Sometimes Diploma Trumps Degree

Sometimes Diploma Trumps Degree

Phoenix Normand 08/07/2018 5

So, something that continues to chap my hide is the assumption that Executive Assistants without college degrees are in some way inferior or worse that those who do. What a hot, steaming, pile of crap right in the middle of a Boardroom table.

Experience trumps education in this role any day. As does maturity, intuition, professionalism, humility, personal accountability and curiosity. #facts We are still stuck in this flawed belief system that attending college magically makes you better or more suited to a profession than someone who hasn't. I've met some of the dumbest, non-resilient, disorganized college grads, many of them young executives, who could barely "work a computer" for the simplest tasks. Ironically, who do they call on most for help? The High School grad Executive Assistant who's taking numerous online courses, being super (single) mom to 3 kids, who happened to master every piece of hardware and software in the building by her second week of employment...that the degreed are still poking at wondering, "How do I work this thing?"

This role has suffered absolutely terrible PR for decades. People making assumptions of our abilities with stupid comments like, "Why are you settling?" or "What do you actually do of any value?" How I've managed to avoid jail on assault charges after 26 years being a top EA still beguiles me. Finally, the tide is shifting. EAs who have been killing it for the last decade or so have set a new bar for themselves and their community and have finally made their companies and executives aware of all they are capable of. We're not "coffee getters" or "secretaries" anymore. We are project managers, leadership team members, and chiefs of staff (without the title). We often save companies one to two headcount by taking on workloads and responsibilities that most would find exploitative. Our soft skills often help close or save deals because we're able to offer a different, more caring tone to humanize the transaction and give clients someone familiar and pleasant to look forward to.

So, for those of you idiots out there who find it necessary to point out that someone hardworking and dedicated is a high school grad and not a college grad I have to ask, what's the ROI? What makes you think you're so much better as a professional with only 4 more years of education (and often 4 less years of experience), most of which is dated and irrelevant to the job you actually took?

I'm here to say, "Cut the bullshit." The Executive Assistant role (which I know extremely well TYVM) is best done by someone with more experience and soft skills in tow than someone with a fancy degree but limited experience. Sure, if they graduated college with a law degree wanting to enter the law profession that's a completely valid move. But let's face it. Executive Assistants go where the wind blows. They are mostly industry agnostic and choose the roles they take based mainly on the perceived character of the executive they're supporting, the perceived validity/solvency/social responsibility of the company, and the perceived opportunity to learn and grow in position. I say perceived because we quickly find out that all that glitters is not gold once in position. I digress.

This role requires much more than what is taught in four years at a university. It requires an insane amount of attention to detail. It requires focus, often under extreme duress. It requires flexibility and patience that's borderline superhuman. It requires mad intuition to make snap (informed) decisions to keep the train on the rails. It requires self confidence and invisible armor to constantly shrug off snide/rude/condescending comments from the entitled who would literally be fetal after 2 days in our chairs. A college degree is an achievement. Not a requirement. Especially in this role.

Companies requiring college degrees of their EAs are missing out on some of the very top talent available. To be 100, it's discrimination. And we see it, don't be fooled. You're making assumptions of someone's character and ability that simply aren't true. Life is an amazing teacher. Not having a degree is often the result of life not quite aligning with someone's hopes, dreams and desires, not their perceived laziness for not going to college. But for EAs without a degree it can be a tremendous motivator. The non-degreed want to be taken seriously and be part of the conversation just as much as the degreed. Even moreso. So they tend to work a little harder, listen a bit more intently, ask more clarifying questions, and are willing to take more risks by trusting their instincts. They're more intuitive because they have to rely on it more. And they tend to "want it" more and are willing to go the extra mile, even while being paid 20-30% less because they don't have that irrelevant piece of parchment. It's unfair. It's discriminatory. And it's archaic thinking that needs to end NOW. Think about it. How many of you are actually working in the industry and the exact job that you committed 4-8 years of study to? Exactly.

Just like recruiters are starting to be banned/admonished for asking previous salary information, I believe asking whether or not someone has a college degree should be as well. Especially for this role. It's largely irrelevant. A non-degreed Executive Assistant with tons of relevant experience, soft skills up the wazoo, and the professionalism, calm-under-pressure, paternal instincts and yes, guile, outperforms a degreed, inexperienced, often entitled, "Assistant for now" any day of the week. I'm 26 years deep in this choice. I've seen EAs come and go. And the ones who stay and are most passionate about the role are the ones who've had to work a little harder to claim a seat at the table.

Let's all fight to help one another succeed. Not stigmatize or condescend people who are doing the very best they can with they have. Companies, stop making assumptions about people without the parchment. It's mostly irrelevant for this role so you're actually limiting your options of some incredibly talented and experienced Assistants with just the soft skills, professionalism, intuition and street smarts you need who can hit the ground sprinting and who actually want to be there. And you're guilty of the stealthiest form of discrimination out there. Not sure you want that as part of your legacy.

Executive Assistants without degrees, pick your heads up and stop limiting yourself using someone else's narrative. You are your brand, so own it. What you may lack should never define you. The unique gifts you do have, should. Again, a degree is an achievement. Not a requirement to be a success. Ask Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey and Ralph Lauren. All high school grads. No student loans.

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  • Catie Bridgeman

    Success does not necessarily radiate from a person's purse, degree or material cover, but from what exudes from his/her personality.

  • Sharon Wescott

    Yes, there are many people who are successful being executive assistants without having degrees or without having formal education.

  • Lloyd Plumart

    Degrees and probably too much of technical education hampers creativity.

  • Melissa Cooper

    I strongly believe that degrees are a must in this field if you want to get promoted to a senior level position.

  • Kim L.P.

    The best EAs are rarely self-centric. They have a vision for their sub-ordinates as well. They have clear cut goals. Rarely, these people lose focus of what they want.

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Phoenix Normand

Society Expert

Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.


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