Private Service Education Spotlight: Be the Ultimate Assistant

Within the personal assistant industry, Bonnie Low-Kramen has been helping PA’s become more effective in their roles.  From co- founding the New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA) to writing her book, Be the Ultimate Assistant, Bonnie has strived to elevate the industry and the PAs who work so hard within it.


Along with Vickie Sokol Evans, Microsoft Office Master Wizard (okay, the technical term is Master Microsoft Certified Trainer, but we all know she actually works magic), Bonnie has branched out into comprehensive workshops.  Conveniently held in a different US city every other month, the workshops cover everything from technical computer applications to the crucial interpersonal skills.


In this month’s Educator Spotlight, Bonnie and Vickie share more about their unique workshops…


  1. How long have you been in business?

Be the Ultimate Assistant weekend workshops have been touring since November 2011.


  1. In a nutshell, what do you teach?

In a two-day 16 hour workshop, we teach our students what they need to know and do in order to excel.  Ideal for Personal Assistants, Executive Assistants who handle personal matters for her/his employer, Estate Managers, and this workshop is also appropriate for anyone in private service who is involved in personal work including nannies, household managers, and concierge staff.

Topics include: Communication, Organization, Problem-Solving, Travel & Event Planning, and Career Management. There is a 3-hour technology segment taught by Microsoft Certified Trainer Vickie Sokol Evans which includes tips for assistants in: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Social Media and Privacy.

Every student receives a copy of the best-selling book “Be the Ultimate Assistant” by Bonnie Low-Kramen and additional materials created specifically for the workshop. These include; check-lists, forms, and relevant articles.


  1. What makes your training unique?

Personal Assistants have been winging it for too long without any formal training to learn how to do their job. This is the workshop I wished had existed when I first started my career 25 years ago as the Personal Assistant to Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis. I designed the workshop to provide solid information for every aspect of the work including computer technology which has become increasingly more important with every passing month.


The 3-hour technology segment is taught by Vickie who is a former personal assistant turned Microsoft Certified Trainer. Vickie understands the demands of the private service professional and develops educational sessions that are both relevant and practical. Together, Vickie and I teach both the soft and hard skills necessary to excel at this work. Nothing like this has ever existed before and we feel strongly that this training must be taken around the country so that assistants everywhere have access to it. We don’t want assistants to have to wing it anymore.


  1. How long are the courses?

The workshop takes place over a Sat and Sun for a total of 16 hours – 8 hours each day.


  1. How frequently are the programs run?

Every other month in a different city.  Upcoming dates in 2014-2015 include: September 20-21 in Los Angeles; November 17-18 in London and February 28-Mar 1, 2015 in Austin.  Please see the website for more upcoming workshops.


  1. Do you have an online or correspondence courses?

We run a one-day, 7 hour Virtual Class conducted in real-time over GoToMeeting. The material is the same as the weekend class. The main difference is that the technology portion is taught via recorded webinars.

Vickie offers live and on-demand webinars, such as the most recent Excel 2011 for Mac Webinar Series specifically for Private Service Professionals via her website


  1. What are the requirements to attend your school?

The requirement to attend our training classes is a sincere desire to learn and a willingness to participate.


  1. Who is your ideal student?

Our ideal student is a Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant or Private Service Professional who has been working for several years and is looking to raise their own bar of excellence in order to make themselves even more marketable, relevant, and confident.


  1. Do you offer placement assistance to your graduates?  What is your placement rate?

We assist our students in finding work through referrals to recruiters and contacts. There is no additional fee for this coaching and referrals.


  1. Do you belong to any professional associations?

Bonnie is a Rutgers University graduate and a co-founder of New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA), International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). Vickie graduated from the University of Texas in Austin and has been teaching technology over 15 years. She is a Microsoft Certified Trainer she is qualified to prepare others for their own technology certifications.  Vickie is the author of the best-selling Tips in Minutes technology series on Kindle.


  1. Are you accredited?  If so, with what entity…

We are not affiliated with any other school or government agency.  Vickie is accredited with Microsoft Learning and Certification. This workshop is eligible for IAAP recertification points.


