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Friday, September 12, 2008

The Assistant Files

Not to be a jerk, but someone on one of my email groups just asked if "anyone had any information on how to roll calls", she thought it might have something to do with getting several people on the phone at once, but she wasn't really sure.


I say again: WHAT.

"Rolling calls" is an assistant skill so basic it's about on the same level as "Hey guys! Here's how you send a fax." It's pretty surprising that someone on a group for industry assistants wouldn't know what rolling calls IS, let alone how you do it.

So, here's a crash course:

Rolling calls is what you do when your boss is in his car, calling in on his cell, and you're setting up calls for him, functioning as a kind of telephonic bridge between him and the person he wants to talk to. (Some people also use "rolling calls" to describe what happens when your boss is in his office and you're returning calls with him, something other people call "let's do some calls" or just "get me so and so on the phone" - I know, confusing!)

So your boss calls in:

Hey, it's me.


Any calls?



(inexplicably guilty-feeling, even though there really were no calls.)
(making something up to make him feel important.)
But Carol came by to ask you where you get your pants, because she thinks they're awesome.


Well, no. I mean, she did come by and mention that her husband was having a hard time buying happening trousers, so-


Want to do some calls?


Here, you look at his phone sheet and tell him who he owes a call to.

Evan called again--


And you owe Ian F. a call from last Thursday--

Ugh, I hate that guy. Who else?

How about Danni at [redacted]?


Here - and this depends a little bit on your phone system, but the gist is the same - you put your boss' call on hold, call Danni at [redacted], and conference the two of them together. Here's the key: do not get off the call. You stay on the call muted out so you can eavesdrop/take notes/pretend not to care that your boss likes to talk about his bowel issues/start a new call when he's done with this one.

So, let's say that you've dialed the number for Danni at [redacted]:

Danni's office.

Hi, I have Bossman calling for her.

("Let me see if he's important enough to talk to".)
One moment.

Hold music plays. Now one of several things will happen, and here's the easiest:

Danni herself picks up.

Hey, Bossman!

At this point, you are the only one on the call. Your boss is still on the 405, listening to something embarrassing like Fall Out Boy, holding impatiently. This moment is always a little awkward.

Hi Danni, still me, hang on--
(you conference in your boss)
Bossman, you're on with Danni.

Mute out the call, wait for them to finish, unmute, start a new call as needed.

The second option is that Danni isn't there/is on a call/hates your boss:

Hi, Danni's in a meeting, can we return?


You then make a note of the fact that Danni owes your boss a call, tell Bossman that you left word, and start a new call as needed.

A thing that happens sometimes is that some bosses are very weird about picking up before the other executive has picked up. That is, if they have to suffer through that "Hey, John!" "Sorry, still me. John, you're on with David." moment, they'll get pissed at you for not being a better psychic operator. The only thing to be done about this is to maintain a mental org chart of how important other people are relative to your boss. The big dog gets to get on the line last. This is easier if you're working for someone important; if you're working for someone less important who has an attitude issue, ENJOY.

Something else that can happen is that you'll get incoming calls while you're rolling on the other line. Don't panic! You're already muted out, so just put your boss' call on hold, switch to the incoming line, tell them that your boss is unavailable, add that person to the phone sheet, and switch back to your boss' call (hopefully before your boss ends his call and is all "Hello? HELLO? WHAT IS HAPPENING? HOW DO I WORK MY PHONE?!?" - that's why you need to get off the other line as quickly as you can.) Some bosses are pretty intense about not ever letting calls go to voicemail, so do what you need to do to get through moments of every line on your phone lighting up at once. I personally like to pretend that I'm a 1940s switchboard operator, or one of the girls on Mad Men.

Next week, frauxling, good excuses, and the top five guys nobody wants to get on the phone!


Andy Sachs

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Amy R. Butler said...

What about dropping the call, too? I heard a story about an assistant who listened through two hours of a competitors calls because his assistant forgot to drop his call after their conversation ended.


Laura Reyna said...

This sounds like "busy work" to me, something unnecessary. An adult should be able to place his/her own phone calls.

lb_ny said...

I've always admired the ability to juggle and negotiate that a good assistant has, even for the seemingly small, straight-forward tasks as phone calls. As someone who started off working on independent films as a production coordinator basically keeping the balls up in the air and the plates spinning for first time producers (which I think has some overlap in tasks and responsibilities to an assistant) I can imagine how the pressure rises as the stakes rise. To do it well takes a particular mind-set and real talent. And having dealt with bad or overwhelmed assistants it's a skill set I really appreciate!