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

I’m off today. This was originally published in 2012.

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?!  Dear god, no.

Do not ask him.

Do not ask his assistant for help again.

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

Do not, do not, do not.

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

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

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

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

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

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 187 comments… read them below }

    1. Volunteer Enforcer*

      I dreamt that AAM had Facebook reacts, I wish it did so I could like your comment. I definitely agree with you.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        After 8 days of working there. 8 days. New to the industry. 8 DAYS. My gob is so well and truly smacked it may never recover

        1. MistOrMister*

          What I missed the first time I read the letter….OP, 8 days in was writing to AAM….and noted having asked the EA “a few days ago” to do work for them. Which arguably means OP was asking the CEO’s EP to assist them within their first week on the job!!!!! I can only imagine that the EA was also smacked in the gob over that one.

        2. Ann Ominous*

          1. Love your gob smacked comment. Stealing it.

          2. LW reminds me of a former employee I had who was used to ‘directing’ a team and was hired to execute the work. He said he was fine with it. Instead, he started creating working groups for everything and assigned all the work to other people.

          The worst part was that he invited everyone to every meeting regardless of whether he had a role. He was a government civilian who was tasking contractors who didn’t think they could say no due to his status.

          I was amazed when I found out and shut that shit down quick (and he’s no longer with us, didn’t make it past his probationary period, but it did take a whole year to let him go).

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Or have a flashback of work-related PTSD from being a former assistant who had to fend this stuff off ALL THE TIME? Ugh — I could feel my blood pressure going up as I read this.

        1. The OTHER Other.*

          It sounds as though the assistant was quite diplomatic, all things considered. Some I’ve known would not have been so kind.

          The part where he gushes about how great the assistant is—well yeah, she’s the CEO’s assistant for a reason. And the part where he thinks he’s going to “impress” the CEO by… distracting one of his key resources? Beyond cringey. “I’m going to use the CEO’s desk and computer, he’ll be so impressed!”

    2. Naomi*

      I wouldn’t say most clueless–this one took the advice to heart and seems to have learned from it in the update, which is more than can be said for some others.

      1. JustaTech*

        Really the very best letters are the one where the writer is in serious need of a re-direct (like this one) and then, when Alison (and the rest of us) offer that advice, they *take* it, run with it, learn and grow from it, and come back and tell us.

        As much as I enjoy the instant gratification of the comeuppance of someone who has erred egregiously, I like even better the warm and fuzzy glow of the people who realize how far wrong they have gone and make real change to do better.

        1. Very Social*

          Yes, me too. I hadn’t read this one before and it’s now one of my favorite updates of all time. It’s so satisfying!

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        The OP owned his mistake, and he didn’t blamestorm or pout about it. It’s not unheard of here, but it’s definitely not typical.

      3. BRR*

        Far from the most clueless (I would award that to the person who ghosted their ex or the person who wouldn’t give up their subway seat) and I think it’s a bit unkind to say that. Reading the LW’s responses on the original thread and the update, they responded politely to a lot of very harsh comments.

        1. Captain Swan*

          I think the beer run boss from a few years back would also be pretty far up on the clueless list.

          1. Lance*

            Beer run boss at least turned it around for themselves and learned from it (even if it took a second update).

          2. Observer*

            Beer run boss did also turn it around – but they were starting from a much worse place. This OP was clueless and entitled, but what he did would not have merited firing. And he had the sense to pull back and ask AAM *before* getting to the firing point. Beer Run Boss had much, much further and was fired for good reason. It was not just that they went further – their behavior was far from “clueless”. They were flat out insubordinate and they did / allowed stuff that was both morally bad and legally questionable. And their first response to Alison was childish and pouty.

            Don’t get me wrong. I think that they deserve credit for heeding the wake up call of their firing and Alison’s scolding. But I would not have called them “clueless”.

          3. Very Social*

            I’d put this guy a couple of steps above beer run boss and the woman who hired a friend of a friend who then did her best to sabotage the woman’s original employee. He turned it around a lot faster than they did and with, apparently, no negative repercussions on anyone else.

        2. somanyquestions*

          Oh, the one who ghosted his ex. His ongoing self-righteousness was stunning. And he kept going with it, like continuing to argue would make him right.

          1. Re'lar Fela*


            There’s a difference between not knowing, learning, and growing vs knowing, doubling down anyway, and then flinging insults at the people who tried to offer advice

        3. Disco Janet*

          Agreed. And I would also nominate the boss who wouldn’t let his best employee come in two hours late one day to attend their college graduation, and when she quit wanted to reach out and let her know how unprofessional this was (and his logic was that since she was raised in foster care, she clearly didn’t understand etiquette.)

          1. Koalafied*

            Didn’t we actually get an update on that one at some point, that the employee in question saw the letter (much later, I think?) and recognized herself in it, and maybe even commented on it or an update to it? Or was that just a fever dream that I had?

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Yes! I was getting ready to mention that one; glad I saw your comment first.

            I have never felt so strong an urge to reach through the screen and slap some sense into someone as I did with that LW. And the followup where she dug in with both feet and proceeded to deliver a lecture about how SHE was right and everyone else (the employee, Alison, and the commentariat) were all wrong wrong wrong was even worse. *epic eye roll*

            She evidently wrote in wanting to be validated, period, and any kind of discussion about why she might possibly not be 100% right was highly unwelcome to her!

            I just googled to find the letter and update to see if it was as bad as I remembered. And gee golly gosh, I think it was even worse!

            I really hope Leap Day Employee found a better job. That boss sounded like she would be a pita to work for, even leaving the birthday issue aside. People who are that rigid and inflexible are never pleasant to work for, in my extensive experience.

      4. Observer*

        I wouldn’t say most clueless–this one took the advice to heart and seems to have learned from it in the update, which is more than can be said for some others.

        Yes. This was a stunning read. But they really did seem to learn from their mistake. So that’s a big win.

      5. fposte*

        It was an amazing pivot–they not only realized their error but took big active steps to acknowledge it and apologize for it. It would have been easy to just try to melt into the ground when you realize how out of step you were. I suspect this mattered a lot to his reputation there–the guy screwed up but learned from it big time.

      1. Sasha*

        The update where he had applied to be HOD when three departments merged, and felt it was asking for an assistant that had scuppered his chances, and not only have three months’ experience in the industry? That update?

