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How Should Executive Assistants Conduct Themselves? – Ask An Admin

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This is a special Ask an Admin because it is time sensitive and we are helping a new executive assistant in Europe! So, administrative professionals from around the world, let’s try to help!

Katrien, from Belgium says:

I will start a new challenge as a Executive Assistant and I am very much looking forward to that. In February all colleagues (also the new ones) are invited at a company event in New Orleans, Louisiana. This means a long haul flight of 11 hours with 200 colleagues in one airplane. And a whole business week full of work and leisure events. I am a bit nervous though about a few things:

  1. How to remain professional at all times considering the long flight and tiredness/sleep it will involve.
  2. What to wear on the flight as I like to be comfortable but still professional.
  3. What to wear when casual is required at some events; I don’t like wearing “jeans and sneakers” at work.

Katrien will be taking that flight next week so let’s try to get all the information, tips, and tricks to her as soon as we can! Side note…congratulations on your promotion Katrien!

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17 thoughts on “How Should Executive Assistants Conduct Themselves? – Ask An Admin”

  1. This trip to North America sounds like an amazing opportunity. I echo what everyone has mentioned above regarding not overindulging in alcohol.

    I wanted to add some suggestions for your flight itself, so that you will arrive healthy and ready for the conference. Bring hand sanitizer on board with you, and some anti-bacterial wipes. Once you’re in your seat, wipe down the seat belt buckle, the tray table and anything that all preceding passengers would have touched. Use the hand sanitizer to keep your hands germ free. Bring along some Oil of Oregano (available in homeopathic shops) to give your immune system a boost.

    It’s also wise to hydrate often. Have an empty water bottle that you can refill with water during the conference. I myself don’t like to drink plain water, but I like to use Nuun tablets for flavor and electrolytes.

    Enjoy the conference!

  2. Congratulations on your new career!
    The long flight will be tiring. Your travel bag should hold some items for freshening up, something to read, and a shawl for warmth. Keep hair and makeup very simple for travel.
    Your wardrobe for both travel and at the company event should be simple, flattering to your body type, and comfortable. Nothing tight, nothing low cut. I’d suggest slacks in a dark knit fabric, simple knit pull over tops, a solid knit jacket and leather trainers for footwear on the plane. At the event a continuation of this simple wardrobe, adding a blouse, knit dress or skirt (at or just above the knee) will work for meetings or evening meals. A pair of simple low heeled leather shoes instead of trainers will work for meetings. For casual events add a different top/sweater and the trainers. If you choose to wear jewelry keep it very simple. As an executive assistant you should look neat and pulled together at all gatherings.
    Enjoy the trip and your new colleagues and learning more about your company.

  3. First, congratulations on your position! Sounds like you’re off to an exciting (if a bit tiring) start!

    1. As others have said, stay away from or keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum. Especially in New Orleans (or NOLA) it can be quite tempting to have a bit of everything and due to their open container laws, you will see people walking around the city with alcoholic beverages which is not common in the States. But alcohol will definitely make any jet-lag or tiredness worse.

    2. By that same token, hydrate. Keep sipping that water. It will keep you alert and more comfortable during the day. That always helps with a clear head and staying professional.

    3. On the plane, simply choose a pair of comfortable pants, shoes you can slide on and off quickly, and some simple layers that are comfortable. Shells, cardigans, tunic tops, thicker leggings or ponte knits are always great for travel, tend to show less wrinkling, and keep you comfy on the long flight.

    4. Since you’re new, you’ll have lots of opportunities to meet people on your team. Ask them questions about themselves, and observe behavior – not just their answers but their body language. You learn so much by watching people, and if they’re a bit out of their element (say, on a trip to NOLA) you may learn more about them that you would in the office.

    5. Take breaks when you can, and journal your experiences. If something stands out to you, make a note of it. If you find out Jane just loves her pug, make a note and ask her about her fur-baby later. If John comments that the jazz band is playing his favorite song, ask about that, and try to remember these things. It will help you make connections later on.

    6. Just be yourself and don’t stress – sometimes we worry so much about being “on” we forget to be ourselves. Enjoy the trip and get to know your team. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  4. Katrien – Congratulations!!!

