Assistants On The Treadmill

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Maggie Leifer McGary

I was watching Oprah while I was on the treadmill one morning last week and Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines, was the guest. She has a new book out, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), the premise of which is the concept of the "360 degree life;" e.g. work/life balance. Oprah's cameras followed Black through her typical day: treadmill at 6:30 a.m., dash to the office, meetings, event after work, then home to her husband and kids. Exactly the same as my day. Except I, of course, am not a publishing mogul.

Cathie Black, Leslie Bennetts (The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?) and, our own Leslie Morgan Steiner (Mommy Wars). All these women inspire and impress me. They, and other women of that ilk, are the poster people for balancing successful, lucrative careers and family. They are confident and successful and (presumably) well respected in their fields.

What they write rings true for me and motivates me, but ultimately I am separate from them: I am not a Wharton MBA or a lawyer or a hugely successful corporate executive (although I could play one on TV). I doubt any of them ever had jobs with titles including the word "assistant." If they did it was back when they were fresh out of college.

When I graduated from college, the only job I could find was as a secretary. My parents forced me to take it. Even at 21, I was disappointed to be pigeonholed into an administrative position. But with hard work and determination I clawed my way up the career ladder. By the time I had my first child at 28 I was a project manager at an association with great potential for advancement. At that time I "opted out" of the workforce and spent the next eight years at home raising my kids and occasionally freelancing.

I decided to re-enter the workforce when my youngest was in first grade. I took a part-time job because I was bored and miserable at home. I didn't give much, if any, thought to my title or the actual job. All that mattered to me at that point was being able to work around my kids' schedule.

Once I got back in the swing of things my old ambitions started to surface. I craved the intellectual stimulation and recognition that a career provided, not just a way to fill the hours when my kids were at school. But I felt like I was back to square one: viewed by my colleagues as a 21-year-old with nothing of value to contribute. I would sit in meetings or work on projects and know that my ideas were good, that I had intelligent things to say. But as an "assistant" I had to remain mum. Or I would speak up and be heard for a brief time, only to be dismissed back to my administrative duties.

I have persevered and continue to re-establish myself as a professional over the past three years, first part-time and then full-time The process seems excruciatingly slow and discouraging. I am the first to admit that I'm not a patient person. But how long does a non-MBA or non-lawyer have to scramble to be seen as a professional after putting career on hold to stay home with kids?

One major aspect of the concept of balance is equal enjoyment and fulfillment from work and family. At least for me, it's a lot harder to gain satisfaction and enjoyment from a perpetually entry-level job than it is for a woman with a high-stature job.

What do you think -- are you a lawyer or doctor or executive who has a different view of with what I'm saying? Or are you a non-executive/non-professional who agrees? What advice can you share from your own struggles?

Maggie Leifer McGary is a former stay-at-home mother who now works as a Web writer and developer. She lives in Olney, Md., with her husband and two children. She writes about balance and other random issues on her blog, Motherwhatnowredux. Her last On Balance Guest Blog was Staying for the Sake of the Kids.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  October 30, 2007; 7:38 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I don't think it matters what level your job is, just whether or not you enjoy it. I have a non-entry-level job that I'm sure a lot of people would find satisfying, but I'm bored out of my skull. I've been working on a career change for the last two years and I have another year or two to go before I can do it, so I am working to change it.

Posted by: dennis5 | October 30, 2007 7:54 AM

Maggie, what's your career field? That likely does have a big impact on your ability to advance, for a variety of reasons. Those reasons include "supply and demand" (how many other people can do the job you want to do?) and professional qualifications (if you have a great idea but not the certification to back it up, you're not going to advance).

In engineering and other technical fields, supply tends to be low and demand tends to be high, so anybody with a really good idea is given a chance. On the other hand, most of those fields require a lot of training and often a certification, so an administrative person who shows an aptitude and interest would often be told to go get the qualifications - you can't just be promoted directly into the job.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 30, 2007 7:59 AM

My first entry level job in my career field was programming and playing wargames for the army. As a kid of 21 years old, it never got better than that!

I work for money now. Heck, I'll even swallow my pride and code in Cobol if that's what it takes to pay the bills and feed the family.

