Returning to Work in Your 40’s with Hilani Ellis, Founder of Exceptional Admins


In this episode, I am joined by Hilani Ellis, as we discuss practical ways to get back into the workforce in your 40’s. How do you know when you should get back? What career should you choose now? How do you find the job that fits you best? We touch on all these topics and many more.

Hilani Ellis is the founder of Exceptional Admins, a company that helps executives find the perfect admins for their business. She has been coined a CEO Assistant Matchmaker by her clients because of her special abilities to recognize the compatibility between two employees. Her experience and process will definitely prove insightful to many of you who are on the verge of taking this next step.

Visit Hilani’s website here.

Also check out her own podcast Exceptional Admins

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


Doryn Wallach:

Welcome to It's Not A Crisis. I am your host Doryn Wallach. I'm an entrepreneur, a mother of two, a wife and a 40 something, trying to figure out what is happening in this decade. Why is no one talking about it? I created this podcast to help women in their late thirties and forties to figure out what is going on in our mind, body, soul, and life. We may laugh, we may cry, we may get frustrated, but most importantly, my goal is to make this next chapter of life positive. I'm also full of my own questions. And I'm here to go on this journey with you. So let's do it together.

Welcome to another episode, and thank you for coming back. I have to say that because I appreciate that you're coming back and listening and that you liked the other episodes. So I normally do my intro before the show, and I'm still learning this whole podcast thing. But today I had a feeling that I was going to need to do it after. And I'm so happy that I did. Today's show was such a great show. It brought up so many questions that we have as women and mothers at this time in our lives. And thinking about working or just doing something with our minds that stimulates us, our kids are getting older or even our kids are young and we still want to work or do something. So we get into a lot of talking about what you can do if you are staying at home, what you can do to prepare for later.

And I'm going to have her back on the show because there are so many other things that I want to touch on, but I've been fortunate enough to have my foot in the door throughout the years of being a mom for 13 years, because I've been able to run my own businesses. And so I've gotten experience on different things here and there. But what I learned today is that I think if I went into a corporate job and said, "Hey, I'd like a job." I don't know that I would be prepared at all. And not because I'm not experienced, but because I don't even know the first thing about what it's like to go get a corporate job these days, she touches on that a little bit. It's really, really a great show. And I've received numerous messages from all of you on this. So I've gotten tons. So I hope that we answered all of the questions that you've asked. She is awesome. She's available after to email her and ask anything else that you want to ask her.

My guest today, Hilani Ellis is the well-known business owner behind Exceptional Admins, a boutique specialized placement and training firm. Her depth of expertise stems from working for over a decade as an administrative professional, her previous roles were anything but ordinary. It's the dynamic job circumstances that helped Hilani build a unique foundation atypical of traditional administrative roles. Later in her career, Hilani transitioned from holding a corporate seat to launching Exceptional Admins. The mission and vision of the firm is to support leaders and other administrative professionals with their talent needs, whether hiring or training.

Today, Hilani's journey, grants her an edge when she engages with others on the topic of authentic leadership and or administrative greatness. Her understanding of the job's complexities brings clarity and energy to a trailing and misunderstood field. She believes everyone has unique gifts that support being highly impactful to business goals. If you can hear me smiling, I'm smiling because even her description about herself is just so intuitive and she really understands who she is. And so I hope you enjoy the show.


Doryn Wallach:

Hilani, welcome to the show. I'm very excited to have you here today.


Hilani Ellis:

Thank you for hosting me. It's going to be a great conversation. Very excited to be here at the podcast, It's Not A Crisis.


Doryn Wallach:

It's Not A Crisis. I loved our first conversation. Can you remind me again how you found me?


Hilani Ellis:

Yeah. I was on Instagram, on my business page, which is Exceptional Admins, and I did a general hashtag search for podcasts, and yours popped up right there. And like most people, went ahead and stalked you for a little bit, checked out your feed, noticed billing to access your jewelry line, which is gorgeous by the way. And then your podcast, which was essentially the reason for doing the hashtag search. And I listened to one of the episodes and completely stopped dead in my tracks. I'm like, "This woman's great. I'm going to totally jive with her. She's going to totally get me. I should introduce myself and suggest an idea to be a guest on your show."


Doryn Wallach:

Yeah. So I always talk to my guests to make sure that there's chemistry there because they could know everything. And if we don't have chemistry, it's just not going to work. And also I pride myself on being real and who I am. And if I'm talking to someone who phony, I don't even have friends like that.


