pwyll

            For what it’s worth, before I changed careers my progression was: Clerk -> Administrative Assistant – > Office Manager -> Administrative Manager -> Executive Assistant to the CEO.

            Each of those moves involved going to a different company after a few years, though the AA and AM roles were both for the same executive who moved jobs. At that time, I really decided to set educational goals for myself, and once I learned what I wanted to I would start to consider new opportunities to learn something else in a different environment.

            1. Mallory Janis Ian

              This has been exactly my progression (Clerk -> Administrative Assistant – > Office Manager -> Administrative Manager ->) as well. I haven’t made it to the EA part of the progression yet; I’m on Administrative Manager.

              Clerk was at one job; Administrative Assistant was at another job; I left that job with my then department head to be office manager at his private firm; and then I returned to the previous workplace as an Administrative Support Supervisor.

        3. Golden Lioness

          I fully agree that good EAs are worth their weight in gold, but I am curious, I thought a good EA could get into the high 70s, but I am shocked to hear people claiming they make over 100K. I did some research and the salary scale shows a nationwide average of 55k with a high salary range only reaching the mid 70s

          What is accurate? those salary scales have been pretty accurate for my position, so I am surprised to see the discrepancy

          1. CA Admin

            Depends on industry and location. In Finance in San Francisco? A good EA can make $90,000 – $130,000 depending on the company and who you’re supporting.

      3. Uyulala

        A lot of people also have that attitude about trade professions – not realizing what a good plumber or HVAC pro can actually make in the right market.

        1. DoDah

          Right! I was talking to my plumber and he asked me what I did for a living. I told him and he said, “Oh you must be smart.” and I responded with, “Not as smart as you—look at what you can charge me!”

  8. NonProfit Nancy

    Agree with Alison: don’t go in like a tank saying “fire other assistant and hire me instead.” These things have to be done subtly. Ideally, the CEO will feel like this was his idea. This is master-level career management type stuff, but it can be done. Take on a few extra tasks and do them extremely well. Maybe suck up a little (sorry, but sometimes it works: flattery, done right, works even when they know what you’re doing). Agree with the comment above, that if the other assistant is out sick or on vacation, ask if he would like you to cover – then do an amazing job. Find a way to mention your interest in the job ‘someday,’ in a way that seems casual. It may not work out – he may well keep this person forever, or end up firing her and hiring someone else – but it doesn’t hurt to try, and you can brush up on your Slytherin House skills for a while.

  9. ReadItWithSpanishAccent

    I am an executive assistant for a CEO, and I agree this promotion is super weird. Specially if we take into account that her job performance as receptionist was far from stellar. I suspect there is something else going on, which might also be playing in the CEO’s reluctance to fire her.

    1. Adam V

      I wonder if it came from a discussion when he was still being hired – he mentions to the CFO (or similar) at the end of the final interview “hey, I’m also going to need an assistant”, and they reply “oh, you should just promote Sherry, she’s been at the front desk for a long time and has been talking about wanting to move up from receptionist”.

  10. TallTeapot

    Alison, that is some solid advice–and such nice wording! As I was reading it, I could guess where your answer was going to go, but couldn’t find the right words. Love AAM!

    1. Myrin

      I was going to say the same! I often find myself wondering while reading a letter how one could possibly come up with an elegant, direct, and polite way of expressing oneself and then Alison arrives with her great phrasings!

  11. Lora

    There’s all sorts of things the CEO might be doing that you don’t know about – maybe he is trying to find an opening in a department where she will be working at a job more on her level, and he’s having trouble finding one. Maybe he is asking people in his network if they can use someone with her skill level, whatever that may be. Maybe he is setting up a severance package that would include job hunting assistance and has to do some HR wrangling. And yeah, some people are allergic to firing even when it is richly deserved.

    But yeah, if someone marched into my office and basically said (from my perspective): “I’ve been eavesdropping on your conversations and I think you should fire Jane! She sucks!” I would raise an eyebrow and say OH REALLY? TELL ME MORE ABOUT HOW I SHOULD RUN MY OFFICE AND DO MY JOB! But if you marched into my office and said, “I would love to help take on more tasks if there’s anything I can do to help – I did office manager stuff for years at MegaCorp, it’s no problem!” I would be like, hey, in that case I have (test task) for you, can you handle that for me? And if you did awesome it would make a lovely impression and I would start offloading more of Jane’s tasks to you, and this naturally inspires thoughts come review-time of “Jane doesn’t do a whole lot around here anymore…”

  12. Billy

    Definately a situation for a light touch.