Posted by: DandyLion | October 30, 2007 8:29 AM

The footer says: "Maggie Leifer McGary is a former stay-at-home mother who now works as a Web writer and developer."

I'd have to admit (at least in the tech field), in the tech field it is very difficult to switch from "assistant" to "professional". This is normally not the fault of the individual, but more the fault of the employees who are used to assuming this individual employee has nothing of value to contribute to a professional discussion. It's not you, it's them.

In IT the best "jumps" I've seen from assistant to professional have involved switching companies.

ProudMama tells me the "jump" can be made more easily in law....apparently it is very normal for legal secretaries and paralegals to go back and get their law degrees.

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | October 30, 2007 8:31 AM

Maggie - here are some ideas for you - I often advise my employees to spend some time thinking seriously about where they want to go with their career - not so much as it relates to pay and titles, but what kind of work they want to do. I then advise them to put together a plan that we can review. Sometimes the plan includes additional training or education. Sometimes it involves being a part of specific projects. The key point is that they are working with me to define this.

I would suggest that you look for someone in your company to partner with to help you move ahead. Is there someone in a more senior position that likes and respects you? Go to that person and tell them what you told us. Tell them that you understand you need to pay your dues, but you want a chance to show everyone what you can do. Design a plan that, even if it takes a while, will move you towards your goal.

If you don't have anyone to work with on this, find someone! Those that get ahead generally do it not just because of their skills or education, but because they have made themselves a part of the team and people like to work with them. Good luck with this!

Posted by: jjtwo | October 30, 2007 8:33 AM

My primary job is certainly not writing songs but I do feel one coming on! Check back about noon.

Posted by: Songster | October 30, 2007 8:35 AM

"When I graduated from college, the only job I could find was as a secretary. My parents forced me to take it."

How? Did your parents hold a gun to your head? Were you over 18? There were a bunch of ways you could have continued your education.

"But how long does a non-MBA or non-lawyer have to scramble to be seen as a professional after putting career on hold to stay home with kids?"

As long as it takes after being out of the work force. It doesn't matter why you were out of the work force, but it sounds like you won't let anyone forget!

First, you blame your parents, then you blame your job.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 30, 2007 8:39 AM

She was out of the workforce for EIGHT years? And she's only been back for three, and some of it part time? It sounds like she's right where she should be in terms of advancement. I've been on the job for 5 years and have only recently gotten out of entry-level positions. I'm in the writing/editing field, and the only way to advance (that I know of) is hard work and slowly moving up the ranks after gaining experience. And getting another degree or certificate.

Have you considered going to school part-time?

And you might as well keep your resume circulating. You never know what company is desparately seeking people with management experience.

Posted by: Meesh | October 30, 2007 8:42 AM

It definitely was disheartening when graduating with a math degree, the first thing anyone asked me was ' how fast do you type?' This was before google hired every math geek they could find (obviously).
I wouldn't have minded being someone's assistant, as back then, it seemed that's how one started out (funny how they didn't ask my cousin - with a lib arts degree how fast *he* typed when he got out of school. Hmmm.)

So I started waiting tables til I went back to school (after a short lived 'real job' where even I could see the company was in trouble s there wasn't a computer in sigh.
After grad school - tho - they were calling me for jobs. That felt pretty good.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 30, 2007 8:43 AM

chitty: actually, if she was living with her parents, then, yes, they could have forced her to take it. My sister went to a school where exactly zero companies recruited there. It didn't stop my father from asking her, her ENTIRE SENIOR YEAR, if she had a job yet. Since she graduated in the roaring 80s, it was easy to find a job, even with a psych degree - she was offered one after one interview (a week after she started to look) and she took it to get my dad off her back (I'm sure he was pestering her about paying rent as well).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 30, 2007 8:48 AM

My experience synchs up with Maggie's: once you are typecast as an assistant it is really hard to break out of that mold, even if you have a good mentor and work for a company that supposedly values talent more than title.

Years ago I worked with a very talented "assistant" who spoke three languages and had excellent organizational and diplomatic skills. Her "mistake" had been delaying getting her college degree until her late 20s. She was ultimately able to move into a supervisory role, but it took years of determination and patience. And now the next move into management is tough too.

