Day One: 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

The holidays are well and truly on our doorstep now, aren’t they? That means it’s time to launch my 2020 edition of 12 Days of Real Careers.

A tradition, highlighting inspiration and wisdom shared by assistants 

Since 2015, I’ve interviewed numerous assistants from 25 (and counting) countries. These women and men have shared insights that factor into successful real careers.

Four years ago, I began featuring snippets of insights 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 delighted to bring yet another 12 Days to readers.

Given the people I’ve interviewed, and their collective depth of experience, there’s a lot of wisdom to be shared. Each day over a series of 12 days, you’ll find inspiration and strategies from past interviews. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name. Let’s start!

“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”

Bryson-Craig-London-2019Craig Bryson, England (originally from Zimbabwe): “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. 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.

“It’s not immodest to speak about yourself or to be proud of your achievements and how far you have come in your career”

Denise-Delamain-England-RC.jpgDenise Delamain, England: When you start a new role or have a new executive start with you, I’d really recommend booking some time with them as soon as possible.

Ask them what they are looking for in an assistant and how you can help them. Tell them about projects you’ve undertaken in the past so they get to know your strengths and competencies. Don’t sit back and wait until you’re asked – yes, you or they could be finding their feet in an new organisation, but the only way to move forward in the relationship is to show them what you’re capable of. It’s not immodest to speak about yourself or to be proud of your achievements and how far you have come in your career.”

“Use your networks wherever they may be”

Vicki Faint, New Zealand, on life lessons arising from the COVID-19 pandemic: “We can not be assured of anything. Things can change very quickly, and some things will never return to how we knew them before COVID.

Appreciate your family members who live close to you – many of us have family offshore who we may not get to see in the flesh for quite some time.

Use your networks wherever they may be – technology has forced our hand to learn and adapt to change.”

“Own your successes; it’s not bragging to share good news or good ideas”

Beth Ann Howard, USA: “Plan ahead. I spend theHoward, Beth Ann - USA last few minutes of the work day planning the next day’s schedule, and I block off time on my calendar for the must-do list. I have a master to-do list with deadlines for important projects, but I know the must-do list is the urgent one.

Don’t spend too much time trying to solve a problem on your own—certainly try, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. It makes you more efficient and it helps you build connections.

Own your successes. It’s not bragging to share good news or good ideas, especially when they can help others be more successful, too –  and those ideas are the things that get you noticed and recognized by forces higher up in the organization.”

“Volunteer as a means of exposing your skills and demonstrating your potential”

Florence Katono, Uganda: Katono, Florence - Uganda“Most admins usually count years of experience and, in a way, equate it to progress. I encourage my colleagues to take a bold decision and choose career progression.

Invest in your career. It may not pay off immediately but, when it does, it pays handsomely … Volunteer. Competition in the career world is very stiff. For one to expose their skills, it would be wise for them to volunteer. It’s the best way of making others know your potential. Seize opportunities; they could be all you ever needed. Find role models and mentors.”

“Work on keeping an open mind and eye to all the new digital developments”

Solveig Kristensen-fargeSolveig Kristensen, Norway: “I believe that our work days will be more flexible than today and … that we will be more efficient by working even more with digitalized apps, web pages and online programs. This will reduce the manual work and make us better able to monitor and track many of our tasks.

I believe that getting more digitized will broaden our job opportunities, meaning you may be able to get a job in a company situated in a country or area further from where you live.

Focus on two things: 1) Work on keeping an open mind and eye to all the new digital developments; know what is going on and do not fall behind by thinking this is too complicated for me or not interesting at all. 2) Work on your social skills. This is what will separate us humans from all the AI in the future, and this is what will be our one and only asset that the AI can not take from us.”

“I like being in charge of my career”

Renée Neverson, USA: “I Neverson, Renée - Maryland, USAwas determined to succeed and learn from mistakes that I’ve made along the way, and that has led to my success as an administrative professional.

Through my educational journey, I have been afforded many opportunities within the last 12 years – such as obtaining a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, and becoming a certified Records Management Specialist through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) … I’ve also participated in various administrative professional webinars, attended administrative conferences, and taken several Human Resources classes. I like being in charge of my career, and these opportunities help me do that!”

