Career Guidance

Turning the Grind into the Goal

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A world-renowned athletic coach was asked once what the difference was between the best athletes and everyone else. In other words, what do really successful people do that most people don’t? Of course, there were the typical responses of genetics, luck, and talent. But there’s an added element that most don’t think of; it’s the ability to handle the boredom and grind of training every day and doing the same lifts and drills over and over again that separates the professionals from the amateurs.

Think about it this way – it’s not that the best athletes have some insane passion or willpower that others don’t have; it’s the exact opposite. They can feel the same boredom and lack of motivation that everyone else feels; they aren’t immune to the daily grind. What sets them apart is their commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice, with the repetition, and with the plan in front of them.

Therefore, if you want to be a starting quarterback, you have to be in love with running drills and studying playbooks. If you want to be a New York Times bestseller, you have to be in love with the process of writing. If you want to get in better shape, you have to love the practice of eating in a healthier manner and exercising consistently.

You have to love the grind if you ever hope to turn it into the achievement of a goal.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Though some of the following may not be true all of the time, when you love the process of what you do, the following should ring true much of the time:

  • You don’t talk about other individuals; you talk about the great things other individuals are doing.
  • You help without thinking, or without being asked.
  • You don’t struggle to stay disciplined; you struggle to prioritize.
  • You’re excited about the job you are doing, but you’re more excited about the people you’re doing it with.
  • You leave work with items on your to-do list that you are eager to tackle tomorrow.
  • You think, “I hope I get to…” instead of, “I hope I don’t have to…”

You don’t focus on retirement, because retirement sounds boring – and a lot less fulfilling.

Now, there is a chance that our society may have overdone the need for the above to be true all of the time. We have been told that if you do what you love, the money and success will follow. We have been told that if you are not changing the world in bold ways, it is because you are too afraid to find your passion and follow it.

The Pursuit of Value

Author Cal Newport has emerged as one of the more vocal critics of the only-do-what-you-love movement, and says it is time to end the professional guilt trip. In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport argues that following one’s passions can be a dead end. He maintains that it’s better to identify which skills you have that could be unique and valuable in the workplace, and then hone those skills until you have career capital that you can spend in the way you choose.

Developing career capital requires a carefully balanced mix of deliberate action and patience. If you are in a self-directed professional environment and are responsible for carving your own path, take responsibility for the direction in which you are heading – and what you need from others to get there. Do not wait for someone to come along who can help; be proactive in seeking out those who can provide mentorship and guidance along the way.

If you are responsible for developing career capital in others, incorporate this exercise in ongoing or annual reviews. Always be aware of the following question: “What am I doing to help others identify their competitive advantages, and how am I providing opportunities for those strengths to turn into eventual career capital?”


Most roles have tasks that are required to engage in repeatedly; knowing the natural progression of a profession is essential. How many partners at a law firm still do all their own research? Does a surgeon want to spend more time in surgery, or in pre-op or post-op care? In these examples, practitioners outsource the less challenging work to junior staff that is not only capable of performing the work at a lower cost but also challenged by the work itself. What is the natural progression of your profession, and have you done a successful job of institutionalizing outsourcing?

Within a physician’s office, the nurse practitioner facilitates exams, the nurse checks blood pressure, and the scheduling department makes appointments. Each of those tasks are important but will neither provide the doctor with the challenge they need nor the financial rewards necessary to justify their time. In the case of lawyers, they have paralegals, legal secretaries, and associate lawyers they entrust. The lesson we can learn from both is that outsourcing certain tasks to other team members is not only more financially rewarding but also allows for greater challenges. Be aware of when the grind is necessary in the achievement of a goal and be aware of when the grind must be alleviated in order to avoid turnover or burnout.

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6 Great Leadership Books for Executive Assistants (and Their Executives!)

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Every executive assistant wants to be a great leader, but for most people leadership skills don’t come automatically. There are many obstacles to becoming an outstanding leader, including fear, self-doubt, and indecision. These six books on leadership are great resources for any executive assistant (or executive) looking to improve their leadership skills.

