A position as an assistant might not sound particularly glamorous—maybe you think you’ll just be a glorified intern and fetch coffee all day, but I’ve learned that taking a job as an assistant can be a great learning experience. You’ll observe firsthand how your boss and his colleagues spend their days, how the office operates, and of course, you’ll make invaluable connections with a ton of people in your field.
It’s important to put your best foot forward, make a good impression, and do your job the absolute best you can, because you never know what might come out of it. There can be pitfalls along the path, but luckily for you, I have waded the murky waters so that now you don’t have to. Simply read these five tips to help you succeed…
1. Find out who had your position before you, and then reach out to that person—she is your best source of helpful information.
Invite her for coffee or a cocktail and have questions ready: what were the best and the worst parts of working for your boss? Why did she leave? Was it on good terms? If possible, try to figure out the turnover rate for being your boss’s assistant. Does he tear through them faster than the infamous Scott Rudin (a red flag), or does each person stay for years? The more you know, the better prepared you will be. In case you’re worried about imposing on this person, remember that most people are flattered to be asked for advice and happy to spend some time with a person in the same line of work. Just reach out—the worst they can do is say no.
2. Research your new boss.
Know his work and education history and professional accomplishments, and look for information that will help you in the parts of your job that involve his personal life, too. Learn who his friends and enemies are. Learn—and then remember to remember—the names of his family members and pets, which he will appreciate. Pay attention to what foods he likes, dislikes, and is allergic to. Keep lists. For bonus points, try to cultivate a conversational knowledge of his favorite sports or hobbies.
3. Ask questions early on.
If you interviewed properly, you should already know what’s generally expected of you in terms of your responsibilities. If you’re unsure about anything, ask now. You get a grace period in your first few weeks at a job to ask all the dumb questions, forget names, and basically not know what the heck is going on. No one expects a new employee to know everything, so grab your chance to ask questions.
4. That said, try not to ask your boss any question that could be answered by someone else.
Make an attempt to solve problems on your own; then, if you do need guidance, ask someone below your boss’s level. This person will have more time to help you, and it’s a good way to connect with peers in your new office.
5. Do your best to make a good impression on everyone even if you don’t like them.
Is one of your boss’s business associates a total jerk who’s rude on the phone and never says thank you when you fetch him a coffee? Suck it up, stay professional, and be courteous to him anyway. Remember: even though you’re an assistant now, you’re in a new field, and there are always opportunities to learn and grow. The important people you show in and out of your boss’s office will notice and remember your effort and professionalism.