Day One: 2018’s 12 Days of Real Careers

Happy December, everyone! Since 2015, I’ve interviewed numerous assistants from 23 (and counting) countries. These women and men have shared insights that factor into successful real careers.

Last December, in the spirit of the season, I featured excerpts from a number of those interviews in my 12 Days of Real Careers.

This series was so popular that I’m doing it again, bringing you a whole new series of interview snippets again this year.

As I’m now closing in on a couple of hundred interviews, there’s a lot of wisdom to be shared. Each day over the next 12 business days, you’ll find inspiration and strategies from interviews past and future – for I’m including excerpts from some interviews I’ll publish in 2019. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name. Let’s start!

I work hard to ensure that I am seen as a key member of the Executive Team

Priscilia Gough, Canada (originally from South Africa): “I think the most challenging part of my career is to make people understand that the role of an EA is not just administrative. I work hard to ensure that I am seen as a key member of the Executive Team and that I can be part of the strategic decisions and discussions that are taking place.

I try to ensure I always have a seat at the boardroom table so that I know what is happening. This helps me anticipate issues that might arise and helps me be proactive in the work that I do.”

It is important to have a mentor

Jennifer Robson, Australia (originally from Bangladesh): “It is important to have a mentor as s/he can provide a simple path of guidance to push you to take the first step, and guidance to figure out what is what we really want. A good mentor will share their invaluable experience, to help us to achieve our goal in the best possible way they know. I know I have personally benefited from having various mentors along the journey.”

Do not underestimate the value of good relationships

John D. Shaw, USA: “All relationships need to be nurtured and a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ can go a long way.

Make sure you have a record of special occasions in peoples’ lives. Sending an unexpected ‘happy birthday’ wish to a contact lets them know they matter to you. I prefer sending hand-written notes – it’s more personal. I’ve been very fortunate in having a wide-ranging professional network and have maintained many of these relationships for over 20 years.”


Setting up the Manchester PA Network has to be one of the proudest moments of my PA career

Amanda Hargreaves, England: “Listen and learn, and be confident – but not overly confident.

Take time to work out and plan what it is you want. You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want.

How long will it take to achieve this, how can you achieve this, who can help you achieve this?”


Have clear boundaries, but be adaptable and open minded

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.”

IMA: You develop a better understanding of different countries and cultures

Else-Britt Lundgren, Sweden: “IMA is a unique network; you have the national as well as the international network, in which you develop a better understanding of different countries and cultures – which is so necessary in our global business world. I have definitely benefited from improving my  leadership skills.

This is the case, too, with my project management skills and having gained a better understanding of different businesses. Through networking at our events, you keep pace with trends in our profession and you can often create your own contacts with whom you share ideas, experiences and learning.”

Map out strategic connections

Erin Floss, USA: “Very early in my career, goal setting was challenging for me; I felt unsure of where to begin. I was focused on the tasks I completed on a daily basis and found it difficult to expand them into goals. What I realized was the importance of linking the value of the tasks I complete to my leader’s strategic priorities. Once I had mapped out those strategic connections, I was able to quickly document my work as goals that support my leader’s strategic goals.

This was a gratifying mind shift for me. Suddenly, even the most basic administrative tasks had strategic value. ”

Start practicing your assertiveness techniques

Susan Engelbrecht, South Africa: “I have learnt to do so (say no) 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.”


Don’t be afraid to voice your ideas, observations and opinions

Debbi Shaffer, USA: “(I’ve learned) … not to be afraid to voice my ideas, observations and opinions. By keeping quiet, I was doing a disservice to both myself and my executives.

For someone who hated school, I now spend a great deal of time and energy on learning. I belong to multiple continuing education platforms and take courses all the time. If someone tasks me with something I don’t know, I find a course and learn it.”

Click any name below for the full interview from any of the Real Careers alumni featured in 2018’s 12 Days of Real Careers


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