It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss by Bruce Tulgan

As an executive assistant, the relationship you have with your boss is the most important determining factor for success in the role. These days executives don’t provide the same level of guidance they did in decades past. This book will help you get the most of the relationship between you and your boss. Learn how to ask for the resources needed to excel in a high-stress job and help you understand the expectation for the executive/executive assistant relationship.

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

In this book, Holiday discusses how to turn obstacles into part of your success story. Holiday applies stoicism to everyday life to help people become more successful in everything they do. He argues that the ability to endure trials and show perseverance matters more than intelligence or talent.

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success by Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman

Dethmer and Chapman outline 15 practices that will help people make the shift away from fear-based leadership toward trust-based leadership. This guide will help in avoiding the blame game, speaking more candidly with your team members, and letting go of the fears and anxieties that often prevent them from being great leaders.

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

This New York Times bestseller discusses what it means to lead in modern society. Brown makes the case that leadership requires having empathy, bravery, and the willingness to have tough conversations.

Breaking Normal by Daniel Eisenman

In this book, Eisenman highlights exercises and practices that help people break free of self-imposed imprisonment and guides them on a journey of personal growth. This book can help with limiting the beliefs, preconceptions, fears, and harmful patterns that hold you back from becoming a better leader.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now is a spiritual guide to living in the present. Often, the thing that prevents people from personal growth is the ego, which calls people to seek out and fixate on painful experiences. This book will help you let go of the past and the things you cannot change, and, instead focus on what you can change.

For most people, becoming a good leader involves a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement. These six books can help you learn what it takes to be a leader, learn how to overcome the obstacles to good leadership, and learn how to embrace responsibility and personal growth.

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The Treasure of True Grit

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“Tell me about a time when you failed, and what you learned from that experience.” Think of the most successful employees you’ve ever worked with, the individuals you’ve mentored who excelled the most, or the leaders you’ve studied who seem to achieve every goal they set for themselves. Undoubtedly, a common thread between them all will be that those individuals have the strength to learn why they failed, what to do in the future to succeed, and the willpower to get back on the horse and try again. But what exactly is it that leads one person to try again when others just give up? True grit.

Industrial and organizational psychologists have spent decades researching this very subject. Angela Duckworth, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and her research focuses on a personality trait she calls “grit.” She defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” She writes that, “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”

Success and Talent

What causes an individual to experience significant success? The obvious answer: success is about talent. Successful people can do something – hit a golf ball, dance, trade stocks, write a blog – better than most anyone else. This answer begets another question: What is talent? How did that person get so good at hitting a golf ball or trading stocks? Although talent can appear to be based on inheritance, it turns out that the intrinsic nature of talent may be overrated.

The problem is that a major contradiction exists between how we measure talent and the causes of talent. In general, we measure talent using tests of maximum performance. Imagine tryouts for most any sports team; players perform in short bursts under conditions of high intensity and motivation. The purpose of the drills is to see what players are capable of and determine their potential. The problem with these drills is that the real world is not set up for short bursts of work ethic under conditions of high motivation. Instead, professional success requires sustained performance, spending hours upon hours perfecting your craft, deliberately and methodically staying the course during times of frustration or exhaustion.

In his book, Self-Made in America, John McCormack references a trait studied by Kathy Kolbe: conation. Conation is “the will to succeed, the quest for success, the attitude that ‘to stop me you’ll have to kill me,’ that elusive ‘fire in the belly’ that manifests itself in drive, enthusiasm, excitement, and single-mindedness in pursuit of a goal – any goal. All consistently successful people have it. Many well-educated, intelligent, enduring, and presentable people don’t have it.”

Interviewing for Grit

A segment of the workforce is made up of smart people who aren’t high achievers, and others who achieve a lot without having the highest test scores. In one study, Duckworth found that smarter students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that people who are not as bright as their peers “compensate by working harder and with more determination.” And their effort pays off: The grittiest students, not the smartest ones, had the highest GPAs.