    How exciting to have such a trip. Will spouses/families be traveling as well or just coworkers? That will dictate some of the atmosphere…but I think professionalism is something you can and should practice whenever around colleagues (and even when you are not, such as on social media, etc.). Whenever I attend a conference, whether I am with coworkers or other professionals I don’t know I focus on a balance of being myself and yet respectful/professional. I think opportunities like this (traveling or conferences) are a great opportunity to ask questions, get to know a bit more about others, but also ask about their work history, best practices, current projects, favorite projects, ideal work environment, etc. Ask questions to keep conversations going…You can be you and not in ‘work mode’ during the entire flight! Yet remain respectful and professional. I had a boss a long time ago that would tell me, “if you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of the paper, don’t do it.”…Seems a good motto for life in general.

    As far as attire. I think an 11 hour flight is certainly cause for comfort, yet ‘put together’ jeans and a tee can be ‘put together’ by being the correct fit, not too revealing, clean, etc. I also like comfy dress pants or capris when I fly and I typically have a couple layers in case I get cold on the plane!

    And when casual is required at some events I think casual skirts, dresses, dress slacks (that are comfy), etc. Are very appropriate, again even jeans are when they are the correct fit, etc. Outfits should be appropriate, but that simply means not too revealing, clean (or wrinkle free if applicable), etc. If you question it yourself, it might not be the right outfit whether it’s not work appropriate or whether you would not be comfortable in it…

    You can always search for some ‘work casual’ outfits online or on such sites as Pinterest, etc. I have gotten some fashion tips from there (not that I am a fashionable person at all), but I try!

    I hope this helps, keep us posted and let us know how the trip goes and HAVE FUN, enjoy the trip, enjoy the city, enjoy the time with your coworkers, breathe…have fun and learn as much as you can from others!

  5. Congrats on the new role! That trip sounds amazing and tiring at the same time. I would definitely mentally prepare yourself for a week-long marathon of professionalism and having last minute things asked of you by many people. ‘Know thine-self’ is something I remember when I know I’m going to feel the pressure of being uncomfortable or exhausted, yet still have to maintain my attitude. It basically means know your limits. If you need a break, say you need it and then take it without guilt. I’m a natural introvert, so events like that would exhaust my energy. Knowing that about myself enables me to walk away when I’m able and find a quiet space, so I can reenergize myself. Keep in mind, you’re going to see your colleagues at their most casual and sometimes vulnerable selves. Cut yourself some slack. The expectation of you in that environment will be different than at the office. For the plane, if you can find those yoga work pants they make for women, those would be both comfortable and professional-looking with flats and a light sweater or cardigan. Attire for the meetings, I would go with the same look as the plane, yet instead of yoga-work pants, switch it up for some nice slacks. On a side note, it’s Mardi Gras season in New Orleans right now. Which means there will be parades, crowds and lot’s of fun going on around you. Make sure you visit Café Du Monde while you are there for some coffee and beignets; eat alligator (it’s delish) and if you can find it, some ooey gooey cake.

    1. Oh mercy, Cafe du Monde is a must – beignets and chicory coffee is a delight you can’t miss.

      Also if you have sightseeing time, just wander around the Quarter. It is a great time of year for that. I just love the music you randomly get to hear in NOLA.

  6. Hello and Congratulations!
    I have done a great deal of international travel and have found that wearing Chico’s Travellers brand of clothing is wonderful. It is a stretch fabric that does not wrinkle. Flats or a low heal that is comfortable works well. A suit jacket that is more of a “boyfriend” style works well casual or dressed up.

    Nice khaki pants or chino’s are a good alternative to denim and there are many options of leather shoes that are casual but not “sneakers”. A simple A line dress can be both casual or dressy depending on your accessories.

    The weather in New Orleans will be warm but not oppressively HOT. Enjoy and relax! You will be great in your new role. If you were not perfect for the job, they would not have chosen you.

  7. Katrien, that sounds like intimidating fun to me – may it be a great teambuilding experience!
    My advice would be:
    1) Stay away from alcohol, get sleep if you can. I have used essential oils a week before I traveled to train my body “when I smell this, it’s time to sleep”. Then I put a bit of oil on a tissue in a ziplock bag in my purse to smell.
    2) Take what makes you comfortable (aircraft pillow, knitting, reading, headset, and snacks (enough to share)) but be willing to have your agenda changed. If you have little games that can be played with your seat neighbor, that might be fun.
    3) I like to wear pointe pants that have an elastic waistband and stretch in them and do not wrinkle with a turtleneck because the air conditioning in an airplane often gives me a sore throat otherwise; and shoes that tie because sometimes my feet swell in the low pressure environment.
    4) For casual wear, I like khakis and a blazer. I have one that looks like a blazer but is a knit material and feels like a cardigan when I wear it. White jeans and driving mocs? A stretchy dress that doesn’t wrinkle? It depends a bit on your style…

    I am looking forward to see what other have to say and wish you safe and happy trails!

