PayScale: What is your administrative assistant job description?
Farieda: I love the kind of work I do. I manage the office staff and petty cash. I manage the boss' diary and schedule appointments, etc. I work Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 5:00. I answer and screen telephone calls and direct the calls to individual architects. I type meeting minutes, memo’s portfolios, and the updates of new job numbers. I execute cheques for scrutiny fees and for payments for drawings. I contact owners and clients and set up meetings for individual jobs. I worked on a database since 2006 to get all of the old work and check if they might want extensions or alterations. I do payment certificates, practical completion and final completion certificates.
We are a small group of people at the office but the work load can become hectic as we work with big projects like Northlink Colleges, West Coast Colleges as well as CPUT. In between, we are doing extensions of houses as well as plotting and planning new houses on bought ERFs. Things happen so fast. The phones ring, three bosses talk at the same time to set their appointments, and that is why I type everything for the day on a sheet and collectively work my way through the day. In order to manage the architects’ schedules, I have to be at work every day. When the big boss is on leave overseas, then I take leave to take a breather at the same time. I also work on a debtors list. Before I ask for money, I have a conversation with the debtor. You have to be proactive in this kind of job.
I am grateful that I have a "memory of an elephant” to remember all the names of places and people. It sounds very professional when a client calls and you remember their name and surname. I always add a “last conversation” to their file such as, “the granny passed away” or, “the dog was sick;” when you sound like you are interested in their well being, you have a client for life. I am alive and love every minute of being alive and live it to the fullest!
PayScale: How did you begin your career as a secretary/administrative assistant?
Farieda: I watched a lot of TV when I was small and I always saw secretaries in their suits, beautifully pinned up hair and high heel shoes answering phone calls. I promised myself that one day, when I am big, I want to be like that. I wanted to become a teacher at first but when I saw the boys making faces behind the teachers’ backs, I decided to become a doctor. My marks in math in high school were bad and I got into Nico Malan Nursing but decided to work to help my family. I always wanted to be better than the ladies I saw on our road. They were either drunk or some of them looked like they had given up hope. I was determined to make a success of my life. I started off at a fisheries company and I stunk of fish every night. I had a goal in mind: to one day sit behind a desk and call the shots and dress smart. I now smell like panache every day as I made a choice to be different.
PayScale: What do you love about your administrative assistant job?
Farieda: Particularly during this recession time, I hear about receptionists that were retrenched or the company closed down. I am thankful to God that I still have a “good job.” I have a wonderful boss, Geoff George. He is polite, friendly, and very human. He has compassion. What stood out for me was the day that a valuable client called. She was a little upset that Geoff never came to measure her place. Eventually, the plans were approved and the day she came in to the office to pay, Geoff told her it was fine. He told me her husband is very ill and the extension was to have a bed and breakfast at their house as an income. How could he charge her? Was that not wonderful? I was so proud of him. When my kids sang Tygerberg Eistedfod and were in the ATKV choir competitions, I really appreciated Geoff when he insisted that I go with my children for the finals in Johannesburg for a week. When they won, I was a proud mom and still had my job. I came to work on one of these public holidays recently to type a letter that I know Geoff wanted to go out. I got to work and almost left again, but then he pitched in and we sent the letter. He was so thankful that I sacrificed my day. That is what secretaries are there for.
PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as an administrative assistant?
Farieda: To be able to remember the appointments you set for your bosses. I was very down when I forgot to remind Geoff to leave for a meeting and he ended up there late. He was cheesed off with me and said it was my responsibility to remind him. I will never forget that and I can be a pain. I stand in his office, with his cell phone, his car keys, and the meeting minutes in my hands, and nag him to leave for his meeting. I literally push him out the front door. I would like the challenge of doing the books for the company. I feel I can do it and why should we pay an accountant extra whereas we can invest that money in new projects for our community?
PayScale: What advice can you offer to someone in your field?
Farieda: My advice would be to be diligent, to be honest, and to be dynamite. Talk is cheap. I am sure that when I came for my third interview at KLG, they must have thought that I am a big talker. But I am more than that, I am a doer! I reach my goals because I am determined to make them happen. I never procrastinate. I am sometimes a few minutes late for work due to traffic, which is bad.
I am glad that there was no one to advise me about this kind of career. The things I say here are already a mouthful and I was thrown in the deep end. I can only advise that you mingle with mature people and get as much information and work (voluntarily) as you can. Go to companies and stand in front of their door everyday until they give you a job. If the job is in the tea room, become the best tea lady. Or, the very best floor cleaner or the most excellent receptionist. Then, climb the ladder to company secretary. All things are possible if you really want it. If it comes your way, grab it!
PayScale: What are some interesting moments that you’ve experienced as an executive assistant?
Farieda: The craziest thing is that I never stop until I am satisfied. I have also found I am not satisfied with a little; I want a lot. I am healthy, I have a brain, and I have the inner beauty, so what will stop me? Nothing! I love to be challenged and for me it is to study. You never know enough. I want to do a CIS course at law school to become a company secretary. But, at the moment, I can not afford it. Even if I do these courses, that does not mean I will leave my company. I am loyal to Geoff and KLG staff and the best part is that I am happy at work. You can earn much more money elsewhere, but does that determine that you will be happy? I got life abundantly!
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