  1. How much does your program cost?

Our 2-day weekend workshops average $599 inclusive but Early Bird discounts are available as are discounts for members of NYCA, IAAP, DEMA, EAO, PAN, ANA, and other professional organizations.


  1. Are financial aid, scholarships or payment plans available?

Payment plans are available upon request.


  1. How can people contact you?


Vickie Evans


Our Education Spotlight is provided as a service to job seekers, and is not a statement of endorsement.  All information is  provided by the participating school or educator.

Would you like your agency featured in our Education Spotlight?  There is no fee!  Contact Donna Shannon at 720-341-8229 to find out how you can be included.  

Networking – Does It Really Work?

Sometimes, you can feel all alone when the connections are all around you. We can help you find them!

Sometimes, you can feel all alone when the connections are all around you. We can help you find them!

Is networking valuable?  Like everything else, it depends on how you use it.  If you’re just calling people and asking for jobs, then no, it does not.  If you can offer something of value – knowledge, experience or even friendship – then yes, it can.


The 80% myth: “80% of all job seekers find jobs by networking.”

Heard that one yet?  Scary, isn’t it? Many candidates are not comfortable with networking.  Not everyone is as personable or bold as the super-salesman, after all.  Believe it or not, shy and introverted people get hired every day.

The 80% figure is an inflated number.  It includes Aunt Martha telling you about a job she saw on  You don’t have to shake hands like a politician to land a job.  Don’t get intimidated or down on yourself if this is a weak area for you.  There are plenty of ways to improve your networking skills.


Get over networking fear

If you’re not comfortable with face-to-face networking, try it online first.  Websites like and are great places to contact people.  If you can break the ice in electronic worlds, you will be more confident when you meet people face-to-face.  Social networking sites are growing exponentially, which opens more and more back doors to your target companies.  However, there is more to gain than just job contacts.  Networking is really about people helping each other by sharing knowledge.  This is done in groups.

When you join groups, ask questions and get involved. If you like someone’s answers, look at his profile.  Is this somebody you would like to know more about? Try emailing them in private about their answers, rather than just posting your comments in the discussion areas.  After you’ve shared some emails back and forth, ask them to connect.  They don’t have to work for your immediate target companies to be valuable. The goal is to build a self-sustaining network that will last beyond the job search.

Learn to build a valuable network.  It’s not really about building the numbers if you have no idea who these people are or what your connection to them is.  As in real life, concentrate on building mutually beneficial business relationships.  In my own case, I have found mentors, students, advisors, old acquaintances, friends and fun people online.  Isn’t that what true networking is all about?

Once you get accustomed to reaching out to people, then go after your targets, seeking them on LinkedIn and Twitter.  Just like anything, networking is a skill and you become better by practicing it. If you’ve started to build your network already, you will quickly become a valued asset instead of “that creepy guy” who tracks people down and bombards them with silly or irrelevant emails.


Going live: Professional groups and associations

Professional associations are valuable connections with your industry.  Use these as research centers and build up from there.

In general, many professional groups contain a significant number of job seekers, about 10-30% of their membership.  Don’t go to a meeting thinking you’re going to meet the CEO and hand him your resume.  Nobody likes being blindsided at a social function.

Instead, ask them questions about their company and industry.  The more you can ask about them, the better.  People like to talk about themselves.  Ask intelligent questions – you might even write some down before you get to the event to help keep your own focus:


  • Where do you see your company going in the future?


  • I read an article about ________ – what’s your opinion?


  • I think ____________ is going to be a big industry trend – what do you think?


  • What’s your biggest challenge right now?


The last question is a great lead-in.  If you get an opportunity to pitch yourself, be sure it relates to the needs they just stated.

When you meet people at a networking event, be sure to trade business cards.  If you don’t have any, has some very affordable options for cards that look and feel professional.  Keep your message positive, and not a desperate title like “Seeking opportunities in Human Resources.”

After the event, it is essential to follow up the next day.  Send a thank you email and mention key points you discussed the day before, even if it was fantasy football or the latest movies.  You want your new contact to remember you – many people don’t recall names, but will remember an interesting conversation.