        1. Disco Janet*

          That’s the most ungenerous take possible on the update. It takes grace to admit you messed up and apologize. We have no idea what the specifics were in terms of OP’s experience, how it may have suited the newly merged department, or who the other applicants were. And then noting not getting that job was not the main point of their update – them learning a valuable lesson was.

          1. Koalafied*

            And in fact, he said that he believed it was “a” direct cause of not being in the running for the promotion. That doesn’t mean he thinks it was the sole deciding factor. “Taken out of the running” also read to me like he didn’t get far in the process – like he was told not to apply or was rejected just based on the initial application without going through an interview process. Which if that’s the case, he may well have been right – it’s possible he would have been at least invited to interview for the role if he hadn’t made this misstep, but because he did he wasn’t even considered.

            While normally applying for a promotion after 3 months would be a non-starter, I do think it’s a bit of a different situation when your own department is being reorged, you’re a supervisor, and the company is looking to bump one of the existing supervisors up to manage the merged department rather than create an entirely new role. Especially since OP had mentioned that in his previous job he managed a small team so while he was new to the industry he did have some relevant people management experience.

            1. Sasha*

              We will just have to agree to disagree – to me, in my industry, applying to be Head of Department within three months of being appointed as supervisor, especially if you had only recently transferred into the industry (so no wider experience of industry norms), and when the new Head of Department role is overseeing a merger of three separate departments… that’s even more tone deaf than trying to poach the CEO’s EA.

    3. Clisby*

      I cannot believe I missed this the first time around. Holy hell, what job does this person have that she (or he) needs an assistant to handle calls and emails? The only reference I see is that the CEO is the boss, so could this possibly be the CFO? I doubt it, since the question is so clueless.

      Anyway, OP should look into voicemail.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I was trying to think what the OPs role might be, as it seems like they are in finance (as the admin said she couldn’t assist with finance projects) but also has a graphic designer reporting to them? Perhaps account management or such like. It seems quite rare to have one’s own dedicated admin/assistant these days. In my company and those I’ve worked in before, only the CEO etc have an assistant. None of the execs in my current company have one!

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I remember reading this in 2012 with my eyebrows up in my hairline, and it still has the same effect today. The audacity of trying to co-opt the CEO’s assistant, and then to try to turn the graphic designer into his assistant!

  1. Frank Doyle*

    The original post is actually from 2012! I wonder how the poster is doing now. From the update a few months later it looks like he took the advice well.

    I think it’s a bit odd that they are “new to the working world” and yet had an assistant in their previous role; I am really curious about that!

    1. Fluffyfish*

      Considering how hugely off the mark they were regarding assistants, I’m not so sure they really did have an assistant so much as they had some poor admin staff they coopted.

      1. Meep*

        This. I love the update, but considering he also thought this is what lead him to not be department head a few months later rather than his admitted lack of experience, I have a feeling, he didn’t know he didn’t actually have an assistant.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Yeah, not sure why they thought they would be a department head after working there only a few months. And were new to the industry to boot. I don’t think it was JUST the assistant thing. Oh my, I want the CEO to be my mentor was also kinda cringey. You’ve know the guy 8 days and you decide the CEO of the ENTIRE company should be your mentor?

          I think OP got a little over enthusiatic and needed to dial it back about 12 notches.

          1. MsM*

            Yeah, the mentor thing kinda had me shaking my head and thinking “two steps forward, one step back.” But hey, it’s been a decade; hopefully they kept learning and improving and are now a great boss and mentor to someone else.

        2. WellRed*

          Yes I had to look to see how much time passed between original and update, and yeah, wow. Even without the major faux pas, that seems a stretch after a few months.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yeah, it seems like he thinks “his assistant” is anyone he can grab and press into the role.

              1. Meep*

                He responds to the original letter at length discussing how pretty he thinks the assistant is. Rather unprompted too.

                1. Observer*

                  There were signs of sexism, but he didn’t discuss her looks “at length”, nor was it really unprompted. I do agree he could have left it out altogether, but this isn’t really an accurate description of his comment.

                  I think that some of his other comments are more concerning in this respect. Like that he asked her to call the boss because the reason she refused to help him must be because she just “didn’t understand” and that she “somehow” managed to work herself up to this position as though being excellent, quick and precise don’t explain how she got where she is.

                2. Sasha*

                  I appreciate it was 10 years ago, he was a very young new graduate with no real work experience, and hopefully he has grown up and calmed down by now, but the way he discussed “being drawn to” the EA…. just made me wonder if this guy thought he was in the cast of Suits. With the beautiful, calm and efficient EA playing Meghan Markle and bailing him out of trouble, while he takes all the credit in exchange for a romantic dinner or two.

                  It definitely came across in the comments update as him having a crush, but viewing her as a good candidate for the vacant role of glamorous assistant/sidekick/support human, rather than a normal crush where you want to date somebody.

                  Or maybe I am completely wrong, she felt the same way, and the two of them are now married with a couple of kids.

        4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Perhaps his ‘assistant’ at his old job was the Assistant Manager rather than Assistsant to the Manager…!

      2. Antilles*

        Or alternatively, it was an office-wide admin and he didn’t realize that her tasks covered everyone.
        For example, the admin has has the main incoming line at her desk and access to the general ContactUs email address – so “answer my calls and emails” wasn’t actually a special service to OP, just normal receptionist routing of incoming stuff.

      3. to varying degrees*

        They commented a number of times in the original post. It sounds like it was a traditional assistant role of answering and filtering emails, scheduling meetings, etc.

        Truthfully, based on the comments it sounds like they had a rather abnormal experience in their first job and this one which skewed their viewpoint on normal procedure.

        1. Fluffyfish*

          I mean it’s possible but there’s really not very many businesses that are going to pay someone to be a dedicated assistant for just anybody.

          I believe there was an a person who did that work, but I’m skeptical they were specifically assigned to them and only them.

          A comment below says according to their memory “Sales Manager at a small office and the assistant answered phone calls and emails in order to triage sales leads and customer service requests, so that wouldn’t be weird but that position probably wasn’t an EA or PA.” I tend to agree.

          While that’s likely a job titled “assistant” it’s not quite the same as they were HIS assistant like a CEO would have an EA.

          I suppose it doesn’t really matter, it’s all speculation, but just assuming you get/need an assistant is a wildly bizarre take. I mean this guy was talking about potentially pulling a SME to do what…answer his phone?

          And even in his follow up – he still seems to be missing the big picture. It was focused on the misstep of asking the CEOs admin for help. There didn’t seem to be recognition that he was off base asking at all. He asked the CEO (!) to be his mentor (oof), and thinks that he wasn’t in the running for a department head position because he asked the CEO’s admin for help. Not because he’s new and inexperienced.

