If you’re not in the right job, you won’t be happy says Rhonda Scharf

We all get tempted sometimes by the thought of that “big job.” The one in which you’re always travelling First Class, making big decisions, seeing the world and you even have your own assistant. We all want the business card that makes people say, “Wow!”

As administrative professionals already know, we can have that. As a member of a well-connected administrative community, we see many members who have what looks like the dream job. They are well paid and well respected; they are the eyes, ears and partner of someone in the C-Suite (supporting the C-list executives e.g. CEO, CFO or COO) at a large, well-known company. They are Master Admins.

Naturally, many of us want to be part of that elite group. We want to have our own assistant. We want to be high-profile — at least some of the time. Right?

The reality is that being a C-Suite admin is not as easy as it looks. We know that deep down, and we often wonder whether we could perform at that level. Do we have what it takes? And if we don’t have what it takes, do we want to?

Knowing whether or not you even should be in the C-Suite is the right place to start looking. Just because it is a good paying job doesn’t mean it is the right job for you. If you aren’t in the right job, you won’t be happy – and being happy in your job is a big part of being happy in life.

So what does it take to have that perfect combination that screams “C-Suite admin”?

Naturally, skills are part of the equation, but just being competent is not enough. The C-Suite admin needs to have a balance of three important qualities: Competency, Passion and Flexibility.

Competency
The C-Suite admin fully understands the challenges of the administrative profession. She (we’ll make her female for the sake of simplicity here) has at least one professional designation (there are many international designations you can qualify for, so have the one that is relevant in your country or industry). She has an undergraduate degree at minimum (but many have gone on to get MBAs or other Master’s degrees). She can make MS Office perform miracles and is often the go-to person in the office for instruction. She can do calendaring and travel planning in her sleep (when she has to do it herself at all—her admin usually does it for her). She sits at the table with the Board of Directors and contributes and is not intimidated. She is well educated, highly experienced and very knowledgeable about the industry she is in. She is well read—reading more than just Executive Secretary magazine (although of course, she reads that regularly)—and she attends at least one educational event a year. She is a consummate professional in all that she does. She is completely competent in the way that she performs every task, every day. She is not afraid to learn, and not afraid to ask for help (although people usually come to her for guidance). Age is not a factor in gaining this level of competency, but experience is. She has earned this level of competency, and she will not allow herself to become complacent in what she knows; knowing there is always more to learn.

Passion
Being competent is just the starting point for the C-Suite admin. It is her passion for her job that brings her up a notch as an administrative professional; she truly loves what she does. It isn’t just a job to her, it’s a career. It’s what she was meant to do, and she considers herself lucky to have figured it out, since many people never realize what their ideal job is.This passion drives her in everything she does professionally. She looks forward to challenges in her job and gets bored easily. She has left jobs before, when they offered her too little challenge. Her satisfaction in life has a lot to do with her satisfaction in her job.

She feels emotionally tied to her role as a C-Suite admin, and is loyal and always respects confidentiality. You won’t find her complaining about her workplace, and she is seemingly always positive. She is always thinking about how to make life easier for her executive, or her team. She wants everyone to be happy and works hard at making the workplace a good place to work.

She doesn’t consider her job “work” but enjoys what it brings each day. When people complain about going to work, she shakes her head and feels bad for them. She is part of the elite group that truly loves what they do.

She has a sign in her office that says “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” She sincerely believes this to be true.

Flexibility
The C-Suite admin isn’t at the point in her life when she needs to be worried about schedules. No car pool that leaves every evening at 5:01. No daycare to pick the children up from. She is a “career woman.” That isn’t to say she doesn’t have a personal life, because she does; but she also has the flexibility to travel, work late or be on-call during off-hours. She doesn’t mind carting her cell phone around with her all the time, to take calls from her boss after hours, and she doesn’t think twice about responding to an email or a text on Saturdays. She doesn’t consider any of this after-hours work a chore, and she enjoys being able to pitch in whenever needed, regardless of the day or time.

If the job requires getting a report done on Sunday night, it will get done. If her executive is stranded in another country, she will move heaven-and-earth to ensure he is well taken care of; and she will consider that just one of her duties (even if it is at 3:00 am).

When she does travel, she puts in long hours and considers it all part of the job, and doesn’t complain about it. The line “all other duties as required” doesn’t cause her to laugh, as she is flexible to accept that as just part of the job, without complaint.

Now that you’ve seen the requirements necessary for you to be an admin in the C-Suite, let’s see if you are truly meant to be there.

rhonda-venn-diagram

You’ve measured your own skills and preferences against the three criteria and you have:

Flexibility & Passion – Working in the C-Suite sounds like an incredible job. You get excited every time you see a job posting. You want to have that desk in front of the CEO’s office. You are thrilled to be on call 24-7 and consider yourself a “career employee” all the way, but you just don’t have enough experience, or knowledge of your company’s industry. You understand what pharmaceuticals are, but you don’t really know what they are talking about in meetings most of the time. You understand what a construction company does generally, but you don’t understand the laws governing it, or how exactly the budget works. You have general administrative skills, but you aren’t the “go-to” source in your office who helps people get things done. You need more experience, and above-average skills to really make it in the C-Suite, and you’re not there yet.

Where you need to focus your energy is getting those skills. Spend some of your personal time (and money) investing in your education and experience. Perhaps that means taking extra courses online or at the local university, even if those skills aren’t required at your current job. It requires you to look forward to where you want to be and ensure you are getting the experience you need now for the future.