Don’t send your new contact a resume right away.  Cultivate the relationship first.  Show appreciation for them as a person, not just an avenue to get a job.  Networking works best when you connect with people, not use them.

How Your Goals Affect Your Strategy

Writing it all down is a powerful organizing tool for your thoughts.

Writing it all down is a powerful organizing tool for your thoughts.

When it comes to setting a goal for their job search, most people think in terms of target jobs or target employers.  In fact, if you don’t have at least an idea of what kind of jobs you want or potential employers, it can be very challenging to find a job at all.

Without a vision of your target job, you cannot attain it.  A lot depends on knowing your industry, job title, company size and even the experience level.  Unfortunately, many job seekers start with a clear vision of their target job, but as the search grinds on, an edge of desperation enters into their strategy.  Rather than researching specific employers, their cry becomes “I’ll do anything!” When widening the net to jobs far under their experience level or on the fringe of their target industries fails to generate job leads, depression sets in.

The truth is that once you have lost your focus, you have lost the employers’ interest. Employers don’t want to hire someone who will do anything. They have a specific need to fill and are looking for a proper match.  It is impossible to show an excellent match for a target job if the resume is crafted to highlight “versatility.”  Remember, HR departments won’t read a resume with the mindset of seeing how they can use you; they want to cut you.

You can pursue different career options, such as sales, public relations and customer service.  However, each target job requires a separate resume and different job searching tactics.  Understanding this from the beginning helps develop your strategies.

Take five minutes and write down all the different target jobs that fit with your career plans.  Don’t be critical or make judgments; consider all possibilities.


My target jobs:




Now do the same thing with potential employers.  At this point, it can be hard to think of a comprehensive list, especially if you are considering small and medium sized businesses.  After all, they are not spending tons of money on branding to be the forefront of your mind, like a large corporation does.  If you struggle with actual company names, try writing types of employers, such as “small manufacturing company,” “innovative IT contractors” or “medium-sized law firm.”  In addition to the employers, consider the industries that interest you.


My potential employers and industries:





It is always a powerful thing to have your goals in mind. With this simple exercise, you can get a good handle on what your goals should be. This will be your point of reference for how you should tailor your resume and cover letters and what kind of job you should be hunting down. Treating your job hunting strategy like a blast from a shotgun is usually ineffective; you should be operating like a sniper. Have a target in mind and operate with accurate precision. This will help you get the job you want; not just any job.

Safety Tips For Your Job Search

Thieves will commonly use the online job market to use you for your information.

Thieves will commonly use the online job market to use you for your information.

One of our Denver clients recently called us with an unfortunate but common problem:

“I just got called by the police – they discovered an identity theft ring which had stolen my information from an online job application,” he said, totally despondent and heartbroken.  “I guess I’m lucky because the cops caught them, but I still have to deal with cleaning up the mess they made…”

In recent years, identity theft and other scams that target job seekers has seen a sharp increase.  It is estimated that 50% of job ads on are fraudulent.  Compared to a rate of approximately 30% in 2008, it is easy to see that the thieves are banking on the desperation of the job seekers.

Fortunately, you can easily protect yourself from such scams.

Protect your information

One of the common tricks is to direct job seekers to an online application.  While many legitimate companies use online applications, or Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), look out for ones that require too much personal information.

If the application asks for any of this information, do NOT fill it in:

  • Social Security number
  • Birth Date (they should only ask if you are over 18)
  • Bank account information (often disguised as trying to set up your direct deposit)
  • Mother’s maiden name (often needed to establish credit)
  • Previous names used
  • Insistence on full salary history when you apply

If you are still interested in the job after running into these requests, call the company first.  If their name is not listed on the website, definitely run the other way.

Private resume posting

Scammers are also contacting people who place their resumes online.  Generally speaking, do NOT post your resume online unless you can do so in a completely private manner.

In cases like Craigslist that offers no privacy settings on resume posting, do not post your resume at all.

Don’t accept packages

A newer twist from scammers is the offer to help someone run their purchasing business.  Usually coming from someone across the country or who “travels a lot,” the job sounds like a great way to make part time money.  All you have to do is receive the packages and ship them forward.

