Executive Assistants: What the Job Description Did Not Tell YouBy Jeanne Hopkins
Coordinating corporate travel is probably a key, and complex, responsibility
You’re an Executive Assistant (EA), or perhaps an Office Manager — both tough jobs. They have a lot of things in common, though each position (regardless of specific title) is unique in its own way. After all, every company and executive team is different.
Especially if this is your first position as EA or Office Manager, you probably assumed your work would be much like the job description you were given. Naturally, then, you thought travel coordination would be a relatively minor element of your job. Not the case? We're not surprised.
Corporate travel is complicated, time-consuming, and requires all of your people skills and patience. Turns out, it is probably the most complex part of your job. It’s not a “task,” it’s a new career opportunity. (More on that later.)
Virtually all EA and Office Manager job descriptions include something vague about “making travel arrangements” or “coordinating travel” as a task/responsibility. But they never list knowledge/experience in travel planning as a requirement to be hired. So, if you came to your EA position without corporate travel experience (after all, you didn’t “need” it), where do you even begin to ensure success? Let’s take a closer look at that job description.
Your job description said you would need to be:
- A problem-solver
- A skilled time manager
- Able to work without guidance
Good thing you possess those skills and personal traits because, although you may not have realized it at the time, these skills are vital for travel planning success, as well as the myriad other tasks under your EA umbrella.
In addition, the job description likely listed any number of responsibilities seemingly unrelated to travel.
- Leading strategic initiatives
- Creating reports
- Gathering and organizing information
These responsibilities, too, can indeed relate to your work as travel coordinator.
How? Strategic initiatives might include formation or oversight of a travel policy committee or booking travel for a company retreat. Creating reports is likely to include traveler expense reports and pulling together monthly updates for HR or your finance department that show where travelers went, for how long, and the purpose of their trips.
Gathering information may include compiling comments travelers make about your company’s booking process or their on-the-road experiences with air carriers, hotels, etc. It might also include creating more formal surveys to ask about these details, to help improve your corporate travel policy.
Your job description may also have mentioned tasks beyond booking travel. For example, especially in small firms, there may be no one designated to handle follow-up with travelers. And no outside travel agency in play. So it will be you who collects receipts and expense reports from travelers; maintains a company-wide calendar that shows who’s on the road and where; and serves as the office touchpoint for travelers while they’re away, to unscramble booking snafus, send off forgotten presentation materials, or help deal with a personal emergency.
And yet, since EAs are widely seen as a resource for all things “company,” and since your description is so vague, of course all these responsibilities land on your desk. But, hey, you can handle them, right!
One fact of work life that all EAs contend with is change. With so much on your plate and so many people to please (only if, technically, it’s a few executives) you are a Master Juggler. So when it comes to coordinating travel planning, bookings, follow-up, travelers themselves, the HR and finance folks, you’ve got this!
If only you’d known!
That said, being an EA or Office Manager can be tremendously rewarding. Your work is diverse, so every day is different. You have serious responsibilities that directly affect how well your company functions.
You have authority to make decisions within the parameters of your job. You are seen as a go-to resource.
Making the most of your position as “corporate travel coordinator” can make you a hero, in the eyes of your travelers and your company’s leadership.