Primer for an Exceptional Admin. Career: Insights from the First 50 Real Careers Alumni

Exceptional EA has made its first 50 virtual trips to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, to showcase insights from admin. professionals performing at high levels.

This is the promised compilation of just some of the highlights from the first 50 interviews,  with attributions of statements to the professionals interviewed.  You can click on any individual’s name to see her or his full interview.


If you know someone relatively new to the world of office administration, or trying to advance within this profession, you may want to share this article. It reflects not only the goodwill of 50 established pros, but also their extensive individual and collective expertise.


Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

Catherine Butler, England: Research development, training and networking opportunities. Never to be afraid to ask (the worst answer can be no).

Lorna Cowan,  Northern Ireland: Ask questions and really listen to the answers … Be aware of the issues and developments taking place in your industry, and keep on top of current affairs and the trends in the world around you.

Kerry Dawson, England: It is beyond arrogant to think that you know everything there is to know about the profession; you never stop learning new skills.

Debs Eden, England: Learn from more experienced assistants, and never dismiss anyone – we all have knowledge that can be shared.

Stephanie Fryer, England: You learn something from everyone you work for – you can take something away from even the most negative of work experiences.

Jill Goertzen, Canada: Ask strategic questions and offer to help with whatever you may be able to help with.

Anel Martin, South Africa: Learn to say no as quickly as you can because if you don’t this career will chew you up.

Dalya PerryBernstein, England: In the early stages of my career, I had no idea of the power of networking. I would advise any PA to get out there and network as much as possible.

Jacqui Quigley, Republic of Ireland: Ask questions, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and most definitely be yourself.

Marelva Rodrigues, Netherlands: Take this profession seriously! That does not mean you can’t laugh or have fun at your job, but be aware that your actions can cause action, because indirectly you are the driving force behind your manager.

John D. Shaw, USA: Trust your intuition, learn everything you can, question things, and don’t be afraid to be bold and daring.

Chantal Sneijkers,  Belgium: Be discrete.


Montreal Time 9316 Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

Mirella Autard-Catherine, Mauritius: I always ensure that I can keep some time during the day to handle unexpected situations. If I feel overwhelmed at a certain point during a difficult day, I stop for a while, go for a walk or a coffee and come back to my office with a clearer mind. I call this my “stop, revive, survive” moment!

Susan Engelbrecht, South Africa: Get organised and stop procrastinating. You may be putting off tasks for a variety of reasons. Try breaking down the task into smaller segments that require less time commitment and result in specific, realistic deadlines.

Bethany Fovargue, England: Know your best and worst times of the day for certain jobs – I am a night owl, so anything lengthy is best done towards the end of the day and into the evening, if required. The morning is best for “quick wins”, like emails and filing.

Susan Henderson, England: I have a few: Fake deadlines work well for me and my boss for delivering the product on time. My internal emails are automatically categorised and a copy automatically files in the senders’ folder, which allows me to whizz very quickly through my inbox and delete messages that do not need a reply as the copy is there for my record. Quick steps are amazing as you can do so many steps with just one click; these save me enormous amounts of time for repetitive processes. I also have various rules set up to clear non-urgent emails and junk from my inbox, allowing me to focus on the priorities.

MistiLynn Lokken, USA:I try to follow the Eisenhower Matrix for time management, focusing on investing time in the “important” categories which will ultimately reduce the “urgent” (fire drill) moments.

Marion Lowrence, England : If you are late, you could be missing out on opportunities that you will never know about!

Catherine Marshall, USA: I take five to ten minutes to review what I’ve accomplished in the day, and what needs to be done the next day. … The next time management strategy is setting calendar reminders for how long I spend on certain projects. This helps keep my time dedicated in areas where I need to be focused.

Christina Martinez, USA: I use categories and folders in my email to keep myself organised and easily identify follow up items.

Lisa Olsen, USA: Time is a resource and a gift – manage yourself.

Angela Parker, Germany: Use templates and standard procedures to do our work. It has proven very helpful in managing routine tasks.

Christabell Pinchin, Canada: My biggest time-management issue was that I felt everything needed to be perfect the first go ’round. I have learned to remind myself often that sometimes ‘good enough’ is indeed good enough.

 Julia Schmidt, Norway: … My most effective strategy is doing first the tasks I like less. It will avoid procrastination. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing. It is bad management.


Diana, Germany: I attended the Academy of Business Management and Foreign Trade Languages and received a Diploma in International Administration and Management. I am also a Foreign Language Business Specialist. This education provided me all the basics for my job. However, I constantly use every opportunity to educate myself by attending various conferences, trainings and seminars – mainly through my EUMA (European Management Association) organisation.

