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.
A couple of years ago, I featured excerpts from a number of those interviews in what became my first annual 12 Days of Real Careers posts. They’re so popular that I’m doing it again, bringing you a series of interview snippets again this year.
Given the people I’ve interviewed, and their collective depth of experience, 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 2020. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name. Let’s start!
See the big picture and help out, even if it’s not in your job description
Stephanie Bergsieker, USA: “I try to be aware of what’s going on in our industry and community in order to benefit my company. See the big picture and help out, even if it’s not in your job description.
Stay up with and on top of technology. I feel like there will always be a need for assistants, but we will need to be able to use and manipulate technology.”
Problems aren’t problems, they’re just an opportunity to find a solution
Jane Brazzill, England: “You’re note just a secretary – you’re not just anything. You’re a crucial and integral part of the team … Don’t let anyone undermine you or make you feel less worthy.”
“If you’re like me and you’re constantly got a voice in your head telling you the million OTHER things that you have to do, keep a pad of paper on your desk and write down each of these to-do items as they come to you. Emptying them out of your head allows you to stay focused on the task at hand, and you won’t worry that you’re forgetting something important.”
It is important to be assertive but not aggressively assertive
Paula Harding, England: “Over the years, my confidence and ability to say no have grown. I have realised that, whilst I can do anything, I can’t do everything. I know I am the most organised that I can be, I know I work as hard as I can, and I know that I work as many hours as I need to get my work done. That gives me a real confidence when saying no.
Sometimes the answer isn’t a straight no. It is more about managing expectations. Relationship building is a key skill for assistants, and this is crucial when managing an ever-changing workload and priorities.”
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.”
You can’t change anyone, but you can change how you are dealing with everyone
Eleni Rizikianou, Greece: “Take responsibility and never put the blame on anyone; we are 100% responsible for everything that happens to us. Always keep in mind that you can’t change anyone, but you can change how you are dealing with everyone. So: change, adapt, grow up, move, lead by your example and be the kind of person who is valuable for the whole team.
… Every person has to set their own boundaries and has to find the way to do it. We owe it to ourselves in every aspect of our lives.”
Do not passively wait to be told something
Carla Stefanut, Italy: ” I watch the news because it is my opinion that an EA, no matter her/his role or position, should be constantly informed – and not only about one’s industry, but also on what happens around the world. In a global economy, nothing exists in isolation any more … Read about your industry to develop an understanding about the business. And accept new challenges; never stop learning and improving one’s self.”
“… I believe in the importance of being social, not only for personal purposes. EAs/PAs are a fifth of the world’s working population and, if we make ourselves visible, we become not only brand ambassadors for ourselves or for our company, but for our profession, too.”
Your attitude will determine your altitude
Teri Wells, South Africa:”I know it is an old cliché, but your attitude will determine your altitude.”
“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.”
Click any name below for my full interview with any of the Real Careers alumni featured in 2019’s 12 Days of Real Careers
- Day One: Stephanie Bergsieker (USA), Jane Brazzill (England), Paula Harding (England), Paula Moio (Angola, Portugal, England), Eleni Rizikianou (Greece), Carla Stefanut (Italy), Teri Wells (South Africa)
- Day Two: Monika Bercheter-Petterson (Norway), Angela Downey (England), Erika Giesl (Canada), Stacey King (Australia), Nora Onishi (USA), Barbara J. (BJ) Parrish (USA), Debbi Shaffer (USA), Megan Williamson (USA)
- Day Three: Beth Arzy (England; interview to be published in early 2020), Susan Henderson (England), MistiLynn Lokken (USA), Kelly McAulay (Scotland), Renée Neverson (USA), James Sobczak (USA), Catherine Thomas (Wales), Bettina Wemanis (Sweden)
- Day Four: Stacey Brewer (USA), Bonnie Cookson (England), Susan Engelbrecht (South Africa), Maria Cirillo (Sweden; interview to be published in early 2020), Melissa Francis (England), Debra Peltz (England), Breda Shanahan (Republic of Ireland), Laura Swallows (USA), Katherine Vaillancourt (the Philippines and Canada)
- Day Five: Lorna Cowan (Northern Ireland), Denise Delamain (England), Erin Floss (USA), Declan Halton-Woodward (England), Cathy Harris (South Africa), Else-Britt Lundgren (Sweden), Catherine Marshall Penasa (USA), Dalya Perry-Bernstein (England), Helen Rees (England)
- Day Six: Sarah Duncan (USA), Joanne Gallop (NZ), Florence Katono (Uganda), Solveig Kristensen (Norway), Melanie Sheehy (England), Truus van den Brink-Havinga (Netherlands), Marc Taylor-Allan (England), Catherine Williamson (England)
- Day Seven: Lisa Assetta (USA), Maria Gottberg (Sweden), Priscilia Gough (South Africa and Canada), Jacqueline McCumber (USA), Amy Marsden (England and New Zealand), Melanie Richardson (England), Karen Richmond (Scotland), Carolina Siqueira Silva (Brazil), Chantal Sneijkers (Belgium)
- Day Eight: Nicole Blanchette (Canada), Aimee Browne (England), Jean Coco (USA), Laureen Dailey (Canada), Kerry Dawson (England), Sherri Eckworth (England), Julia Schmidt (Brazil and Norway), Barbara Unger (Canada), Shirwyn Weber (South Africa), Lesley Dexter Young (England)
- Day Nine: Suzanne Bendersk (USA), Tonya Beattie (USA), Chantalle Freeborough (Canada), Amanda Hargreaves (England), Karin Hélène (Sweden), Karine McKee (England; interview to follow in early 2020), Maria Marsh (England), Jennifer Robson (Australia), Marcela Silva da Conceição Brito (Brazil), Matthew Want (England)
- Day 10: Rebecca Agyirba Afful (Ghana; interview to follow in early 2020), Megan Bishop (USA), Dawn Becker (Canada), Alison Boler (England),Juliana Carneiro (Brazil and The Netherlands), Giulietta Driver (England), Beth Ann Howard (USA), Cindy Moeser (Canada), Angela Parker (Germany), Liza Young (Scotland)
- Day 11: Brenda Edwards (England; interview to follow March 6), Sarah Howson (England), Deirdre McGovern (USA), Anita Olsen (Norway), Janice Parker (Australia and England), Christabell Pinchin (Canada), John D. Shaw (USA), Peyton Tickner (USA; interview to follow in early 202010), Donna Venditti (Canada), Emily Walker (England)
- Day 12: Margo Baptista (Canada), Craig Bryson (England), Bianca Constance (USA), Debbie Grimshaw (England), Sofie Koark (Sweden), Juanita Mort (USA), Jannie Oosterhoff (Netherlands), Carys Stacey (England), Sally Thomas (USA), Louise Whitehead (England)