I’m very excited to share my conversation with the Michelle Parise, Former EA to the CEO of Pinterest, in Episode 39 of The Leader Assistant Podcast!
Michelle Parise has over 15 years of experience as an Administrative Professional supporting CEOs in the fields of Commercial Real Estate, Venture Capital, and Technology.
She took the job as EA to the CEO of Pinterest when they had around 60 employees and a valuation of $100 million. When she left over 4 years later, Pinterest had over 1300 employees and a valuation of around $12 billion. Michelle talks about working in that hyper growth environment, managing an executive’s inbox, and more. She has some great advice for assistants in all types of organizations.
Enjoy our conversation!
P.S. – Join the new Leader Assistant Slack Community to connect with hundreds of assistants from around the world!
Rise up and attack the day with enthusiasm!
CONNECT WITH MICHELLE
Michelle Parise has over 15 years of experience as an Administrative Professional supporting CEOs in the fields of Commercial Real Estate, Venture Capital and Technology. She’s been sought out as a leader in the Administrative field for her exceptional skills and speaks regularly at industry conferences.
While working at Pinterest, she built a best-in-class Administrative team and centralized the Administrative function, becoming the first team Manager.
Michelle now is focused on helping individuals prepare for interviews, identify career goals, and grow their careers as well as helping companies build and develop their teams. Michelle lives in the Bay Area’s East Bay with her husband and two sons.
Subscribe to The Leader Assistant Podcast so you don’t miss new episodes!
Join my email list here if you want to get an email when a new episode goes live.
JOIN THE COMMUNITY
LEAVE A REVIEW
If you’re enjoying the podcast, please take 2 minutes to rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts here. Each review helps me stay motivated to keep the show going!
Michelle Parise 0:00
Hi, my name is Michelle Parise and I’m here with today’s leadership quote, which is rise up and attack the day with enthusiasm.
Podcast Intro 0:11
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident, Game Changing leader assistant
Podcast Outro 0:20
to Episode 39. Thank you for listening to The Leader Assistant Podcast. In here’s your
Jeremy Burrows 0:27
host my data. Hello friends. Thanks for tuning in. Don’t forget to check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/39. Before we dive into my conversation with Michelle Paries, former executive assistant to the CEO of Pinterest, I wanted to give you an opportunity to win a t shirt. Everybody likes T shirts, specially free T shirts. So if you haven’t seen my assistants lead T shirts. They’re a tri blend, super soft, nice fit t shirt that just say assistance lead on the front. And anyway, I want to give away five t shirts. So the first five people to do the following step one, leave a review on Apple podcasts or rating, click the star rating and leave a review. And then to when that review publishes. Take a screenshot of it and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And in that email include your shipping address, and your T shirt size. And I will send you a t shirt. And before you think oh five people, there’s probably already five people that have done it. You’d be surprised that how just a simple process like this is too much work for a lot of people. And they just won’t take the time to do it. And they’ll think the same thing you’re thinking saying to themselves up somebody else already wanted, it’s probably not me. So just encouraging you to give it a shot. And try it out. I’m gonna give away a t shirt to the first five people that leave a review, send me an email of the screenshot of the review with your address and I’ll ship you a t shirt. All right, let’s jump into my interview with Michelle. Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. I’m sorry, my voice is terrible today. But I am excited to talk with Michelle Parise. Michelle, thanks for joining me.
Thanks so much for having me.
So Michelle, you were the assistant to the CEO of Pinterest. Is that correct?
Michelle Parise 2:45
That is correct.
Jeremy Burrows 2:47
And what was it like working at a software company such as Pinterest.
