It’s mid-December, and we’ve reached the halfway mark of the 2020 edition of my 12 Days of Real Careers tradition.
At this time of year, I look back on the many Real Careers interviews I’ve conducted with impressive assistants since 2015 and take on the daunting challenge of selecting snippets from just some of these interviews.
Enjoy Day Six, and see which excerpts particularly resonate with you and where you are at this point in your career. This year, I’m also including excerpts from interviews with professional network and association leaders on pandemic experiences. To read the full interview with any of these individuals, just click on her or his name.
“Digitalization has helped us to feel much closer“
Vania Alessi, Italy, on assistants’ careers during the COVID-19 pandemic: “We have had the chance to let our anxiety out of the room and we have learnd how to collaborate and spread out new ideas … Digitalization has helped us to feel much closer. Meeting 3,000 assistants even if on Teams is something that has given a boost to the sense of community.
We asked our members if, during this period, they’ve proposed to their companies new initiatives that have highlighted the assistants’ professional value – and 44% of respondant said yes! They made recommendations including strengthening their company’s website image, managing and purchasing protective devices for all employees, leading task forces to prepare for returns to the office, and sending or buying monitors and ergonomic chairs for colleagues working at home. Members have introduced Slack and Teams, and provided coaching or training for their colleagues. They’ve made ‘caring’ calls/videos for their teams.”
“Research how AI could help you in your role both currently and in the future”
Dawn Becker, Canada: “… I can and do say no. If what is being requested of me does not support my primary responsibilities to the Boards, the CIO and CEO, I will quite often say no.
… research how AI could help you in your role both currently and in the future. Be on the front of AI – not behind it.
By moving some routine aspects of the role to technology, those in this profession will have the opportunity to specialize in areas and demonstrate the value this profession brings to business.”
“The number one thing I’ve learned when it comes to mapping out your career goals is that it’s all on you; no one will do this for you”
Megan Bishop, USA: “The number one thing I’ve learned when it comes to mapping out your career goals is that it’s all on you; no one will do this for you. That may be a bit scary to some, but it’s also invigorating. You’ve got a clear blue sky – where do you want to go?
… I urge you to map out your own career. We are in a delightfully special role with no one singular path to promotion or growth. Also, frankly, many executives don’t entirely know what to do with us. Talking about being a career EA might get you some odd looks from executives. So, I encourage you to dream big and think about what you want to learn. Then utilize all of the existing resources out there …”
“If you find training you are interested in, ask for it. If the first answer is no, ask again in six months.”
Juliana Carneiro, The Netherlands, and originally from Brazil: “In Brazil, all the assistants need to have a university degree in Secretarial Education so, yes, education was highly important and a key thing for my career. When I say that I have a Bachelor’s degree in Secretarial Education, it opens a lot of doors.
… Learn, learn, learn, and talk to your executive about what you’re learning. If you find training you are interested in, ask for it. If the first answer is no, ask again in six months. If you don’t give up, your executive will understand that you mean business.”
“Be aware of the issues and developments taking place in your industry, and keep on top of current affairs and the trends in the world around you”
Lorna Cowan, Northern Ireland: “Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Never stop learning; even if it doesn’t directly relate to your day job, you never know what contacts you’ll make and how that information can be used.
Be aware of the issues and developments taking place in your industry, and keep on top of current affairs and the trends in the world around you. Be prepared for anything!”
“Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and active”
Giulietta Driver, England: “I have a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Management. Whilst not obviously linked to my role, it gave me a really solid grounding in administration and finance. It’s really helped with things like Board administration, as I actually understand the finance terminology … I love my career, but I get annoyed by the perception that being a PA/admin is not a serious career, or is beneath someone with a degree.
… Ask for that training you deserve. It took me a few years to appreciate that training is as important for me as it is for my colleagues. Learning doesn’t have to be formal. I’ve learned a lot by chatting to other PAs over Twitter, and reading blogs and magazines.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and active. Employers DO look at these things (I know I have when recruiting), so it’s important to keep it fresh. I’m in a few groups as well, which has raised my profile.”
“Get to know everyone before attempting to change the way things happen”
Sherri Eckworth, England: “A 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.”
“Look at joining a networking group, see if you can find a mentor, search for online training courses … “
Craig Harris, England, on seeking promotion: “Whatever 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.”