          I guess regardless of whether he did truly have an assistant or not, the overarching issue is that he has a lot of misconceptions about the working world. It strikes me almost as someone who has gleaned their knowledge of work from a tv show. I’ll show my age, but like watching Saved by the Bell and thinking that’s how high school worked.

          I hope wherever they are now that they’re successful and have a better understanding of normal.

          1. EM*

            I was once considered for a role as a trainee solicitor largely on the grounds of my typing speed, which I had (unusually for me) included in my application for the job. I was told in the interview that a major factor in whittling down the list was whether or not they thought they would need to hire a PA for that person… I didn’t like to tell them that anyone in a position to be applying for a legal traineeship in the year of our lord 2012 would, in fact, be able to type their own papers and reply to their own emails…

    2. oh geez*

      I wonder if it was more of a “program support” role that they mistook / misused as an direct assistant. We have those at my workplace, professionals who manage department calendars, communal assets. events, purchases, etc., and I *could* ask them to make a purchase for me or help me arrange something by making a call or two, but doing it just for my own benefit and not the general benefit of my department would be a faux-pas.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        We have a pool of admin and support staff available for each department and when you engage them they bill their time, supplies, etc. to your grant/project code, so sure I have the exclusive use of an admin (or IT, or graphic design) when I pay for them to work with me. In theory I could pay them to answer my calls, do my emails, etc, but then I’d run out of that budget line 2 weeks into the project year

    3. Bernice Clifton*

      If I recall from the OP’s updates on the original post, he was a Sales Manager at a small office and the assistant answered phone calls and emails in order to triage sales leads and customer service requests, so that wouldn’t be weird but that position probably wasn’t an EA or PA.

    4. doreen*

      I kind of wonder if they really did have an assistant – most of the offices I worked in had support staff who were not assigned to particular people. They had a supervisor and if a staff member needed something done ( for example, a report typed) , it was to go through the supervisor for assignment but there were always a couple of people who would try to bypass the supervisor and give the work to “Joy” as if Joy was assigned to assist only that person.

    5. kiki*

      I was wondering too, but on re-reading, I saw that LW said they were new to this industry, so I’m wondering if they had a significant amount of experience in a very, very different realm. I was also wondering how somebody who’ was hired at a supervisor level could be so clueless about modern norms about assistants, but hearing that it was an industry pivot for them made me think whatever industry they’re coming from is kind of old-school.

      1. londonedit*

        I wondered that when I first read it too – it’s a bit buried but the OP does say ‘…I’d love him to mentor me since I’m new to the industry and the work world in general’.

        1. kiki*

          Oh gosh. Noooooo, it seems like they were already hired above their readiness to be made supervisor of somebody, why would they think after a few months they could be department head?

          I’d be interested to hear more from this LW and how their career has been! Mortification week is always a great reminder that so many of us made glaring errors early in our careers. It’s fun to realize how much folks grow, learn, and change.

          1. londonedit*

            I commented below but I’ve worked with someone in the past who absolutely believed they should be promoted three or four levels above where they’d been hired – within just a few months of starting their job! They were a total nightmare as they just crashed about like a bull in a china shop doing whichever bits of their job were more exciting/more glamorous rather than doing the bits that actually supported the rest of us in the department to do our jobs.

            1. Spooncake*

              I once had a direct report who had been told that one more warning would result in disciplinary action and possibly a PIP, and when I handed in my notice a matter of weeks later they seriously considered applying for my job. They’ve moved on now to something that suits them better, as have I, but my goodness, that assessment of their chances was WAY off-base.

              1. Ampersand*

                In my experience, many people on PIPs are in that situation because they truly don’t understand that/how their behavior is problematic….so it’s on brand that they don’t understand why applying for a coworker’s (or manager’s) job is just not gonna work.

            2. Meep*

              I worked with a guy who’s a year older than me and fast-tracked his Ph.D. By that I mean, he was in the accelerated Master’s program so he got his Bachelor’s and Master’s in 5 years and then used those double credits to get his Ph.D. in 1.5 years. So he had essentially taken 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of graduate classes. This kid thought he was HOT shit. He had to be told he was not coming in as a Senior Engineer. Then when he was told, he decided his job title would be PRINCIPLE Engineer (for anyone curious Senior is typically 8+ years of experience, Principle is 12+ years). The funny thing was I had more work experience than him with my measly Bachelor’s even with all his lab experience. This was 4 years ago. Now I just laugh that our CTO is 29 years old with two years of experience because god speed finding a job outside of this start-up. The title means nothing without the experience.

              1. Claire W*

                Oh yikes, I worked in a place like that once, where the guy who was CTO had been hired because of a fun personal project but it was his first role in a software development company… He was a lovely guy but it’s so hard to see that that can actually make job hunting/moving impossible.

                That said the company was a mess, they gave me a ‘warning’ in my first week that it was the first time they’d had a female employee so I should let the company owners know if any of the guys were ‘weird about it’. I left within 6 weeks of joining.

            3. Irish Teacher*

              You’ve reminded me of when I worked retail and we had this trainee manager – our branch was a training hub so when he’d been there…maybe three weeks? we got some more trainee managers. And this guy was making himself out to be the pure expert – “if you have any questions, come to me” – and mocking/sneering at them when they made a mistake. This problem was having only been there a few weeks himself, his own knowledge of a lot of the stuff was patchy and he’d be trying to make himself out an expert on something and then realise halfway through, he wasn’t sure of some important detail and have to ask me – I was not a manager and this stuff wasn’t even my job but I’d learnt a certain amount just from watching the managers and talking to them. It would have been no big deal had he not been trying to act so knowledgeable.

              I don’t think the LW is like this guy, by the way. The LW just seems to have been young and not yet atuned to the working world and was very open to realising they were wrong. This guy was probably in his 30s.

      1. The one who wears too much black*

        Thank you for including this! OP sure had a lot of confidence. I hope they didn’t lose that even as they tried to learn work norms.