Hilani Ellis:

Well, kind of to the audience profile that you have that's just a little bit of a gear, even though young people and older people in their journey in life can listen to it. We start to get to a position where we just need authenticity, realism. And so I totally hear you there.


Doryn Wallach:

For sure. Okay. Well, I'd love to start with your backstory that leads you to what you're doing today.


Hilani Ellis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I'm 41 and I've had quite of an interesting journey. I started in Florida, lived in Los Angeles for a good while, I now live in Colorado. And today I'm a specialized headhunter specific to helping leaders be it executives in organizations, or very powerful entrepreneurs find their strategic business partner, which could be labeled as an administrative professional. I did waitressing a lot throughout high school and also right before I took a corporate role. Fast forward, I took another role for about four years as an executive assistant within a sound technology company. And then I took a break. I had my first child. I was home for eight years as the CEO of the house and everything involved in that. Made the move to Colorado and was finishing out kind of my time at home. I ran a very small business to just, again, continue to be connected with myself.

I took an amazing opportunity to put myself out there. I applied for a job. I interviewed, I left that interview so excited to go back to working again. And I left that interview, I'm like, "I still got it." And the cool thing, but also the bizarre thing when I did the math, I hadn't interviewed for a job in 12 years, 12 years, interviewed landed a job for four, took eight years off.


Doryn Wallach:

And your child's I assume was eight at this point.


Hilani Ellis:

Yeah, he was, he was eight. And then my youngest was almost three, but it was an amazing opportunity. I took it, loved the job, was in that role for four years. And at the end of the first year, I started having interactions with other influential leaders in the community that were very close to my executive. And I started to notice a trend that, which if you're very good and love what you do as an administrative individual, you wind up building relationships with these very important busy people because they trust you.

I left the corporate world in May of 2017 to really give the attention to my business, Exceptional Admins that was necessary to become a specialized headhunter.


Doryn Wallach:

Well, you're clearly very intuitive as well, which I think you can't just... There are a lot of recruiters and headhunters who aren't so great at what they do, because they're not that in tune to other people. So it's immediately obvious to me that you have that gift. And I don't think that that's something that can be learned. So well, you mentioned staying home for eight years as the CEO of the house. I love that. I always call myself the momagement or something like that. I write notes all around the house and say like, wash your hands, the momagement. Do this, the [inaudible 00:07:45], yeah.


Hilani Ellis:

Oh, that's awesome. I haven't heard that one yet. I'm up to use that. I'll give you credit.


Doryn Wallach:

Thank you. I appreciate that. I don't think I came up with it though. When did you realize that it was time to stop staying home with kids and getting out and going back to work? Because I think a lot of women feel this many times throughout their years of being stay-at-home moms, but they're either too scared to do it or just kind of say in their head. "Well, when my kids go to college, I'll think about doing something then." But it's also pretty... That idea is very daunting because so much time passes. I stayed home for five years.


Hilani Ellis:

Which feels like 10.


Doryn Wallach:

They did, those toddler years were not easy. Those were the hard years to be home. And they don't remember, by the way, at all. They're like, "Mommy, you were working a lot yesterday." And like, "I stayed home with you for five years. We went out every day. I did those dumb mommy and me classes. We had lunch together. We did all this stuff and you remember nothing and then nothing." So by the way, ladies, if you're staying home with your little kids, they're not going to remember it. So don't feel guilty if you... I don't know. Okay. So back to my question, what made you realize it was time to go back to the office?


Hilani Ellis:

I declared to myself that I wouldn't lose identity. I wouldn't only be Brendan's mom, Todd's wife or Brody's mom. I was Hilani. And when I realized that that was going to be really important because just like you said, actually, they don't remember, right? You're home for five years, they don't remember those moments. I'm going to have to go back and be me someday. So if I forget about me, there's this whole entire period of having to reconnect with myself. So, if you've lost sight of you, it's okay. There is still plenty of time for you to make that connection. So, as I mentioned, and you just reminded me, eight years is when I was home. That's a long time. And when I had my first child, my kids are four and a half years apart. It was really one-on-one, he's the compliant child. The second one, not so much.

