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How does an admin break through to bigger and better assignments?

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Question: "There is so much more I can do for my company, but I am never considered for meaningful projects and assignments. I’ve been with my current company as an executive assistant for six years and have over 25 years of experience working at the C-level. Don’t get me wrong; I love what I do and I’m very good at it, but most of the work I’ve been asked to do lately is task-oriented and extremely basic, i.e. making labels, stuffing envelopes, conference room reservations, arranging food orders, etc. Please know that I don’t feel that those tasks are beneath me … I’m always willing to pitch in to help wherever needed. I’ve talked with my boss about my concerns and my eagerness to take on additional responsibilities and new assignments. Unfortunately, that conversation didn’t reveal any answers. I am having a great deal of difficulty understanding why I keep getting overlooked, and my feelings of resentment and frustration are getting harder to hide. Has anyone ever been in a similar situation?"  - Wasting Away

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy January 19, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I would love to know if Wasting Away was able to solve this problem within her current position or did she find another job that allows her to expand on her skill-set.

Just curious.

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Eliza November 19, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Hey Wasting Away,
I appreciate you found my suggestion applicable to your situation. When I read it, I saw myself in your question and from that experience, it seemed to me that you had done everything right in trying to garner more work that was more commensurate of your skill level. Especially speaking to your supervisor who provided no answers. Better to leave before the frustration gets too high. Sometimes, I think work issues like these are ‘natures way’ of getting us up and out to our next position. I can tell you that once I moved on from a similar situation, the world has opened up. Don’t think of it as giving up but rather moving on to opportunities that will be a better match for your awesome skills! And, how satisfied will you be the day you come in and give your supervisor your letter of resignation? Most companies have exit interviews and that would be a great time to respectfully explain why you decided to bring your skills elsewhere!

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Wasting Away November 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Thank you all for your supportive comments and suggestions; however, I think it is worth noting that I have been given many major projects to work on in the past; sat on countless committees; demonstrated proven and effective leadership skills; and I most certainly do not have anger issues. I’m the highest/senior admin working for the top dog. The projects I work on now are due to my own initiative and all benefit the company and/or staff directly in some way. While asking others for work really isn’t a viable option for me because of my position, I am often asked to collaborate with senior staff on a variety of projects when needed and my boss is fully aware. All of these things have dried up in the last year or so which is why I am so concerned.

It would seem that out of all of these wonderful responses, I am sorry to admit that Eliza’s may have hit the nail on the head.

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Wasting Away November 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

p.s. These projects and work assignments have dried up for me… not for other staff.

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LaTasha October 31, 2014 at 5:05 pm

It is frustrating to be underutilized and I have been there. My story is similar to @Karen’s. I started really slowly with doing very basic things. Then I started volunteering for more and more projects. I didn’t ask “Do you need me to do anything?” I went to my boss and said “What do you need me to do?” Little by little I started offering advice on various things and now I get called into planning meetings to help troubleshoot. Things may have worked out too well because now my boss thinks I’m Wonder Woman and can do anything and everything. I’ve had to start delegating tasks to other assistants in order to get everything done. It takes time to get from Point A to Point B. It won’t happen overnight but every chance you get volunteer to help and you will start getting used more and more for various projects.

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Karen October 31, 2014 at 2:24 pm

I think we have all been there at one point in time. I support the CEO, COO and SVP. What worked for me is pushing my way in to projects. I started slow – just providing some basic support for the team. Once I was comfortable, I voiced my ideas and they were received well. Today I am much more then the Sr. Executive Assistant. This year I have found an office in NYC for our teams and worked out some really good options in the contract, I plan and execute major company events, I have successfully completed space planning in both of our offices, I now do a lot of research, attend Sr Executive Meetings where I can freely speak on ways to improve process and procedure, I attend client events in place of the CEO when he cannot attend, I have successfully on-boarded eleven new employees in one shot through a partner program, and I now train all new assistants and manage them as well, and the list continues to grow.
The one major move I made was to get close to the SVP and that resulted in him approaching me for ideas on initiatives. I also stayed on top of industry news/changes and advised accordingly.
Another good move was to ask to go to training’s/seminars to increase my role. Once they realized I had the wherewithal to expand, the door opened.
No matter how long you are in your position, you still must prove you can handle the project/task at hand and remain completely confidential on sensitive matters. My suggestion is to ask your boss out for lunch and have a heart-to-heart. My boss was quick to say he did not realize I wanted to do more although he knew I was capable. Remember to start small so you can meet your deadline effectively and efficiently! Good luck!

