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What’s an admin? Can they put paper in the fax machine?

March 29, 2010

One can only imagine the advice this book has to offer... and wonder why it's strikingly similar to a 1958 issue of Good Housekeeping.

 

Hi there,

It occurs to me that “admin” or “assistant” can mean a host of things, all hellish in their own rights, and that I should probably clarify the position I’m referring to when I say “Administrative Assistant.”

For example, a “Production Assistant” is a whole other animal. Not just blogs, but entire handbooks and feature length films have been dedicated to the PA’s woe. Though it’s a close race, I believe that being a PA is only slightly less shitty than being an admin, thanks to the glamour factor. Yes, a famous movie director just yelled at you, but looking at the silver lining, a FAMOUS MOVIE DIRECTOR JUST YELLED AT YOU. There’s definitely an awesome factor there.

There’s also the subtext that everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood has assistants and that if you do well, you’ll get to have some of your very own, and can scream at them to your heart’s desire. That’s capitalism, my friends.

Unfortunately, there is no such promise for the average administrative assistant. Chances are that if you are one, you don’t work at a production company, or a talent agency. You work for a company that designs desk chairs, or publishes yearly statistical journals, or invests stock for technology companies that you never could, for the life of you (and for the Bachelor’s degree you’re probably sitting on) understand the purpose of. (They do something with Lotus notes? oh… Should I know what Lotus Notes are?).

We’re often receptionists to guests which our superiors swear up and down are CELEBRITIES IN THE CURED MEATS/SECURITIES COMPLIANCE/BLAH BLAH BLAH INDUSTRY, but who just seem rather nondescript and vaguely rude in person–hovering inches away from our desks and scrolling through their Blackberries while we wonder when it’s safe to say hello yet.

Most admins don’t really understand what the companies they work for do. That’s not because we’re stupid, it’s because we’re only admins at all due to the simple lack of careers in our field. English majors, quite often, who don’t give a rat’s ass about stock portfolios or business development.

We just need rent money and health insurance like the next person.

So because it’s difficult care about our line of work, it’s that much harder for an admin to be concerned about the exact temperature of her boss’s coffee, or whether there are Ritz crackers instead of Triscuits in the breakroom, or if the phone rang while she was in the bathroom (horror of horrors, someone had to leave a voicemail?!!)

That is the unique hell of the Administrative Assistant: being forced to do stupid things efficiently and as though we care about them–and with a smile!

More on that to come…

Until next time,

Amelia

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A View From the Bottom

March 27, 2010

This is more than a case of the Mondays.

Hello out there, if anyone is indeed out there.

Amelia here, though that’s not my real name (names changed to protect the disgruntled). I come to you from the city of dreams–New York City–which also happens to be, unfortunately, the realm of hundreds of thousands of unhappy assistants.

This was certainly not the plan. I came to New York for school, to soak in the world and to get an education in writing. I graduated in August of 2008–one month before all hell broke loose on wall street.

In any normal economic climate, it’s difficult to break into a writing or editorial career. For my class, it was nearly impossible. I took up a pay-by-the-hour, part-time job and struggled my way through several internships (always no less than two simultaneously), trying to break in somewhere, in something–mostly with disastrous results.

The problem was, no one was interested in teaching me anything. They just wanted someone to answer the phones and empty the garbage for free.

The Beginning of the End

(Or as I like to call it, crash and beard burn)

Things hit a new low when my most hopeful internship ended abruptly with an ugly incident at a company celebration. As I chatted excitedly with some higher ups who were just tipsy enough to actually talk to an intern, Doug, the owner of the production company (name NOT changed so as not to protect the guilty) staggered over from the dance floor and gestured at me to come in close so he could say something. As I politely tilted me ear toward him, he whispered something I couldn’t make out and began to suck on my neck.

I was too stunned to slap him but did a sort of spin-out of his reach and ran out of the bar for air. Another intern followed and talked me down a bit, assuring me that the whole company saw and were appalled, and that it was safe for me to come back in and get my things.  

As I found the booth where my jacket was slung and bent over to gather my purse and scarf, he came up behind me and tried to block my way out. “I can’t let you go until you forgive me,” he said. I fiddled with my coat.  “It’s fine,” I said. “But I’m tired, and I’m going to go home.” He said something quietly. “What?” I asked. He leaned in again and mauled my neck.

I think I said no. Maybe I just shouted it in my head. I repeated it to myself as I stomped down the street in my going out heels, pulling my open coat tightly around me and trying to rub the feeling of stubble off the side of my face. No, no, no. No fucking way.

The worst part of all of it was that I had to go into work the next day. I guess I thought someone would sort of pull me aside and ask if I got home alright, but no one would make any sort of eye contact with me. I only lasted a few more hours before I got so disgusted that I walked out and never went back.  

My New Career!

(Yes, that was dripping with sarcasm)

So there I was. One internship down, one to go–writing articles about different kinds of tire irons or children’s shoes available for purchase for $100 a month–plus a part-time job life guarding for $11 an hour. No recommendations. Definitely no references at the company (I can only imagine what Doug would have to say about me, since the night of the party was the most interaction we’d had in the three months I’d worked for him). No resume-worthy experience, except for answering phones and putting cans of soda in the refrigerator.

So that’s what I got a job doing: answering phones and putting cans of soda in the refrigerator. Plus tidying conference rooms, putting appointments on the company calendar, and taking responsiblity for any and every thing that goes badly. It’s my life now, and it has been for one year, three months, and 8 days.

I am an assistant. Hear me roar!

(And by roar, I mean answer the phone politely. I said I hated the job, but I never said I didn’t do it well).

The Point of All of This

(Yes, there is one)

The purpose of this blog is to maintain my sanity while I do stupid, meaningless tasks for a strange, rather cold breed of people of the corporate/financial/money-grubber persuasion. It’s also to record my experiences since I hope one day to look back and laugh at some of this. Or at least use it to write a very strongly worded letter to my boss on my death bed.

The funny thing about doing work at the level of a highly evolved baboon is that is still somehow drains the psychic and intellectual energy out of you. Though my brain writes poetry and novels to entertain itself on the train (or again,  strongly worded letters to my boss as he explains to me the carpet stain by his desk he’d like to me to clean up), I find I have nothing for a sheet of paper when I finally get home. I mean really nothing.

I just can’t seem to let go of the day or rise above it at all to tell another story. All I can think about are the occurences of the day, the absurdities, the injustices, and the horror of waking up to do it again the next morning. It sends me straight to dinner, Netflix, and on a particularly imaginative evening, a glass of wine.

I guess that was fine when I thought I would do this job for three or four months before I found another job I could write at. Now that I realize it’s been over a year and I have no pages to show for it, the reality has set in: I’m not really a writer anymore. I’m an assistant.

Sometimes, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Maybe this blog will be good practice, and beef up my writing skills for that EA job just on the horizon. Maybe it won’t accomplish anything, but allow me to vent about my job without irritating my friends. Maybe it will talk another assistant down off a ledge, because yes, it really is that bad some days.

If I can accomplish any of those things, I will consider this venture a wild success. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy my tales of suffering, humiliation, and carpet cleaning. Just, you know… not TOO much.

Until next time,

Amelia