Day 11: 2019’s 12 Days of Real Careers

Today, I’m happy to bring you Day 11 of this year’s edition of 12 Days of Real Careers.

Some of the people featured in this series have moved on to different roles since their interviews; 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.

Merry Christmas 9280 no text Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

“If networking is good for your boss, then it’s good for you”

BrenEdwards-Brenda-Englandda Edwards, England (interview to follow in early 2020): “Networking has been a crucial part of my career. Let’s face it, being an EA can be quite isolating; you are not one of the executive or management teams, but you are not necessarily part of the rest of the team either. Most of the time, you are the only EA or PA in the organisation so networking can make you feel part of something and not alone. It is a great way to share good practice, tips, get reassurance – or just to vent!

At PA conferences, I have learned a lot – from minute taking tips, to the existence of VAs, to recommendations for formal training to tips on handling a difficult situation with a (former) boss. These days, it’s a great way of finding online or social media contacts. I wouldn’t have found Exceptional EA without networking. The events I organise in my current role are networking events for executive level people. If networking is good for your boss, then it’s good for you!”

“Your growth and development are as much your responsibility as anyone else’s”

Craig Harris, England, on seeking promotion: “Whatever Harris, Craig - England the reason, really think about it before taking any steps forward.

Then, after this, it really depends on what the change means for you. If you want to stay within your current organisation, it’s important to put together a business case that outlines what you are proposing. If you are looking outside the organisation for promotion, really outline the skills that you have on your CV and think about what you want to get out of the move. Make sure this is communicated in your CV.

If it’s a case that you are looking for growth or development, there are ways that you can do this outside work. Look at joining a networking group, see if you can find a mentor, search for online training courses … or consider investing in yourself and paying to attend a course. Your growth and development are as much your responsibility as anyone else’s, so believe in what you can achieve and go for it.

“Approach a job interview as a puzzle, and remember it’s a two-way conversation”

Sarah Howson, EnglandHowson-Sarah-England, on returning to work as a new parent: “You can 100% be the person you were before you had a baby! It’s daunting, it’s nerve-wracking, but you can do it. I found having a “project” to focus on whilst I was off kept me on my toes and kept my confidence up. Search out your local PA networking group and attend a session – or, better yet, offer to help organise an event.

… on job interviews: “Think of it as a puzzle that needs to be put together from all angles, and remember that it is a two-way conversation. Have plenty of questions to ask about how you’d be working in real life. I firmly believe you need to be happy at work and love your role.”

“When you are at work, be at work; when you are home, be present for your family”

Deirdre McGovern, USA: ” LearninMcGovern, Deirdre - USAg is living; if you do not keep up with the latest tools available, you will become antiquated.

I regularly say no when I am unable to assist.  I like to think of myself as a very helpful person/professional; I will assist just about anyone.  However, in saying that, if someone enters the office to ask me something ridiculous or if the person is trying to pass the buck, I have a plan in place.  I stand, look them straight in the eye and very politely say,  ‘I am unable to do that. I really do not have the time as I am very busy’ – which is not a lie! I speak up for myself.”

“Review your career annually: Where do you want to be, and how do you get there?”

Olsen, Anita - NorwayAnita Olsen, Norway: “I try to think about what I can learn when I leave my comfort zone. Usually, I get a bit nervous and insecure. If I have the time I will try to educate myself about the task ahead. Over the years, I have become better at moving outside my comfort zone – learning and experiencing new things and meeting new people.

… I still strive to get all my goals, both professional and private, in place. Some, like reaching deadlines at work, are easy. It’s harder to establish goals for the year when you’re still learning the job. Personal goals or dreams are hard to put to paper. I try every day when I work in my Mynd Map (journal). But at least I am aware of this, and I challenge myself to dream.”

“Your time and opinions are just as valuable as those of any other member of the team”

Janice Parker, from Australia and living in England: “YoAnderson, Janice - Australia/Englandur time and opinions are just as valuable as those of any other member of the team. Do not be afraid to put time in your manager’s diary to catch up or discuss more serious topics. If the meeting is moved, reschedule it as soon as possible and do not let your colleagues make you feel that their meeting should go before yours (unless it is business critical).

Do not be afraid to speak up and be heard; you will have interesting things to say and your colleagues will want to listen.”

“Saying yes to everyone means you’re spread too thin; learn to negotiate”

Pinchin, Christabell - CanadaChristabell Pinchin, Canada: “‘No’ was not in my vocabulary early in my career. The past few years I have learned to say ‘no’. I want to help and be accommodating, but by saying yes to everybody, you are spread too thin and you can’t do your best work. My advice for others is to start small.  Learn to say ‘No, but …’ For example: ‘No, I do not have the time to help write that report, but I would be able to find a bit of time to do a final proof for you if that would be helpful.’

… Don’t be afraid to step up. Take on opportunities when presented, but don’t sit back and wait for them … put yourself out there. Be brave and share your ideas and opinions, and remember to be supportive even when your idea isn’t taken.”

“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.”

“Think before you speak, accept all types of people and personalities, and leave work at work”

Ticknor_PeytonPeyton Tickner, USA (interview to follow in early 2020), on networking: “I have had help revamping my resume and cover letter via my network, I’ve been able to get answers to questions in minutes when I send out a post on a private group, I’ve received job interviews, I’ve met friends who I consider family.”

“… Try and get the high-level people you support in a more casual setting (coffee, lunch, happy hour) and really get to know them. When you know someone on a personal level, it makes working with them easier. It takes time to build these effective relationships, but I believe it comes from getting to know the person on a personal level in a relaxed atmosphere. ”

“I now realize that it has been some of my mistakes that have helped me to learn over the years”

Donna Venditti, Canada: “I think that, at the beginning of my career, my goal was to not make mistakes. I now realize that it has been some of my mistakes that have helped me to learn over the years, and achieve my goal of building knowledge. My goal at the end of the day is to be respected in my role at Mountainview.”

“I sometimes have to have the 24-hour rule or the take a break before you speak rule. It helps calm me, and I speak with less emotion when I am calmer. It helps when situations are out of control or uncomfortable.”


“A good assistant is adroit at defusing conflicts and tension”

Emily Walker, England: “Emily Walker - UKIf you are new to working with an executive, you may need to change your mindset. When you are an executive assistant, you should not be working reactively. You do not wait for your executive to designate tasks; you create your own work. You are proactive, you plan ahead, you anticipate their needs before they even realise it is a need.

You protect their reputation, and how they are perceived can also reflect on you. If your executive is late submitting their report, are you effectively managing their time? They may be the executive, but sometimes you need to be the one to direct their activity to ensure they are achieving their goals.”

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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