We are super excited to kick off our “Who’s Week” with Kiyomi D. Mizukami. Executive Assistant & Project Manager to CEOs of Sony, MGM, Fox, News Corp & Fortune 100 Companies.
DC: Hi, Kiyomi! Thank you so much for taking your time to speak with us. We are super excited to have you! Let’s start off by telling us about yourself: Are you from Los Angeles? Where did you go to school? What did you study?
KM: Hi, Donna, and fellow EAs and PAs! Thank you so much for having me! It’s great to be here! For any readers of my blog and my column, you’ll know I hail from Japan and also consider myself an Angeleno! I went to school at Cal State Fullerton and studied Communications (Broadcast Journalism) with an emphasis in radio, tv, and film. I loved being a student and consider myself a lifelong learner!
Tell us your story on how you went from temping in LA to being the EA of high-profile CEOs.
KM: When people would ask me in interviews, my first answer was, “No nepotism here!” The more serious answer is I did A LOT of internships. I wanted a strong foundation in which to build my career because I had ZERO connections in Hollywood. Yes, ZERO. I found every single one of my jobs through a temping agency or by referral. But in reality – the most useful skill that opened a lot of doors for me were my soft skills.
The longer story is, and I kid you not, a thank you card launched my career.
I learned through informational interviews that I should apply to temp agencies. I opened the phone book and signed up with every single one in town. One of my first assignments was being the executive assistant to a VP. On my first day there, as I walk to my desk, a guy appears out of nowhere and introduces himself to say hi and welcome me to the company. We shake hands, exchange names, and that’s it. I basically never see him again because he doesn’t even work in my department. However, this guy deserves all the credit for launching my entire career, not just helping me get my foot in the door, but helped catapult it.
After my gig ended, I sent thank you cards to EVERYONE I met, including this guy that I never saw again. I thanked him for making me feel welcome and taking the time to introduce himself although we never worked together. I mentioned my gig was over and I learned a lot and enjoyed my assignment and hoped to have the chance to return again. It may sound like a stretch, but I was really moved with how he went out of his way to be nice when it wasn’t required of him.
A couple of weeks later I get a call for an assignment and I realize it’s this guy who requested me based on the fact that I sent him a thank you card. The important thing I learned is, he’s an event planner, he hosts parties, he meets lots of people, and to him, the fact that I sent a thank you card said something about me.
My job is anything from deliver memos to different people on other floors to stuffing THOUSANDS of invitations to be mailed out for movie premieres. It’s not what one would call a “meaty” assignment, but it didn’t matter to me so I went about my business and did my job.
Delivering memos meant I also had to drop off stuff to the CEO’s office. So I’d go in, put the papers in the in box and turn around and leave. No hello, no trying to chat them up, or loiter to see if any celebrities were there.
Another couple of weeks go by and I’m told by HR, “The CEO wants to hire you to work in his office.” And I find out they were asking about me, “Who’s the girl that drops off paperwork? We really like her.”
I think it’s because I was quiet and unassuming.
So I left that temp gig and went to work for the CEO. If the event planner hadn’t introduced himself and if I didn’t send him a thank you card, I would have never delivered papers to the CEO. It’s just that simple. I got my first real job by taking 5 minutes of out my day to say thank you. And how did he help catapult my career?
Because of him, my first CEO EA job led to the next one. That one led to other EA jobs. And as I climbed the admin ladder, when I got recruited for a project manager role, the person who referred me was also someone I had met when I was “just a temp” stuffing those thousands of envelopes. That one unassuming, non-meaty, first temp gig got me my first CEO EA job and eventually my promotion to project manager down the road. 5 minutes and $1 for a thank you card and postage (the thank you cards were from Target, a box of 16 or so for a few bucks) literally changed my life. You just never know… That’s the beauty of life!
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to be a high-profile PA or EA and has absolutely no experience?
KM: The short answer is create your own luck, network for mutually beneficial relationships, give back, know your unique selling point, be proactive, and be humble and grateful. The longer specific answer is below.
Any recruiter who sees your resume will silently wonder the following questions.