Michelle Parise 2:55
At first, it was a little scary. When I started the company was very small, they only have one office and I was there 58 employee. And while I made the decision to join the company based on the fact that I really really liked the leadership, I really liked the CEO and the co founder. You know, that was the time when you were seeing Instagram get sold. And I was really worried that the company might just get sold really quickly. And I’d be out of a job in three months. So my first first emotion was sort of fear. But then once I got settled into the role, it was just 100% Excitement every single day. When I started, like I said I was the 58th employee. And when I left, just under four and a half years later, there were over 1300 employees and 14 offices around the world and the company had gone from a valuation of 100 million to 12 billion. So they’ve gone through six additional rounds of fundraising and raised about a billion and a half dollars. So to say it was high growth is an understatement. And it really it really required me to get better at my job every couple of weeks. Because if I wasn’t getting better, I was falling behind. And you know what works as a process when you have 100 people in an office doesn’t work when you have 350 or 650 or 1100. So it just required you to constantly learn and grow and be really, really open to that because if you weren’t, you know, you you you were going to fall behind and and you know they’d be probably replaced. So it was it was really really exciting and also just a tremendous place to be from a culture standpoint really amazing people really cared about their employees still do. And yeah, just a fun a fun product to be around.
Jeremy Burrows 5:01
So what was it like working for the CEO during that time, of just insane growth?
Michelle Parise 5:10
It was really fun. I mean, I am a person who loves a challenge. And I, I love to work hard. And it was great, because, you know, you never faced the same problem very often. So everything was new and different. And the other thing that I really loved about working with Ben Silverman, the CEO was that he really valued the role and the partnership. And really let me take as much off of his plate as was possible. And I really appreciated that I was really thought of as a as a partner, and could make a lot of decisions or recommendations on his behalf. And that, to me, was really exciting to be deeply, deeply involved in the work as opposed to some other roles where I’ve, you know, been primarily required to keep the calendar, greet visitors grab beverages, and then tidy the conference room afterwards. So very different than a role where you’re deeply involved in the business and making decisions that affect a lot of people on a regular basis.
Jeremy Burrows 6:25
So did you have to say no, often, I’m assuming you did. And then how did you learn to say no and affirm that kind of way?
Michelle Parise 6:34
Well, I think you’re always supposed to say instead of No, you’re supposed to say yes. And to make it positive. But yeah, of course, I think I think the challenge in any EAA role is doing all the things that well, most of us, I think, don’t like but some people I think, sort of secretly enjoy it. But the gatekeeper aspect, and that sort of thing I don’t, I never really thought of myself, as that I really was focused on how can I triage massive amounts of information, prioritize that, you know, get decisions, or recommendations for decisions, and then present them to the CEO so that they can then make informed decisions quickly and move forward. And that part was really fun. So you’re not really looking for ways to say no, you’re looking for solutions, which I think is, is the fun part of any role. That’s the problem solving. Part, just, I think enjoyable.
Jeremy Burrows 7:37
So what was the biggest mistake you made? And what did you learn from that mistake?
Michelle Parise 7:43
Oh, gosh, I probably made a ton. Let’s see. Well, you know, I mean, it’s so basic, but I’ve definitely made some calendar mistakes along the way, you know, you’re going too fast, and you’ve got your calendar open. And you’ve got your executives calendar open, and you drop something on your calendar, and it’s supposed to go on your executive and thank god, they’re in the office at the time their visitors shows up. And yeah, you know, that has happened once or twice. But I think the first sort of big, it wasn’t even big. But it was it was big mistake to me, because any mistake feel horrific. And you know, soul crushing was when I was working in Los Angeles, they were having an I worked for a commercial real estate company, and they were having a broker’s open house, and they wanted to have a photographer there. And I booked the floral and the catering and the musicians and, you know, confirmed the guests and confirmed to the tour guides and prepared all the materials, but I forgot the photographer. So, you know, my, my boss called me, you know, at 7:24, you know? And he’s like, where’s the photographer? And it just, it goes through your brain and you’re just like, oh, he just, you know, that scene anomaly where she just melts to the floor, in a puddle of water. I mean, that’s how you feel when something happens. And you know, you’ve goofed, and there’s nothing you can do. Other than say, I am so sorry, I forgot. And, you know, start immediately figuring out what you can do to fix it. But yeah, I mean, otherwise, I tried to put processes in place so that I would catch up, I made mistakes. You know, I think after that calendar mistake at Pinterest, I put an appointment on my calendar every day at four o’clock to look at the calendar for the next day and just do a check. You know, do I have a conference room? Have all the attendees I need? Confirmed? Do I have the prep materials? You know, so you you learn from those mistakes and hopefully get better from them.
