Assistants from around the world answered Helen and Cherie’s call to participate in interviews with administrative professional students
During the 2021 IAAP Virtual Summit, Helen Monument connected with fellow participant Cherie Leiker, CAP, MOS, who is Chair/Professor, Business Office Technology at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. Cherie was looking for connections with senior executive Assistants outside the USA who were willing to be interviewed by her students about their experiences in the role. Such is the power of our professional network that Helen received over 50 responses from Assistants wanting to volunteer.
Helen put Cherie in touch with the volunteers and the project took off. A total of 29 students have taken part in this project in two rounds of interviews in September 2021 and February 2022. The 29 interviewee participants were from 13 countries, from Brazil to New Zealand.
Helen caught up with Cherie to discover how the project was going and to hear the experiences of this unique global collaboration across the generations of our profession.
Helen: What backgrounds do your students have?
The students come from diverse and varied backgrounds, including high school graduates, young adults, parents who are single, married, divorced, widowed, workers changing careers, parents returning to the workforce after raising their children, military veterans and retirees. Some students currently work as administrative professionals, but they want or need credentials for professional development, career advancement, and/or pay raises.
The demographic reflects the current state of the profession, namely mostly female. I have had fewer than ten males signing up for the programme during my 30 years as a teacher.
We’re trying to change this, of course, and now my Office Procedures course has been approved as an elective in the Business Administration programme, to which more men are attracted, so I hope we can draw them into the profession this way.
My department is called Business Office Technology – my supervisor and I are looking for an alternative title which could attract more men to the courses in the future. Administrative Operations Management might catch their attention more.
Helen: Why did you decide to initiate this project?
With the global economy rapidly expanding, this idea came to me as a way to expose my students to the administrative profession beyond the USA, to pique my students’ curiosity about the world, and to foster international connections. They have become enthusiastic about learning not only the profession outside the borders of the USA, but also other cultures. I hope to instil a yearning in my students to learn more and to get out there to explore the world. At the same time, I want them to see that administrative professionals share a common set of challenges around the world. In the end, I hope that the interviewees and their interviewers form connections that will enhance and support each other’s career paths. The knowledge of those experienced administrative professionals needs to be shared with the newcomers to the profession. What better way to start that exchange than through a required assignment in their studies?
Helen: What were the learning points for the students from the interviews?
The students firstly gained experience in skills that they will need in their professional life. They had to become comfortable in a leading role, controlling the interview themselves. They learned planning skills, researched the various time zones, contacted their interviewees around the world and scheduled an online meeting that would work for both parties. They learned technical skills, setting up the parameters, such as recording, for a virtual meeting where they would be the host. They also enhanced their communication skills with a list of set questions, but with the freedom to go ‘off script’ and ask other questions that came up during the interview. Prior to the initial contact with their interviewee, we talked about virtual meeting etiquette, such as suggesting at least three dates and times for meeting, asking permission to record the interview, dressing professionally, and exhibiting successful meeting engagement and delivery. After the interview, the students wrote a report describing their experiences and explaining what they learned, which was submitted to me for grading.
The interviews also allowed the students to learn about what it means to be an administrative professional in a different country. They heard first-hand from the interviewees about the challenges they had faced when managing their career and personal development. They gained insights into the day-to-day activities of an experienced administrative professional, and they learned about the value of belonging to a professional network.
Extract from one student’s report:
“During the interview, I asked questions that would help me obtain information about the accomplishments, day to day life, and overall career goals of my interviewee. I inquired specifically about her journey to being in the position she is today, and the decisions she made to get there. Ms. XX gave me very useful pieces of advice throughout this interview that I will be using in my own career as a future administrative Assistant.”
Helen: Were there differences in how Assistants in the USA responded in the interview versus those who work internationally?
There are clearly some common issues around the world, such as how to stay relevant and up to date, how to educate their executives to utilize them properly and, most importantly, the perception of the profession as a career and not just a job to be doing until something else comes along. I work very hard to encourage my students to look at the role this way.
Prior to the pandemic shutdown, my students had the opportunity to job shadow Assistants employed by my college. During this experience, students interviewed the Assistants, but the questions were not as detailed as in the international interviews. Of course, during the pandemic, all job shadow opportunities were cancelled. Post-pandemic, the students are attending class in various modalities all at the same time, in person, online, and hybrid, which presents some new challenges in connecting students with Assistants for job shadowing. I will revisit this assignment to better accommodate this new way of working, utilizing the same questions that were asked of the international group. It will be interesting to see if the responses are similar.
Helen: What was the feedback to you from the interviewees?
The feedback has been very positive. The international administrative professionals have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sharing their professional development journey as well as learning about the students’ current studies and career plans. Most of the interviewees have agreed to continue being interviewed by my future students, for which I am extremely grateful.
Not every interview went smoothly. Sometimes it was a simple mistake by the student with the time zone differences. Other feedback indicated that the interviewer should take a few minutes to engage in small talk before starting with the first question. I am adding this to the list of preparation topics for this assignment. One interviewee told me that the student struggled to get the virtual meeting tool to work correctly and wanted written responses to questions. This interviewee was kind enough to help the student work through the technical difficulties, and the interview continued as planned, which was a great learning opportunity! I will be sharing these examples with future students. This was all very much out of the comfort zone for the students, although we did some dry runs beforehand so they could practice. I encouraged them to share the experience of the interviews with their classmates at the end of the project.
Helen: Do you discuss career paths with the students?
I am constantly discussing career opportunities and paths with my students. As a former administrative professional, I still utilize my administrative knowledge and skills in my career as a professor. I maintain an online job board for current students and graduates. Administrative professional guest speakers are scheduled. Extra credit is given for listening to and reporting about various podcasts aimed at the administrative profession. Students receive instruction in job application procedures.
I also invite guest speakers to talk about the profession. One of the best was a graduate who was hired by the college as an administrative professional and eventually became an executive vice president of the college. The students heard how she ‘sat in the same seat’ as them, and has now become a great role model; she knows what it is like to be an administrative professional and what to look for when hiring one. She understands the spectrum of the profession from all sides, and the students are always very inspired by her.
Helen: Have you introduced the Global Skills Matrix?
I certainly introduce the Global Skills Matrix and explain how it will help them with their career progression. Students are shown the website and the full report. I want my students to be proud to be administrative professionals and to know that the future is bright and exciting.
Helen: Were there any surprising insights about the role that students didn’t expect?
Most of the students were very surprised by how many of the interviewees did not have any formal certification or degree in the administrative profession, many of them learning ‘on the job.’
As an educator, I want my students to understand the value of a professional credential.
One question to the interviewees was about their recommendations for books, websites or podcasts that they found valuable to their professional development, so we have now collected some great resources for the students.
Helen: Are you going to continue with this initiative with each intake of students?
Definitely! The past two rounds of interviews were so much fun. I enjoyed connecting with the interviewees and then working with the students throughout the process. I love reading the reports and seeing the diversity of questions and answers about the profession and how it’s practiced in different countries. I may need to add some more interviewees to my database, but thanks to your appeal on social media, I don’t think that will be difficult.