1) Do you have the admin skills to be an EA? Can you fit in a creative, free flowing environment or a structured corporate environment?
Whether based on your cover letter or resume, recruiters only take 6 seconds to see if you are match. They are looking for a job history with the exact same job they are looking to fill. Use the same buzz words, job descriptions, and skills they used in their job ad. If the fit isn’t close enough, they toss or file your resume. You may only land your job thru a friend and word of mouth from anyone that will take a chance on you as you transition.
The shortest route to fill that gap is to look for temp work thru agencies or TaskRabbit, Craiglist, or volunteer. You want to gain as much relevant experience as you can.
The celebrity culture and corporate business world is very unique to each A-lister, company, and the executive leading the division. A lot of things don’t make business sense, there is never enough money or time, office politics can be rampant. There are A players and total slackers. There are differing levels of emotional intelligence and common sense. Not everyone will be a workaholic, passionate, or invested. There is a lot of ego, reputation, protocol, observing seniority, and getting permission thru the chain of command. So not only are recruiters looking for the right hard skills, do you have the soft skills to fit into the department and company vision?
2) How manageable are you?
This really translates to the following questions… Will you be humble enough to take direction and do minor tasks like get coffee, scheduling, and travel? Are you hungry, green, and have a sense of urgency with all tasks? The attitude is very much you will do almost anything and everything that isn’t illegal. If you watched the Devil Wears Prada, Entourage, and Swimming with Sharks some of those scenes are not fiction.
Play up the fact that you are willing to do the little tasks, but are smart enough to make good decisions and think on your own when needed. Have great stories to tell about paying your dues, any grunt work you did, why you understand doing anything is vital.
3) Why do you want to become an EA or PA?
Learn to answer why being an EA or PA appeals to you more than any other job.
4) Will you want to stop being an EA or PA in a few years to become a write, actress, etc?
This question is to figure out how committed you are to your career.
5) Craft your resume based on experience and skill set, not chronologically – and tell a different story.
I think this tip bears no real explanation as by Googling different resume types you’ll get the gist. The point is to sell yourself and spin a different story. Just like they say have 3-4 different resumes for certain roles, your career history should be edited to get to the heart of your skills, not the timeline of it.
6) Be strategic about your career plan and job hunt. Know your goal and work backwards and figure out a vague flexible timeline of goals and promotions needed.
If you’ve been doing the same job every year without any growth or increased responsibility, you really only have 2 years of experience that’s been repeated X amount of years. They also take into consideration which celebrity, high profile person, or C-Level executive you assisted and at which company. For example, working for a CEO at a small business is not the same as working for the CEO of Disney or Pixar. Much like anyone can play baseball – are you playing in the high school league, the college league, amateurs, or are you playing for MLB? Yes, you are playing baseball, but are you a pro or in the little leagues? The amount of skill, pressure, stress, and problem solving differs at each of those levels. It wasn’t until I worked for a huge, huge company that the rest of the companies started finding me. And once you’re in, you’re in. You have to take your career to the next level. How do you do that? For PAs, before you can work for a media mogul like 50 Cent or the Olsen Twins, you have to make your way up the ladder from high net worth individuals, to C list celebrities, B-listers, and then A-listers. For EAs, have admin experience then apply at a bigger company for a lower level executive, like a VP, SVP who will hopefully make the jump to President, etc. Don’t be an assistant to a Director or Manager if at all possible. Or apply to be the 2nd or 3rd assistant to a CEO at a much bigger company even if you were the 1st assistant at a smaller company. The hardest part of excelling is getting to be the best and top notch. That will take a deliberate game plan and focus.
What has been your most memorable experience as an EA?
KM: Hmmmm… For me, it’s all the great people that I’ve met and the fun projects I got to work on. Being a Fortune 100 EA means you are surrounded by some of the most brilliant business people in the world and the most creative minds of Hollywood. Just being in their presence means being informally mentored by osmosis.
What is your most cringe-worthy moment? How did you recover? (or have had a scary moment of an almost disaster?