Jeremy Burrows 9:43
So what is your number one tip for managing an executives inbox?
Michelle Parise 9:52
Oh, gosh. Well, I think it’s really about finding a process that works for both of you, you know, I mean, being a good EA is about sort of meshing with how they work and not being rigid in how you want to work and not, you know, not making suggestions either and just accepting there’s their method, I think, ideally, there’s, you know, usually more heads together produce a better outcome. So, if you guys can, ideally release it and come up with a plan that works, each talk about what you guys have done before and what you like, and don’t like. But yeah, I mean, every time I’ve handled an inbox, it’s always gone through several iterations, you know, every six months or 18 months, somebody comes up with a new idea, hey, I noticed these emails are getting, you know, even though they’re marked high priority, they’re not they’re not getting answered for two days. You know, let’s, let’s try a new approach. So I think I think being open to being iterative is important, as well as just being really Yeah, just, you know, brainstorming about what, what works. I’ve seen so many different systems be successful. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to handle it.
Jeremy Burrows 11:10
Yeah. So you had a team of assistants, you worked your way up to that I’m sure you didn’t have that from day one. Tell us about the process of kind of building and leading the admin team at Pinterest.
Michelle Parise 11:27
Yeah, so when I was hired, I was the first EA, the only EA and the next da, sort of the need arose about six months after I got to the company. And, you know, I knew I knew just from sitting in on the C-level meetings, that that the higher was going to be made, that the other leadership needed, needed some coverage. And so I then asked HR, you know, who are you interviewing? Can I be a part of that, which they were thankfully, very open to, because I’ve worked in other companies where that not really part of the process. And so yeah, I then, you know, gave a lot of feedback to HR on the candidates. And we hired someone who was fantastic. I’m still very good friends with her because we went through a lot of it together. But the thing that became important to then both of us was, you know, being involved in the hire for the next Assistant. And the thing that I really prioritized in hiring admins for that team was that they were of the company first mentality. I had worked at other companies with other admins were the admins allegiance was to their executive before the company. And I don’t think that is totally bad. But I think that a lot of times, and especially in a high growth situation, it can create a problem because there’s competing priorities, many times, and if an admin is only focused on making their exec, happy, but they don’t care about what’s in the best interests of the whole company, you know, if an admin holds back, well, you know, my executive has the family vacation plans during planning cycle. And, you know, they planned it three months ago, so I can’t possibly move in, you know, their allegiance is only making their exec happy, because he doesn’t have to rebook his family vacation, but at the expense of G’s, the company is going through a strategic planning process. And it’s vital that every member of the C level team is there, you know, those, those can be at odds with each other. And so I really wanted to make sure all of the admins were in the same mindset that we are working in the best interest of the company first, and then our executive, if they have to rebook their trip, then we will do it for them and make it work, make them happy, but we will prioritize the goals of the company. And I think that that also then carried over really well into sort of creating a, a team mentality. I really, again, from having seen that other companies saw how you have to come company is very hierarchical. And admins are very focused on just their relationship with the executive, but they’re not really sharing resources or communicating with each other across the company. It can be sometimes isolating, and also just a lost opportunity for a better performance from everyone because your knowledge sharing and then also, you know, usually there’s a happier sort of culture amongst those that group if if they can, you know, vent about things together support each other. You know, usually we know things before the rest of the company, but at least if we can talk about it amongst ourselves and respect that confidentiality, it gives us an outlet for some of those things that can be really stressful. So I really, really wanted to hire people who were of the company first mentality, who cared about the others who were doing the functionally similar work to themselves. And people who also really wanted to grow in their careers and who were not using the role as a stepping stone. I think that it’s absolutely fine if someone comes in and you know, I had someone who worked on our comms team, and eventually the head of columns was like, She’s so great, I want to hire, I want to offer a role on the comms team. And you know, she really wanted it. And I was like, Well, of course, like, go do that. That’s great. I’m glad you found something that you’re passionate about. But from a hiring standpoint, I was really trying to hire people who wanted to grow in their careers for the long term, because they think that if, again, you know, when you’re going through high growth like that, if you’re not focused on getting better in that job, you’re, you’re falling behind and hurting the company. And, you know, you needed people who were eager to be stretched and challenged and up for that.