The first few deals may work out.  However, then as you “prove yourself” on the job, you get asked to make purchases on the employer’s behalf, with a promise to pay you back plus interest. Here the scam can run two ways: either you never get reimbursed, or else the employer asks for your banking information to send you money.

Anytime someone asks for banking info is a bad sign…

Legitimate professional shoppers or art dealers do not operate this way. They already have a network that they use for these services.

Work at home

While there are many legitimate work-at-home opportunities, you do need to be careful.  Here are some of the common work-at-home scams:

  • You have to pay for training
  • You have to buy materials to assemble items for resale (either you can’t sell the items, or the “employer” won’t pay you for the work performed
  • Stuffing envelopes – there are machines that do this 10,000 times faster than you; why would they pay?
  • Bogus direct deposit forms

If you are serious about a work-from-home opportunity, check out  While you do have to pay to see the full jobs listings, Flexjobs researches each and every job to make sure they are a legitimate offering from a real company.

Check local resources

Before you apply for any job, you should research the company.  In particular, resources like Colorado’s Better Business Bureau, local Chambers of Commerce (including the internet Chambers of Commerce) and local news sources like the Denver Business Journal all carry information on local businesses.  In the case of the Better Business Bureau, they have free information on most of the businesses, whether they are members or not.  Seeing the number of complaints – or a lack of records – are all indications that a potential employer is not on the level.

Use common sense

While the job search may be driving you crazy, don’t let desperation override your common sense.  If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Evaluate the websites carefully.  Do they have postings for your target job?  How many?  Are they current, say, within the past few weeks?  What is the quality of the employers?  Most websites will have a large amount of jobs posted by employment agencies, and that’s to be expected.  Don’t completely ignore a website because of the agency volume.

Agency Spotlight- Sleeping Angels

Sleeping Angels Logo

On a regular basis, my website features reputable agencies in the private service industry.  This week, our agency spotlight takes a look at Sleeping Angels Company…

Sleeping Angels Childcare and Domestic Services was founded by Lissette Palencia.  An avid traveler with a passion for art and culture, Lissette became aware early on that she had a special talent for interpreting infant behavior and communicating with young children. She soon came to the realization that her life’s goal was to help parents facilitate healthy and loving relationships with their children through good communication. This basic idea was the foundation on which she created her highly successful nanny placement and domestic staffing agency, Sleeping Angels Co.

For this Agency Spotlight, CEO/Infant Sleep Consultant Brandon Leibowitz offers insight into this agency…

  1. How long have you been in business? 

Seven years.

  1. What makes your agency unique? 

Our dedication to improving the quality of infant care and education through teaching, supporting and mentoring both our parent clients and our nannies and caregivers makes us unique.

We also offer training for our nannies, based on RIE principles and Waldorf philosophy, which have shown to improve communication between the child and the caregiver.

  1. What types of positions do you place?  

Nannies, Sleep Consultants, Baby Nurses, Baby Sitters, Private Chefs, Elderly Care, Housekeepers and Personal Assistants.

  1. What is your ideal candidate?

Our ideal candidate will be some who is experienced, reliable and caring the also possesses a    strong childcare background.

  1. Do you place across the country or locally?  If so where?

Locally.  Westside areas: Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Century City, Culver City, Encino, Ladera Heights, Malibu, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Pico-Robertson, Playa Del Rey, Playa Vista, Rancho Park, Santa Monica, Sawtelle, Sherman Oaks, Venice, West Hollywood, Westwood and more.

  1. Do you look for any special training or certifications, such as college degrees, private service schools, etc.

Yes.  CPR, First Aid, RIE and Waldorf basic knowledge methodology.

  1. Where do you announce your open jobs?

Parents and baby groups

  1. How should a candidate apply for a job?  Do you want an online application, resume or both?

Yes, we request for both online application and resume.  And a minimum of 2 years childcare related experience.

  1. Do you belong to any professional associations?

Yes, INA – the International Nanny Association.

