Have you ever wondered how the assistants to celebrities keep their über-famous principals happy, calm, and on time considering that the word “no” is rarely in their vocabulary? If the answer is “yes,” allow me to pull back the curtain on a few trade secrets that will make your principal feel like a million dollars. As the former Personal Assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis for 25 years, here are five of my favorite tricks of the trade.
- Make it – and keep it – personal. A customized and personalized approach is key. No two principals are the same so take the time to discover his pet peeves, her guilty pleasures, his hot buttons, and their comfort foods…and then act (and research) accordingly. Don’t take it personally when you think you have it down and then the preference changes. Go with it. Sometimes caring about the difference between milk chocolate and dark and aisle seat or window will be the seemingly minute magical details that matter most. Imagine yourself as a tennis player on the balls of your feet, always ready to move in the direction of the ball and you will do so with great speed, precision, and a big, beautiful smile on your face.
- Be a gatekeeper extraordinaire. Become crystal clear about who gets in and who does not. Create an “Interrupt List” so that you know exactly who is on the A, B, and C list. When in doubt, ask your principal. Still in doubt? Ask again. Your principal will be impressed by your insistence that his time and energy is protected as you move through the controlled chaos of your day to day work together.
- Respect the preferred methods of communication. Is he a texter or does she love the phone? Should you never call before 9:00 a.m. or does she prefer an email containing time-sensitive information? A superstar assistant delivers information in the way her principal wants to see it when she wants to see it. And of course, the information is spot-on accurate, to the point, and easy to read and understand.
- Open eyes and ears. If a business associate asks you what to buy for your principal for his birthday or Christmas, you’ll be ready with ideas that will truly delight your principal rather than cause her to roll her eyes with annoyance. Keep detailed notes of new hobbies (taking cooking lessons), interests (vegan restaurants), passions (pink roses, gluten-free pastas) and latest developments (she used to be a chocoholic but now she is more weight conscious after the baby.)
- Be a rock star with information. Being proactive about the things that matter to your principal will mean you will be invaluable, irreplaceable and never unemployed.
- You read an article about your industry that contains a key piece of information about an important client. You cut it out and put it on his desk with a sticky note that says, “I thought you would want to see this.” You’ve highlighted the client’s name.
- As your principal is getting ready for an event, remind her that Bill’s wife’s name is pronounced an unusual way, Betty is recently divorced so don’t ask her about him, Carol is now a blonde, and that Seth’s son just got accepted at Harvard and it would be great to congratulate him.
Bonus Action: Give your principal a cheat sheet that has photos of the important people she is about to see along with the pertinent facts for her to know. Go over it with her the day before or the day of the event, if possible. People hold information better when the written word is combined with the spoken word in a conversation.
Close attention to personalized details can make the difference between a great assistant and one whose principal cannot live without her. Today’s demanding job market is tough.
If you want to stand out and make your principal feel like a star in the process, then seek to go above and beyond the call to exceed expectations not just on some days, but every day.