So how can we start to understand an applicant’s or an employee’s grit? Try some or all of these questions to identify the trait:

  • What experiences do you feel had the most impact in shaping who you are today?
  • Share with me the details of a time when you stayed with an idea or project for longer than anyone expected you to.
  • Tell me about some of the obstacles you have had to overcome to reach your present position.
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to finish a job even though everyone else had given up.
  • Describe a time when you were asked to complete a difficult task or project where the odds were against you. Were you successful? What did you learn from the experience?
  • What goal have you had in your life that took you the longest to achieve? What did you learn from that experience
  • Describe how you set your goals for the last year and how you measured your work. Did you achieve your goals? Why or why not?
  • Give me an example of a time you made a major sacrifice to achieve an important goal.
  • Give me an example of how you have taken control of your career.
  • What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in life? What about in your career?
  • When you found yourself faced with that obstacle, what steps did you take to begin the process of overcoming this challenge?

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Career Planning: The Value of Self-Knowledge on Your Career Path

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For young professionals, self-knowledge makes career planning much easier. Yet even for the experienced self-knowledge can also help prepare for future career steps and make the transition significantly less painful. The key is to know who you are and what you want so that you can identify the type of work and environment that will be fulfilling.

Course of Education

One way self-knowledge helps is that it makes it easier to decide on an educational course. Education can be expensive and time consuming, so it is best to know what you want before committing to a program. Knowing more about your natural strengths, as well as areas where you want to expand and grow, will help clarify a track more quickly. That way you can avoid going down a path that is not a reflection of your authentic self only to have to switch gears further down the road.

Online Presence

Self-knowledge also helps guide you on what to do (or not do) online. Awareness can help you establish healthy boundaries online. It is surprising how many people lose out on job opportunities due to over sharing on social media. People forget that potential employers often check social media for red flags before making hiring decisions. Without a clear sense of self, your resume and professional profiles can also suffer. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can help you craft a custom resume that is unique and attractive. Hiring managers see so many resumes and LinkedIn profiles that setting yourself apart can give you an advantage.

Authentic Relationships

People who have self-awareness think before they speak and are honest about their feelings. You can build more meaningful relationships with coworkers if you present yourself authentically. Being authentic and vulnerable helps to build a network of professionals with true connections. In time, you will be able to help each other grow and succeed through mutually beneficial engagement.

Whether you are just starting out in your career or you’re looking for a change, self-knowledge can make career planning much smoother. If you know who you are, it becomes easier to determine what you want and how to achieve that.

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Professional Attention Deficit Disorder

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foIn the manufacturing economy, time was the currency. Systems were designed for maximum efficiency, and effectiveness was simply how much time could be dedicated to the process. The assembly line is a perfect example! In today’s information environment, directing our attention in the right places for the right amount of time and focus is the key to effectiveness.

Curious if you suffer from Professional ADD? If you have already been distracted at some point during the first paragraph, no assessment is necessary!

  • You are frequently distracted from your current activity, by others, or by your own lack of focus
  • You finish your day and are surprised how little you actually accomplished despite the fact that you felt “busy” all day
  • You have a to-do list of important items but always seem to be distracted with more “urgent” activities
  • You find it difficult to fully focus on another person without thinking of other matters
  • You check and respond to your email, text messages, instant messages, etc. constantly
  • You feel a sense of “information overload” frequently
  • You think you are a great multi-tasker
  • You are addicted to urgency and pride yourself on being the best “fire fighter”
  • You love being in the “zone” but are frustrated by how infrequently you truly find yourself in that place of maximum effectiveness

If you checked the box to most of these then you may be suffering from Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder. The good news is that it is curable, and you can fill your own prescription.

Create Golden Hours

Establish certain times each day when no one can distract you or each other. The only distractions or interruptions should be emergencies; educate your environment when it is best to get with you by phone or in person for activities that are not both urgent and critical.

Loosen your Electronic Leash

At least four times per day, set 45-minute time blocks where email, instant messages, and any other electronic distractions are turned off. Each time block should be dedicated to fully focusing on a specific activity that you have predetermined for that time. Very rarely is anything so urgent and critical that it cannot wait for a reply within an hour; you may even find that issues solve themselves without you having to.

Prioritize Long-Term Projects

Make a list of all your current important projects that are not urgent. Now, assign at least two one-hour slots a week to do them. Keep these appointments with yourself the same way that you would with a client; do not allow yourself to book anything during those times unless it is a true emergency. If you don’t begin to do some of the strategic work now, when will you? An attic is easier cleaned a few boxes a week rather than the entire attic in a weekend.