This "assistant" penalty seems to happen more to women than men. The only surefire path I've seen is a) get a strong graduate degree and b) move to another company so you can leave the stereotype behind.

And Maggie is right about me, at least -- once I graduated from college I never held an assistant position. Sure, I had "assistant" in my title -- assistant account executive, assistant product manager, etc. But it was drilled into me by my peers and career counselors at Harvard and elsewhere that taking a secretarial job would be the kiss of death for any career, because as a young woman I'd get typecast and have a tough time breaking free of that particular form of prejudice.

Posted by: leslie4 | October 30, 2007 9:02 AM

I beg to differ. Assistants are professional. We have our own certification standards, Certified Professional Secretary and Certified Administrative Professionals - an exam issued through the International Assoc. of Administrative Professionals. We are career-minded administrative professionals.

So perhaps what you were seeking is not to use the word assistant - as a recognition of a non-professional, but perhaps the type of work you prefer. Perhaps Project Manager was the title you were seeking, yet most of the Executive Assistants and Directors of Administration that are peers, are already project managers.

I am also a mother. I have not one regret of not climbing the "career ladder" . Self-respect starts from within.. not from a title.

Best of luck to you.

Posted by: kfoley311 | October 30, 2007 9:02 AM

right you are kfoley: some administrative professionals make a bunch of money and work just as hard as the CEO (if, in fact, they are assisting the CEO!).

I think the world has changed a WHOLE LOT in the last 20 years. No one 'takes a memo' anymore. It used to be everyone had their own 'secretary' to do stuff like that. Now, today, it is typically one assistant/admin prof. for an entire dept, and a VP might have their own (or might have to share). As I mentioned above, it didn't matter what your degree was when you graduated - I took TONS of typing tests looking for entry level jobs (which I just thought was degrading, considering the degree I had and how hard I had worked for it - and, as mentioned before, that they never asked MEN to take typing tests - even if they had the same degrees. They were putting men in different job interviews).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 30, 2007 9:07 AM

Depending on what exactly Maggie wants to do as a "Web writer and developer", I'd strongly recommend two things: (1) get a degree or certification, or at least start toward them, in your field of interest; (2) circulate your resume, because such career switches often (not always, but often) involve new companies where there's no history with the "assistant" label.

It's possible, if Maggie does some particularly brilliant development work, to make the jump within the current company, but that requires first finding someone willing to assign you the work and support you; and then delivering.

And re: parents "forcing" her to take the job, the only way that could be done was financially. If she had no other means of support - couldn't really move out of the house and live on her own without the job - then she might have been "forced" to take that job, but should have been looking for another one very quickly.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 30, 2007 9:14 AM

I agree completey with Liefer McGary that it can be extremely disheartening to be well into your 30s and to feel like you can and want to contribute more, have more responsibility and more recognition only to be relegated to the "career assistant" whose value isn't seen as reaching beyond making travel arrangments or knowing PowerPoint tricks.

One of the problems with the assistant trap is that after you've done it for several years, it can be very difficult to take the often significant cut in pay to start at entry-level or return to school for training in a new field. It's not impossible, but it makes a change much less attractive and maybe even a bit selfish if one considers how a cut in pay would affect an entire family.

This is something that I think about every single day and have come up with no real solution beyond hoping that I can find a company that actually WANTS its assistants to have the ambition to work their way up. My experience thus far has been that assistants, particularly those several years out of college, are there only to support those who are moving up and should not have those ambitions themselves. I know others must have better experiences than this - anyone?

Posted by: MrsDre | October 30, 2007 9:18 AM

Maggie: I am a parent with an advanced degree who never opted out of the workforce. I've been at the same company for nearly 15 years in progressively more responsible positions. I make a very good living doing work that I enjoy.

But does that mean that people always hear the ideas I bring up in meetings? Absolutely not. You say that Oprah's cameras followed Cathie Black throughout her day. But how much footage actually made it onto the Oprah show? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 20? An hour?

My point is that just because someone has a high stature job (your words) doesn't mean that every working minute of every day is filled with intellectual stimulation and recognition (again, your words).

