I have “mad” skills….
I can type almost as fast as Jeff Gordon can drive.
I can file with an efficiency that would make the heads at the IRS spin.
I can answer a phone call, greet a visitor and pour coffee simultaneously with great ease – AND with a smile on my face.
I have access to the utmost confidential data and know almost as much as the CEO about running our organization.
Yet….I am just a secretary.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and an MBA, both from accredited state universities. However, all of my entry-level positions have been in the “administrative assistant” genre. I have type-cast myself. But how does one get an entry-level position in the field of their choice? We’re always told that “someone has to start at the bottom.” But, unless they are willing to let a new college graduate (and a woman at that) have those positions, we can’t start anywhere.
And so…I have these incredible skills and a depth of knowledge, yet no one takes me seriously. How can I escape that trap?
When I was hired as an assistant to the president of a college over 7 years ago, I met with a counselor about continuing my education beyond my baccalaureate degree. The counselor asked me what I wanted to do. I replied that I would like to be in an administrative, or leadership , role in the college system. Her advice? To get out of the secretarial position as soon as possible.
Now, this seemed callous to me, because it was a new job with new challenges, which I was seeking at the time. It was an increase in pay, and I was happy. But her words haunted me as I went back to my desk.
I tried for about a year to find a more “administrative-like” position at my current employer and another educational institutional, but lacked the “collegiate experience” to even get an interview. In other words, I should be lucky to be in the position I was in.
My resume stated that since college, I had been a Branch Service Manager (i.e., sales rep) for a loan company, an Office Manager for a small commodity trading company, and an assistant (secretary) for the CEO of a college.
Where were my leadership skills? Well, the leadership skills that a secretary has, can’t be put into writing – in a pretty title like Director or Vice President.
My writing and oral communication skills are impeccable. I know how to talk to trading floor executives, diplomats, other presidents, CEOs, politicians, public officials, upset students and parents. I can pull off a classy gala and/or event with ease and delegate the work accordingly. I can get directions to almost anywhere in the continental United States with a less than 10% margin of error – and that includes places I have never been. I can dress like a million dollars, although my clothes come from Old Navy or Kohls instead of St. John. I can write a letter for my boss that covers issues I have little knowledge of and in a way that looks like it was his/her own words. I can sense a conflict situation and work ahead to deflect my boss’s involvement. I can talk to the media with confidence, even though it’s not my job to do so. I know more about a computer than most people my age, tackled the new phone system without incident, have taught myself shortcuts and tricks that have been shared with my office mates, and can make a decisive decision without thought for recourse.
I am a secretary.
But, I am also a leader.
I have been asked for advice from Vice Presidents, Deans and Managers. Yet, I am just a secretary.
I have stayed while other managers, directors and administration went home during a crisis. Yet, I am just a secretary.
So, you may be wondering why, if I have all of these skills, am I not a leader? Why am I not invited to attend national leadership development conferences? Why am I not encouraged to stretch my wings in a more leader-oriented role at my institution?
A former CEO once corrected a visitor in our office when they referred to me as “a secretary.” She said “she does more than type and file. She knows as much about being a president as I do.” This made me proud to be who I am – of what I do.
I am breaking free of this secretary mold. I am embracing new projects and challenges. I am seeking leadership roles in my organization. I am making myself a leader. I can’t sit around and wait for someone to see the leadership in me – I must create my own opportunities. And I am. And I will continue to do so. For as long as I live.