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D October 31, 2014 at 10:57 am

I had the same situation at my last company. I had talked to my boss a number of times telling him that I am happy with the Admin position I was in and I want to continue doing that type of work but the work that I am doing I can do in my sleep; I am bored and I need something with a little more challege and to make me feel like I am contributing to the goals of the company. I went above him and talked to other managers about possible positions and ways that I could help them. One sounded like it was a very good possibility but when this manager talked to my boss all conversations stopped. At one review my boss told me “I don’t know what you want, If you want to make ice cream you need to go somewhere else”. I think he was joking, but there were no smiles and no changes. When I gave my resignation…he was shocked! HR told me that he is the type of supervisor that you need to bring in your suggested career path and he will try and make it happen.
I wish you luck Wasting away, it sounds like it may be more common an issue than we all think. Listen to Terron, I think that is a very good idea and hopefully that will get you noticed and more responsibility.

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L October 31, 2014 at 8:57 am

Looking at your question from a different angle, this could be a classic “Management 101” trick to get you to resign, especially since you talked to your boss and nothing has changed.

Are other admins also being under utilized or are you the only one? Look for the red flags as they can sometimes be incredibly subtle.

The ideas shared regarding reaching out to others within the organization to take on tasks or to pinpoint something that needs updating that you can lead are great (like the idea of updating the procedures manuals – that’s perfect).

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AF October 31, 2014 at 8:29 am

I am in the same boat. Have had a manager change recently, and this manager is very self-sufficient – i.e. does much of the work himself. He also is not very communicative and does not keep me informed as to what is going on in the agency. I work for the top executive by the way. I also believe that he does not know HOW to utilize an admin assistant, which of course very much impacts my life. There are only so many things you can go looking to do before you begin to feel under-utilized and unappreciated. I have no answers as I have been struggling with this same situation myself.

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Lisa - !! October 30, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Dear Wasting Away,

I took a second look at the end of your letter. You mention that your feelings of resentment and frustrations are getting harder to hide. Perhaps your boss and co-workers see/hear you and don’t think you can handle your work. Perhaps that’s the reason why your workload has been light. I suggest that you toughen up, put away your anger issues and show your boss that you can handle your job.

Best of luck Wasting Away!

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Eliza October 30, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Sounds like you’re being under-utilized and it does happen a lot. Not sure if it has as much to do with your personality as perhaps there isn’t as much higher level work available to do. It’s hard to know based on your question how large your organization is or how it’s structured but I do understand being frustrated by the situation. If you’re a good producer and can work multiple projects and tasks at once, it’s hard to do basic admin work knowing you could really be using higher level skills. Since you’ve had this discussion with your supervisor – they are aware this is an issue for you. You mention that conversation didn’t yield much in the way of a solution. That is really too bad because now that it is out on the table, you’ll be looking for a solution and if this supervisor/manager doesn’t produce, sorry to say your resentment and frustration will only become more pronounced. It may be time to dust off the resume and start hunting for another position that will give you more ways to use your skills. Good Luck!

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Lisa - !! October 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Dear Wasting Away,

I’m sorry to hear that your job responsibilities have been less than meaningful. Maybe the boss has seen that you’re great at the little details and knows that you can get the work done in a timely manner. It could also be that your company is not particularly busy at the moment and there isn’t much work to do. Or perhaps your work skills are in need for some sharpening. If you’re very worried, speak to your boss again and ask if there’s anything else that you can add to your plate.

If you do approach other people for work, don’t tell your boss each and every time. It’ll just bring to his attention that you might not have a lot to do.

Sometimes work gets very overwhelming and people just need a break. Be glad that this might be the case for the time being. You never know, you could have so much work next week that you’ll be telling everyone you want to quit!!

Best of luck Wasting Away!

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KJ October 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm

I would love to hear others input on this issue as I am in the same spot. My boss just doesn’t get involved in employee development. I offered up an idea for a project I could work on last year during my review. My boss agreed but has been less than supportive. He won’t use the system I developed himself and when team members balk and refuse to cooperate at all he does nothing. I love working for him in this two person remote office, but when he retires in a couple of years I’m worried I’ll be deemed unnecessary since he’s the only one that knows what I am capable of. GREAT QUESTION wasting away!

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Terron October 30, 2014 at 4:14 pm

If talking with your boss didn’t give you what you needed to know, try going to your coworkers directly and asking if they could use any help with their work load. Gradually make your way up the hierarchy list. For example, help out someone in a position slightly above you or, depending on the type of company you work for, a position in a different department. Once comfortable with that, go on to offer help for a manager or your boss. I think you should be golden so long as you’re showing the initiative to expand your horizons and you’re effective with the help you’re giving. Talking to your boss can be good sometimes, but actions will always speak louder than words.

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Theresa Kasel October 30, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Have you ever gone to your boss with a project that you feel needs to be done but no one else is working on that you could do?

Years ago, I proposed that the policy and procedures manuals for my department would be better if we had them as an online resource rather than the three 2″+ binders that needed to be manually updated. He approved letting me spend time and resources to complete this project and I was able to move the information to a LotusNotes database.

What improvement do you see that needs to happen that you can lead?

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