During the Future Assistant Conference we touched on the subject of job descriptions, which if truth be told, we talk about a lot at Practically Perfect PA events. It is a topic that never stops being hot. Why? Well, firstly pretty much every job comes with a job description, detailing the skills and requirements for the role. When you apply for a job the job description is the document that gives you an overview of what to expect, what you are basically being sold and what you need to bring to the organisation. Secondly, this is the document that is supposed to protect you if times get tough. We all know that for Assistants uttering the famous ‘it’s not in my job description’ isn’t going to serve us well in our profession. However, we do need something that we can refer to when we are not comfortable. That should be the job description but, usually, it isn’t. As we’ve written before on Practically Perfect PA, the job description is often passed down from Assistant to Assistant, it isn’t refreshed or updated and it is never seen again once you are placed in the role. So, yes, we talk about the job descriptions for PAs a lot, but I’ve got to ask the question – is a PA job description worth the paper it is written on?
I think the answer is no.
And here is why. A job description doesn’t really reflect what an Assistant does on a day to day basis and what we can do. Unless the job description is written to include, in huge capital blocks, ‘And, honestly, anything else we can throw at you’ the document just isn’t going to cut it for Assistants. The ‘and any adhoc duties’ covers the organisation’s ass when it comes to giving us extra work, but not ours, so the idea of a job description covering us in a legal sense just seems ridiculous. I don’t think I know any PA who has whipped out their job description when encountering an issue with their Executive or their organisation to justify their complaint. It doesn’t protect us because our role is so wide that a piece of paper can’t really do it justice.
So what can we do? Ignoring job descriptions just isn’t going to work because they are still very much part of the recruitment process and yes, it is super important that you study that job description inside out and back to front if you want to get in the door for an interview. In that spec you will find all the keywords needed to get past the recruitment algorithm, which in itself is a total pain. But once you’ve got the job? Ripping up the job description and starting again is the best course of action. And here is why. Job descriptions are focused on the job, not the individual performing the role. This is true across all industries, however, for Assistants, it is doing us a disservice, particularly as the role evolves to include so much more than a list of obvious tasks and responsibilities.
What should replace the job description?
Before I go into detail on what I think should replace the PA job description I think it is well worth pointing out that (and I say this all the time) you have to own this stuff guys, you have to be in charge of your career and what you are putting out into the big wide world. You are the masters of your fate, so hold your head high and own this stuff. Okay, Oprah moment over. I know that the ideal would be something completely different to the traditional job description, but without changing the world, here are some things you can implement that will help bring what you do into sharper focus.
Tasks – Literally, everything you do.
I’d love to live in a land where your amazing qualities are going to get you a promotion and a huge bonus, and yeah, to a certain extent they help. But, the cold hard facts are that the stuff you do and your results will get you the reward and recognition you deserve. So, keep a list of everything, and by everything, I mean everything that you do. All of the high level stuff, all of the amazing projects you work on, all of the drama that you resolve and the problems you make go away – everything. I hate that phrase ‘adhoc duties’ because it suggests that all the little things we do, all those fires we are putting out are somehow irrelevant. They are not. That is the stuff that keeps the organisation going and we are responsible for it. So write, it all down!
When it comes to your review you will have a very detailed overview of everything you do, which is much more useful than an old document that doesn’t reflect the current role.
What are the competencies you bring to the role, as an individual. Start with the competencies in the job description you have (like being organised, like being a team player, like being flexible, like being an effective communicator blah blah blah) and flesh them out.
Go deeper… What makes you amazing in your role? What makes you stand out? What are the qualities that you as an individual are bringing to your organisation that make you ace your job every day? If you haven’t thought about your personal brand before, I can understand why, you are too busy. But it is so important to know your strengths and actually your weaknesses too.
Take the time to do this because there is another huge reason and that is the onset of technology that will take over a lot of the traditional Assistant tasks. In the next five years you will certainly see a shift in the need for Assistants who can, say, schedule meetings to those who can confidentially attend meetings in place of their Executive, who understand the business, react to the needs of their Executive and can handle complex issues and resolve difficult problems. Detailing and understanding how you do business rather just what you do will greatly benefit you now and in years to come.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to walk into a new role and know exactly what is expected of you and actually what you expect in return? You would be able to go about your day knowing that you are doing everything that is required of you and planning how you can exceed those expectations all the while being treated with respect and getting the reward and recognition that is owed to you. I really hope some of you read that sentence and think, ‘yup, that is me’. In which case, that is fantastic and how did you do it? Because, it is far from the norm. One of the huge problems that comes with a rubbish job description is the discrepancy between what you expect from the role and what is expected of you. It is time to change that. You need to know exactly what is expected of you to succeed in the role. If you don’t know, you need to get yourself into your Executive’s office very quickly to find out the answers. A difficult conversation to have, but one that is really necessary.
If you don’t feel like your expectations are being matched by the organisation, really, truly think about what you want and what is missing, it might be that you don’t have a purpose, you want more responsibilities, you want more control over your work. Whatever it is, needs to be addressed and acted upon.
Instead of a job description, it would be incredible if you and your Executive sat down and wrote a detailed list of expectations that will make your relationship work and to make you successful in your role.
Everyone should have boundaries at work, especially Assistants. Knowing what is acceptable for you and what isn’t, is perfectly okay. Your boundaries might not fit into the culture of your office or the role, but that is okay, you either find a new role that reflects your boundaries or you compromise. But, have a stop point because some jobs just are not worth it. Again, having a detailed understanding (even if it is in your mind) of, your boundaries, what works for you and what doesn’t, is so much more powerful than a standard job spec.
Communication and Feedback
I’ve put this last, but seriously, it is so important and ties everything nicely together- communication and feedback. You have got to communicate what you do, how you feel, your expectations and your boundaries with those in your organisation that need to know – which is pretty much everyone (except maybe the mailman, he probably doesn’t need to know). You need to ask for feedback, get an understanding of what you are doing well and what can be improved. You need to have goals, objectives and plans in place that keep you motivated, challenged and happy.
PA job descriptions really aren’t worth the paper they are written on because they don’t do our role justice. We are so much more than our lousy job specs so I say let’s rip them up and start writing our own. Are you with me?