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Sharon's Portrait

Sharon Chen

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business › Marketing, Beedie School of Business › Management Information Systems

"Proactive" spelled with SCRAMBLE tiles
An assistant is not a passive job where work is given, an administrative assistant is always actively looking for opportunities to help others before being asked.

When I first started at PCL as an Administrative Student, I was slightly disappointed. As a business student, I expect myself to be challenged; as a Marketing student, I expect my position to be marketing-related. As an Administrative Student, I did neither of those things at the beginning of the term. Photocopying, printing, entering data, making coffee, transferring phone calls, handing out invoices and mails etc... none of that work seemed important enough. I knew I was being cocky. 

One Facebook video changed my attitude completely. It was an entertainment remake talking about two different executive assistants and what makes the difference in their paycheques: minimum wage versus $60K. The video portrayed the minimum wage assistant as someone who only did as she was told, booking a last-minute flight ticket for example; the $60K assistant, on the other hand, was very thoughtful and prepared everything her manager needed, taxi, hotel, toiletries, and the flight ticket. The minimum wage assistant was not lacking in attitude or work ethic, she was simply not thoughtful enough nor as experienced.

Looking back at my own work, I realized I am that minimum wage assistant who still has a lot to learn. Yes, I completed my assigned work within the given time; yes, I am actively asked for more work. However, that is all. I did not think about my supervisors’ needs. I positioned myself as someone doing others’ undesired work when I should have been the person who assists others with their work and enhance efficiency. I expected work to be given to me; for instance, when asked to print some documents or drawings, the printed documents will be the only thing I brought back with me. My supervisor would have to ask me to bind the documents or divide the section, too, or I would not have thought to do it.

One of the administrative assistants used to ask me to have meeting rooms set up and coffee ready at 7:30 am, which is when I started but never told me the day before. I used to complain to myself that she did not think of telling me sooner and become angry thinking she expected me to work early. What I realized now, is that I have been blaming others for my incompetence. I should have been taking the initiative and confirming the meetings that needed to be set up with her, not waiting for her to tell me; that is what a $60k assistant will have done.

I am still not great at these tasks, but I am doing better. Just being able to understand my shortcomings helps me to remind myself constantly. Now, when given a printing task, I ask if any binder or dividers are needed, and also create a cover for the binder. Now, I take note of the upcoming meetings from shared calendars, and check with the corresponding assistant to see if set up of any kind is needed. An assistant is not a passive job where work is given, an administrative assistant is always actively looking for opportunities to help others before being asked.

I never thought I will take away such great lessons from an administrative position. These may not be the fancy, technical skills that look good on the resume, but these skills will stay useful regardless of the position. Becoming a $60k assistant is not my end goal, but being able to think like one is one of my goals. That is what made this co-op challenging for me.

About the Author

Sharon's Portrait

Sharon Chen

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business › Marketing, Beedie School of Business › Management Information Systems
Connect with Sharon on LinkedIn.

5th year BBA student concentrated on Marketing and MIS. While finishing her degree, she has completed two co-op work terms with a local start-up company, and now working at PCL Constructors Westcoast for her third work term. As graduation coming close, Sharon is eager to learn work-life hacks in every job she does, preparing herself for the real challenges in the real world.
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