Getting past the gatekeeper

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Getting past the gatekeeper

The term ‘secretary’ has now largely been replaced by a ‘executive assistant’ (EA) although it has never been completely clear to me whether this change was implemented to minimise, or completely offset, the need for a salary review.

Be that as it may, a telephone caller to an executive of a company of moderate size and above (let’s assume they’re called Runne & Hyde) will frequently find his call routed via the executive’s EA whose main function, it seems to me, is to protect that executive from contact with the outside world.

A conversation normally begins with, “Good morning, this is Richard Smith’s EA, Felicity, speaking. How may I help you?”

Being a good-natured sort of fellow, the caller replies, “Good morning, this is Martin Goodfellow calling for Richard Smith, please.”

At this stage, the EA will normally say something like, “Just a moment, please, I’ll see if Richard is in” or, more irritatingly, “Can I tell him what it’s about?” In the first case it is by no means impossible that the EA can see her boss a short distance away from her desk and, in the second, I find it hard not to reply along the lines of, “I met him (and you, dear EA) in his office just under 24 hours ago so I sincerely hope he has not forgotten why I might like to telephone him today.”

If you agree with me and think that exchanges of this nature are nothing more than a waste of time for everyone concerned then let me tell you that things got even worse for me this morning. I called Richard Smith who, incidentally, works alone with his EA in Runne & Hyde and said, “Good morning, this is Martin Goodfellow calling for Richard Smith, please.”

Guess how the EA replied? “Are you calling for Richard Smith of Runne & Hyde?”

I am wholeheartedly in favour of a job for everyone but is it any wonder that jobs like those of an EA, or of a receptionist, have been replaced by the use of direct-in-dial numbers and mobile phones?

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