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Life and Times of A Filipino E.A.
From Media to the Corporate World
When I left the media to work as a secretary in the corporate world, I never thought that the job could be as stressful – but as exciting – as media work.
I was a full-time journalist for 9 years, having worked for two of Manila’s major dailies and three magazines as a staff writer and eventually as an editor.
In 1997, when my son was only a few months old, and my late husband kept a stable job in Makati (Manila’s central financial district), I decided to give up my work in an afternoon newspaper to devote more time to the family. I spent the rest of that year until 2000 just freelance writing, even venturing into fiction writing.
But when my husband abandoned his job to start his own insurance brokerage, I decided to work again, but not in media, as I was tired of the long working hours and panicky deadlines.
I then started submitting copies of my resume to companies nearby, applying for the position of a public relations writer or something “administrative” in nature.
As I searched, I chanced upon a company two blocks away from where I lived and learned it was an accounting firm. Little did I expect to receive a call from the company president who would eventually become my boss.
During the interview, he asked me if I knew anything about balance sheets and financial statements. When I replied that I didn’t, he then told me that he was looking for someone who could do some marketing research, keep files, and take calls.
I went home after, pondering much on what we talked about. Then I wrote him a note politely declining his offer, reasoning that I was not fit to work in his company since I had a writing background.
To my surprise, he called me again and told me that he would hire me as his “executive assistant” who would not only perform clerical tasks but write his memos, correspondences, and special writing assignments - all for a good pay.
Convinced and sensing him to be a kind man, I could not resist but accept his offer.
So that’s what I am today – an E.A. (executive assistant) or simply, a secretary.
And let me tell you what it’s like.
This is definitely second nature to me, as I regularly compose my boss’ correspondences, office memos, and the minutes of a meeting. Writing occasional press releases and articles is also a treat for me, as I get extra pay for this task. Corporate writing, however, is so unlike feature writing, as the former requires a formal tone. Since I’ve started working in an office, it’s become customary for me to begin a letter with “greetings”, or end a memo with the standard “for your compliance” or “for your strict guidance”.
Unfortunately, I don’t know shorthand - and I never learned it! So when I take dictation, I scribble helplessly on my notebook, unable to understand even my own handwriting! There are also those embarrassing moments when - in the middle of my boss’ dictation - I would suddenly excuse myself and make a beeline for the comfort room.
Putting files in order
My boss once told me that the success of a business is in the “sanctity of the files”. At first, I thought this was as simple as arranging them in alphabetical order. But once the contents of one file would fill up its folder, I would immediately have to start a continuing file and label it as “part 2”. And as the files became thicker and fought for space in the filing cabinet, I would desperately look for other drawers or make do with used large boxes. Replacing tattered folders would eat up most of my time.
Wearing the proper attire
When I was still working in a newspaper, we could come to work in the most casual outfit – jeans, shirts, shorts, sneakers, sandals, even slippers - and no one would really care! But in the corporate world, we have to be prim and proper. So, I clad myself each day in trendy blouses with matching slacks and low heels. Honestly, I like the idea of wearing uniforms. It spares me the burden of thinking of what to wear the next day. I was amused when I learned that in some offices, female employees were sanctioned for mismatched separates, wrong color combination for the day, or coming to work in denims.
Keeping track of expenses
In August 2010, my boss and I entered government service because he was specially handpicked by President Aquino to serve as an official for his trade department. One of my duties then was to monitor his representation expenses. While still in the private sector, I would simply submit to the accounting department the receipts, and they would quickly process the reimbursement with no questions asked! In government, however, I learned that I had to attach to every receipt the following documents: the meeting or event that took place, the list of attendees, and if possible, the agenda taken up. Frankly, I found this process too tedious!
Having a fellow E.A.
Before entering the government, I was the sole secretary of my boss. In government, I had to share my functions with someone else! That’s when I learned - at least in the Philippines - that an official keeps two secretaries in his staff. My fellow secretary was Susan, and we got along easily. We would fondly introduce ourselves to others as “partners in crime”.