Margo Baptista, Canada: Networks provide us the opportunity to share ideas, concerns, information and resources, aspirations and ideals. My network of provincial, national and international colleagues (in both the college and university sectors) has been absolutely invaluable to me. I call upon them for advice and counsel. I ask for assistance with researching a topic. I ask for ways to improve how I am working. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience among us and we have developed a network of trust.

Bianca Constance, USA: After I joined IAAP (the International Association of Administrative Professionals), I realised that professional development was very important. It completely changed my outlook on my job and my work, making me realize that this really was my career. I had always taken great pride in my work, but now it was different. It brought me out of my shell at work.

Jennifer Corcoran, England: Irrespective of whether your company provides training, I have always sought it out and self-funded my degree and a lot of training during my career. I look at it as an investment in myself and my future.

 Laureen Dailey, Canada: Any kind of leadership role with your peers can only help you grow professionally and personally by giving you an opportunity to learn new skills and become more confident in your abilities.

Cathy Harris, South Africa: Belonging to any association provides an opportunity to network knowledge and experiences, learn new things, be kept abreast of everything our profession has to offer and to become involved in, and be part of, the global family of assistants experiencing and going through the same day to day experiences … Today, I strongly advocate for ongoing professional development and am involved with the official Certification for Office Professionals in South Africa, managed by the Office Professionals Association of SA.

Florence Katono, Uganda: I pursued a Bachelor’s of Secretarial Studies and a Masters of Business Administration (Human Resource Management). Professional development not only improves one’s confidence, but also enables one to understand the technicalities of business. It also gives one a broader spectrum to life.

Stacy Leitner, USA: My educational journey has led me to acquire four college degrees – two associate degrees, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree.  I have also furthered my professional development by acquiring certifications such as the CAP-OM and  MOS … The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is the association that has been most influential in my life over the last couple of decades.

Michela Luoni, Italy: After attending Executive Secretary Live in 2013, I was keen to stay in touch with professionals of such value and afterwards I joined EUMA (European Management Assistants), a European Association represented in 25 countries. So, I’ve been building an international and high quality network.

Catrin Morgan, Wales: As I’ve developed in my career, I recognise that with knowledge comes a sense of security. When you know something, I mean really know it, you can feel confident in what you’re saying and in how you’re carrying out your role. That’s based more around the technical side of things. But learning and developing, meeting new people and sharing ideas and best practice really grows your personal confidence, too. I feel like I’m developing all of the time.

Carolina Siqueira Silva; Brazil: Education and professional development do not only imply attending conferences, workshops, webinars and enrolling in degree studies; it also means taking advantage of experienced and knowledgeable professionals around you as mentors.

Michele Thwaits, South Africa: Show me and I will learn. I have applied myself to whatever is required to get the job done and I watched ladies who were in the positions to which I aspired; I listened to how they talked to people, watched how they worked, and copied them. The coaching also gave me an insight on how to talk to people, listen to people and not judge or assume.


Leeanne Graham, England: She has been mentioned here many times, but Victoria Darragh has been someone I have always looked up to and admired. I feel very fortunate to be able to call her my friend as well as one of my role models. She has pushed herself to the top of our profession, is highly respected and doing amazing things in the industry. I don’t think I would have had as many of the opportunities that I have had without her input. Victoria is closely followed by Lucy Brazier of Executive Secretary Magazine. Lucy has also been a solid role model for me and many others. Championing all PAs and providing education and training (often free, in the form of #AdminChat every week).

Debbie Grimshaw, England: My first role model in life was my lovely Mum … As she climbed the career ladder, she taught me values and self-worth. I watched her progress, studying hard in every spare moment while working shifts and taking care of three young daughters and our family home. She was never afraid to roll up her sleeves and muck in with the team when they were short staffed. She said I should always listen, be a caring friend and someone to depend on. She always looked for the good in people and was there to lend a hand to someone in need. I learnt from her that you should never give up; that you should believe in yourself and accept that mistakes are just part of the learning process.

Cindy Moeser, Canada: I did not find many role models in my field until recently when I attended the BEL (Behind Every Leader) conference …  I truly enjoyed learning about EAs who also work in the technology start-up world as I do.

Paula Moio, England: Over 30 years, I have had three male and eight strong women as line managers. The ladies have all been amazing role models – each one of them unique and extraordinary in their own way. I admire, respect and have been inspired by them in so many ways. Who I am today has without a doubt their imprint – and for that I am so very grateful to all of them.

Donna Olliver, England: I think that, if you have heard Victoria Darragh speak, you will just find something about her that makes you want to do better in your job. Cath Thomas and Marion Lowrence were also of great help when I initially set up Guernsey PA Connect.

