All good things must come to an end, and that’s the case with this year’s edition of 12 Days of Real Careers. With this last post of interview excerpts, that brings us to nuggets gleamed from just 108 of the interviews I’ve conducted with assistants from 24 countries. Enjoy these, and dig in to more of my Real Careers interviews over the holidays.
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.
“Listen – be attentive to the person you are with and hear what s/he is saying before offering your own opinion”
Margo Baptista, Canada: “Keep your mind open to all possibilities. Show up, give your best effort, ask lots of questions, and … Learn everything you can about the field. Be willing to put in the time and energy that is needed to learn and progress. Be flexible. Find ways to continuously improve – e.g., business processes, documents, etc.
Contribute to your profession – don’t stand on the sidelines. Take risks – often the best learning experiences are the ones that scared you the most when they first came to your attention. Listen – be attentive to the person you are with and hear what s/he is saying before offering your own opinion. Find your passion, work at something that inspires and fulfills you. Create your own destiny by developing a passion for learning in all aspects of your life.”
“Record and monitor your work, so that when you have your performance appraisals (360s), you can easily confirm what you do from day to day”
Craig Bryson, England (originally from Zimbabwe): “Record and monitor your work, so that when you have your performance appraisals (360), you can easily confirm what you do from day to day. There are a lot of free online courses that you can take to better yourself, and this will show how you’re productive, enthusiastic and willing to give your all.”
On working with a new principal (boss): “Discuss diary management and email. Diary management is complicated if you do not discuss how the executive prefers her/his diary to work. Do they like back-to-back meetings, or should you allow 30 minutes between each meeting? Are the meetings to be 60 or 90 minutes, or will allocations vary? When you start putting these meetings in and guests start arriving, it would be too late to adjust accordingly.”
“Read everything you can get your hands on with respect to your industry”
Bianca Constance, USA and originally from Canada: “My mentors/role models have all been the silent variety. I have never had a bona fide mentoring relationship with anyone but I certainly did do a great deal of observing. The executive for whom I worked encouraged me to join a professional organisation, and was a great one to watch in action. She carried herself in the ruthless, male-dominated business world with such grace and dignity.
…Ask questions – lots of questions – because there is no such thing as a dumb question. Read everything you can get your hands on with respect to your industry. I have pleasantly surprised many executives by being up-to-date on industry happenings. This also reflects very favourably on my manager when I know what’s going on.”
“You should believe in yourself and accept that mistakes are just part of the learning process”
Debbie Grimshaw, England: “My first role model in life was my lovely Mum, whom sadly I lost to breast cancer when she was 43. As she climbed the career ladder, she taught me values and self-worth. I watched her progress, studying hard in every spare moment while working shifts and taking care of three young daughters and our family home. She was never afraid to roll up her sleeves and muck in with the team when they were short staffed.
She said I should always listen, be a caring friend and someone to depend on. She always looked for the good in people and was there to lend a hand to someone in need. I learnt from her that you should never give up; that you should believe in yourself and accept that mistakes are just part of the learning process … There are not enough words to describe just how important the lessons from my mum have been to me throughout my career, and the powerful influence she continues to be even though she isn’t around.”
“Take the time to create good relationships around you and communicate in a clear and empathic manner”
Sofie Koark, Sweden: “Don’t let others mistake you for having a junior role in the company because of your title. You are a leader in a support role and if you see yourself like that, others will too. Many of us are full members of our management teams.
You have to earn your own mandate and I think you do that by being professional and trustworthy. Take the time to create good relationships around you and communicate in a clear and empathic manner. I also think it important to show appreciation, be positive and have fun together with the people you work with. As assistants, we are often ambassadors for the company culture.”
“It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions”
Juanita Mort, USA: “I don’t think goal setting is something all admins do easily. I think we are often so ‘in the fray’ that we don’t take time to set goals – which is a big mistake. Goal setting is not only important to you and your professional development, it’s important to your executive and your organization as it helps you connect with and become accountable to the whole, giving you something to work toward.
… Find someone who exhibits the professionalism, skills and experience in the areas you want to grow and ask them to mentor you.”
“Dream, dare and do it”
Jannie Oosterhoff , The Netherlands: “Be clear about your ambitions and your added value. You are the director of your own career.
Be a member of a network for personal development, sharing experiences and expanding your network. I also regularly attend network meetings that are unrelated to my profession. Networking is very important for a management assistant.”
“Saying no will get you a lot further than saying yes and piling the pressure on yourself”
Carys Stacey, England: “I’ve been an assistant for a few years now and when I first started I never said no. To anyone. To any request. What a nightmare! ‘No’ is a complete sentence and I’ve come to realise that actually saying no will get you a lot further than saying yes and piling the pressure on yourself.
My tip would be to be honest but diplomatic. It’s nice to be able to provide a solution to people asking for your help, but it’s not your responsibility to constantly be a problem solver – especially if the people asking you are not your direct manager. If your boss asks you to do something, always manage their expectations and if what they’re asking of you is unrealistic, tell them – politely, of course!”
“Act with integrity, discretion and diplomacy. Be confident, kind and efficient.”
Sally Thomas, USA: “Working with a variety of smart, demanding and gracious leaders has been the best education and preparation for this job. Early in my career, I received mentoring from some very skilled and driven Executive Assistants who still influence the way I do things today. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management, which has been beneficial and opened doors.
… Act with integrity, discretion and diplomacy. Be confident, kind and efficient. People respond well to the person who knows what they are doing, is helpful and saves time.”
“Take charge of your own career; ask for extra training as and when required”
Louise Whitehead, England: “There are so many PAs whose advice and friendship I value deeply – it can be an isolating role, and I am grateful for the support and friendship we offer each other.
I do have a degree but I remain unconvinced as to the necessity of it for a PA. I do, however, believe strongly in the importance of professional development, and I look for training and development opportunities wherever possible. I regularly attend networking and developmental events in my own time, and I also attend conferences … a fantastic way to learn new skills and meet fellow PAs to share knowledge, skills and support.”
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), 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)