  8. Congratulations on your new position – what an exciting time for you! For your flights, I’d suggest black or navy leggings with a loose/long top and a jacket. Leggings are super comfy, the jacket will dress it up a bit and you can accessorize with jewelry or a scarf / pashmina – planes can be chilly. If you feel sleepy, I think it’s perfectly OK to take a nap … you’re going to have several hours of time change. If you use essential oils, citrus and peppermint are great pick-me ups and lavender is a great relaxer.

    For other activities for casual clothes, how about khaki pants and a button down shirt? Or a printed shirt and solid color jacket? I’m sure you will be walking a lot, make sure you have a comfortable pair of walking shoes.

    All the best to you – I’d love to hear how your week goes!!

  9. 1. How to remain professional at all times considering the long flight and tiredness/sleep it will involve.
    You will obviously have to interact with those sitting near you.; so keep the conversation light, take something to read to keep you occupy. Maybe talk about the expectation of the training and what you hope to gain.

    2.What to wear on the flight as I like to be comfortable but still professional.
    Wear a very nice jogging suit that is also professional looking. Always take a light jacket or cardigan as the temperature can change. Nice casual pants and shirt will be good as well; just be comfortable.

    3.What to wear when casual is required at some events; I don’t like wearing “jeans and sneakers” at work.
    Wear khakis and nice bottom up shirt that look professional. Cole Haan has very nice causal shoes that are affordable and relaxed at the same time.

    Check the weather in New Orleans…before you pack.

  10. Mary Margaret Andreoli

    Congratulations on your new assignment Katrien! I agree that jeans and sneakers don’t feel right when you want to portray a professional image, even when those around you may wear them. I find that black / dark leggings with a longer blouse / tunic look a bit more polished but still are comfortable. These can also be dressed up nicely with heels & accessories for events and don’t take up a lot of space in your luggage. Do plan on sleeping on the plane and whenever the opportunity presents since it sounds like a busy agenda and you need rest to be at your best. If there are others in your group who have attended, see if they can offer some insights. Have fun!!

  11. My first word of advise is – watch the alcohol. I’ve seen many careers ruined by overindulgence. As for apparel, be comfortable on the plane, but not sloppy. I personally think athleisure wear, as long as everything is well covered, is appropriate when flying – especially for that long of a flight. When in doubt about attire, always lean towards conservative. Dark rinse jeans and flats – not tennis shoes – are a good option for casual outings. Better to be thought of as conservative, than the opposite :). Keep water, gum/mints handy during the flight to ward off “dry mouth/bad breath” – happens to the best of us. Also, a simple hair style – even a ponytail, works on the flight so you don’t have to worry about “sleep hair”. Have a great trip!!

  12. Let’s start with the fact that no one will expect you to be up and working on an 11 hr flight and I’m sure they will even understand after landing that you will want to rest up before the days ahead of meetings. I attend several week long meetings during the year that require me to be up and on the ball from 7:00am – sometimes 9:00pm with a dinner. It is always acceptable to want to retire early especially when you are dealing with different time zones. As far as what to wear- I would suggest that you be comfortable on your flight. Not sure if your company has any logo wear but that is usually acceptable when flying. Business casual usually means you can wear slacks with a sweater or blouse, your company guidelines would let you know if tennis shoes are acceptable. If you are to be walking for long periods of time I would think that you would want to be in a flat shoe. You will not want to be in heels if you have to be on your feet all day. Depending on where the meeting is and the weather there are comfortable boots that work well.
    Hope this helps.

  13. Katrien,

    Congratulations on your new role. I have been an Executive Assistant for over 20+ years. I have had a very rewarding career. My advice to you is to be yourself. If you are authentic to who you are, your team will get to know the real you. Take this time to be present during this trip. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, ask questions, listen and glean as much information as you can about the company. Wear what makes you feel comfortable. The rest will come naturally. Best of luck.

  14. It’s business–not vacation–even though leisure time is involved. Dress and conduct yourself above reproach, your reputation can be sullied by inappropriate outfits and behavior. Dress casually for the flight and for the events at the destination.

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