So if you're looking for advice, mine is to focus on the big picture. Assuming good health each of us has the potential for a 50+ year working life (if we so choose). Three years is a drop in the bucket. Focus on increasing your skills, doing good work and building relationships in your chosen field and you will advance.

Posted by: cm9887 | October 30, 2007 9:20 AM

Another option, especially for those types of skills, is to offer your skills as a volunteer - I bet there are hundreds of organizations that are in need of those skills. Then once one has some contacts, etc, one can start charging for ones skills, and or will get some more/better contacts, etc.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 30, 2007 9:22 AM

First of all, a web writer and a developer are not job descriptions I would associate with being an "assistant". I have an avanced degree and I could not do any of these jobs. Second, I would suggest that Maggie moves into an industry which closely correlates with her interests and hobbies, if she has not already done so. Finally, there are some careers in Washington DC where job mobility is incredible. One is Capitol Hill where today's intern is tomorrow's legislative assistant. Another one is the lobbying/public relations world where bright "assistants" are constantly being recruited. It may be a long commute from Olney, though. Personally, I could care less about daily routine of celebrities on TV. Their lives are irrelevant to mine. I made peace with being on a "mommy track" which in my field means working a sane 40-hour week.

Posted by: tsm | October 30, 2007 10:14 AM

An all too familiar story for me...

Women are *still* getting pegged into the admin role. This is great if that is what you want to do. I have a friend who started at my company about a year before me and now after three years here is choosing her own title, getting excellent pay raises, and getting to decide what direction her career is going in. All with a liberal arts degree. However, it's still technically an administrative job, and I do wonder if she'll hit a glass cieling at some point (hopefully not).

In my case, I took an admin job straight out of college because I needed ANY job that paid more than my student job did. My BA didn't get me very far (I didn't have any experience in my degree field) and just wanted a paying job. After about 6 months of job searching, and hitting the end of my student job contract, I took an admin job. Six months after that I went back to community college and got a certificate in a technical field I decided I wanted to go into. Six months after that I went back to my university part time and am now working on a BS in that technical field. One year after I started at the company, with my certification and networking I had the support of a supervisor who wanted to take me on in a technical capacity. My boss, an executive, spent another year thinking about it, and delaying, and making me jump through more hoops than I've seen anyone at my title or the next title up ever have to deal with [I've always wondered if this is because I am a woman, and that he saw me as an admin. I'm hoping that's not the case, but likely I'll never know.] At any rate, I'm now 3 months into my new job title. I didn't get to take a cut in pay because, face it, with a mere 5 years of working my pay hadn't risen that fast, and I also didn't push the raise issue since I knew I wanted this job and this title.

One of the major issues now is you NEED a degree specific to your field. [Or lots of experience.] It used to be you get major in History, and then go into journalism. Well no more. For every return-to-work Mom like yourself there are 10-15 fresh college graduates with specific degrees that companies want. These young people don't have kids and usually aren't trying to support a household with the same standards as yours. You need to compete with them. You never said what your degree was in, but if it wasn't in your field you need to go back to school pronto. Or look around at your own workplace, what are people doing there that you want to do? And what kind of qualifications do they have? Sometimes it's never possible to break out of the assistant role. I wonder myself if in another 3-4 years when I get my degree, if they will be willing to give me the same pay and title that fresh college graduates are getting. I will have to wait and find out. But if not, I and you have to be willing to make the jump to a new company and fresh perspective. Also, the gap in your work history might still be hurting you (unfortunate but true). After a few more years in stable, full-time jobs, when you don't get asked about it anymore, you might be able to move on and move up.

Posted by: _Miles | October 30, 2007 10:18 AM

Based on my personal experience, I think the real killer in Maggie's situation was being "administrative" rather than being an "assistant." I took an entry level administrative job to get a foot in the door in a federal agency I dreamed of working for. I rapidly progressed in the administrative field to be a manager. I found it difficult to shift over to technical or professional non-administrative positions within the agency because I was pigeon holed as administrative. Even as a GS-12 I had to fight to get my ideas and perspectives outside the administrative realm to be heard. I didn't feel professionally fulfilled because I wanted to be more than administrative. Finally I went back to college, finished my degree and took a position outside my beloved agency so that I could do the professional work I craved.