      2. Rob*

        OMG!!!! this guy was entitled. My jaw dropped when right after mentioning how amazing she was at her job he he “she worked her way up somehow”

        She worked her way up to be the CEO’s EA by being amazing at her job……

        1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

          I was gonna comment on the “somehow” part as well! This guy thought that the path to the C-suite should have fallen into his lap after only a few months, but he couldn’t figure out how a professional, hardworking woman who’d been there yeeeears longer could have risen so high? There was also some misogyny in his comments, so I’m having a hard time believing he wasn’t on some level implying that she used her “feminine wiles” to get what she wanted. Especially since he also outright stated he was going to basically “use” her to get in good with the CEO. As if she were an object he found attractive (which he also stated) and not a person in her own right.

    6. Observer*

      I think it’s a bit odd that they are “new to the working world” and yet had an assistant in their previous role; I am really curious about that!

      Where does it say that they are new working world? It does say that they are new to the industry – so that could be a career switch rather a full on work newbie.

      1. Mid*

        Last line of the fourth paragraph. “I would love for him to mentor me since I am new to the industry and the work world in general.”

      2. Observer*

        OK, I went back to the original and the OP’s comments. It’s pretty clear that they did have an assistant, but had apparently never learned how moderate sized organizations actually work.

    7. kiki*

      I found one of OP’s comments on the original post:
      I have only had one other job as a manger of a sales department for a small business. I have an MBA.

      I feel like that makes the picture of the situation more clear to me. I don’t want to disparage MBA-holders or MBA programs, but I feel I’ve seen a fair amount of stories of folks with MBA’s and no experience getting into high-level jobs and being clueless. In the last 10 or so years, a lot of programs popped up for folks who just finished their undergraduate degree to get an MBA before they have any real industry experience, often in management. They get roles as managers or supervisors because they have credentials and have studied how businesses should work in theory, but they’ve never actually been in many real businesses. These people are managing people, but they don’t know basics norms of offices like, “You don’t get to assign work to other folks’ assistants, even if you are technically above them in the org chart,” or “Your designer direct report should not temporarily stand in as your assistant.”

      1. MsM*

        My program insisted everyone have at least two years of full-time experience, and recommended five. (I had four; in retrospect, 6+ probably would have been better.)

        1. kiki*

          I really like that your program insisted on experience! I really think MBAs are most valuable with the context having worked in an industry brings.

      2. Meep*

        This is also a common thing in engineering. I have dealt with plenty of male engineers with no real-world experience who claim to have 8+ years because that is how long they were in school for.

    8. Cj*

      I saw where it said where they are new to the industry, but I don’t think it said they are new to the working world, unless I missed it.

      1. Sasha*

        They mentioned in as a reason why they wanted the CEO to mentor them, and said in the comments that this was their first job in that industry, and second job overall (first job being a sales position).

  2. Caramel & Cheddar*

    The only thing you need to do about the CEO’s assistant is make sure that you’re sharing with him when she does a great job on something, and that’s for the benefit of making sure positive feedback is shared upwards to someone in charge of managing her performance and increasing her salary and opportunities, not so that you can get your hooks into her.

    1. Persnickity*

      I am being picky here I know, but why is the CEO in your scenario “him” and the assistant “her”? CEOs can be female.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Because Caramel & Cheddar is referring to the people in this letter, who are in fact a male CEO and a female assistant?

        You’re certainly not wrong in general, but I think C&C was being specific.

      2. kiki*

        Not Caramel & Cheddar, but I imagine they did so because in the letter above, the CEO used he/him pronouns and the assistant used she/her. They were giving advice about this particular situation,

      3. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Because that’s what the letter says and I make an effort to match my pronoun usage to what’s in the letter, whether it specifies clearly like this one did or when the LW takes a broader approach to referring to people.

    2. TinaTurner*

      Even praise needs to be done w/care, because the CEO’s asst. is not just ANY “support staff clerk.” Praise could sound presumptuous or worse if poorly worded.
      LW was so lucky that she & CEO were both pretty gracious, given that there usually is a hierarchy for “assistants” just as for any other job. A good exec. asst. to the CEO could make more than LW does and be more valued. A good one one has access to “secrets” before the staff does. A good one has the CEO’s trust.

  3. remote34*

    What a surprisingly good and gracious update. I’d love to hear from this LW now about how their career has progressed over the past ten years.

  4. to varying degrees*

    I remember reading this (not a the time) when I was serving as an assistant and all I could do was make horrified little gasps at each paragraph (still having the same reaction). I do think it’s great that the LW realized the error of their ways and readjusted. exactly why AAM is here.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      So much gasping.

      OP is correct that getting the CEO’s assistant assigned to also be OP’s assistant would increase OP’s visibility to the CEO.

      1. to varying degrees*

        Oh definitely they were correct about that! And having watched some former colleagues crash and burn because of more visibility, that can backfire real quick.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Same for me: I was working as an assistant when this letter first came out, and I was increasingly horrified with each paragraph (and still having the same reaction after all these years).

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    With the update, this is a great example of how someone can start in with a potentially legendary excess of gumption, and then actually change course and rein it way in.

  6. the cat's ass*

    This was so cringe, but the LW was really gracious about the advice and seems to have mostly salvaged things. Hope they’re doing well.

    Hope everything goes well today for Alison and her mom, too.

  7. ZSD*

    I remember nearly fainting when this was posted ten years ago, and that was back when I was overfull of gumption myself. I’m not sure if I read the update back when it was posted, but it’s great to see that the OP learned from his mistake. I agree with others that it would be nice to get a “where are they now?” update from him this year.

    1. londonedit*

      I haven’t been here 10 years but I’ve seen this letter before on suggested posts and I think the update was brilliant. It always really reminds me of someone I worked with several years ago – he was the absolute embodiment of ‘gumption!!’/’grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man’ and his number one goal was to basically bulldoze his way into doing the job he wanted, which was two or three levels above the job he actually had (which, by the way, was entirely appropriate for his level of experience). If we’d had executive assistants in the department I can absolutely imagine him just rocking up and asking them to do things for him despite the fact that he was in no way an executive and part of his job was actually meant to be doing some of the assisting for the rest of us.

  8. Meep*

    Dear god. I am glad he learned, but this 100% wreaks of sexism and incompetence from the jump. Who needs an assistant when they are new to their career? It screams you don’t know how to do your own job!

    I hope OP is thriving and doing well a decade later.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Someone who watched too many old tv shows. On tv, the busy people always have assistants. You don’t see someone answering their own email or making routine calls. They do the cool stuff that looks good on screen.

    2. NewJobNewGal*

      So much!
      I worked somewhere where guys would start on their first day and assume a woman would be at their beck and call like some old timey TV show. I wouldn’t even be introduced to the new guy, but they would ask me to fetch lunch or tidy up their office. That’s what they thought Administrative Assistants did! But I was too busy maintaining a reporting server, proofing legal docs, and conducting research to clean some weirdo’s office windows.

