Is this month flying by for you? At this time of year, I look back on the many Real Careers interviews I’ve conducted with impressive assistants since 2015.
Today, I’m happy to bring you Day Five of this year’s edition of 12 Days of Real Careers.
Think of these 12 Days as gifts of experience and wisdom that we can all incorporate. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name.
“There are things to be learned even from bad situations; accept the lessons”
Suzanne Benderski, USA: “When I was in my early twenties, I was very focused on the immediate tasks and situations.
Now, I would tell my younger self to keep more of an eye on the end game and longer-term goals, and not to be so short-sighted – especially in some of my decision-making.
There are things to be learned even from bad situations; accept the lessons.”
“Write a ‘business plan’ for what you would like to achieve and how you would like to achieve it”
Alison Boler, England: “I will always keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone. When I was asked to make a speech to PAs for the first time five years ago, I felt terrified. But pushing myself through that comfort zone actually changed my life and I am now more confident and I will never be scared again to push myself.
… If you don’t have an annual review, then ask for one! Be prepared, even write out a ‘business plan’ for what you would like to achieve and how you would like to achieve it.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions”
Jean Coco, USA: “The administrative 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.”
On professional development: “It is personal development, so if your organisation is unable or unwilling to support you, there’s nothing to stop you doing it in your own time”
Brenda Edwards, England: “ Put time into thinking about what you want to achieve, and discuss it with your executive/principal and HR. See if they are able to support you in that growth and give advice on how to achieve it.
Also check what’s available outside your organisation. It is personal development, so if your organisation is unable or unwilling to support you, there’s nothing to stop you doing it in your own time. When I started my degree, I did it for my own benefit. It was only when I mentioned in passing that I was doing one that my then-employer offered to support me in it.
Above all, don’t be afraid to aim high. The Chief Executive of our local Hospital Trust started as a nurse. One of the Cornish MPs used to be a secretary. Believe in yourself!”
“Map out strategic connections”
Erin Floss, USA: “Very early in my career, goal setting was challenging for me; I felt unsure of where to begin. I was focused on the tasks I completed on a daily basis and found it difficult to expand them into goals.
What I realized was the importance of linking the value of the tasks I complete to my leader’s strategic priorities. Once I had mapped out those strategic connections, I was able to quickly document my work as goals that support my leader’s strategic goals.
This was a gratifying mind shift for me. Suddenly, even the most basic administrative tasks had strategic value. ”
“Learn to say no, and dare to say yes”
Maria Gottberg, Sweden: “I enjoy keeping current on many issues at once, and being quick and efficient while also being proactive .
… I always try to help where I can and those I work with know that’s a fact. If I say no, it’s because I can not help them; I have no hidden agenda, and they know it.
… Focus on work when you are at work, and focus on your family when you are at home.”
“ I like to think of myself as a very helpful person/professional … However … 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”
Deirdre McGovern, USA: ” Learning 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?”
Anita Olsen, Norway, on goal setting: “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.”
“The awakening to employers that admins do not have to be placed within view or outside the office door to get the work done has been transformational”
Phiandra Peck, USA, on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on this career: “The awakening to employers that admins do not have to be placed within view or outside the office door to get the work done has been transformational.
Many admin professionals have stepped up and demonstrated that we belong at the table in order to make our business partners and teams be more productive.
… I encourage everyone to seek out a mentor. These times have made decision making extra stressful due to the unknown(s). Having a mentor who takes the time to listen to me, to my thoughts and offer advice when asked has been amazing. Being able to release the mental weight reduces my stress level.”
“Act with integrity, discretion and diplomacy. Be confident, kind and efficient.”
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.”
“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.
“I see my manager as my client, and I see the rest of management the same way”
Bettina Wemanis, Sweden: “I see my manager as my client, and I see the rest of management the same way. After all, my job is to relieve, facilitate and prepare so that the daily work functions as smoothly as possible. It is important to be flexible and open to changes and new ideas, but also to act as a kind of filter.
… Create trust with the manager you assist. Be interested in people and trust them. Extend service both internally and externally.”
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.
Click 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)
- Day Two: Rebecca Agyirba Afful (Ghana), Beth Arzy (USA and England), Stacey Brewer (USA), Bianca Constance (USA; originally from Canada), Bonnie Cookson (England), Maria Marsh (England), Julia Schmidt (Norway and Brazil), Melanie Sheehy (England), Chantal Sneijkers (Belgium), Marc Taylor-Allan (England), Liza Young (Scotland)
- Day Three: Lisa Assetta (USA), Margo Baptista (Canada), Kimberleigh Deignan (USA), Debbie Grimshaw (England), Cathy Harris (South Africa), Sofie Koark (Sweden), Janice Parker (England and Australia), Debra Peltz (England), Carolina Siqueira Silva (Brazil), Emily Walker (England), Truus van den Brink-Havinga (The Netherlands), Shirwyn Weber (South Africa)
- Day Four: Leeanne Adu (England), Tonya Beattie (USA), Laureen Dailey (Canada), Kerry Dawson (England), Priscilia Gough (Canada and South Africa), Else-Britt Lundgren (Sweden), Karine McKee (England), Juanita Mort (USA), Karen Richmond (Scotland), Eleni Rizikianou (Greece), Matthew Want (England)
- Day Five: Suzanne Benderski (USA), Alison Boler (England), Jean Coco (USA), Brenda Edwards (England), Erin Floss (USA), Maria Gottberg (Sweden), Deirdre McGovern (USA), Anita Olsen (Norway), Phiandra Peck (USA), Sally Thomas (USA), Barbara Unger (Canada), Bettina Wemanis (Sweden)