I recently had the opportunity to work part-time for a period of time due to my family circumstances. In terms of life balance, it was HEAVEN. While I enjoyed less stress and the ability to be a part-time at home mom, I worried about losing my professional edge, losing ground and having to start over. I'm back to work full-time and loving my new job, but a little sad that these kinds of barriers and pitfalls are real.

Posted by: schellef77 | October 30, 2007 10:21 AM

I have not really seen the limitations of "administrative" in my work life. I've worked in the automotive and the publishing industries. In both cases (admittedly, I've only been in the work force about 12 years and two real full-time jobs), companies were hungry for talent, and if you came in as an administrative person and showed talent and assertiveness (ie, shared your ideas with people), eventually a position would open up for you. I've seen administrative people move into other positions at the company that they can be trained into. It's a stepping stone, people. You have to prove your worth to the company and show what kind of person you are. If they are smart, they'll take advantage of it. If they don't, or don't seem like they ever will, try another company.

The best companies will recognize and promote talent, no matter what, if the person pushes for it.

Posted by: goodhome631 | October 30, 2007 10:37 AM

"I have not one regret of not climbing the "career ladder." Self-respect starts from within.. not from a title."

That's a little sanctimonious for my tastes. Maybe you weren't trying to be, but you sure did come off that way.

The author wrote that "I craved the intellectual stimulation and recognition that a career provided" and that her current position wasn't providing that. She did not say that she didn't have self-respect.

Maybe you don't think it's important to climb the ladder, but some people do, and this author should not feel ashamed by her ambition.

Posted by: Meesh | October 30, 2007 10:42 AM

...This "assistant" penalty seems to happen more to women than men....

Posted by: leslie4 | October 30, 2007 09:02 AM

Is there any evidence of this? Can someone provide a link to a study, perhaps? I'm not saying this is false, just that I'd like to see some substantiation.

At my workplace I think we do a gender-neutrally bad job of pigeon-holing the admins and stunting their "advancement". (I put advancement in quotes due to the evidence someone presented that admins are professionals in their own right.)

We have more female admins than male (where I work), but obviously that's not the same as saying we hold the females back more than we hold back the males...

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | October 30, 2007 11:27 AM

I read something a little different into Maggie's column than the posters here did: Was she trying to point out that achieving work/life balance is easier when you have an assistant to help?

(By the way, it's been awhile since I've posted, but I used to go by "Seattle"- the rules have changed on the blog, I see)

Posted by: ashleymcarollo | October 30, 2007 12:08 PM

Meesh - I'm glad you pointed out the difference between "self-respect" and "intellectually stimulating". I agree wholeheartedly!

My situation is similiar to Maggie's in some ways, so I can say from experience that I respect admin assistant roles more than I would if I hadn't held one myself,but I also am very happy with my current job because I, too, was not intellectually stimulated by the job.

Posted by: ashleymcarollo | October 30, 2007 12:14 PM

To the tune of "Sway" by P.Ruiz as sung by Dean Martin then covered by numberous artist. (Cha-cha-cha!)

When keyboard rhythms start to play
Blog with me, make me stay
Like many people, write some more
Hold me close, tell me more

Like a word flying in the breeze
Talk with me, say it with ease
When you scribe you have a way with me
Stay with me, write to me

Other columns may offer more
But OB, my eyes will see only you
Only you have that magic technique
When you are in the Post I go weak

I hear the sounds of cheap keyboards
Long before it begins
Make me stay as only you know how
Sway my mind, sway me now

Other columns may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you
Only you have that magic technique
When we are in sync I go weak

I can hear the sounds of "Word"
Long before it begins
Make me think as only you know how
Influence me, influence me
You know how
Sway me smooth,
sway me now

Posted by: Songster | October 30, 2007 12:24 PM

ProudPapa - I think it depends on the industry. And the way you can tell is, when one of your recruiters brings in a young lady with, say, a degree in business, or a young man with, say, a degree in business...what happens to to the two of them? Is the young lady asked to take a typing test and given an assistant position? What kind of jobs do young men with BA's get at your work? That's the only way to tell, apples to apples. I have a tough time as I'm in an industry that's overwhelmingly male. It's difficult to actually compare myself to guys in a similar position.