Minimize Multi-tasking

There are some times when multi-tasking and bouncing from one activity to the next is both unavoidable and necessary. However, the majority of periods you find yourself busy, multi-tasking, and rushed are self-created and counter-productive in the long run. Practice being fully present and engage in one activity at a time. If someone stops by your office while you are typing an email, ask them to send you an email to schedule a meeting so that you can truly focus on their needs when it is mutually convenient.

Create Blocks of Similar Activities

A doctor does not check emails in the middle of surgery, and a lawyer is not accepting incoming calls while the opposing counsel is grilling his client. What makes the critical responsibilities of your role less deserving of your own concentration? We all like diversity and variety but do your best to plan activities in such a way that complementary activities can be done in groups for maximum effectiveness.

Find the Right Work/Life Balance

Just as your time at work should have focus and intensity in each activity, so should your time away from work. Being fully present in all your interactions includes those outside of work. When you find your mind drifting to work related activities while with friends or family, remind yourself to focus back on the people or activity at hand.

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How to Work with a Search Consultant Effectively

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When considering a job in C-level support, it is beneficial to know how to work with a search consultant effectively. Partnering with a placement firm can open the door to sought-after opportunities, but only if the partnership is approached strategically. Below are tips for working with a search consultant to maximize chances of landing a key support position.

Share as Much Information as Possible

The quality and frequency of communication largely determines how effective the relationship between job seeker and placement professional will be. Sharing likes and dislikes about past and present jobs, career growth goals, current function and compensation, and preferred change in those areas are all important for a search consultant to know. This information will guide the search for a career that’s the ideal fit for both company and employee.

Direct and Clear Communication

For a partnership to run smoothly, it’s essential to have clear and timely communication. Prompt responses within 24 hours and immediate feedback following an interview allow a search consultant to adjust the strategy for a more tailored fit. The more a recruiter knows about the perceived benefits and drawbacks of a company, the easier it will be to find an opportunity that meets all needs.

Be Smart about Online Presence

When working with a placement professional, social media accounts should be set to private. Employers look closely at candidates’ posts. Anything that could possibly be considered oversharing, inappropriate, or rude could cost someone a job opportunity. In general, avoid anything that could potentially harm the first impression of a potential employer.

Ask for Constructive Feedback

Search consultants have seen countless resumes and applications during their careers. They also have a deep understanding of effective interview preparation and follow through. Job seekers should ask for feedback in any area they want clarification or improvement. The recruiter can review a resume for ways to improve the content and format, practice interviewing skills, and assess ways to improve.

Working with a search consultant is an excellent way to land an executive support position in line with personal career goals. To make the most of this partnership, candidates should take advantage of their experience, communicate objectives clearly, and share as much information possible about current roles and responsibilities.

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Career Advancement: Why Should You Take a Recruiter’s Call?

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Many people reject calls from recruiters because they are unaware of the many advantages of working with them rather than job hunting alone. Even for those not seeking a new job, search consultants can open the door to exclusive opportunities that others don’t have access to. Taking the time to speak with a recruiter could result in an unexpected career advancement. Below are some of the excellent reasons to work with a search consultant.

Recruiters Have an Expansive Network

Niche recruiters are extremely well connected. They have exclusive, confidential access to some of the most desirable jobs in the field of executive support. High profile executives frequently work with search consultants, which means that the jobs are not advertised or accessible to the average person looking for employment. In addition, working with a recruiter is particularly important in high profile executive support because of the specialized skills and experience required.

You’ll Learn Valuable Insights about Your Marketability

Well-connected recruiters have worked with hundreds of candidates, so they can help job seekers assess their skills, compare to the competition, and have an informed idea of appropriate compensation. For those who are already employed, recruiters can introduce them to opportunities for career growth, gauge salary based on current rates, or find a better fit. Regardless of employment status, search consultants can give a better view of their function and market value.

Everyone Benefits from Career Consultation

It’s beneficial to get advice from an expert, whether happily employed or looking for a job. Niche recruiters have more data about that career than anyone else. They understand what function those in executive support provide to an organization, their value in terms of compensation, professional potential, and the marketplace as a whole. They can help negotiate a raise or a promotion or find a company that’s the ideal fit. Whether someone is happily employed or not, speaking with a recruiter is a wise choice.

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