Want that top job? Go in the backdoor

You desperately want a job at that top-company and although you have a sound degree behind you, they simply aren't interested. Do what lots of successful businesswoman have done, go in the backdoor, become a personal assistant and get an accelerated look at every aspect of the business from behind the shield of your boss.

If you're really competent no company is going to block your bid for a job with more responsibility. Today with millions of people without work - 32-million people lost their jobs globally in 2009, a million of whom were in South Africa - it has never been harder to get the job of your dreams. So be clever, go in the back door and make your way to the top.

Recruitment agencies agree that this is a good way to do it. "Despite high numbers of unemployed people, it is very difficult to find good personal assistants or administrators," one recruitment agency boss said. "We get many people applying and showing certificates of competency in a variety of computer skills and other fields, but many fail the most basic tests whether essential telephone skills, filing or even competent spelling and grammar ability, many don't even bother to use computer spell and grammar checks."

And to be a top-notch PA nowdays, most big companies are going to expect you to have either a degree or a thick file of certificates and diplomas showing a string of qualifications and competencies.

Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan referred to the dilemma when in his 2010 Budget speech he noted: "Labour market data confirm that employers are reluctant to hire inexperienced work-seekers, while school-leavers lack basic workplace competencies. Furthermore, our bargaining arrangements push up entry level wages, pricing out inexperienced work-seekers."

liza van wyk Liza van Wyk, CEO of major administrative skills training organisation BizTech said the crisis was so serious that their courses for personal assistants and administrators, "whether learning how to do graphs and presentations, essential personal assistant skills or memo's and minutes, have been consistently over-subscribed for at least the last two years.

"I personally have experienced how hard it is to recruit appropriately qualified personal assistants, it is difficult to assess precisely where the root of the problem lays, but part of it might be in school education that is not appropriately preparing young people for life after matric or after they qualify with a degree. Globally nowdays most PA's have some sort of university education".

"In South Africa, however, many young women and men seem to look down on a job as a personal assistant despite the fact that it is often an excellent training ground for those who want to proceed to higher or more specialised positions in an organisation or work sector."

Van Wyk said that the skills shortage was seeing managers move more of their work burden to personal assistants and administrators. "The boss may get a personal assistant to write emails on his or her behalf, do research, graphs, presentations

There are a number of essential criteria an effective personal assistant or administrator should keep in mind to perform their job in a manner that sees them move into higher-earning capacity.

+ Take an interest in the company, understand its goals and objective and remember the business issues and people important to the company

+ Always be well-groomed, dress according to company style and ensure hair and nails are always clean and neat

+ Develop speed reading capacity

+ Learn to use the computer properly and learn the short-cuts in the various applications you use

+ It is now possible to dictate directly into a word-processing document saving time and the effort of typing

+ Change computer passwords frequently to protect confidential documents

+ A computer scanner can speed up work by photocopying text straight into a word-processing document

+ Use brief sentences when writing business letters and never use slang or informal speech

+ Check spelling, grammar and punctuation

+ Don't respond to an angry caller with anger, remain calm and polite

+ Always have an agenda for a business meeting

+ Minutes are a short record of resolutions taken at a meeting and may be used in court cases as evidence so accuracy is essential - record who is responsible for implementing action and the due date

+ Don't schedule appointments early in the morning or late in the afternoon when your boss or the person he or she is meeting could be delayed in rush hour traffic

+ Plan and schedule your tasks and challenge yourself to meet deadlines

+ Keep reference books close at hand to improve efficiency for example, a dictionary, thesaurus, postal guide, airline schedules, street maps and internal telephone list.

* Have short cuts to electronic documents and useful URLs.

+ Clean your workspace once a week, removing clutter enhances efficiency

+ When making travel arrangements, plan the itinerary to give sufficient time between catching flights, travelling to meetings in a foreign country, take into account different time zones and check on public holidays in the travel destination. Ensure the passport of the person travelling is up-to-date, has sufficient free pages and that the traveller has the necessary travel immunisations and visas. Check baggage allowances and ensure the traveller has sufficient business material from your organisation as well as pens, notepads and maps.

+ If a foreign guest is visiting your company and you want to give them a gift, be careful to ensure that it is not culturally offensive eg black or purple are considered bad luck by some cultures

+ Communicate carefully to avoid errors and conflict, if necessary put it in writing and keep it simple

+ Behave like the manager you hope one day to become.

+ Network, you learn a lot from other PAs and businesswomen.

+ Improve your skills, regularly go on training courses, learn more about financial management, event planning, personal image and dress sense. Display your certificates so your boss and colleagues can see your skills at a glance and too, that you are someone who is determined to get ahead.

* Read, read, read. Magazines, newspapers, books - the more you read, the more you learn. Read about something you wouldn't usually, a motoring review, a business report, keep learning.


* BizTech has a range of courses that benefit PA's. Their website also has useful career tips and information. They hold public and inhouse courses nationwide. Email [email protected] or call 011 582 3200.

* Join a women's networking group, one of the best are the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa