Help Plan My Exit Strategy
November 1, 2012 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Right now, I am an executive assistant in a financial firm. Within a year, I want to be an executive assistant anywhere EXCEPT for a financial firm. What can I start doing now to prepare, and where do I have a good shot of looking?

My question is sort of a combination of this one and this one. I'm a person with a creative background - 10 years in theater, strengths in writing. While I was more active in theater, I was a temp; my temp agency kept sending me to one single financial firm, which was their biggest client. I lucked out with bosses who were tolerant of my "double life", and I was getting regular work, so I didn't care. A couple years ago I decided to go permanent somewhere (not the best time to look) and kept temping while I looked; last year, one of the temp jobs at the bank went permanent, and there was no other job offer out there, so I took it, with the plan that I'd only stay a couple years.

My plan is to stay here until I am out of debt completely (fortunately, that will take only one year - even if I don't get a bonus this year) and then run screaming for the door to get into something else. But I should probably flesh that out a bit, in two regards --

A). All I know about the office I want to move into is that it NOT be finance or business-related. I've spent the past ten years not understanding what anyone around me is talking about, and I really, really don't fit in with them. I would be much happier doing the very same work I'm doing now, only for an industry that deals with media or television or art or anything that's not about banking. I could maybe deal with a couple of the "non-businessy" fields within finance - I've been an assistant in the legal department of this firm, and the archives as well - and those things I could actually do. But where I am now, the office doing the actual...."businessy" money things, I can't stand. But that still is a pretty broad field.

B). I'm afraid that my resume is going to show 10 years in predominantly financial-oriented businesses is going to get me "typecast". I have done administrative assistant work in education as well - but the bulk of my experience is in financial work. And even though I'd effectively be doing much the same work for any other field (making appointments, ordering office supplies, handling schedules, answering phones) I'm afraid that that's going to bite me in the ass.

Again, I am perfectly happy just being an executive assistant. As far as "day jobs" go it is a good fit for me, it fits the weird skill set I have and I am pretty good at it. The only thing I am hoping to change is where I do it; if I were in a field that could capitalize on my writing and arts background a tiny bit more that'd be ideal, but the work itself I want to keep as is.

So. Is that huge flexibility in terms of "I don't care where I end up as long as it's not HERE" going to be a problem, or an advantage? Should I maybe think about where I do want to end up rather than taking an "anywhere but here" approach? And, how can I downplay the "finance" part of my experience and play up the "executive assistant" part? And is there anything else I can do that I haven't thought of?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Work & Money (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, one more point in my favor - I am also perfectly happy to accept a pay cut. That is part of my wanting to get out of debt first - my salary in any other field would probably be lower than what I can get in finance, but I'm being pretty aggressive in paying my debt down (about 15% of my take-home pay is all going to wiping out debt), so any effect of a drop in pay would be negligible if nigh-unnoticeable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on November 1, 2012

No matter where you work, the skills you have acquired in your current gig will be needed.

I'm thinking large advertising agency, TV Network, etc. Lot's of creative types, but they need organized EAs. You'll still use Excel, they still need someone to do all that analytical stuff.

I'd do a functional resume, listing my skills in bullet points on top, and just the Job, position and dates for the Experience part. This way you can stress the writing, the creative stuff you've done as well.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:23 AM on November 1, 2012

I am an executive assistant and I have worked in health care, fiber optics, insurance, and now the wine business. In my experience, people hiring an executive assistant don't care much about the specific industry but are more interested in your skills and your level (and duration) of experience. Honestly, it has never occurred to me that the specific industry would matter at all with me finding another job, and I can tell you for sure that it hasn't mattered when I've seen other executives at my company looking for someone to assist them. I just write "Executive Assistant to the CEO" on my resume and any mention of what the company does is incidental in the list of tasks and responsibilities listed below. It's not like finance is a niche industry; the skills you have learned there are going to be widely applicable.
posted by something something at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Check out job listings for the places you want. See if they ask for any skills you don't have. Develop those.

If the media places are looking for a "culture match" and you're afraid it won't come across in your resume, put it in your interest section and make it earnest. "Passionate devotee of reality television, the trashier the better" or whatever.