        1. NewJobNewGal*

          My response would be a deeply confused look and then “I’ll see what can be done for you.” Then I’d gather everyone I knew, tell them what happened, and we’d all laugh and laugh and laugh. Then the highest ranking executive available would have a conversation with the weirdo.

    3. JustaTech*

      Honestly the idea of anyone other than the C-suite having an assistant is weird to me.
      At my company the CEO has an EA, and I know the last COO had an EA, and when she left her EA stayed on as the I guess EA for that department (the new COO is in another state, so if he has an EA they’re someone else).

      But even the person who helps my department director manage his (insane) calendar isn’t just *his* EA; she has a completely different title and does a ton of separate stuff. She’s basically the EA for the whole department (and we are utterly grateful to her and all do our very best to not ask her for help until we are completely lost because, again, not our assistant!)

      1. NewJobNewGal*

        I hate to age myself, but back in the 90’s it was common for Directors and above to have an assistant. But that was before real email communication and travel arrangements would need to be made over the phone. I spent a lot of time taking dictation and typing up letters. And printing so many documents!
        Now only the top brass has an assistant. A whole department may share an assistant or clerk, but it’s rare for them to manage an individual’s calendar or answer phones.
        Managing email, travel, and calendars has become so simple that it’s understood to be a basic organization skill for staff and management.

        1. JustaTech*

          That totally makes sense! Thank goodness for technology making those tasks so much easier.

          Honestly the only reason we ask the EA for help with travel stuff is that we don’t do it very often and Concur is horrible and scary.

          (As a kid I was the unofficial printer assistant, but that was a case of “you’ve got little fingers, can you un-jam this?”)

      2. turquoisecow*

        The only people I’ve worked with who had assistants who would do that sort of stuff have been VPs or C-suite people. My old job, the department VP had an assistant who would often manage his calendar for him so if you had a meeting request from him it would come from the admin on his behalf, and I think if you were scheduling a meeting with him (which I never did), you had to copy the assistant on the request.

        At my current small company, only the COO has an assistant, who manages his calendar and sometimes sends out email announcements on his behalf (though other times he sends them himself), but she also acts as sort of office manager for the whole office and will order office supplies and handle some billing and things like that.

        I guess it’s different in other companies or industries but I’d be surprised if anyone below VP level got an assistant. Maybe a department assistant to handle administrative things for several managers at once, like handles mailing and billing for the entire department so someone at OP’s level could ask them to do a particular task but would have to share with others. But even then I feel like that work would just be divided among the lower-level employees.

      3. AsPerElaine*

        There was talk of trying to get the department head at my last job an assistant. There were only eight or twelve of us underlings at the time, but department head was WAY too busy and it was hard to get his time an attention when you needed him, so the idea was we could maybe offload some of the administrative stuff onto someone (who could then also do some amount of that for the whole team). Of course, he was always too busy to spend the time to actually get a job description written or a role opened.

      4. mreasy*

        Excited to announce that our c-suite comms person (new to the c suite but not the exec team and extremely senior/well-respected) and I, now an SVP under her, are being regularly asked if some administrative but vaguely comms-related task (like…updating their sales pitch messaging/deck??) is “now something we would help with,” by people junior to our roles. You may be shocked to hear that we are both women.

        1. MsM*

          Oh, dear. I suppose it’s giving them too much benefit of the doubt to hope their supervisors said to check with you if someone else in the department had the bandwidth to help, and it got garbled along the way?

      5. Churpairs*

        I work in higher ed. I was hired in ten years ago to run a program that had a part-time director who was a faculty member. I cannot tell you how many people mistook me for the professor’s assistant. It wasn’t all that long ago that many professors had secretaries, and let me tell you, many of them are NOT happy they no longer have them.

      6. Canadian Librarian #72*

        When I worked in corporate law, it was very common (ubiquitous, actually) for lawyers and senior law clerks to have assistants. These were legal assistants, who were specifically trained in lower-level legal and other administrative work that the lawyers would outsource to them in the interest of time and efficiency. However, virtually none of the lawyers had their own assistants for their sole personal use; assistants were shared between 3-5 lawyers. But, the point being, assistants are not a thing of the past.

      7. Koalafied*

        At my org the C-suite plus the department VPs have assistants, but at least in my department it’s much like yours where the VP’s assistant works on special projects where she’s able to both lend a hand administratively, and because she has a good feel for how the VP sees things, she’s also able to advise the special project managers on what proposals would be a waste of time and what they really need to make sure they include in a proposal if they want it to succeed.

        She does manage the VP’s calendar and has access to the VP’s email inbox so that she can respond to scheduling requests, set up meetings that the VP will be running, and take care of the purely administrative things like “open attachment from Person #1, check for completeness, send back if incomplete, if complete, possibly clean up formatting before forwarding to Person #2 for review and filing the email/any attachments anywhere they need to be stored for posterity. But for substantive project discussions, the VP writes her own emails.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Seriously. I got an assistant 15 years into my career, and they are an assistant for my department not for me personally. I run a 50-person department in a very busy, fast-paced, client services company, and I do not need my own, personal, full-time assistant. I answer my own phone calls (and IMs), and I only ask the admin to schedule meetings when it involves collaborating with multiple schedules/variables. They also support four other people and handle fairly complex administrative processes, coordination of onboarding and professional development offerings, and the totally random and unexpected things that we become responsible for what seem like daily.

      Even my boss, who is C-suite, does not have a personal admin – hers is also for the department and is responsible for a lot of important, detailed processes.

  9. Mel*

    Oh, there was a man at my last job who was…let’s say “not great at his job”. In fact, they wanted to supervise him so closely they put his desk right behind the operations manager. He thought it was a promotion and started asking the operations manager to grab things from the printer for him and such. Lucky for him the operations manager was just amused, and politely explained.

    (I couldn’t stand the guy, he was a misogynist who constantly tried to undermine my authority after I got a promotion to be more level with him. But guess who was in a separate building with no higher up around because she could be trusted to do her job without being watched.)

  10. MistOrMister*

    I do not remember reading this letter before. All I can say is, wow did my jaw hit the floor. Goodness gracious and holy moly!!! Thank goodness for AAM!! I am glad OP was open to the feedback here and was able to turn things around on the office. I shudder to think what might have happened had they proceeded on their originally planned track.

