Find your EA community and supercharge your career: a chat with Executive Assistant Vanessa Mittendorf
From secretary to Senior Headroom EA and coach, Vanessa Mittendorf has been nailing the EA game for over 20 years. She’s worked with many different executives and companies of all sizes, and is the go-to person at Headroom to talk about administrative careers. So we sat down with Vanessa to talk about the risk of isolation in the workplace and how to overcome that: the best way is to find an EA community to unlock your career.
Hey Vanessa! You’re an EA veteran and you’re responsible for training new executive assistants as they join Headroom. How did you start your career? What attracted you to it?
I started as an EA years ago after being a receptionist and a team secretary. The planning, servicing and thereby helping someone from A to Z is what attracted me the most.
Even though we might not have the background and education that the CEO or CFO has, we surely make a difference in their work and personal lives, so I see myself playing a key role in the success of the company.
If my executive can trust me enough to delegate business and private tasks to me without worrying, that’s when I know I’m doing my job right.
An EA job usually focuses on the 1:1 relation with the executive, rather than being part of a specific department or team. The risk is that you lose your sense of self in the midst of serving others.
Did you ever feel isolated while working as an assistant? How did you overcome that?
I used to feel like “the middle man” in a standard organization I was working in. I was in between the Management Team and the staff. This was a great role to have but also difficult personally. And I didn’t have anyone to discuss this with.
As I am a strong person myself, I could deal with it. But it can be a struggle not having someone who’s on the same boat.
At Headroom this is totally different. Of course, you’re responsible for dealing with everything that the executive and their company need, but you’re not alone in the process. Headroom people come from all walks of life, and bring very different experiences to the table. PR experts, event managers, social media marketeers… are just a few of the background some of my colleagues have!
So if you’re struggling with something, the whole team can think along with you how best to handle it. This way you can do your best work, while feeling supported by a community of EA peers.
How important is it for you to have an EA community, to exchange ideas, tips and advice?
I’ve been doing this for 20 years, you would think I’ve learned pretty much everything about being an EA. When in fact I’m still focusing on my own growth and development. Why? It keeps me fresh and committed to always be the best version of myself. Not one single day is like another. And that’s what I like so much about this job.
The best way to learn the assistant job is by trying things out and exchanging ideas with others. How does Headroom foster this knowledge-sharing? How does that differ from being a traditional or virtual assistant?
As you have a whole remote EA team behind (and next to) you, you can try things out more easily and bounce ideas back and forth at any time. At Headroom we see executive assistance as a real profession that requires ongoing training and development: you can “climb the ladder” and learn new things every day, and we have a framework to facilitate that. This isn’t always the case within traditional companies. When you work as EA in-house, you’re often the only assistant in the department. That means you don’t have access to tailored training sessions and career development.
The remote transformation of the workplace means many assistants are now working virtually and remotely. What is one piece of advice you’d give a new remote EA to stay connected and avoid isolation (and alienation)?
Come to Headroom! But if that’s not an option, you should find executive assistant networking groups or try to build a network of EAs around you. Whether it’s offline or online, it’s always helpful to discuss the issues or great moments in your work, as to avoid getting in a rut.
Don’t know where to start? Look up executive assistants and administrative professionals on LinkedIn, and send them a personalized connection request. Follow relevant hashtags on Instagram and LinkedIn and don’t shy away from engaging with fellow EAs online. The next step would be to create or join a Whatsapp/Facebook group or a Slack channel where you can easily ask questions and exchange productivity tips. And never be afraid of sharing your experience and career background, own it!
Let’s talk about an executive’s “single point of failure”: if their EA is off, the executive suddenly loses the support they need. Plus, one EA alone has limited knowledge on best practices, tools and solutions, and nobody to ask for advice. How can executives benefit from EA communities like Headroom’s?
This is one of the biggest Unique Selling Point for us, in my opinion: we can all take over from each other, which means our executives aren’t people dependent anymore.
It helps the Executive to focus on what they do best and let our Headroom team handle the rest, without disruption. This is very helpful to EAs too. I think the Headroom model is beneficial to everyone: efficient to use as an Executive and empowering to be a part of as an EA.