    First, keep in mind there was a reason the CEO picked her out of (presumably) a long list of potential choices. Whatever that reason was may be keeping the CEO from being able to get rid of her.

    With that in mind, the second danger: Volunteering to take on additional duties does show off your competence, but there is a risk that you would get stuck with the duties (and not the promotion) long term.

    What you can do is look for one-off projects, or cover for her vacation, or other limited duties. If/when the CEO praises your diligence, say something like “Thank you — I enjoyed working with you too.”

  13. cncx

    i wouldn’t want to work for someone who did this so even though i am an EA i would not want to take this job. Either something is going on with the receptionist chick (sorry, spicy food story still in my head ) or the manager is a poor people manager (as evidenced by not firing someone who is a bad fit for the skill set, not knowing that there is a difference in skill set between EA and reception).

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      So, I thought about making this argument — that the OP shouldn’t want to work for someone who’s a bad manager. But I think we’d need to know more before saying that. Not addressing performance issues is a pretty severe management sin, but really the question for the OP is how it would impact her. At the EA level, it might not have a big impact on her day-to-day quality of life (although it might if it means that she’d be forced to work with people who suck at their jobs). It’s definitely something for her to take a clear-eyed look at though.

      1. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed

        We also don’t know for sure that he’s not addressing them. Sometimes it’s a process and you want to give people a chance before taking more severe disciplinary action.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Absolutely — but it sounds like it’s been going on for a year. So even if it’s addressing it behind the scenes, he moves remarkably slowly, like a sloth.

      2. LBK

        Yeah, I would think that the relationship between an executive and EA is more one-on-one than other roles where your manager’s inability to performance manage can ruin your life. Normally I’d completely agree, but in this case I think the OP would have to take into consideration how closely she’d actually be working with any of the manager’s other direct reports. If they’re all other high-level execs who she’ll pretty much only see when they need to go through her to schedule meetings or whatnot, I don’t think that will be as bad as when you have a close peer who sucks and that your manager won’t fire.

    2. Tomato Frog

      I’ve had some managers who were objectively poor at managing but my experience working for them was still good. I think we all have to figure out what’s important to us, personally.

      1. Lissa

        Your last phrase is important — I think it’s possible to have a pretty serious flaw (as a manager, etc) that would really be a dealbreaker for some people, but others would be totally fine with it. For instance I’d be OK with a manager who took forever to deal with problems but not one who often yelled or snapped when frustrated (and I’ve had both!) Someone else might feel exactly opposite.

        I’m not so much saying “there are no perfect bosses so find the one with the flaws you can deal with” but I guess there’s a bit of that…I just think often it’s easy to write off somebody we only know from a paragraph or two long advice-seeking letter because all we hear about are the flaws. But I don’t see any for-sure evidence that this person would be bad to work for for everybody.

  14. Gaara

    Another option, if you don’t want to be that direct, is to ask about how to position yourself for opportunities for advancement, and mention that you’re be interested in moving up to that kind of administrative assistant role. You don’t have to make it about her job, specifically (assuming there are other similar positions in the organization).

  15. Anonymous in the South

    I think this is all the CEO’s fault for just promoting someone without finding out if they had the necessary skills. I realize hiring a great assistant (or any employee for that matter) takes time and he needed someone immediately. He could have asked the receptionist to fill in until he hired someone and encouraged her to apply if she was interested. She might be at home at night crying her eyes out because she’s in over her head and is doing the “brush off” thing just to keep from being emotional. Of course she could also be oblivious.

    Also, if an employee just up and said they have been overhearing all my conversations with my assistant and that I should fire her and hire them, that would not go over well. If you really want this job, use all the suggestions from the comments and Alison’s advice. Go in like a bulldozer and you might be the one getting shown the door.

  16. neverjaunty

    Great assistants are worth their weight in gold.

    That said, OP, if I were the CEO and you came to me with either your approach or AAM’s, my (probably internal) response would be “Thanks for your feedback, Littlefinger.” Somebody who wants an existing employee’s job is probably not the most objective reporter on that employee’s performance or their own ability to do that job. And you’re then teaching the CEO that any legitimate criticisms you may have of this employee should be taken with a grain of ambition-flavored salt.