The first thing was I'm very type A. Oh my gosh. And the type A that I had over time, even in those first years and when the second one was born, who's strong-willed, which I described actually is very passionate about many things. I started to realize I was suffocating myself. And until I recognize, and I think I said this to you in our first call and you laughed, I am no longer an upper case type A, I am a type A lowercase, but if you need that upper case, I can turn that dial at any time. My first child was awesome. We kind of really got excited about the next one. And as I mentioned, he's strong-willed and it just put me in a position of start assessing, not judging, but assessing, "What am I doing? Where am I going? When does my next chapter of Hilani? I've covered mom, I've been in this role at home eight years."

As I mentioned, I ran a small business to just sort of stay engaged mentally, which kept my office skills, polished, poised, and ready to go. Should I be back in front of that resume, ready to apply and begin looking for what made me feel alive inside, an administrative role. So I was sitting down one night and I distinctly remember it was in December of 2012. And I said, "I think it's time." And I went on the job boards, Monster at the time, which no one really uses today. And this one stuck out to me, executive and personal assistant. I was like, "I like this." So really making a lot of commitments to myself to be grounded, helped me come to the realization that it was time to head back to the office. And then that experience worked very much in my favor. And I truly believe it was also because of my mindset. I interviewed, landed it and I loved the four years I was with that executive. We're still very close.


Doryn Wallach:

Did you have normal hours when you were doing that?


Hilani Ellis:

Yeah. So I had to put my almost three-year-old into a pre-preschool. He was very accommodating at the fact that I was just reentering the workforce. So he gave me flexibility, but I also in return gave him trust that I had high integrity to perform well and never abuse a bit of that extra slack he gave me. So there was a give and a take with that. I had kind of a routine schedule. My husband got off work at 3:30 every day. So there was a real big benefit to that, to our story, that he was able to do pickup in case I got stuck in traffic, my commute was 30 minutes one way.

And I was also in a heavy position of learning that if we were in the middle of a meeting at 5:30, I did not want to lose industry knowledge because it was private equity, which I knew nothing about. We sat down as a couple and we talked about it and I said, "It's time for me to go through this experience. And if it truly doesn't work out, I'm not going to be disappointed and I'll stay until the executive finds a replacement." So we created a plan, which I believe probably could have happened before I made that submission for the application. If I gave any advice, sit down, talk about a plan. Don't expect answers in the first meeting with your partner, start designing what would be an ideal scenario, multiple scenarios or a situation.


Doryn Wallach:

Right. And some women can't because it doesn't make sense for them financially to go back to work sometimes or vice versa to stay home. But just speaking from my own experience, I was fortunate enough to have a woman in the past few years who cleans for us and also helped me with pickups with my kids. So she did both things, but if I didn't have her, there is no way I would have been able to go to the office every day. And she's expensive. So you definitely have to think about it, really think it through before you do it.


Hilani Ellis:

Yeah, to add to that, you're right. It's got to make the right amount of sense. And when I think about what I started in making what the cost of childcare was, dry cleaning, car mileage, gas, all of those things, I genuinely believe my expenses overrode the profit, kind of to the declaration. I had made the point, but I'm doing something for myself that is for my mind.


Doryn Wallach:

I often felt guilty working because financially I didn't need to work, but I love to work, but love to be there for my kids too. So I'm lucky. I've always had to be able to balance both not well, but I have.


Hilani Ellis:

I think you brought up a really good word, guilty. And it is society that has forced that feeling and emotion on working women. I no longer allow the guilt because when I think about, "Am I having quality time or quantity time with my children?" I actually, when I went to the office, right at that first point of starting back into the workforce, I started to recognize that I was more intent with the time I spent with them. And not that I wasn't before, but it was even heightened, because I was gone all day. And I do believe that that blip in their story, which obviously was dictated by me being their mom, they feel that time with me. And we truly have memories made based on feeling, not only conversation, we pick up from a conversation, how did that make me feel?

And then our memory is piqued at a higher level to create memories around what's going on. And so I say that here, because that guilt word is so powerful and I'm so glad you said it. If you are a stay-at-home mom or if you are in your maternity leave and you're feeling guilt for the fact that you're going back to work, knock it off. It's not necessary.


Doryn Wallach:

It isn't, but you know what, I think for me, if somebody said that to me when I was younger, and that my kids were younger, I'm not sure I could understand that as well as I do now. Because I think when they get older, you have confirmation from them that like, "Oh, okay, I don't care that you are at work late today." You know what I mean? But when they're little, you come in and it's the, "Mommy I missed you mommy. I want to be with mommy and I don't want mommy to leave for work." Now, I come home and I'm like, "Hello." And nobody wants anything to do with me. Listen, I can't even sit here and tell any woman, any mom to not feel guilty because it just continues throughout their entire time of being a mother. But yes, as they get older, there are the other things you become guilty about, but you let go of the other things once you have confirmation from your children that you're doing okay. They weren't traumatized that you were gone when they were two. And because they clearly don't remember it.