Never take your networks for granted or abuse them; make sure you give them the attention required
Stacey King, Australia: “Getting out of your comfort zone can be frightening, and this is where having a mentor who will have an honest conversation with you will help you recognise when it’s time to move beyond your comfort zone. When I have identified an area I need to address, I reach out to specific people in my network; this is initially a request to catch up over coffee. I have found that my connections are more than happy to share their expertise, make recommendations and offer ongoing encouragement.
I am quite reserved and will do my best to not draw attention to myself in a social setting. I shared this little secret of mine with Stephanie Paulissen and Maria Wallace, Australian Institute of Office Professionals (AIOP) ACT Committee members, when I joined the Committee. They both have been very supportive and encourage me to speak publicly every month; this is something I will continue to do ….”
“Step out of your own way; see the bigger picture”
Catherine Penasa, USA: ” Essentially, I developed a network of mentors to help me along my career path and give me good advice. The challenging part of this was listening when sometimes I wanted to do things my own way, and trying to see the bigger picture. Once I was able to see the bigger picture, taking and following good advice was a benefit in my career.
My career role model or mentor has been an amazing woman named Ann Dahlke. I met her when I joined the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). She took me under her wing and taught me how to take advantage of opportunities to gain experience and growth … I thought to myself that I wanted to have a successful career just like hers. Since I met her, she has been there every step of my career so far, and I hope we can always remain friends no matter what our careers hold for us.”
“Network as much as possible, even (particularly) if it makes you nervous”
Dalya Perry-Bernstein, England: “In the early stages of my career, I had no idea of the power of networking. I would advise any PA to get out there and network as much as possible. I remember travelling to London and walking into my first big networking event on my own back in 2010, being quite nervous and ending up having the most fantastic day! To this day, I still keep in touch with the PAs I met at that event.”
“… Speak with your boss and let him/her know you want to better yourself. Attend CPD events or gain a qualification. Make sure you go for a role with potential for career progression. Embrace extra projects that may not be typical PA tasks.”
“Always be respectful, but know your line in the sand”
Layfayette Wilder, USA: “My personal networks have led me to most, if not all, my employment opportunities. I have found my best job opportunities – and my longest lasting jobs – through my networking relationships.
Before COVID, we (network contacts) communicated via text and in-person get togethers. Since COVID, we communicate primarily via text, video chats and calls.”
… (on goal setting): “Pick a goal and take a step, just one step, and then another – and find allies.”
Click any of the names below for my full interviews with 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)
- Day Six: Vania Alessi (Italy), Dawn Becker (Canada), Megan Bishop (USA), Juliana Carneiro (The Netherlands; originally from Brazil), Lorna Cowan (Northern Ireland), Giulietta Driver (England), Sherri Eckworth (England), Craig Harris (England), Stacey King (Australia), Catherine Penasa (USA), Dalya Perry-Bernstein (England), Layfayette Wilder (USA)
- Day Seven: Stephanie Bergsieker (USA), Nicole Blanchette (Canada), Diana Brandl (Germany), Susan Engelbrecht (South Africa), Kim Glover (England), Amanda Hargreaves (England), Susan Henderson (England), Jennifer Robson (Australia; originally from Bangladesh), Laura Swallows (USA), Catherine Thomas (Wales), Donna Venditti (Canada)
- Day Eight: Stacey Brewer (USA), Melissa Francis (England), Chantalle Freeborough (Canada), Karin Hélène (Sweden), MistiLynn Lokken (USA), Kelly McAulay (Scotland), Carys Stacey (England), Louise Whitehead (England), Megan Williamson (England)
- Day Nine: Monika Bercher-Pettersen (Norway and Germany), Jane Brazzill (England), Claire Grace (England), Erika Giesl (Canada), Paula Harding (England), Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha (Uganda), Jacqueline McCumber (USA), Angela Parker (Germany), Helen Rees (England), Melanie Richardson (England)
- Day 10: Monika Bercher-Pettersen (Norway), Jane Brazzill (England), Claire Grace (England), Erika Giesl (Canada), Paula Harding (England), Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha (Uganda), Jacqueline McCumber (USA), Angela Parker (Germany), Helen Rees (England), Melanie Richardson (England)