Time out of the workforce can dampen the desire for senior-level jobs. During my recruiting years I met so many returning professional women who wanted to work—but without the big responsibility and extensive travel required for jobs they held in their 20s and 30s. A perhaps surprising number of these women had decided to pursue less demanding administrative positions—a second career path too many mistakenly perceive as the easy route to cash.
Administrative positions are not necessarily easy or 9 to 5. Think about the busiest executives you know and the assistants who keep their personal and professional lives running like clockwork. Top administrators perfect their talents over many years, and they can handle every kind of correspondence, format and design winning presentations, schedule busy executives to the minute, make complex travel arrangements and be the face of C-suite executives in very fast-paced businesses with demanding and difficult internal and external professionals.
After 25 years of placing top administrators at leading companies, Leslie McIntyre knows that without specific administrative training very few women can walk right into an executive assistant job. Though the majority of women in or out of the workforce have good computer skills—executive assistant positions require a complete command of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and calendaring. Most women who come to Leslie’s firm, The McIntyre Group, looking for an admin job after a long workforce hiatus, need some computer training.
The good news is that for the right candidates Leslie’s firm offers as much training as needed—at no cost. On average women who have been out of the workforce need one to two weeks of intensive training to get up to maximum speed on standard office software programs. Once they have this training, Leslie and her colleagues can vouch for their administrative skills and convince employers they would be good hires.
Because of the resume gap, Leslie finds it difficult to place women in permanent positions right off the bat. Instead, she sends women who have completed training to “consulting” jobs—the McIntyre Group vernacular for temporary assignments.
These consulting jobs open doors for women who need recent paid work experience to land permanent jobs. In some cases these temporary jobs even turn into permanent positions after employers get to know the women, see their skill levels and are assured of cultural fit. Leslie remembers a returning professional woman who had once held senior marketing positions. This woman was willing to do “whatever it takes” to get back into the workforce. She put her ego aside and was genuinely willing to take an admin role for the longer term. Knowing that she needed a ramp up period, she completed McIntyre’s computer training and took an initial consulting job as a receptionist.
Within eight months, this woman was asked to join the marketing department of the same company. Again, she was at a lower title and salary than her last permanent position, but she knew she was on an upward trajectory.
Leslie says that she looks for women who have the same realistic “whatever it takes” attitude. She hears a lot of “I used to be…” and “I used to earn…”, and some women just can’t get their heads around the low compensation for consulting assignments (usually $20 an hour or less) and the work that often includes a lot of greeting visitors and answering phones.
If women truly want to go the administrative route, however, and they can put their egos aside, it is possible to land a more lucrative and permanent executive assistant position in a relatively short time. These positions range in compensation from about $60 to $100,000—with hedge funds at the top of the pay scale.
Leslie says that being honest with yourself, with recruiters and employers is key. If you say that you want an administrative job, you have to mean it. Employers and recruiters can see through women who apply for admin jobs out of desperation or with the intention of leaving when something better comes along. It is possible that an admin job could lead to a higher-level position in marketing, finance or the type of work you once left behind, but there are no guarantees. Leslie screens very carefully for women who would be happy with an admin job for many years, would work hard with a great attitude and be happily surprised if the job leads to a higher-level role.
The McIntyre Group works with employers and candidates in Connecticut’s Fairfield & New Haven counties and in New York City. The firm’s headquarters is in Norwalk, with an additional office in Shelton, CT. www.themcintyregroup.com.
- Make sure that you really want to do administrative work–not just take on what you perceive as less demanding responsibilities.
- Recognize that good computer skills aren’t necessarily the same as top-notch, career administrator computer skills.
- Think long-term: not every admin job turns into a more senior-level role, and you have to be happy in the role whether it eventually does or not.
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