On a side note, there was an ex-military guy who applied for one of our specialist jobs (which was really an admin job) and the male supervisor refused to hire him! Didn't want a guy for an assistant. I wonder if we hired this guy in another job, but I couldn't tell you.

Posted by: _Miles | October 30, 2007 12:35 PM

I meant to say...there's not enough women where I work for a good comparison. Just because *I* haven't been given the same opportunity as other guys with my age/education/experience doesn't mean anything. I'd need one or two other women to compare as well, but they just aren't there.

Posted by: _Miles | October 30, 2007 12:36 PM

"I wonder myself if in another 3-4 years when I get my degree, if they will be willing to give me the same pay and title that fresh college graduates are getting. I will have to wait and find out. But if not, I and you have to be willing to make the jump to a new company and fresh perspective."

Posted by: _Miles | October 30, 2007 10:18 AM

Here's what happened with my son's wife's mother. She was an assistant at a Manhattan law firm, working on wills and trusts. She enrolled in law school when her daughter began college. Once she got her law degree, she moved to another law firm where she is still working on wills and trusts, but earning three times what she earned as an assistant.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | October 30, 2007 1:15 PM

PP: I have never ever seen an assistant being a male. Wow. Not once, actually.
The only thing even remotely similar, I guess, would be, at my last job, we had 'assistant to's, where you could be assistant to the CEO. But that was hardly an assistant/admin position - those people typically had to have MBAs, would only be in the position for a year or so, and once that was complete, they could go absolutely anywhere in the company, even if there was no position available, and probably commanded a very high salary.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 30, 2007 1:47 PM

"But how long does a non-MBA or non-lawyer have to scramble to be seen as a professional after putting career on hold to stay home with kids?"

Long enough to pay your dues and to have shown that you understand the industry and the business about which you want to comment. Everyone has an opinion. Not all opinions have equal value or are based on an equivalent understanding of the industry, or trends, of history, or of the approach your employer takes to its business. Those with the most skin in the game have the most voice.

Posted by: MN | October 30, 2007 1:51 PM

Hmmm. Not sure I see what Maggie sees. And this from the world of legal, where 99.9% of secretaries are female. But elsewhere within the administration of a firm, the diversity is usually great. There are a lot of women in Director/Chief positions within large firms, and there's good mobility if you have the drive to go places -- everything is possible, except of course the idea of being promoted to "Attorney". In fact, at my last firm, there was only one male Director in addition to the CEO. We used to laugh about the "monstrous regiment of women".

I have seen legal assistants go to law school and return as associates, but never a secretary, though I've no doubt it happens (occasionally). This is less likely to happen at the larger or big city firms unless you go to a top- or second-tier law school.

I also think that sometimes you've got to be willing to take a job as the office minion and work hard to move up. I've seen that with more people than I can count, some of whom had degrees, others who went straight to work after high school graduation.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 30, 2007 2:01 PM

"I have never ever seen an assistant being a male"

You're kidding! We have plenty where I work. Not as many as female assistants, granted, but probably around 30%.

They're in the same boat as the female assistants - i.e., no upward mobility and they're not taken all that seriously. So I wonder if it's really a gender-bias thing, as some here suggest, or linked to the job as such.

Posted by: StickyNote | October 30, 2007 2:01 PM

"I have seen legal assistants go to law school and return as associates, but never a secretary, though I've no doubt it happens (occasionally). "

I've seen secretaries & paralegals go to law school and return as associates.

I've seen/or heard of a number of court employees, including secretaries, docket clerks, and librarians, go to law school and return to their courts as career lawyers.

One docket clerk eventually became the Chief Judge in the Bankruptcy Court where she was employed before she attended law school.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 30, 2007 2:18 PM

Chitty -- I am curious as to the size of private firms you've worked with. I've no doubt that government positions are different from becoming an associate at a large firm.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | October 30, 2007 2:26 PM

I'd argue a paralegal is seen differently than an admin in another industry. Being a paralegal for a few years likely HELPS you when you get your law degree. It's directly related experience. Being an admin at...oh i don't know, I'll have to think about this one...but at financial company, or manufacturing company, or bioengineering company...that's where the bars for entry are higher (usually a BS required for non-admin jobs at those companies) and i wonder if when secretaries go on to obtain the BS they are given the same fair shot as other employees. I just don't see enough male admins here to know how they have it. There was ONE, and he moved into a technical entry-level position with no additional schooling required, and after less time than me. But one example hardly constitutes a rule, so who knows.

