It’s your first day as an assistant, and you walk in ready to show off the amazing skill sets you’ve developed during college and previous internships. But your superior analytical skills, business knowledge, or producing experience isn’t what your boss is looking for at this point. Although you’ll need these skills later on in your career, your current job is to support your boss. And if you can’t do that well, you’ll never get to move up the Hollywood ladder. So let’s take a step back for a moment and discuss the qualities you'll need as an assistant to help you succeed. In Hollywood, the best assistants are...
Resourceful. Are you constantly asking your boss and other team members questions? Is it taking you a long time to get projects done? Do you frequently find yourself telling your boss that “it can’t be done?” If so, you may want to reevaluate your approach. From a boss’s perspective, great assistants are the types of people who can make “magic” happen. These assistants come across as ultra-confident and can always complete a task or find an answer without ever letting their bosses know what steps they took to get there. So before you start asking others how to complete a process or find information, make sure you’ve exhausted all your resources. Take a moment to think things through. Did you check Google first? Do your best to keep your boss blissfully unaware of the majority of the tasks that you complete. Save all this info for your performance review – you’ll surely surprise and impress him.
Available. One of the things that sucks the most about assistant life is being tied to the desk. Especially when you’re in the office, you’re always on call (and in many cases, you’ll be on call 24/7). But this is something you’re just going to have to deal with if you want to move forward in your career. You should make it your goal never to miss a call or be away from the desk when your boss calls your name. And if that means skipping lunch, do it. Remember: It’s only temporary. Everything gets better once you finally get that well-deserved promotion to coordinator, and this will happen a lot faster if you show your boss how dedicated you are by always being there when you’re needed.
Thick-skinned. You’ll see the term “thick-skinned” as a requirement on many job postings, and there’s a reason for this: As an assistant, you’ve got to be able to handle working in a high-pressure environment without having a mental breakdown. Yes, you are going to make mistakes in your career, and yes, your boss will probably yell at you. Even the “nice” ones have their own ways of expressing disappointment. But there’s no reason to cry. Just pick up and learn from each mistake – it will make you better at your job in the long run.
Organized. You’ll never survive an assistant position without impeccable organizational skills. At least 80% of your job will involve some combination of scheduling, booking travel, maintaining a phone sheet, compiling reports and lists, filing documents, and tracking projects. So figure out some type of organizational system that works for you, and do it fast. Everyone has a different strategy — some people love post-its; others swear by Outlook reminders — there’s no wrong way to go about it . . . as long as it works. Never let anything slip through the cracks.
Aware. As an assistant, you are pretty much the go-to person for the whole department. All internal and external questions will be directed to you, and it’s best if you’re able to answer them without asking your boss or other team members (this also goes along with the idea of being resourceful). Scheduling meetings and listening in on your boss’s calls gives you a huge advantage here – make sure you read all the scheduling emails to know what each meeting is about and take detailed notes on every call. You should also familiarize yourself with your team’s projects – read scripts, watch cuts, whatever it takes. You’ll make yourself invaluable if you can become your department’s primary knowledge base. And don’t be afraid to share your knowledge! If you hear something on a call that you think your other team members might find useful, you should let them know. It will only encourage them to keep coming back to you for information.
If you can remember to put your boss’s needs before your own, a lot of this will come naturally. Or you may develop these qualities the hard way – by making mistakes and learning from them. But don’t worry, all of us have been through it. Once these traits have become ingrained into your overall work persona, you’ll find it easier to take on the more difficult tasks that will eventually earn you a promotion.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
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