    10.  How can people contact you? 

Sleeping Angels Company

1327 S Westgate Ave #102

West Los Angeles, CA 90025

(310) 478-2827 – Telephone

Are you an agency owner? Would you like your agency featured in our Agency Spotlight?  There is no fee!  Contact Donna Shannon at 720-452-3400 to find out how you can be included.  Our Agency Spotlight is provided as a service to job seekers, and is not a statement of endorsement.  All information is  provided by the participating agency.

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Resumes

Resume Tips

Your resume is not about you.

Your resume is about the employer and how your skills, experience and education meet their needs. The worst thing you can do is to assume what the employer’s needs are.

To hit the mark, you need to carry out proper and targeted research to find the right words.  In addition to those critical key words and phrases, all hiring managers want to know three things:

  1. What you can do
  2. Where you’ve done it
  3. How does it apply to their needs?

Most job seekers fail to answer the last criterion – and that is the most important one. Relevance should hit your reader square between the eyes: direct, obvious and focused.  You need to portray your strength as a candidate immediately.  If not, they are going to move onto the next person.

Remember, you only have 30 seconds to prove your case.

While this can be challenging, it is certainly possible.  To do it right, you must be speaking in their language, using the right key words and phrases not only for this specific position but for the overall industry. Don’t just parrot the job description back to them.

Goals for Your Cover Letter and Resume

Each part of your personal marketing tool kit (your cover letter and resume) needs to meet a specific goal.

Cover letters are supporting documents to your resume.  Through them, you can highlight certain skills or past experience as it pertains to one specific job.  The goal is to get employers to read your resume in the right frame of mind.

The whole point of the resume is to snag an interview.  Good resumes inform employers of relevant experience, skills and accomplishments.  Everything in your resume should convey an overall professional image.  Your resume should be an accurate representation of you on paper, while also being targeted to the job.

Your resume must accomplish two things: survive the screening process and entice the hiring manager to call you.

Don’t do this at home – custom resumes for every job

Let’s get one thing straight – resumes should be written for the type of job you want.  Basically, each specific job title requires its own resume. On the other hand, cover letters are customizable to each specific job.  Trying to customize your resume for each and every job is a recipe for disaster.  You may be tempted to do it, and others may even tell you it’s a good idea, but DON’T DO IT.

It is impossible to keep track of all the changes

The more you mess with something, the more likely you are to forget what you added or took away.

The margin of error increases exponentially

With every change, you increase the chances to misspell a word, make grammatical errors and allow assumptions.

You need to post your resume in various places for your job search

That means more places to update your resume – and more places to make mistakes.

It will add useless hours to your job search process

Successful job searching means spending the majority of your time researching companies, networking, finding jobs, applying to positions and interviewing – not spending hours writing and revising your resume.

You will forget which version you sent to an employer

If you’re sitting in an interview and can’t recall which version was sent to this company, you can look very foolish.  Guessing at what’s on your own resume should be the least of your concerns.

The overall writing quality will suffer

If you revise your resume to match each posted job ad, the more canned and stale your writing will become.  Employers don’t want to read boring resumes – an inevitable result with each mindless revision.

It destroys your brand

Personal branding is creating a consistent, professional image in every part of your job search.  Your brand is your top attributes, including your personality, skills, experience and potential.  If you change your resume for every job, that carefully crafted image will erode.

Trying to adapt your resume to every employer destroys this message.  Never forget that you want them to hire you, not a mirror of the job description. On the other hand, writing custom cover letters for each job is a wonderful technique.

Some of the benefits of custom cover letters include:

  • You can highlight a particular skill or ability to match the employer’s needs
  • You don’t need to re-write your resume to build on a strength – emphasize it in your cover letter.
  • Show off your understanding of the industry and the company
  • Employers want to hire people who are interested in their products, services or vision.  Tell them how you fit in with their mission.

Never forget:  custom cover letters, not custom resumes.