    It’s really mind boggling how so many of us make huge gaffes and have just really weird views of how to behave in the working world when we’re first starting out. Where do we even get these crazy ideas?! Along with a class on how to do your taxes and just otherwise adult, they should have some how to behave in a workplace classes in school. I mean come on, teach us the stuff we’re actually going to use! Yes, I know mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but dang it, that is no use to me in my office job. I would have liked some classes that would have kept me from doing stupid things as an office newbie. Boy would I have liked someone to tell me that no, I did NOT have to do karoake at the company party that year. Stupid peer pressure…

    1. Serin*

      This is what I was wondering — where do we even get these crazy ideas?

      It does seem like common sense that someone who’s been in the workforce for 15 minutes doesn’t get the same workplace support staff as the CEO of “a rather large corporation,” and if in doubt it seems like common sense to look around at the rest of the office and think, “Well, how many people in this room have a dedicated assistant?”

      And then we see the letters that are completely off target in the other direction: “I was hired to be a graphic designer, which is what my title says and what my degree is in, so I was surprised when I was told that I would be babysitting the CEO’s children and cleaning his house, but I guess I’m lucky to have a job at all, so my question is, do I really have to wear the funny hat?”

  11. The one who wears too much black*

    Man oh man, I almost gasped out loud at this section:

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

    The idea that a human can walk up to another human and immediately assess whether they are busy (“enough”!) at work has to go. I hope OP buried that idea along with their apparent entitlement.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      Yes, an admin assistant this was pretty flabbergasting.

      If the CEO’s EA was helping out another department’s assistants, it was probably for an important, time-sensitive project that the LW wouldn’t be in the know about. When I am assisting another department, that is typically the reason. Even if the CEO’s assistant was helping because she had extra time, it doesn’t mean anyone and everyone can ask her for help in order to get closer to her boss.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        and he’s only a week in, so maybe it’s a situation she’s helping with that predates his time there; a pre-existing agreement of some sort? After 8 days (hell even after a couple of months) you just don’t have enough info to know

    2. London Calling*

      And after a week. After a week at any job I barely know where the kitchen is and my way around the office, never mind assessing colleagues workloads.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        He’s just reading confirmation bias into every little thing, like it’s his manifest destiny to appropriate that assistant.

      2. Decima Dewey*

        Eight days into my first job in this library system I was still reading stacks of policies to learn how things were supposed to be done, and maybe once a day sitting at the reference desk with a more experienced librarian in case I got in over my head.

        I was not plotting to rearrange the department or take over the world a la Pinky and the Brain.

  12. SallyForth*

    Asking the designer to be her assistant brings to mind the shifting of the word “assistant” in a title. (Like Dwight in The Office) I was Assistant Librarian, meaning I served the library. The Librarian to whom I reported often referred to me as HER assistant. As in “I will have my assistant get back to you.” That stopped when she said it to one of our hospital’s VPs and the VP asked when the heck she got an assistant.

    1. The one who wears too much black*

      Sounds like the VP provided some excellent leadership coaching to the head librarian that you benefited from. It’s always nice to hear that! Good leaders do exist!

    2. londonedit*

      Definitely! In my industry we have Editorial Assistants and Assistant Editors. The role of an Editorial Assistant is basically to act as an admin assistant for the editorial department in general – they might do some basic hands-on editorial tasks but they’ll also be doing things like booking meetings, probably monitoring a general info@ email inbox or handling slush submissions, sending out complimentary copies of books to contributors, that sort of thing. Assistant Editors do a little of that but mainly assist the editors with more hands-on stuff like collating proof corrections, writing cover copy and maintaining any internal databases and whatnot, and they might also be learning about commissioning and reviewing proposals. Key point being that an Editorial Assistant is an assistant to the *editorial department*, and an Assistant Editor is a *junior editor*. Neither are assistants to one specific person, as a PA or EA would be – sometimes very senior people like a Publisher or Head of Department will have their own or a shared PA, but that’s not what an Editorial Assistant is meant to be for.

      1. fposte*

        The funny thing is that it seems really rude and reductive to say “the [job title],” and you’re often talking to people for whom the name on its own would mean nothing. I therefore found the editorial “we” to come in very handy on this and just have “our assistant editor.”

        But in the OP’s case, of course, it wasn’t “our assistant,” it was “the CEO’s assistant.” Fortunately the OP wised up with admirable speed and may today be explaining to somebody else why they shouldn’t make the mistake he did.

    3. MsM*

      You know, I used to think calling the most junior department members Assistant Directors at one of the places I used to work was title inflation, but now I’m realizing it may have helped prevent scenarios like this by at least signaling they were actually program staff.

  13. Rolly*

    I read the title and thought – “Maybe, maybe on a big strategy project the CEO task you with” and then read the details and my face went into my palm.

    1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Yeah, there’s certainly a time to say “yes, I can take on [big urgent project], but I’d really need some admin support to pull it off without letting some other balls drop – is there anyone who can be reassigned, even just for a few hours a day, while I wrangle this?”

      This was…not that.

  14. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Oh Lordy! As a former designer, I’ve totally had this manager. Note: A graphic designer IS NOT your admin, assistant, receptionist, or secretary. It is it’s own professional occupation with a 4-year degree!

    1. LB*

      Corollary to this: just because someone is -an- admin, doesn’t mean they’re -your- admin!

  15. 3lla*

    A key component of being an assistant is having some flexible time in the regular schedule to be able to pivot quickly to respond to new needs from the people you’re supporting. The idea that you can tell how busy someone is by glancing at them is garbage nonsense to begin with, but especially so for good assistants.

    1. Colorado*

      yes, it was summed up perfectly when “MBA from a great school” was mentioned in the original post.

        1. smeep248*

          I used to work as an EA at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School and … yes. I also have just recently gotten an MBA myself and honestly I was the most surprised person that I decided to do that because my experience with MBAs is…. bad.

  16. John O*

    “He was out for the day, and she didn’t feel like it was appropriate to disturb him to ask him about this issue. I understand this and appreciate it, but….”

    at this point i started to question whether the LW had any awareness of professional norms

    1. londonedit*

      Yup. The CEO’s assistant tried to politely tell the OP that it definitely was not part of her job to help him and that if it was a finance matter he could possibly try one of the assistants in the finance department (i.e. bugger off and stop bothering me) and the OP took that as ‘Oh yes but she doesn’t understand what I was actually asking her to do, if she’d just asked the CEO…’

      1. Serin*

        If she’d just asked the CEO, WHO WAS OUT OF OFFICE! “Oh, hey, Sandy, sorry to call you on your day off, but OP thinks I’m wrong when I say it’s not my job to answer emails for them, and insists I check it out with you. Yeah, sorry they paged you for that, but I’m sure you can go right back into the paintball tournament as soon as you answer the question.”

