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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Think I just answer the phone and photocopy things? Wrong! I am tremendously skilled – far more so than you may know. Here are five things I can do that you can’t:

1. I can weigh packages by hand: That’s right, you read correctly – I can accurately guess the weight of any mail simply by holding it in my palm, and I’ve got deadly accuracy. I can also tell you from memory how much it’s going to cost to get it to most major American cities and more than a few international locations by when via at least three different carriers. I am the Expedia of mail service.

2. I can navigate the building blind and armless: I can open doors with my knees. I can also navigate the entire building with my vision obstructed (usually by boxes I’m carrying). I attribute this to Belle from Beauty and The Beast. After watching that movie as a child, I realized how much time I was wasting by not reading as I walked. So, I’ve been practicing that one for a while. Good thing, because my hands are always full in this job, both literally and metaphorically. Bonus skills: elevator calling and floor button-pressing using my right foot only (it sounds easy but just try it).

3. I instinctively know how people want to be spoken to: A big part of my job concerns speaking with the countless guests in the reception area while they wait for a meeting, so I’ve perfected this technique with time and experience. Just by looking, I can see who wants to chat, who wants me to be impressed by them, who wants me to be interested in their work, and who just wants to be left alone. Prostitutes are perhaps the only other professionals who rely on this skill as much as I do. Maybe therapists. No, neither of these occupations figure into my long-term career goals.

4. I know how things really get done: Power comes from knowing and having relationships with the CEOs and upper management, right? Maybe for some things, but for everyday issues, your most valuable friends are the security guards who always give you a break, the caterers who show up and make no mistakes, and the janitors and maintenance workers who readily respond to emergency requests. To use an analogy: when you check into a hospital, you’re not putting your life in the hands of the surgeons. Your life is in the hands of the file clerk who makes sure your records are correct, the orderly who makes sure you’re in the right ward and bed, and the trainee nurse who knows your food allergies. Remember that.

5. I can predict the future. Sort of: At least in connection with office administrative issues, I can anticipate and prepare for the actions of any employee or guest. I can tell when a guest verbally commits to showing up that he won’t or that he’ll be very late.  I know which employees will ask for my help and when and with what. I ask certain coworkers to turn out their pockets as they reenter the office, because I know they’re walking away with the bathroom key. You may just think that this skill comes from experience but I knew you were going to think that! Proof!

Your resume seems less impressive now, doesn’t it?

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” -Immanuel Kant

Just replace “animals” with “receptionists” to understand my debut tirade. As the administrative assistant at Berrett-Koehler, I am the first and last face an author sees when entering and exiting our office. Here are the five ways authors treat me when no one else is around:

1. The Coffee-Girl: When authors come into the office in the morning, they often ask for a cup of coffee. Now, up until very recently we did not have a coffee maker, and it fell on me to inform them of this sad lack. For the ones who took it in stride and thanked me, I truly wish I could have pulled a cup out of thin air for them. To the ones who scoffed at me, I gave explicit directions to the Peet’s downstairs and hoped they got stuck in the elevator.

2. The Invisible Woman: Now and then I’ll get an author who throws open the front door, blasts past my desk completely disregarding me, and makes his or her way down the hall (presumably towards where the important people are). If I can’t get their attention by the time they pass the production office, I’m forced to get up and chase after them. When I finally catch them, I’ll either be met with a) an eager smile and apology because they just couldn’t wait to start visiting or b) a look of disdain accompanied by “Well, they know me.”

3. The Handywoman: Admittedly, I am quite handy. I made a couple of our bookshelves, a desk, a birthday card for one of my coworker’s wives, and self-Ikea’d the chairs in our reception area. I’m sure authors sense these skills in me when they request help setting up something, and I am happy to help. But “help” means me and the author working together – not me struggling and huffing and panting while the author stands at a distance with arms crossed and waiting impatiently.

4. Siri (the iPhone feature): No greeting, no smile, barely any eye contact, just orders or instructions or questions. Yes, your focus on function over superficialities is impressive but come on, throw me a bone here!

5. A Person: Genuine niceness with no ulterior motives – so awesome when this happens. This job can drain me dry so it’s just great to have someone chat with me, ask how I’m doing, even offer to get me something. These people are the only ones who’ll know of my encyclopedic knowledge of all things Star Wars, my penchant for all things furry and four-legged, and my sparking wit and humor.

Oh, and just so that you know, I do report to “the important people” about how you treat me. Consider yourself warned.