Teely Pearson Webb, England: Not one individual in our industry, but networking with like-minded professionals has had a powerful influence on me. Networking PAs/EAs are a force and an inspiration – they are all aspiring to do better, and wanting you to achieve the same. Having said that, my mother was the most hard-working person I have known as she inspired me to achieve the best I can, work hard and never give up.

Matthew Want, England: My role model/mentor since starting this job has been and still is Lucy (Brazier) … I was 23 when I started working for Lucy. She saw potential in me at the time that no one else had, and I will never forget that. She is so focused on helping PAs get the recognition they deserve and for me that is really inspiring.

Teri Wells, South Africa: It is only during the past few years that I have found role models and mentors, and cannot believe how I survived without them. I prefer to call them friends but they certainly challenge me, teach me, stretch me and provide a support base that was non-existent for many many years. You have met most of them in Anel Martin, Susan Engelbrecht, Michele Thwaits, Cathy Harris and Lucy Brazier … and a host of other exceptional PAs, including Elaine Olivier, who was a colleague.

Louise Whitehead, England: There are so many role models now in our industry it’s fantastic, and many are my unofficial mentors. Lucy Brazier and Victoria Darragh have both had a big impact on me and how I view my career, and I hold their advice dearly. I remember how inspired I was the first time I saw Leeanne Graham speak, and Marion Lowrence has been instrumental in my networking activities. All these women have changed and shaped the way I view the role of a PA. There are so many PAs whose advice and friendship I value deeply – it can be an isolating role, and I am grateful for the support and friendship we offer each other.


Nike Louvre 1268 Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

Diana, Germany: Speak frequently with your boss about your wish to grow. Bring ideas, and show how important a new project or function would be for you. Also demonstrate the benefits for your boss and the organisation, as it will help your manager to understand your path.

Margo Baptista, Canada: Learn everything you can about the field. Be willing to put in the time and energy that is needed to learn and progress. Be flexible. Find ways to continuously improve … Contribute to your profession – don’t stand on the sidelines. Take risks – often the best learning experiences are the ones that scared you the most when they first came to your attention. Listen – be attentive to the person you are with and hear what s/he is saying before offering your own opinion.

Karen Glenn, England: Maintain a healthy work/life balance; volunteering is a great way to give back.

Michela Luoni, Italy: Try to be always one step ahead of your boss, give him/her solutions and not problems, and speak up for yourself when necessary.

Paula Moio, England: Work hard as if it really matters. Find your purpose and ignite your passion because you care. Be prepared to make compromises and sacrifice what’s not relevant. Have clear boundaries, but be adaptable and open minded.  Listen and empathise … Go above and beyond in everything you do and don’t limit yourself to a job description. Your professional growth and value are a reflection of your performance and the barriers you break within yourself.

Helen Rees, England: I suggest the same insights that would have been helpful early in my career: Volunteer for as many different projects as you can. Always bring your A game – make yourself indispensable and always be positive. Always learn and be open to new ideas and experiences.

Julia Robertson-Avenell, England : Listen to people who have done the job; how did they get their roles? What training could you commence right away? Begin to make your connections now.

Melanie Stevens, England: … Find a mentor. Someone you look up to; your boss, a colleague. It doesn’t have to be someone within your own organisation. Ask them how they got to where they are. What training have they attended, how have they managed to push themselves outside their comfort zone? Spend time with successful people, and find out how to become like them!

Teri Wells, South Africa: ALWAYS have a “can do” attitude.  I know it is an old cliché, but your attitude will determine your altitude … ALWAYS present yourself professionally in your appearance, work output and attitude. DON’T be afraid of hard work; it is a very hard career, but so rewarding!

Louise Whitehead, England: Ask for extra training as and when required, upskill yourself by attending training, development and networking events such as the excellent office* Show that runs in London each year. Volunteer to take on additional responsibilities where available, put yourself forward and take some risks. You need to take charge of your own career and take positive steps yourself to drive it forward.

Liza Young, Scotland: Continually strive to better yourself and to grasp every training opportunity. Budgets are tight in the education sector, but it doesn’t have to cost: shadow somebody, be mentored by somebody, look out for in-house training courses.

Lorna Cowan, Northern Ireland: Network. Take the time to get to know other PAs; not only will it provide you with an invaluable support network, but you never know what contacts they have or knowledge they can share that can help you in your day to day role as well as your career progression. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Never stop learning; even if it doesn’t directly relate to your day job, you never know what contacts you’ll make and how that information can be used. Be aware of the issues and developments taking place in your industry, and keep on top of current affairs and the trends in the world around you.

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