Posted by: _Miles | October 30, 2007 3:07 PM

Hasn't it been one of the constant great disparities in the professional world that promotions and achievement is a lot more about connections, perception, letters after your name rather than ideas, productivity, and insight?

As well, why do so many parents who choose not to make their careers a priority then get upset when their careers aren't so welcoming and fuzzy when they decide to make their careers a priority later? I'm not saying they made the wrong choices, in fact they probably made the best choices for their lives.

But you can't expect to put something as a priority and then wonder why the non-priority item isn't giving you what it used to?

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | October 30, 2007 3:08 PM

I forget who said it, but yes, I was living with my parents when I graduated and yes, I did have to pay rent so had to take the first job I was offered. Four years of school had been more than enough for me at that point and I had no interest at all in pursuing an advanced degree.

To clarify what my actual job is, my title is Web Communications Coordinator but what I do is web writing and development. Granted, I had no experience whatsoever in web development before I got this job--when they hired me they wanted a writer but it has turned out that they needed a web content manager so that's what I've become. This has been story of my life since I've returned to work--get my foot in the door then seize whatever opportunities I can and try to parlay them into a long-term career.

When I initially went back to work three years ago it was as a part-time assistant for the marketing department at a small medical society. From there I wangled my way into becoming editorial assistant for the society's two medical journals--maybe not my chosen career path but it was a career path that was readily available to me. Less than a year into it I couldn't take it any more--checking every em-dash and period in each of 200+ medical references just wasn't my bag--so when the executive director's assistant left I took that job--a backward step career-wise but I made more money for fewer hours. And so on, until I took the position I'm in now less than a year ago.

"So if you're looking for advice, mine is to focus on the big picture. Assuming good health each of us has the potential for a 50+ year working life (if we so choose). Three years is a drop in the bucket. Focus on increasing your skills, doing good work and building relationships in your chosen field and you will advance."

This comment hits the nail right on the head. I know that, in time, whether I eventually decide to go back to school or just continue to learn on the job, I will advance professionally. Would it help me move up faster if I got a graduate degree? Probably. But I'm not willing to sacrifice my already-limited time with my husband and kids, nor do I have the financial means to do it right now.

So there you have it--back to my original point--yes, I'll eventually get there but it sort of drives me crazy to have to do all this fancy footwork to get back to a place I was already at 10 years ago. It would be one thing if I had a head injury or something and had to work my way back mentally or something, but to already be capable of doing something yet having to bide my time until I've paid my dues or whatever you want to call it--it can be frustrating.

And yes, Emerald, I totally agree with you--fair is fair, but it still sucks ;)

Posted by: maggielmcg | October 30, 2007 3:15 PM

"Hasn't it been one of the constant great disparities in the professional world that promotions and achievement is a lot more about connections, perception,
letters after your name rather than ideas, productivity, and insight?"

Working hard doesn't have near the payoff as working smart. Those that can play a good game of office politics are much more likely to get ahead. Production has its merits, but the business environment, being a social network by nature, favors those with self confidence who can effectively portray themselves as leaders.

In other words, If you find yourself working too hard, you're probably doing it all wrong.

Posted by: DandyLion | October 30, 2007 3:32 PM

"Less than a year into it I couldn't take it any more--checking every em-dash and period in each of 200+ medical references just wasn't my bag--so when the executive director's assistant left I took that job--a backward step career-wise but I made more money for fewer hours. And so on, until I took the position I'm in now less than a year ago."

As long as you keep sending the message loud and clear that what you want is more money for fewer hours, and you are unwilling or uninterested in investing in yourself by updating your skills with additional education, there's no benefit to your employer in giving you more responsibility.

Posted by: MN | October 30, 2007 3:55 PM

Meesh you are right.. it did sound sanctimonious.. and it shouldn't have been..

I judging folks on their ambitions..

with all all who posted

Posted by: kfoley311 | November 5, 2007 12:06 PM

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