Day 8: 2019’s 12 Days of Real Careers

Each December, I look back on the many Real Careers interviews I’ve conducted with high performing assistants since 2015. Today, on Day Eight, we’re approaching the 2019 home stretch!

Christmas Shop Window Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

Some of the people featured in this series have moved on to different roles; their insights remain valuable. To read my full interview with any of these individuals, just click on her or his name below. If you’re just catching up on this annual celebration of insights and fellow assistants, click here to learn more.

“There are several role models whom I respectfully follow or lean on”

Nicole Blanchette, Canada: “Prioritise your day eBlanchette, Nicole - Canadavery morning or the night before you walk into the office, and work on one task at a time from start to finish. Multi-tasking does not work for me. I recognise that, in a busy office, we will encounter many interruptions and working on one task at a time may be difficult.

I always have an open journal/notebook on my desk and will jot down the interruptions so that I can follow up after I have completed the task at hand. Of course I also need to be flexible and willing to switch direction if needed. Once the diversion has been addressed, jump back on the task you were working on.”

“Plan the big rocks first and smaller tasks can fit in and around them. Always re-evaluate the time in any given day …”

Browne, Aimee - England

Aimee Browne, England: “I plan for reality. Arranging a meeting for a time slot that you know isn’t going to work is a false economy and will only have a negative knock on effect to the working day.

Don’t be afraid to knock on the door to keep your exec running on time – agree on this with them ahead of the meeting.  You get to know which meetings (internal vs. external) you can or can’t interrupt.  Always leave buffers in the diary. Factor in preparation time and headspace for your exec.

Plan the big rocks first and smaller tasks can fit in and around them. Always re-evaluate the time in any given day, though; priorities change.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions”

Jean Coco, USA: “The administrativeCoco, Jean - USA field is a career.

Early in my profession, I did not take the role as seriously as I do know. Professional development is very important in the administrative field, just as it is for any other role.

Find a mentor, whether it is another assistant or a manager. Find out all you can about the goals, mission and objectives of the business and department where you work.”


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

Laureen Dailey, Canada: “I have a post-secondary diploma in Legal Secretarial Sciences, supplemented by various professional development trainings and self-taught learnings over the years. Every little bit helps to keep abreast of changes in the profession and with technology.

… 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.”


“Never stop learning; it is beyond arrogant to think you know everything about the profession”

Kerry Dawson, England: “If yoDawson, Kerry - UKu have an issue, somewhere in the world is someone who has had the very same problem and has worked through it. Ask for help on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. The PA profession can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be.

Network, network, network. The whole world is at your fingertips. It has never been so easy to network with subject matter experts and you don’t even have to leave the house to do it. Make social media work for you if you can’t network face-to-face.”


“Qualifications are essential, of course, but experience is invaluable”

Sherri Eckworth, England: “Eckworth, Sherri - EnglandA good education got me off to a great start. In most jobs I’ve had, I’ve been offered training and support to do the role to the best of my ability – and if it’s not been in place, I’ve asked!

Qualifications are essential, of course, but experience is invaluable.

In any new role, get to know everyone before attempting to change the way things happen. Learn what people do around you – make time for others.”

“Accept feedback as a gift”

Julia Schmidt, NoSchmidt, Julia - Brazil/Norwayrway (originally from Brazil): “Accept feedback as a gift. When I was young, I did not have the positive approach to feedback that I have today. It is a tool for improvement and a background to starting career development plans.

 Time management has a lot to do with the right prioritisation. Therefore, 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. Another important element is creating realistic deadlines.”

“Don’t let mistakes be a stumbling block; acknowledge the mistake, learn and grow from it”

Barbara Unger, Canada: “Don’t let mistakes be a stumbling block; acknowledge the mistake, learn and grow from it, and keep on keeping on.

… Saying ‘no’ is something I struggled with, so my executive coached me early on in my role that it’s okay to say ‘no’, especially when the request does not immediately support where my focus should be. I enjoy supporting and helping others, yet when I determine that I need to say ‘no’, I say it respectfully, along with providing resources and potential solutions that the individual can take away to complete it themselves, or within their team.

Many times people ask you to do something as you have shown you are capable of such; yet there are others who are also capable and would welcome the opportunity to show it. Saying  ‘no’ allows someone else the opportunity to shine.

“I enjoy the pressure, the responsibility and the knowledge that you are positively contributing to the success of the company”

Weber, Shirwyn - South AfricaShirwyn Weber, South Africa: “I thrive on change, and see it as another challenge to overcome and to master … When I realize that I need to move beyond my comfort zone, I always start planning the move. I never go unprepared beyond my comfort zone. I will then execute and do my best to make it a positive experience.

AI and all things like that will only enhance the future; it will require a lot of development and training, but ultimately help us with our jobs. I recommend that people always keep learning and developing new skills. I feel well equipped for the future, as I grew up in an age where AI and all things internet-related were developed and expanded.”

“Get to know some of the people with roles you aspire to, to see what their career path has been”

Lesley (Dexter) Young, England: “Don’t thinDexter, Lesley - UKk that you can’t get to the same position as people who inspire you; their career paths are probably not that different to your own.

… There are many ways of keeping up to date with professional developments, not least networking and meeting other EA/PAs, either in person or by linking on social media.

The main aim of our East Midlands PA Network is to connect EAs and PAs through training and networking opportunities to share best practice, inspire each other, and develop collaborative relationships.”

Shelagh-Donnelly-Grouse-Mtn-2018-4944-Copyright-Shelagh-DonnellyClick any name below for my full interview with any of the Real Careers alumni featured in 2019’s 12 Days of Real Careers

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