I think you'll find that it's easier to go from a more "serious" industry to a creative one than vice versa.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:27 AM on November 1, 2012

I used to be an EA at a financial firm. You can definitely spin this in your favor, since that's a challenging, detail-oriented environment and succeeding there means you were good at your job -- and can therefore handle that same job in any other environment swimmingly.

I do think you should consider what you want to do, and then you can tailor your resume to suit that. If you're looking for a more client-facing role, emphasize the interpersonal aspects of your current job; if you're going to be more back-office, emphasize how well you kept things running.

Also, if you do anything related to a job you're applying for (e.g. if you apply to be an EA at a theater company), list that in the "hobbies" section of the resume you send for that position and be sure to mention it in the cover letter. That way, they can make the connection.
posted by cranberry_nut at 8:29 AM on November 1, 2012

And don't do a functional resume. All recruiters hate them, and they and will get tossed in favor of an applicants' whose resumes state clearly what they did at each job. A skills section at the top is great though: a concise double or triple column of software skills and other transferable skills you have (skills, not attributes - claiming you have "excellent problem solving skills" or whatever doesn't mean anything and just takes up space.) Then list your jobs and put a bullet list of tasks and responsibilities under each role you had, making sure to tailor the list to include responsibilities you see listed in your target job. By all means if you supported high level execs, point that out, it will put your resume at the top of the heap even if it's an office that doesn't have high level execs.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not a threadsit, just a general thank you that this is all making me feel MUCH, MUCH BETTER on a hectic "first day back after the hurricane" day at work. (And - part of what is making it hectic is that this is also the first day for me assisting a brand new head-of-this-particular-nebulous-widget-department guy, so fingersandtoes, you've REALLY made me feel better - ALL the people I work for are high-level execs!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at the job listings for executive assistants in cultural areas near you? Museums and other cultural institutions often hire executive assistants or board liaisons [caveat, often under many different titles/job duties...] with similar skill sets, and there's a chance that your familiarity with players in the financial world would be of use in handling donor meetings. In Philadelphia, the Pew Charitable Trusts often have job listings that lean towards the analytically-inclined but within a very different framework than a financial firm.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:38 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Came here to mention the cultural sector but see that jetlagaddict beat me to it. Also, don't fail to look at educational institutions (universities, colleges and independent schools). Presidents, principals, school Heads, deans and other senior administrators are usually KILLING for good, professional EAs and with a background in finance you will understand how most of their donors work and operate.
posted by elkerette at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Presidents, principals, school Heads, deans and other senior administrators are usually KILLING for good, professional EAs and with a background in finance you will understand how most of their donors work and operate.

Actually, I wouldn't. I don't know how finance works even though that's where I am all day; that's part of why I want to leave, because I just plain don't get it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:51 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd also check any large hospitals or medical centers in your area. A large health care facility has a lot of administrators in different areas and, at least in my area, don't usually post those positions on job sites, but rely just on listing their openings on the facility's website.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 8:52 AM on November 1, 2012

Unless you mean "how most donors work" in the sense that I'd understand that level of professionalism. If that's what you meant, then yeah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on November 1, 2012

Look up the EA jobs on Monster and other career sites, and look for the exact things they're looking for. Generally, EAs have to be exceptional at calendar management, document control, editing work, and whatever is thrown across their desks at any given moment in time.

Try to brush up on the skills you don't have. If you are an expert at PowerPoint, every business consultant in the world is going to love you as an EA, for instance.

You may also look into "personal assistant" roles, which executives at a certain level have. The work can be grueling, but it takes you out of the specific industry and more into the everyday.
posted by xingcat at 8:56 AM on November 1, 2012

Yeah, definitely watch for what skills the places you're looking for need. And definitely list the theatre stuff - I had a boss who had a preference for folks who'd done theatre production/tech stuff, because he knew they could operate in a deadline-driven "not doing it is not an option" environment.

And good luck!
posted by rmd1023 at 9:11 AM on November 1, 2012

Another useful thing to do is to start researching some higher end employment agencies. There are a lot of them, and different ones will work more with different industries, so find one (or more) that has lots of clients in fields you're interested in (e.g. I had a good experience looking for an EA job in LA with Career Group, who also have a NY office). Be very upfront when you (eventually) meet with them about what industries you are and aren't interested in. On the plus side they can get you interviews for jobs that may never be listed publicly - on the down side, as you know, you'll earn less the first year because some of the money you'd be making is going to them instead.