Jeremy Burrows 16:03
What should executives look for? And what did you look for in these assistants, when you were trying to hire and build the team?
Michelle Parise 16:11
You know, I mean, I think one of the most interesting things about this role is that it can be done in any industry, but it’s also really challenging, because I do think that the role can vary a lot, especially in work environments, that are very dynamic and and then in other industries, you know, contrast that with other industries that are a little more static, you know, when the calendar comes around, and it’s kind of the same thing every year, year over year, I think that those are different. And so I think also that you have coverage different, at different laid out differently at different, you know, types of companies, like, for example, out here, we have a lot of in California, we have a lot of venture capital firms. So the firm may have 20 partners, and they are maybe 18 admins. Whereas I was at Pinterest, and there was, you know, 1300 employees, and there was 13. Admins. So, you know, huge variation in the coverage ratio. So, being super prescriptive about saying every executive needs the same thing is a little bit tricky. But if I had to kind of distill, maybe the three most important things, I think, I would say, first of all, you need to make sure the person wants the job. Is this a role they’re really excited about? Or are they just taking it because it’s a job? And if it’s the latter, that’s not really a great, great signal. But also, do you? Do you respect this person, it sounds maybe overly simple, but I think that you want to be a partner, ideally, with this person in a professional capacity. And you really, you want to believe that they are going to bring you good ideas, and not just do exactly as they’re told, because if that’s all it is, then you’re not getting, I think, the leverage you can out of out of the hire. And if they’re going to challenge you, if the admin is going to challenge you, in some ways, I think that, you know, that’s, that’s helpful to your growth as an executive, which is great. So, I would say those are two really, really important things. And then I think the third thing is making sure that that person is going to be a really good culture fit with the company, you know, it’s really this person is your representative, your ambassador, if they’re, you know, moving around the company, and you don’t think they’re going to gel with those folks and be able to build those relationships? Well, I think that’s, you know, you’re kind of cutting yourself off at the knees, so to speak. So, I would say those are kind of the top three things I would encourage an executive to prioritize, and the higher
Jeremy Burrows 19:04
was a great so how can we help more executives, HR departments, recruiters, value the role of an assistant?
Michelle Parise 19:16
Well, if I had the perfect answer, maybe it would already be solved. But it’s something I really am passionate about. I really do believe though, that as an executive assistant, you have to be your own advocate, you have to be armed with knowledge on, you know, what are market salaries, what is my value? You have to be able to quantify that for your executive and the company and yourself. You know, I would interview other admins and they would say, Well, what’s, you know, what do you do here? And I would kind of sometimes be like, I don’t know, what do I do here? I feel like I do everything and nothing and you know, it’s just crazy and, but if you if you really can’t act actually convey your worth. I think that it’s hard for others to see that. So being able to really be confident in knowing, you know, what you’re capable of what your strengths are, as well as what your weaknesses are. And being able to understand how that fits into the market, I think is important.
