Is it Okay to Take an Admin Job to Get Your Foot in the Door?

Since today is Admin Professionals Day, I thought I’d address a sensitive question that seasoned PR, marketing and communications folks often hear from recent graduates, looking to get experience in the field:

“Should I take an Admin job to get my foot in the door with an agency or company?”

My answer is a definite “No.”

(This advice comes with the caveat that, even as we climb out of recession, jobs continue to be scarce, so if you desperately need to work and the only option is an Admin position in your industry, take it – and check out the tips at the end of this article.)

My response is never meant to dismiss the role of administrative professionals. They work exceptionally hard, multitasking across dozens of projects and requests, while keeping the office, its people, client relations, business processes, and technology on track and operating smoothly. They are the lifeblood of our workplaces, we couldn’t get by without them, and the fact that there is only one day a year that honors administrative pros is the real shocker, to my mind.

So why the big fat “No”?

It’s precisely because we depend so much on admins that these situations become fraught for everyone involved. The disconnect happens because the person who accepts the offer for an Admin position when they’d rather be at a higher pay grade (let’s call this person the Non-Admin-Admin) expects to take on development work – projects that will position the Non-Admin-Admin for a promotion to Associate. Meanwhile, the agency or department has enough administrative tasks to bury a battalion of Admins, which is why it posted and interviewed for people with specialized administrative skills.

Frequently, the Non-Admin-Admin has enough experience to be an Associate (there just isn’t an opening right now), but doesn’t know some of the necessary requirements for an Admin job, whether that’s maintaining databases or the delicate dance of keeping everyone scheduled and organized so they can focus on their work. When the Non-Admin-Admin doesn’t want to be an Admin, it’s painful all around, and everyone in the office ends up unhappy.

If you find yourself working as a Non-Admin-Admin, and you’re frustrated with the lack of forward momentum, here are a few key suggestions for career advancement:

Know your company’s promotion policy
Make sure you know the official HR policy on applying for new jobs and in-place promotions (don’t just rely on your manager or hearsay). Do ask people who’ve been promoted (from Admin to Associate, from Associate to Manager) if you can schedule a brief informational discussion with them or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for some career mentoring. People love talking about their accomplishments, so find out what kinds of skills they needed to learn or projects they took on that enabled managers to see them in a promotable light.

Put a review process in place
Got four-to-six months before you’re eligible for promotion? That’s not an eternity in corporate life, and so not the time to sulk or fill the office with eau de bad attitude. Embrace this time with gusto and schedule a meeting with your manager pronto. Tell him that you see yourself as an Associate in six months, and that you’d like to put a development plan in writing that you’ll both review on a regular schedule. Ask for your manager’s honest assessment so that you have a realistic idea of the skills and behaviors you’ll agree to work on. You can ask questions to clarify, but this isn’t the time to argue with the boss. You’ll need her to sign off when you’ve achieved everything in your plan and are ready to move on.

Accept and excel at your Admin job
This one is absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the ability to succeed at a higher grade will be judged on success as an Admin. The prospect who leaves work undone, doesn’t support the team, acts as if administrative tasks are beneath him or her, shows up late, or, worse, winds up being disciplined for poor performance, will never be eligible for a promotion and may even find themselves unemployed. How you perform at your current position counts for (or against) you when you apply for your next job.

Volunteer for professional-level projects
This is the best way to learn new skills and practice new behaviors. Remember, you still need to keep your current job running like clockwork, but projects are a great way to learn more about the work you’ll be doing and make new allies who can help you navigate your career path at the company.

Learn new technology
Many small agencies and big companies are struggling to manage the additional workload of social media on top of all the existing client work. Learn the company’s blog publishing tool or how to post to its Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest accounts, and you may become indispensible. You’ll be doing the kind of work expected of an Associate and be seen in a new light.

Support your agency’s clients
Are the office’s exempt employees volunteering this weekend at a client’s charity walk-a-thon? Have they been spending lunch hours running around getting people to sign a petition for the client’s pet cause? Once you become an Associate, your focus will be on the client. If there’s a way to jump in now – as a development project, free from concerns about overtime pay – grab it. Like the previous two examples, this will give you the perfect chance to do work at a higher grade level and show everyone what you have to offer.