  17. AmberRachel

    OP here. Thanks for everyone’s comments and for your advice Alison. To answer some questions, why did this CEO hire this person in the first place? I think someone hit the nail on the head when they said the CEO probably thought : I need an assistant ASAP, but do not want to disrupt the current working environment by moving someone else’s assistant. I also don’t have time to do a real hiring process. Let’s take this ‘assistant’ who doesn’t assist a specific person and have them assist me, because it’s all the same skills (it’s not), and we can do the process to hire a receptionist because that role isn’t as time sensitive.”

    When he came on board, I didn’t even know this position was available. The CEO came in and promoted two new people right off the bat, one position being this assistant and one other position. You would think he would send an email out to everyone in the department letting them know these positions were available. Granted, the position may have been posted on our internal job website, but usually if someone in the department is looking to hire someone, they may also send an email out to everyone in the department, in case someone in the department wants to apply.

    Regarding the previous CEO, he worked in a different building, and shared an assistant with other senior management in the building.

    P.S. I was NOT thinking of marching into his office and demanding “Fire her, hire me.” I was more thinking along the lines of what Alison suggested, although I couldn’t figure out exactly how to word my question. I didn’t mean for it to come out as if I wanted to tell the CEO what to do, more “how can I plant this seed in his head?”.

  18. LD

    I see many commenters have mentioned something like this before and I want to reiterate that there is a lot of confusion around the title “Executive Assistant.” In some cases it is a senior level administrative role for an executive. But in many cases it is the title of an Executive who is an assistant to a more senior level executive. I’ve seen it work as the succession role to CEO. So there’s some part of the confusion.

    1. sssssssss

      Yes. At past jobs, an EA would be just above the administrative assistant, providing administrative support to the executives of the firm and most certainly NOT earning six-figures. It’s a lot of schedule managing, travel booking, expense form filling and anticipating the needs of the executive as well as a lot of other various tasks to help keep the executive on point. It requires also a lot of discretion.

      At my current job, the President and the Secretary Treasurer each have two to three EAs and they are all most certainly 2nd in command, command respect and people’s attention and they can approve or shut down projects, are almost like the right hand “man” to the senior executive and their salaries most certainly are high. They are not to be messed with.

    2. Lily in NYC

      True, although I rarely see it used for an executive much these days (I see it mostly in federal agencies). It seems like “special assistant” has become more prevalent. It’s confusing.

  19. Clark Kent

    Whenever I hear about someone seemingly incompetent who has made it this far up the chain, I start to wonder if they fight crime on the side, and that’s why they’re always hassled and messing up their day job.

    1. Lissa

      Hahaha, excellent. Seriously, so many of the superheroes/crimefighters etc would have been fired in real life… now I want someone to write a book from the POV of the crimefighter’s frustrated coworker who has no idea why Robin keeps showing up late, coming in with strange injuries, leaving at odd hours…

  20. I'm Not Phyllis

    I just want to caution you against judging the assistant based on the conversations you’re mentioning above. I used to be the executive assistant to a CEO (which I still am – just at a different place), and she would do things like delete calendar invitations and blame me (I kept screenshots after a while), double book herself (again, screenshots) and blame me, not show up for meetings that I had 100% told her about and prepped her for but would still blame me that she was missing them. I won’t even go into the other details, but it suffices to say that she was not a great person to work for, but I’m almost sure that people at that place thought I was a complete screw up.

    Same job, different company and I have exemplary performance reviews, a great relationship with my boss and my colleagues. So the problems, while not all Old CEO’s fault I’m sure, weren’t entirely mine either.

    That being said, if the assistant really is messing up as much as it seemed, they won’t last long. CEOs need good assistants. If and when the CEO is ready to move on I’d encourage you to go for the job.

  21. Anon Accountant

    Yeah this is how we have 2 CPAs that now spend about 25% of their time doing clerical/administrative work such as typing statements and reports, scheduling meetings, etc.

    Because our office assistant admits she can’t type and she struggles to use Microsoft Word. So management has reassigned her work to CPAs who aren’t doing billable work during that time. Yeah it’s fun

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