Executive Secretary talks to Kemetia Foley, Chapter President of the IAAP Old Town Alexandria Chapter in the US about the importance of membership organisations like hers and how she keeps motivated.
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from?
Originally I’m from Framingham, Massachusetts but I have lived in the Washington DC Metro area for most of my adult life.
What is your background?
I joined the ranks of administrative professionals in 1990. I hold a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration from the University of Mary Washington (formerly Mary Washington College) in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I am also a Certified Administrative Professional and obtained my rating 2007.
What is your current role?
I am the Finance and Customer Service Coordinator, American Staffing Association in Alexandria, Virginia.
The IAAP is the world’s largest membership organisation for assistants. You are President of the Old Town Alexandria Chapter? How did this come about?
Interestingly, Old Town Alexandria Chapter (OTAC) is my second run at being a Chapter President in IAAP. My family moved back to Washington DC in 2003 and I ended up joining the Capital Chapter – a very strong chapter in Washington DC. I was asked to take on a committee role by the then Chapter President. Once I became comfortable working with the Chapter Officers on that particular project, they asked me to consider running for an officer position for the next program year. Each Chapter Officer has specific responsibilities spelled out in the chapter bylaws. For each successive year I served as an officer, I was able to take on and learn new responsibilities. Eventually, I worked up to running for Chapter President for Capital. Unfortunately, 5 months into my term, my employer moved the company to another region and I stepped down from my leadership position to try to regain employment.
When I finally landed my position with American Staffing Association located in Alexandria, Virginia, I reached out to the chapter contact. As it happened, the chapter did not have a candidate for Chapter President that year. OTAC had only been chartered for a few years when I joined. I was extremely grateful that a few experienced members of IAAP transferred into OTAC and helped build the chapter membership and programs up in two short years. My term ends this June 30 as our bylaws state that you can serve no more than two terms as President. I am excited about mentoring our chapter members into leadership roles.
Tell us a bit about the IAAP.
I love IAAP. IAAP is a member-based organization that focuses on providing professional development content for administrative professionals. They offer a certification exam twice a year, the Certified Administrative Professional Exam, and also two specialty designations. I suspect, as with most associations with a large membership pool, it has to address the wide variance of needs for all of its members. The benefit of IAAP having chapters and divisions is that it allows the local leaders to adjust the educational programming and scheduling to what works best for that region. Professional development and networking are the two most important benefits of being an IAAP member. IAAP has played a huge role in my development as a career administrative professional and provided me with a wide-reaching resource network.
Also, members get an opportunity to learn leadership skills through taking on committee or officer roles. It is impressive to put on a resume that you have been part of a team that has written a set of governance bylaws or served as Committee Chair for professional development programs. Employers notice the personal investment of time in your career choice. That is certainly true for all career fields.
What inspires and motivates you?
I am inspired by people I know that have had to be extremely tenacious about pursuing their goals. They know it takes time and continuous effort and they just keep working on it! They face setbacks and disruptions, but they regroup and go right back at it. I think it is easy for people to want to throw in the towel and not do the work, but the reward of accomplishment is the best feeling!
My other inspiration is music. I love almost every kind of music. There is nothing that can change a mood faster (well, other than chocolate). Music is a great rudder to steer my attitude – especially early in the morning on my commute to work.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing administration professionals currently?
• Being caught up/hung up on professional titles
Employers generally do not distinguish between Administrative Assistant/Executive Assistant/Coordinator titles. It does not seem to be a priority to them. The key is to cover your job description and some. They are focused on your level of delivery. Are you consistent? Are you reliable? Do you go above and beyond expectations? If you should still be concerned regarding your title, address it at your annual review. Be sure to have the documentation to back your case. If you approach your position as a professional consistently, then you will be acknowledged as one.
Complacency is a career-killer in any field, but extremely quick and deadly in the administrative profession. Our field changes too quickly and admins that just ‘do their job’ and nothing more are more likely to be the first out the door come lay-off time. Obviously it is impossible to master all the new things coming at us at once, but it is vital to be aware of the new skill sets that are coming in demand and acquire at least one new skill each work year. For example, experience with database software or fundraising software is a very important skill in our region. Knowing how to query, pull reports, and merge data into letters is not hard to learn, but you must learn it. Admins with little or no database experience in our region are less competitive in the job market and not available to provide additional support in this area at their company.
• Secondary language fluency
I am not sure if this is regional, just an issue in the United States or a global issue, but lack of fluency in a second language is an issue here in our region. As our companies seek to expand their markets overseas or want to collaborate with international partners, communication in a common language could be an issue. Here in the United States, the issue is spotlighted in our hospital systems. Administrative professionals that are certified to speak Spanish are qualified to earn more dollars per hour. The cost for companies to hire a professional translation service can put a dent into their financial standing, so it is important to have staff at all levels – but especially the first contact – that can communicate quickly and clearly in their language. It makes a difference. There are many relatively inexpensive resources to learn a second language: community colleges, on-line courses, podcasts. There are meet-up socials in the US that allow you to just practice conversing in most languages. I have attended some of these socials to keep up my conversational skills in French.
What has been the highlight of your career so far and why?
The coordination of a swearing-in ceremony and reception for a group of lawyers being admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. There are exacting requirements the lawyers must meet to be admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. As you can imagine, it might take an entire career to reach this pinnacle. The paperwork must be perfect and submission process exacting. It can be nerve-wracking knowing that your detailed work is between you and someone else’s lifelong career dream. I also helped arranged the reception with family and friends inside one of the court conference rooms.
I remember this event as if it were yesterday. I met up with my Executive Director and the group of lawyers two hours prior to the ceremony. We had to go through the stringent security and wait in a queuing area. On the days that these ceremonies are held, several groups are admitted for practice at the same time. Once the clerk of the court arrives to meet the group, the group is shepherded up to a lovely waiting room just outside the main court chamber where the Justices preside. After a brief wait, the court clerk will come and arrange the group by the state to which they are approved to practice and let the lawyers know the protocol of the session. Once the lawyers have been taken into the court by the clerk, they wait until the Justice calls the group and completes the ceremony. I never, in a million years, imagined I would be inside the United States Supreme Court. It was truly the most amazing day.
What’s the best piece of advice that you could give to our readers?
Love what you do to earn a living. You don’t have to love it every day, but if you are unhappy in your job or career choice, change it. It might be easier said than done, but believe me when I say people can tell right away when your heart is not in it. You are not doing yourself or your employer any favors by staying. If economic or other issues place you in a position where you cannot change jobs, then make a conscious effort to put your very best into it – every single day.
So what’s next for Kemetia Foley? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
In five years’ time, I intend to continue to share my storytelling. I come from a family heritage steeped in storytelling. My father’s parents were from Ireland and my mother’s father was a Native American from the Osage Nation. I have been working at my storytelling skills over the last two years and continue to work on that craft. I really enjoy the interaction with audiences during storytelling sessions, making them laugh and relate in a way that is different from stand-up comedy or professional presenting.