KM: A scary moment to share is one time I had 48 hours to pull off a major recruiting event in another country. Since I wasn’t going to the actual event, I had to plan the whole thing via emails and calls which required dealing with my team, accounting, and the applicants of the event without much time to spare. It was all go, go, go! Everything was set until the venue had to be changed the day before! I had 24 hours before everyone showed up, but about 12 hours to find a new place and communicate that change out to almost 100 people and re-execute the logistics and planning from scratch! It was almost the end of me when I had 48 hours and now I had half that! The kicker was, since the event was international, there was a time zone difference. So it’s only around 2pm my time and I’m oddly not able to reach anyone at hotels. I’m calling and leaving messages everywhere, via email too. I finally call concierge and they tell me in their country, even though they are a hotel, they actually observe business hours. Their room reservations office and event planning departments actually closed at 5pm or 6pm! So, in reality, I didn’t even have those 12 hours! Trying to reach management, front desk, etc was of no help because either they were also closed or sales/events were not their domain. So my window of opportunity was narrowing by the minute. And we didn’t have an outlandish budget where I could just go find any ol’ nice place that had availability. Meanwhile I’m discussing this with my boss and trying to get approvals and we get the okay to switch tactics. We decide to move the event to our international offices for a more “home grown” feel, “an inside look,” and “be a part of our family.” By this time, our international offices are starting to close down for the day and I’m calling every number I have. Since we don’t work with this office it’s not like we have cell phone numbers and home numbers for anyone. Luckily, I get a hold of an assistant who was there later than usual. After she calls around on my behalf, she assures me using their offices is fine. I sort out with her and my team the execution of the guest list, security, greeters, food/beverage, and it’s easy peasy! Phew! Thank god she was there late; once again, as always, it’s the assistant that saves the day! Yay! Kudos to her for saving me!
What is your day like on a typical Tuesday?
KM: I get in, look at my list of mtgs for the day, go thru my emails, update my to do list, start tackling my projects. I have a standing 2 hour mtg and between working on my projects, I’m fielding emails and requests from all over the company. I am also always required to drop everything I’m doing and meet a quick turnaround deadline as needed, so then I’ll work overtime to catch up if vital. I eat lunch at my desk (or go out if I’m able). The last 30-45 min of my day I plan the following day, and forecast the next week or so. After hours, I will read any emails that come thru if only to know what’s going on so I can act on them first thing in the morning.
What makes an email get a response from a busy person? How can you connect with people who can give you advice, introductions, even job offers?
KM: I’m not sure I have an answer for the first question about a busy person. If I recall correctly, I remember reading an interview with the CEO of Zappos. He gets email requests for 15 min of his time and he has to politely decline. Sure, he can carve out 15 min of his day, but in aggregate, to say yes to everyone that asks him for 15 min takes is too costly.
It becomes a question of who am I saying yes to and why? Time is a zero sum game. Everything you say yes to means you are automatically saying no to other things.
For me, I wanted to do this interview to give back. I don’t make any money from blogging or writing my column. I write purely for the joy of it and as a hobby. I make my living from my full time job, that’s it. The rest of my time is pursuing what interests me, like answering questions!
The 2nd question you ask is better. How can one person CONNECT with people who can give advice, etc. Connect with others by helping them – pass on a job tid bit you heard about, introduce them to someone you know, or even help them out with your time and energy by volunteering on their project. It’s always best when you try to help someone out from the kindness of your own heart. You will get the satisfaction of a random act of kindness and if they ever return the favor, you will be that much richer!
In the end, everyone wants life to be easier. So if you really want to try to each a very busy person, spell out what they will get out of it and align yourself with their goals/values.
What has been your most memorable experience as an EA to a Hollywood
Executive Producer? Are you allowed to disclose who it was?
My most memorable experience working for a Hollywood Executive
Producer is actually only well known in the film industry and not the
general public (so they shall remain nameless! Tee hee!). I’ve
worked for a lot of really nice, down to earth executives, which is
already rare, but this boss was very, very vocal about praising
employees. And it wasn’t over the top, fake, or an every day thing,
but it was the type of compliment one could live on for MONTHS. When
bosses are too harried and busy to say more than thank you several
times a day, my boss would speak up even when it wasn’t necessary.