And if you do end up thinking of a particular field you want to work in, seek out industry-specific job sites (e.g. HigherEdJobs for education) as well as just the big general sites.

But yeah, in my experience it is really easy to go from being an EA in one field to being an EA in a completely different one - having worked in the same industry may be considered a plus, but is unlikely to determine hiring decisions on its own, as really your field is assistanting, no matter what the people around you were doing. HR people know this.
posted by unsub at 9:12 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been an administrative/executive assistant for over ten years. I've worked at a non-profit policy advocacy organization, at a large hospital for a surgeon, and in state government. All they cared about is the skills I'd gained from my previous experience, not necessarily the places that I'd worked. At the end of the day, EA skills are pretty broad and can be transferred to any type of organization. You'll be fine!

(I've enjoyed my work in government the most, and in the hospital the least. I'd say if you were going to transition into healthcare, look into the research side of things, it tends to be far less stressful than working for practicing doctors. Check out the Sloan Kettering Institute, my friend is an EA there and she loves her job. There's also plenty of jobs at MSKCC itself, but like I said, avoid anything that involves working in an actual practice. Too much stress, not enough pay.)
posted by elsietheeel at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2012

Start downsizing.

Prepare yourself to live without bonuses. That is something that doesn't happen in my experience of working in the non-financial world.

If you are serious about doing an admin type thing in a creative field, start saving up now so that you can afford to do an internship. An internship is the barrier to entry, even for admin work.

Also, traditionally the lower levels of this kind of work are seen as preparation to move up into a creative side of the business, which increases competition for the first few years (even to answer phones and order lunch). On the other hand, if you can move into a part of the business that is less Hopes And Dreams-ish, things will get easier and easier. Accounting departments are the classic option, here.

In film/TV/media, the easiest gigs to get are for rental houses, post production facilities, and other "support" businesses. Everybody wants the glam jobs at agencies or gigs on projects currently in production. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to get in touch with the Mayor's Office For Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting. They might be able to advise you on things you'd be particularly qualified for that you haven't thought of yet.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sara, the bulk of the past ten years I've been living without VACATIONS or SICK DAYS, let alone bonuses; I was a temp, and they didn't do dick for me in terms of bonuses and vacations. The financial change is going to be completely doable.

Rental houses and studios would absolutely be up my alley and are something I was already considering.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on November 1, 2012

Definitely check out jobs for EAs to deans, presidents, etc. at universities. I know folks with way less awesome experience than you who have snagged jobs in that field. I think the financial background will be a plus (even you know nothing, it shows you can cut it in a non stop high pressure atmosphere). This is totally within your grasp. Best of luck.
posted by murfed13 at 9:41 AM on November 1, 2012

There is a lot of arts and cultural activity in the public sector too. In terms of pay, generally municipal, state, federal in increasing order, though there are exceptions. There are many, many EAs in government and public sector agencies.
posted by bonehead at 10:15 AM on November 1, 2012

Empress, I mentioned bonuses because you mentioned bonuses in your post.
posted by Sara C. at 10:54 AM on November 1, 2012

Ah, sorry to confuse it then - that's only been a factor for this one past year and for next year, and I apply the whole schmear to debt anyway so it effectively doesn't exist for me; but it would knock my debt down faster is all, that's all I meant. (Sorry to confuse things.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2012

One angle - try to get a gig as an executive assistant for a nonprofit CEO (executive director or president) or a senior development staffer. 10 years of experience would make you a strong candidate and in either position, there's often a need for strong writing skills. It would certainly be a pay cut from finance, but if you work for a larger organization, maybe not as much of a cut as you might think.

And don't worry about the finance background - it will probably be an asset in the nonprofit world. You do have to be able to show that you care about the issue(s) the organization works on, but lots of people move from the for-profit world into nonprofit admin positions.
posted by lunasol at 11:17 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, traditionally the lower levels of this kind of work are seen as preparation to move up into a creative side of the business

Meant to mention this - it's true for a lot of non-profits as well (especially advocacy or cultural nonprofits). Some people will want to hire "up-and-comers" but lots of executives will be really happy to find someone who actually wants that job (and is good at it!), not the job it will lead to.
posted by lunasol at 11:22 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider making this question anonymous - conservative institutions are not especially forgiving if they think you're out looking.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:25 AM on November 1, 2012