“This profession is both a means AND an end, and an immensely satisfying and gratifying one at that”

James Sobczak, USASobczak, James - Chicago, USA: “There are a number of ways to think about career growth, whether it’s gaining more knowledge, insight and wisdom in your position, or shifting to a new position in a different area of the enterprise … You also need to really consider what a promotion means to you, what kind of promotion you want, and whether you will be happy and fulfilled in the long run, both personally and professionally.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking about any kind of assistant position just as a means to an end to get some ‘better’ job. This profession is both a means AND an end, and an immensely satisfying and gratifying one at that.”

“Ask questions, be curious, be willing to make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone”

Ticknor-Peyton-USAPeyton Tickner, USA, on seeking a promotion: “Sign up for courses on advanced skills, ask for training, reach out to those who are in the position/level you are interested in advancing toward.

Ask for a mentor, get your resume and cover letter critiqued, ask questions, be curious, be willing to make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone, and just be you! Don’t be scared to ask for what you need to succeed in your career. All they can say is no, and then you move on.”

“Have conversations that not only find solutions, but build relationships”

Katherine Vaillancourt, Canada and the Philippines: “You have to do what you love. I not only enjoy being an EA; I love it. I thrive on not knowing what will happen the next day, but also know that I am making a difference in someone’s life.

Also, you can’t stop learning; by continuing to learn, you not only advance yourself but it gives you a bit of an edge on what’s up and coming!”

“Don’t be afraid to ask, don’t be afraid people may not like you, and don’t try to save the world”

Catherine Williamson, England: “ResearcWilliamson, Catherine - Englandh development, training and networking opportunities. Never be afraid to ask (the worst answer can be no). Not to be afraid that people might not like you, and not to try and save the world.”

On career accomplishments: “(In 2013) I co-founded a network of PAs in Westminster (Network PA SW1) with a friend, Gill Quirk, who works in Whitehall, where our government departments are predominantly based. It’s gone from strength to strength and I’m incredibly proud of that.”

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 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

  • Day One:  Craig Bryson (England; originally from Zimbabwe), Denise Delamain (England), Vicki Faint (NZ), Beth Ann Howard (USA), Florence Katono (Uganda),  Solveig Kristensen (Norway), Renée Neverson (USA), James Sobczak (USA),  Peyton Tickner (USA),  Katherine Vaillancourt (Canada and the Philippines), Catherine Williamson (England)
  • Did you enjoy yesterday’s read?
    More insights from assistants around the globe

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

    If you’re just catching up on this celebration of insights and fellow assistants, have a look at yesterday’s post to learn more.

    Think of these 12 Days as gifts of experience and wisdom we can all incorporate. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name.

    “Invest in your own career development”

    Rebecca Agyirba Afful-GhanaRebecca Agyirba Afful, Ghana: “Know your coworkers by their names and take particular interest in them. By that I do not mean getting into their personal lives but make them know you care about them. Be helpful to them and they will come to your aid when you also need their help.

    … Take advantage of learning opportunities, invest in your own career development, know your job well, and when opportunities for growth/promotion present themselves take full advantage of it.”

    “It’s essential to futureproof our roles by keeping up with technology”

    Arzy-Beth-UKBeth Arzy, USA and England: “I don’t fear AI or think it’s going to be the bitter end for Assistants. I think it can only be positive and help us with certain aspects of our roles, to free us up to be more creative and forward thinking. Smart technology for smart Assistants. I read somewhere recently that ’empowered machines will act as smart Assistants for us’, which is how I like to look at it.

    … It’s essential to futureproof our roles by keeping up with technology, which seems daunting as everything’s moving at top speed! We also need to keep up with the networking, even if it’s something that’s out of my personal comfort zone …”

    “I have no problem saying ‘no’ to someone if their request goes beyond established boundaries”

    Stacey BreBrewer, Stacey - USAwer, USA: “My current executive and I recognized from day one that our partnership would be much stronger if we initially invested the time to specifically develop our working relationship on a much deeper level beyond the standard daily interactions.

    In addition to our weekly operational meeting, we also scheduled a weekly lunch meeting for the first six months to just really get to know each other. The more quickly the two of you can gain insight into each other’s past experiences and thought processes, the better; it will be well worth the investment in the long run.”