    2. Observer*

      Yes. Especially since the OP clarified in the comments that he actually ASKED HER to call the CEO. Which is pretty mind boggling. It’s not clear to me if he realized just how out of line he was. Because he though that she mentioned that the CEO is out of the office because she actually misunderstood the request. But even if that were the case, it would STILL have been wildly out of line. Even if you report directly to the CEO, you do NOT call him when he’s out of the office unless it is an EMERGENCY. Not because the Admin “won’t do her job” (even if that this ACTUALLY what’s happening!), much less “because your admin doesn’t realize that it’s ok for her to help me, even though it’s not her job”.

      Hopefully, the OP came to understand that.

  17. Harper the Other One*

    For the first time ever I’m working in a company that has a (communal) assistant and I just cannot wrap my brain around this! I have to remind myself that when it comes to tasks like “call so-and-so to get payment information” or “organize the meeting schedule” that those are ACTUALLY things I can and should hand off. The idea of “borrowing” the CEOs assistant makes me break out in a cold sweat.

  18. alienor*

    Wow! I’ve worked mostly for huge corporations over the course of my career, and even there, you had to be C-suite level to have your own dedicated assistant. Apart from that, assistants supported entire groups of VPs and directors (like one assistant per 4-5 execs), and anyone below director level was on their own. I don’t even know what would have happened if some new guy with one direct report had tried to get an assistant for himself.

  19. London Calling*

    There has to be a prize somewhere and somehow for that sort of straight-faced breathtaking entitlement. OP has been there EIGHT DAYS and wants a) to share the CEO’s PA and b) to be mentored by the CEO. EIGHT DAYS.

    1. WellRed*

      You left out the part where they thought they might have been in the running for department head a few short months later.

      1. London Calling*

        I did see that, but did I miss the 50% rise/EOY bonus expectation anywhere in the original post?

  20. Yvette*

    Once again I am jealous of the people who are reading this for the first time and get to read the update immediately.

    1. London Calling*

      It’s one of those ones that you bookmark to read and re-read because it just gets better every time. I wonder how many times the OP has come out in a cold sweat recalling this? not just the original entitlement but the letter as well.

  21. AnonToday*

    Wow! My radar must be way off for what’s normal. Before he had an assistant, my grandboss had me and my peers perform administrative assistant duties when that was clearly not what we were hired to do. Now our President frequently asks the grandboss’ assistant to work on projects instead of assigning the work to their own assistant. (President’s assistant also dumps their work on grandboss’ assistant, too.) I also help out other departments when Deans ask me to do something, even though they don’t ask their own assistants to work on these projects, which they could probably do. Would that be the same thing?

    1. Heidi*

      Does anyone lower in rank than the president dump work on the president’s assistant? For instance, are you allowed to assign your own work to the president’s assistant or your grandboss’s assistant? That would be the equivalent to what’s happening here.

    2. ecnaseener*

      To some extent it’s normal for fairly-junior people to be asked to take care of some admin work, especially if there’s no dedicated admin assistant available. If a president/dean/director is too busy to do some mundane task, and decides it would be a better use of time and money for someone less-well-paid to do it for them, they get to make that call. (Going by the mention of deans I’m guessing you’re in academia, which might come into play too.)

      The president deciding how best to utilize the assistant of someone who reports to him is very different from what’s happening here, where LW is trying to decide how the CEO’s assistant should spend her time.

    3. AnonToday*

      Thank you for the clarification Heidi and ecnaseener! I don’t know if I’m junior since I’ve been here for a decade? I work in Accounting, so maybe it’s normal for such employees to do secretarial work in academia. We are actually a small two-year college, so maybe that’s a little different than the culture at universities. Thank you!

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah I couldn’t figure out the right wording there, I guess by “fairly junior” I basically meant “more junior than the big cheese delegating to you”

      2. Student*

        Being “junior” in this context has nothing to do with how long you’ve worked there. It’s your position on the org chart – are you at the bottom of the org chart, the middle, or the top? It’s pretty common to send administrative tasks down to the lowest person on the org chat who can handle them, which mostly sounds like what you described.

        That’s different from the post, where somebody tried to send their work up the org chart and over to people they don’t actually manage. It’d be like you sending parts of your work that you don’t like to another department without the Deans being involved, and perhaps actively going behind the Deans’ backs about it against their wishes, if I follow your situation correctly.

  22. ATC*

    I’m glad the CEO’s assistant pushed back and set boundaries when she recognized LW was overstepping.

  23. I'm just here for the cats!*

    Does anyone else think that this person was a bit too confident and big headed. Not only with the assistant thing but in the update they say “I think my actions actually were a direct cause in me being taken out of the running for the head of the department when the company chose to consolidate the three different graphic design departments into one large department about a month ago.” The original post was on September 2012 and the update was December. So they thought that they should be the head of this new department when they had only been there a few months! WOW! Yes their actions probably had a lot to do with it but also, you are still new! Not only to the company but to the industry.

    I hope that this letter writer got a reality check but that they are doing well.

    1. Just saying.*

      Yes I noticed that too! Also, when the CEO had a disciplinary talk with him, he responded with “Can you be my mentor?” To the CEO!

  24. Disco Janet*

    This letter is quite bad, but honestly, so is the pile on happening in the comments here. Especially considering that OP took all the criticism quite well in the comments, apologized to the CEO’s assistant, and didn’t repeat the mistake. While it can be satisfying to see someone who does something this clueless be given a major reality check, the comments about fainting and accusing OP of sexism/misogyny don’t do anything but discourage people from writing in knowing the commenters may assume the worst of them.

    I can’t usually contribute to the comments here very much during the day because I have little free time during work hours, but I come back and read them later – and I’m starting to feel the same way about words like gobsmacked and jaw dropping that many of the commenters here seem to feel about…I don’t know, eating sounds and being asked how their day is going. Like it should be innocuous but at this point it’s driving me up the wall. Why is the common instinct to choose someone in the story you relate to in some way, and then assume the worst about everyone else and start slinging around insults and/or assumptions? I’ve been reading since before the first time this letter popped up on this site, and the more knee jerk/reactionary the comments get, the less helpful they are. And they are becoming that way more and more, from the threads I’ve read. I wish that would change.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      I imagine that people are super-imposing details of their own experiences with folks that this letter writer reminds them of, and that’s where the intensity of phrasing is coming in.