Hilani Ellis:

And you're touching on something great. It is the future and the uncertainty of not knowing what that looks like for everyone's individual story. So yeah, from my story, if I spoke back to my younger self, I might've given myself a little bit more grace with the worry, some that I welcomed into my particular story, but you're right. Feel what you should be feeling and be ready to embrace that next story, that's a part of... They're one-month older and then now, while they're celebrating another birthday.


Doryn Wallach:

What about the women that... I've friends who really don't want to go back to work, but then all of a sudden, now that their kids are teenagers or even going off to college, now they're like, "Oh, I need to do something." And they had spent a lot of their time doing things like PTA or class mom and volunteering, and which is great. For women who are now in a position where they're say nearing 50 and they want to go back to work, and I think different reasons. I think some women may just need something to occupy their time and stimulate their mind. Some women may really need to go back to work. What is your advice at that stage? Because that's not eight years, that's a lot longer.


Hilani Ellis:

In order to really kind of set yourself up for personal fulfillment, which could also be labeled as success with entering back into the corporate workforce, whether that's in the private sector or the public sector, retail, Starbucks, those types of opportunities, you kind of need to do a self-assessment. What do I actually like to do? How can I actually speak authentically about something if I were to interview? And sitting and capturing in writing the things that make you feel alive, get fun with it, right? Like get out, colored pencils or crayons from your kid's stash and just kind of do a bit of word-dumping onto paper so that you can really connect with what sets you up, then going to the job boards and recognizing, what roles speak to those many things that you wrote down, kind of drilling down the focus. And the way that we do it today is very different than even three and four years ago.

And there's a lot that needs to be captured that is very marketing heavy, which becomes a bit of a crippling experience for those seeking to go back out of where do I begin? And so I actually declare at the beginning of that article, 75% of that messaging and advisement is a professional opinion. And the other 25% is my personal opinion. And then I talk a lot about it in the podcast episode as well. Really sitting down and looking at some of those things that make you, you. You're going to have a more enriching experience when you interview to avoid the potential avenue of discouragement and disappointment when you start to put yourself out there, then you're like, "Well, maybe it's not the right timing." Which could be the case as well, declaring on paper, what it is that you want to do and the why, recognizing that your resume needs to be a story that's told today.

And I don't know if maybe you want me to cover this here, because it's important. You guys wonder what to do about the gap when you were home. Absolutely, put it on the resume, go ahead and get very clear [crosstalk 00:19:24].


Doryn Wallach:

CEO of the home.


Hilani Ellis:

Exactly. Budgets, groceries, and I've even offered as a sense of humor because there needs to be personality in the resume, kept three children alive.


Doryn Wallach:

I love that. That's great. So it's funny, I have a lot of friends or women I know that were in finance or they were lawyers or they did something, they were social workers and it's funny, the ones that were in the very high-powered careers, they either continue that job or they stopped when they had kids and they have zero interest of ever going back to that. And again, there comes the guilt fame because I have a law degree. I have an MBA, I have this, I have that. And I've had the conversation before with friends and said, "Yes, you have that degree. You have that experience. That doesn't mean you have to do that. But that does mean you have some experience doing something that can lead you to a lot of other opportunities."

I would imagine using that to your advantage, but I think it's a daunting idea to women to try to even get anywhere near back into what they were doing and most likely, I don't feel like you can, maybe I'm wrong, but if you were in a big law firm and then took off 20 years to have kids, I doubt big law firms hiring you back, but am I wrong about that?


Hilani Ellis:

It's an interesting thing that you bring up. I'm excited and honored that I've talked to some really amazing, kind of what you just described the profile of, let's say the lawyer and she did take that channel. She came to a fork in the road. I'm having my first child. I might have a second. I've got this wonderful career. I've worked very hard in my education to get to, am I throwing it all away? And that is kind of where in the essence of, maybe it is on the PTA, which can be a very beautiful, fulfilling and highly reinvesting back into your experience. I often think too, if you're at that point, as I was mentioning, kind of trained for the marathon, start calling non-profits and volunteer your time, right? Just kind of get that experience, start building out a new network of people today because the others have maybe gone a completely different freeway in a different direction.