    Carry yourself with grace and dignity, and watch and learn from those you respect

    Bianca Constance, USA and originally fConstance, Bianca - USArom Canada: “All of my academic degrees were in music – opera and voice, to be specific. My only business-related class was a typing class that I took when I was a freshman in high school. I stumbled into the world of the administrative professional because I could answer the phone, type very fast and was a quick study. There was no such thing as professional development when I started.

    After I joined IAAP (the International Association of Administrative Professionals), I realised that professional development was very important. It completely changed my outlook on my job and my work, making me realize that this really was my career. I had always taken great pride in my work, but now it was different. It brought me out of my shell at work. I started reading all the trade papers and periodicals that my executives read and kept up to date on happenings in my industry, freely sharing my observations with my executive – much to her delight, I might add.  She, in turn, would share my insights with her colleagues, the company’s management committee, which increased my visibility within the company.”

    “Make sure you build a solid relationship with your boss”

    Cookson, Bonnie - EnglandBonnie Cookson, England: “Always have confidence. Make sure you build a solid relationship with your boss and never be afraid to approach him or her. You need them as much as they need you.

    For career growth, make sure you get into a community where you can meet other people in the industry and learn from their experiences too. Keep up to date with what’s happening in your network – attend industry events, and use social media as a platform to promote yourself.”

    “Find out more about the operational plan or strategic objectives and where your boss/executive and you fit in”

    Marsh, Maria - EnglandMaria Marsh, England: “I have always negotiated my training at the interview/recruitment stage. I don’t think I could work for a company that did not support my development. You are never too old to learn, and I still enjoy going to conferences and trying new things.”

    (On working with a new principal/executive): “I do the induction and training for our PA and admin roles. The most important aspect is to get the communication correct from the beginning, and adapt styles where necessary. Find out all those likes/dislikes and the executive’s preferred style – and then work to that style. It is an ongoing and developing process that requires regular check-ins. Also, find out more about the operational plan or strategic objectives and where your boss/executive and you fit in.”

    “Accept feedback as a gift”

    Julia Schmidt, NorwaSchmidt, Julia - Brazil/Norwayy (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 (help us) 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.”

    “Build a career of substance”

    Chantal Sneijkers, BSneijkers, Chantal - Belgiumelgium: “Being a member of EUMA (now IMA; International Management Assistants) changed my whole professional world. I learned and continue to learn so much that I bring to my office, and this has contributed to my career growth, and reaching the level and position I now hold.

    Beyond that, I have met some great people from whom I also learned extra soft skills. As well, the cultural differences between the European countries have been personally enriching.”

    “Being positive about life can get you through anything”

    Melanie SheehySheehy, Melanie- England, England: “A lot of it is up to you as an individual, though, and how much you want to succeed in life and make your job your own … take on more work that is outside your remit. Also, it’s all about the little things! Get them right and you will go far.

    For me, just being a working mum and seeing that I am achieving my goals at work but also seeing that my boys are happy is an accomplishment. The other accomplishment is seeing how far the Manchester PA Network has come … and to finally say we can recognise PAs in Manchester with the Manchester PA of the Year awards.”

    “ Remember to include strategic and relationship-building activities as well as operational tasks”

    Marc Taylor-Allan, England: “Build a pTaylor-Allan, Marc -Englandersonal brand, and build that brand around who you work for. Strive to be the best, but also support others as you go along. I always think that promotion and career development come with being the master of your craft, so be a sponge and absorb everything.

    Have a dynamic task list. Capture the tasks and activities you must do on a list and update it regularly during the day. Revisit this list frequently and add new items as soon as they appear. Make sure your list gives you a quick overview of everything that’s urgent and important, and remember to include strategic and relationship-building activities as well as operational tasks.”

    “Continually strive to better yourself and to grasp every training opportunity”

    Liza Young, Scotland: ” Don’tYoung, Liza - Scotland be afraid to ask – whether that be for time off for appointments, for training, for advice, for promotion. The worst scenario is that the answer will be ‘no’, but much can be learned even from that on communication and negotiation skills, and how to manage or be managed.

    … Continually strive to better yourself and to grasp every training opportunity. Budgets are tight in the education sector, but it doesn’t have to cost: shadow somebody, be mentored by somebody, look out for in-house training courses. And be prepared to self-learn … This includes keeping up with changing technologies …”

    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 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

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