What Really Happens in the HR Department

The following comes directly from Donna Shannon’s book, How To Get A Job Without Going Crazy. Please enjoy this preview of the book, and use it to your advantage in your job search. – James Nay

In the quiet Human Resources department, a lone figure works at her desk.  Poring over the stack of resumes, the director hopes to find that perfect candidate, the one who not only meets every criterion, but also has the “spark.”  She sighs as she lifts the next packet off the paper mountain.  She reads carefully, weighing the merits of each candidate before setting their resume aside.  Her tired eyes fall on the next cover letter, low expectations written all over her face.

Her pulse quickens as she reads with disbelief – this could be the one!  The experience sketched out in the letter is a perfect match for the company’s needs.  Eagerly, she flips to the resume: it is a home run!  The perfect skill set, the perfect background, the perfect degree. She can’t wait another moment to talk to this candidate.  She must snatch him up before another company does.

Her hands fly to the phone.  She dials nervously – what if he’s not there?  What if he’s interviewing somewhere else right now?  She draws a tight breath while the phone rings once, then twice… Her heart skips a beat as you answer the phone.  Now it is only a matter of going through the formalities of the interview before they can offer you the job of your dreams.


* * *


Did you enjoy that?  Good.  Because that is never going to happen.  Now that the fantasy is over with, we can uncover the nasty truth about what the Human Resources (HR) department is really like.

The truth is that most HR departments receive a deluge of candidates every day, far more than they could ever hope to read with any great depth or understanding.  In order to process the mountain of resumes, every single company – big or small – will create simple tricks to screen candidates.  You have probably heard some of these already, such as “the resume will only be read for 30 seconds.”  Many of these rumors are true, but it is important to understand why in order to get through the system.

So like it or not, here is what a real HR department is like:


HR departments reduce the candidate field by up to 90% – or more – before forwarding the top candidates to the hiring managers

The HR department is not your buddy, looking for the perfect job for you; they are c looking for ways to CUT YOU.  The survivors of this ordeal are considered as the top candidates. However, because of the screening process, these people might not be the most qualified candidates.

If you don’t want to be a qualified casualty, learn the screening process.


The average amount of time spent reading a resume the first time is 30 seconds, and not everyone gets a second read

HR professionals do not spend time pouring over the details in your resume.  They are taking a quick look to see if you have the minimum skills and/or experience they want.  If HR can’t see your value in 30 seconds or less, your resume is rejected.

Very few people are excited about reading through a stack of resumes.  And who can blame them?  Most resumes are boring, monotonous, poorly written, or filled with bragging.  That’s why…


Lower-level HR employees do the initial screening

It is tedious going through a stack of resumes.  So they make the assistants do the first layer of cuts.  Or worse, they are let a computer do the screening.  Either way, these screeners follow very literal and specific instructions.  If your resume is not using the right key terms or jargon, you probably will be cut, no matter how qualified you are.  Not only that, the screeners have very little oversight on their work.  Nobody is checking to see if you got cut or not – unless you are networking with managers at the company.


HR departments and hiring managers won’t read everything you send them

This fact is often a shock for many job seekers.  One common misconception is that a strong cover letter can overcome a weak resume, or vice versa.  However, that is not how screeners read the submitted material.

The common practice is to read the resume first.  Then, if it is interesting enough, they read your cover letter.  On the other hand, they may not understand why you applied at all.  They hope your cover letter will add some insight.  In either case, your cover letter and even your references need to support your resume, not the other way around.  That means your resume really needs to stand out from the competition.


Job descriptions are not absolutes

Ever hear the statement; “if you don’t have all of the qualifications, apply anyway?”  That is true! Hiring managers and HR professionals do not spend hours constructing the perfect job description.  They throw it together quickly and according to the company’s approved format.

Whether the job description is dead-on or just an approximation, it is still used as a tool to cut candidates.  However, here’s the tricky part: some things are added to deter lower-level candidates.  The hiring manager may not care about these standards at all.  HR departments are famous for adding requirements because it follows the company’s format.

Don’t let a misguided HR screener control your entire fate.  Reaching the hiring manager can actually save you from a mistaken cut – if you handle it the right way.


Employers won’t hire the perfect candidate. They hire the closest match at the right price

The right price does not mean the cheapest candidate.  They are looking for someone who matches the most critical skills and experience while staying within a given budget.


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