Jeremy Burrows 20:24
So do you have any crazy productivity hacks? And I want to, I want to kind of ask if you had a productivity hack, when Pinterest was young, and you were the first da, and then if you had a different one, or if it didn’t work anymore, as you grew, and we’re leading a team of assistants,
Michelle Parise 20:43
um, you know, so we use the G Suite there, we weren’t on Outlook, which was a major, major shock to my system when I started because I had only up to that point, use Outlook. So I, you know, it first and I get my email account set up, and the calendar appears and everything and I, I looked at it all, and I just was like, I hate this, this is terrible. Why doesn’t it have the functionality of Outlook? This? This is ridiculous. And then, you know, I did the only thing I could do, I started asking every person I could find, like, how do you do this? How do you do that? What are your favorite tips and tricks then started Googling, like crazy. And one of the things I found was a plugin called Boomerang, I’m not sure if you’re familiar, but that they saved my life, I cannot even begin to praise that enough. Just being able to, you know, it was so I was scheduling so many things, and there were so many projects going on as well that, you know, I would send out requests to people and I having a tool that could come, you know, remind me when I needed a response, if I hadn’t already gotten it, that was sort of seamless to the workflow, you know, I didn’t have to go out to a separate checklists to remind myself of when I needed to follow up on something it just happened within within that workflow was super high value. And when I, I started using it, I don’t know, maybe a month into the job, and when I was leaving, and you know, going to close out my email account, I looked and they had had, like, I don’t know, 420 emails that were like, you know, sort of pending that I was still waiting for things on and that had been in flight that I was, you know, going to then need to transfer over to my, to my backfill. So, yeah, I mean, how would I have kept in my brain 400 things that needed to? It wouldn’t have, it wouldn’t have been possible, I wouldn’t have had enough post it notes or, you know, anything else that would have been as efficient so that that was my all time favorite productivity hack. And I, I loved that thing. And then other than that, I think just doing that calendar check for myself every single day. was super, super valuable. Yeah, those those are kind of my favorites.
Jeremy Burrows 23:06
You know, what’s interesting about Boomerang is, essentially Gmail does all that for you. Now, I know like, some amazing kind of, it’s great for everybody except boomerang.
Michelle Parise 23:18
Right? Yeah, no, yeah. Sad for boomerang. But, yeah, problem. Problem with a good product is if it’s great, somebody else is gonna, a bigger company may adopt, adopt it. But in any case, the features are, I think, are super high leverage if you utilize them in a regular way.
Jeremy Burrows 23:39
So you do some speaking and EAA training, and also do some consulting. So tell us a little bit about, you know, how you would encourage other assistants that maybe want to branch out and do some training and speaking or blogging or whatever, as
Michelle Parise 24:01
well? Yeah, so I think I think that if you are, you know, passionate about your career, your profession and growing in it and supporting others in in developing others, I think, I mean, the first thing I would encourage anyone to do is start within their company unless you’re a solo, solo flyer. But yeah, looking around your company at what you can do either to help cultivate the culture of the team or provide, you know, additional sort of resource sharing support to the team, or leadership within the team. I think starting in your own backyard is always a great place to sort of share ideas, test, test things out. And then otherwise, yeah, looking looking around your city, wherever you may be at whatever organizations exist. I mean, there’s so many and some of them are Pretty regionally focused and then some are more national but attend conferences. Network with other EAS there I met some fantastic yeas, attending conferences who, you know, I then thought out when I had questions like, how does your public company handle this thing with this many people, you know, when I didn’t have the answers myself, so really seek out people who can you can learn from and you can grow from and then pay it back. You know, if you’re, if you’re tapping someone else’s wisdom, then by all means, share that with, you know, someone Jr. in your office, or someone Jr, who wants to connect with you on LinkedIn. I think I think being being a resource to this profession is really about sort of focusing on both those ahead of you and those coming up behind you. But yeah, the The exciting thing is, there’s a lot of opportunities for admins to network to connect, either online or in person, which is exciting. Yeah, I agree.
Jeremy Burrows 26:07
So can you describe the job of an assistant in one sentence?
