Friday, August 19, 2011

Secrets of an EA: My Whirlwind Day Of Filling In For My Boss

Happy Friday, Edsters!

So, here I am, typing this blog post, which means – are you ready for it? – that I managed to make it through one whole day filling in for our Editorial Assistant. Not only was I successful in my endeavor to not destroy the magazine singlehandedly (and I was filling in the day before a big-huge-major event, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility), but also she wrote me to let her know that her boss said I did a fantastic job.

Getting to step into the shoes of an EA for one day was such an educational experience for me. Of course, I wasn’t slammed with all of her duties. I doubt my experience was even a microcosm of what she has to deal with every day. I do think I got a taste of what the job entails. Check out what my day as an EA looked like and what I learned!

Although my EA told me to be in at 9:30, I obviously showed up at 9 like a giant dork. No way was I going to relieve my half-hour-late-on-my-first-day fiasco! The day before she left, my manager and I had a conversation about what I had to do, as well as what snafus I might encounter and how to deal with them as they sprang up. My EA assists our executive editor, one of the highest-up players on the masthead; my job is to make my manager’s job easier so my manager can make this woman’s job easier.

First things first – I turned on the exec’s computer and brought her a glass of ice water. I remember thinking this morning routine was kind of weird when I first got here and watched another intern fill in for our EA one morning, but it seems pretty normal to me now. Ice water and a warmed-up computer are pretty ordinary requests. I shot the exec an email letting her know I was in the office and happy to help her with whatever she needed.

She flew in, let me know she would be in a meeting, and asked me to swing down to the cafeteria to get her an iced coffee “the color of coffee-colored ice cream” (which, frankly, I can’t visualize. I Googled it later that night, and I totally made her coffee too dark. Oops) and a slice of toast. I’m used to coffee runs, but I’ve never been sent out to get someone’s food. She asked pleasantly, though, and I figured, if my biggest challenge today is figuring out how to use the toaster, this day will be fine.

When I came back, I arranged everything neatly on her desk, only to receive an email sent from her Blackberry asking me to quietly sneak the coffee into her meeting. Sneak I did, and on her way back, she asked me to run back downstairs and get her a cappuccino. Lesson #1: high-up editors need a lot of caffeine to start their days.

I spent the morning working on two bio packets due at noon and keeping an eye on the exec’s outbox. She edits literally everything that goes into our magazine, and is always piling edited pages into her outbox, which usually go to either our EIC or the copy desk. It’s my EA’s job to get these pages where they needed to go.

Around 12:40, I went downstairs to get the exec’s lunch. This went fairly smoothly, although it took me a few minutes to make out her quickly-scrawled request for a “grccn anblc” (which meant “green apple,” or hopefully meant green apple, anyway, because that’s what she got). I brought her food up and took some messages for her as she bopped in and out of meetings.

I think the most difficult part of my day was fielding off the other editors in the office who wanted to talk to her when I knew she’d rather not be disturbed. My EA gave me a ton of information about the event we had the next day, but I couldn’t answer every single question, and it was hard to know when I should ask editors to come back at another time and when it was okay to let them in her office. Lesson #2: don’t be afraid to say no. People’s questions can usually wait a few minutes.

The highlight was getting to bring her tea in the EIC’s office and having the EIC ask for one, too. Except I couldn’t hear the EIC when she made her milk specification, so I checked with her assistant, and he made hers for her then, and we presented them together. A little embarrassing to need help making a cup of tea just because I was too chicken to ask her to repeat herself (I did not have this problem with my exec. I had to ask her to repeat her order three times), but whatever. At least I got to go in her office. I NEVER get to go in there!

At one point, the exec asked me to do something I simply didn’t (and don’t) know how to do: she wanted me to edit some super-important, event-related PDF files, though we don’t have the proper programs to get that done. I wound up running up to her as she walked and explaining that I couldn’t figure it out; she wound up brushing me onto someone else she knew who didn’t really know how to either… Eventually, I just retyped the documents, incorporating the changes she had asked me to make. I felt dumb for even going up to her to explain I didn’t know how – way to be silly, me. Lesson #3: if there’s any feasible way to take care of it yourself, take care of it yourself.

In my downtime, I worked on a few mini write-ups for another editor due at end of day, and fortunately, I was able to get that done. In fact, I got them done well before EOD, because my EOD was about an hour later than usual for me – my manager asked me to stay until the exec left, which took awhile.

Altogether, the day was way less stressful than I’d envisioned, and it was really great to get to help out our exec, who is one of the women I admire the most on the masthead. I’m also glad to have a better idea of the kind of stuff my EA deals with every day – it puts all of the work the interns get, meaningful and menial alike, into much sharper perspective. It’s good to know that everything I assist my managers with really does help their days run more smoothly.

Have any of you ever filled in for your boss? How did the day go, and what are your tips for handling the added pressure?

Next week – the SUPER exciting and glamorous event the interns got to assist with, AKA my brush with celebrity!

Famously yours,
Features Intern

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