I've worked at a nonprofit for two and a half years and our CEO has had three executive assistants in that time. She would kill for someone with your experience who's committed long-term to being an EA (two of the three left because they got jobs in the fields that they actually wanted to work in). Just be prepared that you will likely not make nearly as much money in nonprofits as you would in the financial sector.
posted by anotheraccount at 11:31 AM on November 1, 2012

That's another good question - I could probably afford a 10K pay cut from what I'm making now (effectively, that's what I'm already living on - when I said I was aggressive about paying off debt, I meant it). Would the difference be THAT big?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:40 AM on November 1, 2012

lunasol - in the entertainment industry, it's actually the opposite. Everyone wants to feel like they're making someone's dreams come true, and like the person they're asking to work 12 hour shifts for $9 an hour is doing it because they love movies, and not because the employer is coercing people into horrible working conditions.

It's considered a bad thing, in an interview for an entry-level entertainment industry position, to say that you really just want to be a secretary forever, or that this is just a day job.
posted by Sara C. at 11:46 AM on November 1, 2012

That's another good question - I could probably afford a 10K pay cut from what I'm making now

This is probably really industry specific. I make probably 5k less than I could in a for-profit environment, but I also have really good benefits and 401k matching, because I work for a college. In general, higher education (and their associated systems) provides lower wages but higher benefits, though state and private institutions have very different types of wage/benefit systems. How this plays out against your salary expectations will probably be something you need to research.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:16 PM on November 1, 2012

Empress I just want to say that my gf who is also an admin has been able to bounce in and out of finance jobs, recently she took a job at an advertising agency and while she took a bit of a paycut she did not need to do an internship....this is just my mileage but just so you know it is doable...I think with your background in both the arts and finance your transition should be relatively easy actually.
posted by The1andonly at 4:29 PM on November 1, 2012

It's considered a bad thing, in an interview for an entry-level entertainment industry position, to say that you really just want to be a secretary forever, or that this is just a day job.

Yeah, I figured. Guess I should have been clearer that I was talking about the nonprofit world. This is sometimes the case there, too, but less frequently.

Would the difference be THAT big?

I honestly don't know enough about finance world salaries to say for sure.
posted by lunasol at 6:54 PM on November 1, 2012

Maybe a digital agency - one that makes software or web pages or smartphone apps would be a good place to jump to? There'll be hella creative people working there - graphic designers, UX designers and some of the engineers/developers, copy writers, etc. I've worked for two (as a developer) and enjoy the atmosphere - most digital agencies, unless they're really big, retain a lot of the "new economy" atmosphere from the original dot com boom, so they're often fun places to work, even if they're also fairly intense.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:01 AM on November 2, 2012

lunasol - in the entertainment industry, it's actually the opposite. Everyone wants to feel like they're making someone's dreams come true, and like the person they're asking to work 12 hour shifts for $9 an hour is doing it because they love movies, and not because the employer is coercing people into horrible working conditions.

Not on the business side of the entertainment industry - my company is DYING for decent EAs and has plenty of career EAs. If you are interested in working for an executive at a large media company your skills are definitely transferable. This won't really be a "creative" environment, but you would probably find the industry more interesting and definitely more casual than finance. I think any corporate job will pay decently (better than non profit). Feel free to send me a message if you want to discuss specific salary expectations.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:28 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been tremendously encouraged by this all, and gotten some valuable help (someone re-did my resume and it looks aweseome, and someone else offered to pass on my resume to someone where SHE works), so I am VERY optimistic - optimistic enough to start looking at other job postings to see what's out there.

But that's where my optimism flags, because it looks like all I see on boards like LinkedIn, SimplyHired,, etc. are in financial firms. The only place I see listings for non-financial firms are if I go to a specific company and look in their "careers at...." page.

Is there a single page where I can look for EA jobs that aren't in the financial sector? I mean, I'll do the "make a list of companies and check all their job postings" thing too, but I'm surprised there's not a more central place to look. ....Unless the situation is that LinkedIn and SimplyHired actually just really suck and looking company-to-company really is the faster and more efficient way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:16 AM on December 7, 2012

Google "executive assistant search firm." Call one or several to see if their clientele includes companies you are interested in. Good luck!
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:33 AM on December 7, 2012

« Older Deviantart for writers?   |   Need recommendation for DVD duplication Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.