Just like there are deadly sins (and various equivalents in different religions), there are certain ‘faux pas’ assistants commit without even realizing it.
This article is not a guide on how to be a good assistant, but a guide on what not to do. These are common mistakes that assistants occasionally make but can be difficult to spot because they often come from unspoken behaviours and habits. The list is not in any order of priority or severity since all of them are unprofessional and are avoidable.
- Passing the buck when they should take responsibility/blaming others
Passing the buck is not lying; it’s simply avoiding taking responsibility by subtly shifting blame elsewhere. When assistants pass the buck, their executives are the ones who suffer. It is an assistants’ job to represent their executives and act in their best interest. If an assistant always shifts blame to someone else (especially to their bosses), it will be difficult to build a good working relationship with their executives because the executives would find it difficult to trust them.
- Doing the bare minimum instead of going above and beyond
Executives often hire assistants because they want to do more than what their schedules allow. It is therefore very discouraging when assistants don’t go the extra mile or even take their job seriously enough to do only the bare minimum. If an assistant does not show initiative, executives will quickly lose interest in them, and it will be difficult for them to get promoted in the future. For example, your boss has requested you to do some preliminary research on a client before going to meet with them, but instead of simply googling the firm, you go also through social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to find out more personal details about the person he will be meeting with. With this extra information, your boss is better equipped to make small talk in the meeting which will set up a better working relationship.
- Faking competence
Faking competence is just as bad as not being competent. Assistants who try to bluff their way through a task will eventually lose any respect they have worked so hard to build, as such incompetence will eventually become apparent. No matter how capable an assistant is, there will be times when things go wrong, or certain tasks might take longer than usual. There’s no need to pretend that everything is fine. When an assistant is in over their head, the only thing that’s worse than not asking for help is trying to fake it. Asking for help is part of being a professional, and it’s important to know when to ask.
- Not being proactive but reactive
Being proactive is being “on top of things” so that when something happens, it’s not a crisis. When assistants are proactive, executives don’t have to manage their every move because they know the assistant will do whatever it takes to get the job done without being told what to do next. Assistants who are reactive are unprepared when problems come up and spend their energy putting out fires when that time should have been spent on more productive tasks.
- Wasting time with gossip, distractions, and other unproductive pastimes
Although assistants will occasionally enjoy free time at work, they should not utilise that time by spending hours on Facebook, watching movies online, or gossiping. The best assistants are the ones who use the small breaks to think about how they can do their job better and plan how to better execute their deliverables. If you’re not a hard worker who avoids distractions, it’s a bad habit that will get worse over time. If your boss catches on to the fact that you do nothing but waste time, they may let you know by firing you for negligence.
- Trying to please everyone but their executives
Assistants should always put their executives first, not their peers, not their friends. Assistants who ingratiate themselves with everyone will soon find that they have alienated their executive and no one else. If you’re an assistant, your primary job is to support your boss, not everyone in the office.
- Not adding value to the company but taking value from it
Assistants are hired to make the lives of their executives easier. The value that assistants add should reflect that either by freeing up executives’ time or by saving them effort in any other way. Assistants who do nothing to benefit their executives are not worth keeping around. Every assignment you complete, every idea you have that makes your boss’ life easier is an important part of being a valuable assistant. If an assistant is not adding value, there is little reason for an executive to want them around.