Day One: 12 Days of Real Careers

Over the next 12 business days, readers are celebrating one another’s professional qualities through #12DaysOfAdminProfessionals.

I’m also sharing gifts with readers, in the form of insights from many of the career professionals I’ve interviewed for my Real Careers series.

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview women and men from 23 countries to date, and they’ve shared insights that factor into successful careers. With well over a hundred interviews to date, there’s a lot of wisdom to be shared … and that brings us to Day One of my 12 Days of Real Careers. Let’s start!

Invest in yourself, as you are worth it

In her interview, Jennifer Corcoran offered, “Try to find a mentor and coach and, if you can’t find this internally, go externally. I belong to a Careers Club independent to my company. If your company is not willing to pay for additional memberships/training, I say invest in yourself as you are worth it. Remember – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!” 

Jennifer is originally from Dublin, and lives in England. You’ll find her Real Careers interview by clicking here, but you may want to know that she’s recently launched her own business, My Super Connector. Long recognised as a social media-savvy admin. professional, Jennifer offers services for peers and businesses who want to take a strategic approach to their social media undertakings.


Any leadership role with your peers can help you grow professionally and personally

Canadian Laureen Dailey discussed the benefits of active participation in professional associations, and she knows what she’s talking about. Active in Canadian, North American and international professional associations, including the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), Laureen holds a Certified Administrative Professional rating with a specialty in Organizational Management (CAP-OM).

Laureen offered, “I have held leadership roles with the IAAP Vancouver Chapter, where I served as Education Committee Chair, and have served as Chair of GPOP’s Conference and Professional Development Committee.” She’s also assumed Coordinator and other leadership roles within IAAP, and serves on the Board of Directors of CICan:GPOP,  more formally known as Colleges and Institutes Canada: Governance and President’s Office Professionals. Laureen observed, “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.”


Pay it forward by mentoring others

California-born MistiLynn Lokken spent her early years in Japan before returning to that state at the age of five, and currently lives in Seattle. When I asked about mentors and role models, she told me, “I have had the honor of several mentors throughout my career, including a manager early on who took me under her wing and changed my life. Bridgette saw more in me than I saw in myself and invested time in my development over the course of several years. I am a better person today thanks to her and have committed to paying it forward by mentoring others.”

MistiLynn also had advice for those who aspire to promotion. “As admins, we have constant access to high-level data and information in our teams. Read the reports and presentations that are sent to your executive and be able to understand the information. If there is something you don’t understand – ask someone. Most importantly, take ownership of your development and don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Never stop networking!”


Practice assertiveness techniques

Susan Engelbrecht is from South Africa. In her interview, she spoke about the importance of a strong and healthy relationship between a PA and her/his principal.

When I asked Susan whether she tells colleagues “no”, here’s what she said. “Sadly, I do not often say NO. But I have learnt to do so without being rude. Learning to be assertive takes time and practice. Start practicing your assertiveness techniques in small situations, such as telling your friend that you don’t want to watch a certain movie. Build upon each experience and soon you will find yourself to be assertive in other situations, too.”

An insight Susan would have appreciated early in her career? “Don’t take any criticism personally. If something bothers you, speak up!”


Delegate routine tasks; they can be a learning opportunity for others, and enable you to get on with priorities

Debbie Grimshaw is from Manchester, England; she lives in Audenshaw. When I asked her about time management strategies, Debbie had some clear insights. “Keep on top of your to do list, and make sure you are organised by prioritising your workload in your calendar. Be in control and set yourself achievable targets. Delegate more routine tasks if you are able to. This gives someone else a chance to learn the ropes and enables you to get on with your priorities. Last but not least, switch off email notifications to reduce distraction if you are working to a deadline.”

Debbie also shared the realities of holding a senior support role. “I never really switch off. I check in on email a couple of times each evening just to clear anything that isn’t urgent and prioritise my inbox. I think that, once you become a PA and work so closely with someone at such a senior level, you come to expect that the job doesn’t stop when the bell goes.”


Working in a small environment and making a big difference suits me perfectly

Sarah Howson grew up in both Florida and England. I asked what she does when she realises she needs to move outside her comfort zone. Her recommendations? “Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Believe in yourself and, most importantly, breathe!

Stepping outside of my comfort zone is tough. Doing the welcome speech and introductions at every Bucks PA event I’ve organised has been a real challenge for me. I don’t know why; I’m perfectly capable of doing it. I just tend to get really nervous. My boss Paul attended my first event to show support. His words of advice ring in my ear whenever I need to calm down. He said, “Everyone in the room is there for a reason, because they want to be. They are on your team, they want you to succeed, they are grateful for what you have done. Talk to them and see them as supporters.”

Sarah worked in a small start-up before spending seven years in a very corporate global PLC with 17,000 employees. These days, she’s working in a small creative digital agency, “… and know I will be there for a very long time. Working in a small environment and making a big difference suits me perfectly. The experience I’ve gained along the way is drawn upon almost every day.”


Present your boss with solutions, not problems, and speak up for yourself as necessary

Michela Luoni is from Italy. In her interview, She discussed the importance of being proactive. “Try to be always one step ahead of your boss, give him/her solutions and not problems, and speak up for yourself when necessary.”

Like many, Michela highlighted the benefits of networking and attending conferences. “Since attending Executive Secretary Live in 2013, my perception of the role has been enriched. I met the most brilliant and powerful women, and I realized that being an assistant abroad was entirely different; s/he is a professional as well as a manager, and can be an influential figure.”

After working as a Management Assistant (MA) for more than a decade, Michela is now a Virtual Assistant (VA), and operates


Opportunity knocks only for those who are prepared

Barbara (BJ) Parrish was born in Washington, DC and now lives in Maryland. BJ doesn’t take success for granted, or rest on her laurels. She said, “I’m good at what I do because I work at it, and part of that work is to constantly improve my knowledge and skills. You don’t get good at anything by chance, it takes hard work and time to develop the skill set.”

BJ’s advice for fellow admin. professionals? “Be a continuous learner who is always seeking self-improvement, including the soft skills areas such as communication, teamwork, and emotional intelligence. Opportunity knocks only for those who are prepared; be prepared when it knocks for you. Don’t wait for things to happen; make things happen. Take on projects to learn a new skill or engage with people with whom you don’t normally work. Keep your eyes and your options open. Be fearless!”


This profession is both a means AND an end, and an immensely satisfying and gratifying one at that

James Sobczak is from Chicago. His pride in the profession is evident. James said, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking about any kind of assistant position just as a means to an end to get some ‘better’ job. This profession is both a means AND an end, and an immensely satisfying and gratifying one at that.”

I always ask interviewees to tell me about their role models and mentors. What of James’? “My best role models and mentors have been my father, who is still around, and my late maternal grandfather. Professionalism seemed part of their genetic make-up, and their work and work ethic were always high-caliber. They knew that the results of their work came not just from them but from the people who worked under them, and they gave credit where it was due. They had a genuinely friendly word for everyone, from other executives and peers, to the folks who emptied the trash every day. No disparaging word was ever spoken about them; their reputation and credibility were utterly above reproach. If I do the above half as well as they did, I will be a VERY successful man.”

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