Keep your eyes on the online job boards to see what skills are needed, at what level, and what skills are upcoming.

Get at least one professional accreditation, and preferably more. Get industry credentials and knowledge. Specialize. For you to be a C-Suite admin you will be more successful if you know your industry. Pick the industry you want to excel in and get the industry knowledge you need. Join a professional association in both the admin field as well as your specific industry to help you get your skills and knowledge where they need to be.

Once you have obtained the high level of competency, come back to this article to ensure you still have the passion and competency you need. You may feel you have it now, but once you educate yourself a little more about your industry, you may not have the levels you need to work at the C-Suite. If not, perhaps the VP level is more where you are perfectly suited.

Passion & Competency – You can do the job—you know you can. You love your job when you are there, but you like to turn it off when you get home. You don’t want to work weekends (even if you are paid for them), and you don’t want a cell phone on which the boss can contact you 24-7.  You may say things like “I’m too old for that anymore” or “I don’t want a career like that. I want a well-paid job that allows me to be home by a reasonable time.”

You should make the choice not to work in the C-Suite. You will quickly come to resent your boss for contacting you after hours. That resentment will build and you’ll begin to dislike your job, which will increase your stress. You’ll soon find that it isn’t worth it, and worse, that resentment will eventually steep into your relationships with your bosses and colleagues.Taking on this level of responsibility will actually eat away at your competency. Although it’s an exciting dream and you may be tempted, steer clear of stepping into a job that will chew up so much of your all-too-precious family time. No amount of money can give you that time back.

Maybe it isn’t that you “can’t” work in the C-Suite, but you choose not to. Once you make that choice, the desire to be there often disappears. It is a choice, not a barrier.

I’ve known a couple of former C-Suite admins who say they loved their time working in the C-Suite but realized there was more to their life than work, and chose to step back. I’ve known some who said that until their children are adults, they don’t want to work at that level. They may go back, and they may not, but they made the choice that was right for them.

Perhaps working at the senior management level gives you enough challenge for your skills and the work-life balance you need. And seriously, that isn’t a bad place to be either is it?

Competency & Flexibility – You have the ability to work at the speed and depth the C-Suite requires, but you just don’t love it. You don’t have a great passion for the job. You have the time and the ability, but other things may distract you. “I don’t mind working on Saturdays, but if I go into work this weekend, then I won’t be able to go to the beach.” You’re bored by the job. You don’t necessarily find it challenging or, on bad days, even interesting. It’s a pay cheque, and a good one at that, which is what attracted you in the first place. But you continue to have a nagging feeling that you should be doing something else with your life.

Don’t take a C-Suite job if this describes you. You’ll end up stuck in your position because of the money and, because you can do the job, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to switch tracks and find that job that is truly meaningful for you. This is a dead end with your name on it. Don’t even get on the path—go and find your true calling.

Even stepping down to senior management isn’t where you need to be. Look at the jobs that require a high level of administration expertise and proficiency, and pursue that career path. You will find that there are many jobs that need admin that can still offer challenge and compensation (think project management).

The C-Suite may be for you, just not as a C-Suite admin. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur who hasn’t discovered what they should be doing?

Competency, Passion & FlexibilityYes! You are the right person to support a C-Suite executive. You can lead and manage others, and you won’t burn yourself out because your passion will continue to drive you. You have the skills, the desire and the lifestyle that allows you to have, and thrive in, this high-end career.

You can have the glamour that goes with working in the C-Suite as well the thrill of loving what you do. You fall into the category of “Born to do what you love” which is unique, exciting, and a true calling. Others will be jealous of your success as well as your talent. You are indeed a special creature and belong in the C-Suite.

Although not everyone is there. Actually, most are not in that special zone where they have all three attributes. Looking around at those in the C-Suite at your workplace, you may realize not all of them should be there either.

Should you work in the C-Suite? Would you be able to handle the job? And even if you could handle it, is it right for you? Now that you know what’s required, you can direct your energies toward finding work in the C-Suite—or not. There is nothing wrong with either decision because ultimately, your goal isn’t money or power—it’s your own happiness.

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Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If your ... (Read More)

3 comments on “Moving up to the C-Suite — Is it the Right Move for You?

  1. Clare Mandeno on

    Hi Rhonda,

    Good write up, and it was nice to get an explanation on making the assistant a female for the sake of simplicity in the story. Under the heading “Flexibility” I was disappointed to read the article assumes the C-boss is a man as it says “If her executive is stranded in another country, she will move heaven-and-earth to ensure he is well taken care of;”. Did you put any thought into the specifics of that sentence? or is the gender stereotype so well ingrained in us and that one slipped past the keeper?!

    Reply
  2. Rhonda Scharf on

    The reality is that only 4% of CEOs (and senior CSuite) are female. Using a He instead of a She made the article easier to understand, and stand a little closer to reality.

    In my articles, I regularly refer to my admin as a he or she, and I regularly refer to the boss as a he or she. This article happened to be female admin and male CSuite boss.

    I didn’t gender stereotype.

    Reply
  3. Tara Browne on

    Love having this as a guidepost as I am now actively looking for new opportunities, and have passed on applying for several where the “Passion” element just wasn’t there. Super excited now to be in the interview process for a c-suite role that fires on all 3 cylinders!

    Reply

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