In February 2013, my boss - perhaps pissed by the bureaucracy - decided to leave government and return to the private sector. He brought me along - with Susan!
Performing lowly tasks
While still in the private sector, I would serve my boss his glass of water, spray air fragrance in his office, and even defrost his ref! Fortunately, I didn’t have to that in government, as we had a housekeeping staff.
This is something exciting I learned on the job. I know how to use a checkwriter! I’ve also learned to design a check template where I can encode the check details and have them printed on the check. I have to be careful, though, in inserting the check into the printer so it doesn’t crumple when printed.
This is what I learned in media. I apply this on the job whenever my boss asks me to call a party not listed in our company directory. Or when he hurries me to contact anyone unknown to me, I simply surf the internet and voila! - I’ve found the number!
Answering numerous phone calls
It takes special talent to be pleasant to annoying visitors or persistent phone callers when I’m beating a deadline or in the midst of a stressful task. It’s all about maintaining “grace under pressure”. We secretaries have to be EXTRA CAREFUL to control our impatience, lest these people complain to our superiors about our bad behavior.
Taking late lunches
I used to think that it was only in media where we would take late lunches, or eat at erratic hours. I didn’t realize it was the same in the corporate world, particularly for us assigned in the executive offices.
In media, we would work until the wee hours of the morning. In my current work, though, I normally leave when the boss leaves – and that would be at 8:00 or a little later.
I suppose in any job, it pays to have a healthy working relationship. For ten years, I had the good fortune of working with a kind superior who took the time to listen to the concerns of his subordinates and assist them with their needs. He was well loved in government, for he would go out of his way to greet an employee on his birthday or sympathize with another who had just lost a loved one.
And I don’t know how it is in other cultures, but in the Philippines, most secretaries I know find it difficult working for a female executive. I guess I can relate, as I have had female bosses in the past who were too fussy about many things. Yet, I’ve also learned to understand that women, by nature, are particular about details.
Are you a Secretary? What are you looking for in a boss?
Perks of the job
My job, however, doesn’t require me to just sit all day typing at my computer or answering calls. I also enjoy perks, like when my boss takes me along to business functions where I can meet other people and enjoy the food. I likewise receive tokens of gratitude from clients. In government, I received for two Christmases a large basket of goodies from a leading food, beverage and packaging company. With it came gift certificates!
But I remember receiving more than these while I was still in the media. It was something we journalists looked forward to, as if to augment our low income.
Here are some exciting scenes of my professional life:
I won in a singing contest!
In 2011, my co-worker Roland and I participated in our company duet singing contest. Here we are singing Mike Reno and Ann Wilson’s Almost Paradise. We won 1st runner-up with a cash prize of 7,000 Philippine pesos. Another perk of the job!
Relating to your fellow workers
I’ve been in the corporate world for many years now, and I can say that it truly helps to establish good ties with your fellow workers. It also boosts your performance. Here are some tips I can give to establish harmony in the office.
RESPECT THE OTHERS. Even if some people are too difficult to work with, BE PLEASANT. Saying a good thing about them also goes a long way. However, if such workers continue to become intolerable, have a tactful, sincere dialogue with them. Be professional about it.
BE NICE. And smile all the time. (It can surely make one’s day!)
REMOVE BIASES. Mingle with all kinds of groups. Spend your breaks with them or go out after office hours. That way, you establish rapport with everyone.
COMMEND WORK DONE WELL. People will love you for it, and they will likewise commend you for your small achievements.
Difficulties of the job
Like in any job, there are always the obstacles to hurdle.
On dealing with others, I’ve learned that it’s just a matter of people skills which I’ve already mentioned earlier.
Meeting deadlines can also be so stressful. But through time, I’ve found a way in which I could manage my time better so that my tasks are properly carried out.
The distance from the office to home can also add stress. Especially on rainy days, I’ve just had to deal with heavy traffic and a minimum transportation fare.
These are just some of the things I’ve discovered about being a secretary.
Many times, I ask myself: “will I ever be promoted?...will I return to the media?”
Maybe not. Guess I’ll stay in the corporate world ..and just be an E.A.