Michelle Parise 26:12
Oh, gosh, the job of an assistant in one sense, I guess, I would say is to make your executive the most efficient, productive, successful, individual they can professionally and personally be. Great. I think that a lot of times admins forget to look holistically at the person they support. And, you know, they may make that calendar just fly from, you know, 8am to 5pm. And, but I think if you forget that this individual may have a family or a hobby or an interest outside of work, I think sometimes you miss an opportunity to make make that executive better when they are at work. So not ignoring that, that these people are human just like us. And we need that, you know, the understanding of that,
Jeremy Burrows 27:17
yeah, they need to get their teeth cleaned. They need to
Michelle Parise 27:21
their kid may have a recital, they need to attend or their, you know, their husband may have a conference they need to attend, and they want to go with them or, you know, whatever it may be, but just thinking about them as a person, you know, maybe they’re the CEO, and it’s super high pressure, and they but they haven’t had a vacation in six months. And you know, that’s to stay. That’s not realistic. So reminding them, hey, you need you need some time off in here. I think is important.
Jeremy Burrows 27:50
What makes an assistant a leader?
Michelle Parise 27:55
That’s a great question, what makes an assistant a leader, I would say, an assistant is the leader when they are proactive in their role, as opposed to reactive. I think when you start out your work is primarily reactive, you’re being you know, asked to schedule something asked to plan something as to help with a project. And so you then take those things and do them. But I think you become a leader when you can identify the work that needs to happen. Even before it’s been specifically defined somewhere, and you seek it out and are able to do it. I would say that On the work side of things, and then I think you become a leader sort of in the profession, when you start caring about the culture of those who are similarly doing functional work to you.
Jeremy Burrows 29:03
If you could snap your fingers and instantly give all assistance, more of something, what would it be?
Michelle Parise 29:10
Oh, gosh. If I can? Well, I think I would probably say self respect. I think that people doing this work are really humble people. And I think a lot of them are too quick to be self deprecating. And I think that really being confident in in the amazing sort of work that we do is important and I think it’s how how you change the perception of this role. And it’s it’s hard. So I would, I would say try to give them more self confidence.
Jeremy Burrows 29:59
Great. So what about your coaching business? Your tell us about your website where we can find you tell us about maybe a quick summary of you know what it is you’re really passionate about helping people with and specifically assistance.
Michelle Parise 30:18
Yeah, so you can find me online at withpurposecoaching.com. And you can connect with me there if, if you’re interested in those, there’s a tab for that. But yeah, I started out, really coaching admins one on one. And then that evolved, I’ve been, I’ve had this business for about three years now. And after the first year that shifted, and much more of my time has been spent working with companies. So either helping them define levels for their admins or helping them think about how would they centralize the team so that the team reported in, you know, to an admin, or thinking through how to sort of shift the culture of their team or provide career development and growth opportunities for folks on the team. So it’s been a really fun mix of work, because I’m able to have conversations with those who are managing the function, whether they’re in HR or some other role. And then I also get to do the work with the teams. So it’s, it’s been, it’s been a really fun experience, because I think that the part that is exciting to me right now is that companies are actually willing to put resources around their their administrative teams, and I think that that is a giant step forward, over just probably the past five years, five to 10 years. So I think I think for the growth of the profession, it’s really important that companies are realizing, hey, we can we can get more out of this team, if we just made sure that these individuals were really fulfilled on a professional level, and had some growth opportunity, and how can we provide that? So I tried to help companies identify that.
Jeremy Burrows 32:10
That’s great. Well, Michelle, thanks so much for taking time out of your was today, Thursday evening, to talk with us. And I will put all the info all the links in the show notes to your LinkedIn and your website. And that way people can find you easily. I will ask one last question, though. Do you still use Pinterest?
Michelle Parise 32:34
Oh my gosh, I might have actually scrolled through it while we were chatting. Yeah, I do every day.
Jeremy Burrows 32:42
Very nice. Very nice. Well, thanks again.
Michelle Parise 32:44
Yeah, thanks so much, Jeremy. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing with with the leader assistant. I think that it takes it takes a lot of us helping to raise each other up. So thank you for having me.
Jeremy Burrows 32:57
Thanks again, Michelle, for being on the show. You can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/39 And don’t forget to leave a review on Apple podcasts. And send me a screenshot to email@example.com If you want to win one of those T shirts. Talk to you next time.
Podcast Outro 33:26
You on Apple podcast goburrows.com