      I didn’t read their update as having learned too much, either, since they thought the only reason they weren’t selected to run a new large department after only three months in the job, was due to this one particular action. Being ‘taken out of the running’ for the department head implies they thought they were in the running to begin with.

      I don’t feel as emotionally strongly about this as some other folks do, but I can understand it.

      I agree with you that it would be overall a much kinder community if more grace was generally applied, combined with wise boundaries.

    2. Observer*

      To some extent, I agree with you. Having said that the original letter really is pretty shocking. And while the OP’s reactions in the comments on the original, and the later update are positive, it’s not unreasonable for people reading this for the first time to be shocked. Especially since the update is good, it does seem that the LW may still have been a bit over-confident.

      As for the accusation of sexism, that’s not so unreasonable. While the LW acknowledged some of the errors, he didn’t acknowledge all of them. eg He realizes that he was wrong to think that they EA just didn’t understand his request, but he never acknowledges how unreasonable that assumption was. Nor does he seem to realize that no matter what, asking the EA to *call her boss when he is out* was incredibly out of line. Even if his original request had been appropriate, what made him think it was his place to expect her to do that? Or, for that matter, what made him think that it was up to him to make sure that the EA has “enough projects of her own”? What makes all of this even worse is his comment that even though she’s “great” and that “she is so quick and precise with her projects” he clearly doesn’t understand how she “somehow” (that’s his word, not mine) worked her way up.

    3. Just saying.*

      The problem you point out is really just a problem with the internet. Everybody is “shocked” and “shook” and “so amazed I’m literally shaking” about everything in the world. It’s over the top but it’s not exclusive to this site.

    4. Student*

      If we avoid ever mentioning someone’s actions sound pretty sexist, then we guarantee that sexism has no specific consequences. So, no – we’re not going to stop bringing it up just because it makes people uncomfortable to be called out for sexism!

      There’s a balancing act – if you throw it around without regard to facts, it also loses effectiveness. But the facts here point pretty hard towards sexism as a factor.

      I think the bigger problem is people such as you treating sexism as some huge untouchable, unmanageable taboo and permanent character trait. Sexism is a type of mistake. Like all mistakes, it could be a long-term serious mistake, or it could be a one-off, or something in between. But if you never mention it, it will never get better. If you treat it as immutable and taboo and insurmountable, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      If you treat it more like any other mistake to correct, like bad communication skills, a technical knowledge deficiency, breaking regulations or policy, or a chronic spelling problem, then you can learn to do better. Similarly to other mistakes, people who aren’t able or aren’t willing to do better after getting corrected a bit deserve to face consequences, including up to termination.

  25. RuralGirl*

    I’ll say this, he asked for help and acted on that help. Far too few people do this. And perhaps its because they’re met with derisive comments. You can’t learn without asking and exploring. I applaud the LW here for learning from his mistakes.

    1. Observer*

      I agree. I was pretty stunned by the letter, but at least he did listen and learn to some extent. And maybe more than we saw.

  26. LilPinkSock*

    I’m amazed at the audacity of a Junior-level employee requiring his own EA to answer phones and take messages…and thinking he could simply co-opt the CEO’s assistant.

    It’s irritating to me that the EA told LW no and provided other possible resources…and he didn’t believe her. Those of us who are EAs to C-Suite folks have a pretty good sense of our workload and if it’s appropriate for us to jump in to support other projects. Please don’t dismiss us as not understanding or not having enough to do.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      To be fair I don’t think that the op is very junior being he states “When I was hired, I inquired about an assistant to answer my calls, emails, etc., because I had one at my previous job.” So that means that he was used to having an assistant help with emails, etc.

      I do agree that it was irritating that he didn’t believe her that she couldn’t help him.

      1. Observer*

        True. But keep in mind that he’d already asked about an EA and was told no. And just because you are used to something, doesn’t mean that you get to decide that you have a better handle on the job of someone who has been in place for years, while you are just over a week in.

        And he clearly WAS very junior- he stated that he was new to the industry, out of school for a year and a half and in his second job. Yes, with an MBA, but still. Even in 2012 it was far, far from the norm for someone like that to have their own assistant.

  27. surprisedcannuk*

    I found the update to be only semi positive. The LW seems nice, but out of touch with norms/reality. Asking the CEO to be a mentor and thinking the main reason they didn’t get a promotion after a few months was because of the trying to hijack the CEO’s assistant.

  28. Nicole*

    I realize this is a decades old repost, but I think there actually was a tactful way to ask – and that would be to say something like, “I’d just like to clarify the scope of my role. When tasks come up like ___ (example: manual data entry, or whatever it is OP wanted to offload onto the assistant), am I expected to handle those myself or is there someone else I should delegate those to?” If the CEO wanted to ask his assistant or someone else to help out, he could do so at that point (I agree, OP should not have asked the assistant directly), or if those were part of OP’s job responsibilities, the CEO could make that clear.

    1. surprisedcannuk*

      I think unless the LW is way too busy they should just do it themselves. Maybe see what other people are doing. It’s only been 8 days. If their work load is too high explain that to their boss.

  29. Chelsea*

    This is why I love this blog. While I would never ask to use someone else’s assistant, before reading this post, I would definitely not have thought it would be a major faux pas. I guess it’s bad because this guy is comparing himself to the CEO and acting like he’s so hot shit, everyone else should just move over and sign their assistants over to him?

    I wouldn’t have thought it was okay to do, but I’m surprised at the strong reaction, and that he thinks it took him out of the running for a promotion. Interesting, and it’s why I’m a reader here.

  30. Chickaletta*

    As an EA myself, I find it offensive when anyone other than my boss just gives me work for them to do. If I don’t work for you, why would you think it’s ok to assign tasks to me?? It’s only happened on a few occasions. I’ll either A) complete the task if it’s quick and easy, like a minute or less (because why make a mountain out of a molehill) or B) if it’s a larger task, repetitive, or being asked of someone who’s being a you-know-what, run it past my boss first to “ask permission” but mainly to bring clueless employee to his attention.

    I think OP wasn’t reading between the lines because the CEO and his assistant were handling the requests with diplomacy (as someone that high up will do), and OP wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand what he was really being told.

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