When bonuses were given out, my boss personally handed out the checks
to each individual and say two or three sentences how they
specifically made a difference, were valuable, or were
special/unique. This gave employees one on one face time with an
executive they didn’t see often enough. With me, when I asked for a
raise and it was granted, the next day my boss told me I did a great
job preparing for it and was very brave in what I did. Long after I
had started working, my boss shared two stories with me on different
occasions. The first was, as I was getting hired, I found out my boss
had to battle two other executives to hire me and my boss won because
of seniority. And the second story was, a producer had absolutely
raved to my boss how I was the best EA in the entire company. Of
course there was no way for the producer to have worked with every
single EA in the corporation, and my boss even honestly acknowledged
that, but those incidents were just the tip of the iceberg on how my
boss fostered appreciation, self confidence, and gratefulness. None
of the above was critical to business and profits, but it mattered for
When you got your first high-profile gig (in Hollywood or with a
HNI) who was the coolest (or most interesting) person you met and why?
I once worked with an up and coming host. Back then, they were
already well on the rise to being a media mogul/hyphenate
billionaire. To have met someone who literally worked their way into
showbiz through sheer hard work and determination was inspiring to
me. Even now, they are successful on all accounts regardless of what
fans or critics may say. Now considered a household name the world
over, it’s not hard to see why they are successful. Personable,
considerate, and real – what it really comes down to is, not only
being smart and talented, but being a good person, fostering great
personal and working relationships, and loving one’s job. Everyone is
smart and capable, what sets an individual apart is being nice,
passionate, and committed to whatever they devote their time and
What is the most common misconception of being an EA/PA?
That it’s an easy job or anyone can do it. In reality, it takes the
right combination of personality, organization, flexibility,
humbleness, and diplomatic persistence.
What is your PA/EA top tip?
In this day and age of Enron-like scandals, your character and
reputation counts more than anything else. Have good credit, keep
everything confidential, and never burn bridges.
Now it’s time for the fun questions, Kiyomi! Woot, woot!
What’s your personal style like?
Personal style, personal style… Let’s see… When I put forth the effort, I go for alluring. Otherwise comfortable!
What would you tell your 15 year old self?
Believe it or not, you will see so many beautiful, wonderous things
in your life, the thought of them alone will move you to tears.
‘The gutsiest thing I’ve ever done is: _____.’
Have faith that the entertainment industry would even exist at all in this lifetime through merger after merger, the dot com bust, 9/11, the fall of the music industry, the economic crisis of 2008, and now the bankrupt VFX facilities
What is your favorite quote?
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” -Helen Keller
What is the last book you read?
Tough Sh*t by Kevin Smith
What House would the Sorting Hat choose for you?
I am so unhip and uncool I actually had to Google this! LOL It’s a Harry Potter reference, but I still don’t have an answer for you. Sorry!
What is your favourite movie?
Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw
What is your go-to lipstick color?
Actually, I like lip gloss and I usually pick a deep fuschia
‘If I could not be an EA, I would be: _________.’
An event planner for a nonprofit organization
‘The last time I cried was ______ because _______.’
The last time I cried was when I was reading Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed and her other book Wild. It was so tragic, hopeful sad, moving, heartwarming, and uplifting all at the same time.
‘The best gift I ever received was _______.’
Someone’s selfless time, attention, and care. Like Janet said, the best things in life are free, right? 😉
‘My best stress reliever is ______.’
A 90 minute deep tissue massage or a good book
‘I am most happy when ____.’
I am with my Boo
What would be your super secret super power? And why?
Not dying? Does that count? LOL The world is such a beautiful place and there are so many things to learn and experience. Who wouldn’t want to be around forever?
And last but most absolutely NOT least: cupcake or muffin? What kind?
I’m a cupcake girl! I’d have to say yellow cake with chocolate frosting or a red velvet is my fave! Yum!
*Please note the opinions and views expressed in this interview are solely those of Kiyomi D. Mizukami.