Day Seven: 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

Welcome to Day Seven 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 share insightful excerpts from just some of these interviews.

Enjoy today’s read, and see which excerpts particularly may be particularly helpful at this point in your career. Some people featured in this series have changed careers and, this year, I’m also including excerpts from association leaders on pandemic experiences. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name.

“See the big picture and help out, even if it’s not in your job description”

Bergsieker, Stephanie - USAStephanie BergsiekerUSA: “I try to be aware of what’s going on in our industry and community in order to benefit my company.

See the big picture and help out, even if it’s not in your job description.

Stay up with and on top of technology. I feel like there will always be a need for assistants, but we will need to be able to use and manipulate technology.”


“There are several role models whom I respectfully follow or lean on”

Nicole Blanchette, Canada: “Prioritise your day eBlanchette, Nicole - Canadavery morning or the night before you walk into the office, and work on one task at a time from start to finish. Multi-tasking does not work for me. I recognise that, in a busy office, we will encounter many interruptions and working on one task at a time may be difficult.

I always have an open journal/notebook on my desk and will jot down the interruptions so that I can follow up after I have completed the task at hand. Of course I also need to be flexible and willing to switch direction if needed. Once the diversion has been addressed, jump back on the task you were working on.”

“Bring ideas, and show how important a new project or function would be for you”

Diana Brandl, Germany: “The interesting fact about being an assistant is that a new exciting opportunity may come sooner than you think. You might get a new boss, your current boss may changes roles within the company, or some new structures can generate new projects.

Loyalty, trust and transparency are extremely important for assistants in their working relationship with a boss. It would be hard for me to work with a boss who did not trust me. I always commit myself 100% to my manager and expect the same in return.”

“Communication is vital”

Susan Engelbrecht, South Africa: “Start practicing your assertiveness techniques in small situations, such as telling your friend that you don’t want to watch a certain movie.

Build upon each experience and soon you will find yourself to be assertive in other situations, too.”

“I have many mentors in the PA/EA fraternity who have assisted me in some way or exposed me to new ideas and opportunities … I have also mentored several PAs throughout my career. I like to believe that I have made an impact on their lives in the same way my mentors did to me.”

“Ask for feedback – and ask those who you know will be brutally honest”

Kim Glover, England, on career growth and promotion: “Join a network. Identify a mentor. Understand whether your organisation has a competency matrix in place for your role, which should highlight what steps are needed to progress to the next level. Talk them through with your boss and agree on objectives, and what support you need from your boss/organisation in order to achieve them.

Ask for feedback – and ask those who you know will be brutally honest. If there are things about the way you behave or present yourself that are holding you back from getting that promotion, then you need someone who’s going to be really honest with you about them, otherwise you will never have the opportunity to do something about it.”

“You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want”

Amanda Hargreaves, England: “When I went into my first admin. role, I had never worked in an office before; so I would say listen and learn, and be confident – but not overly confident.

… Take time to work out and plan what it is you want. You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want.

How long will it take to achieve this, how can you achieve this, who can help you achieve this?”

“Know your worth and value yourself”

Susan Henderson, EnHenderson, Susan - Englandgland: “Ensure you have a career plan and work on developing this with your boss to ensure your growth.  Know your worth and value yourself. Join online groups/networks via LinkedIn or, and subscribe to magazines such as PA Life, Executive PA or Executive Secretary with Lucy Brazier.

Definitely get on social media (there is a whole community out there who will support you) and enhance your networking skills. Always show willingness to attend appropriate training and keep your IT skills up to date – there are always new tricks to learn.

Update your CV regularly with your accomplishments, or keep a separate document which you can refer to at appraisal time. If you do not keep a note, you are likely to forget something crucial which could cost you a promotion or a salary increase. Ask your firm to support your career development and invest in your training.”

“It is important to have a mentor”

Jennifer RobsonAustralia (originally from Bangladesh): “It is important to have a mentor as s/he can provide a simple path of guidance to push you to take the first step, and guidance to figure out what is what we really want.

A good mentor will share their invaluable experience, to help us to achieve our goal in the best possible way they know. I know I have personally benefited from having various mentors along the journey.”

“I think it is important to have a mentor who sits at the level that you strive to reach”

Laura Swallows, USA: “Swallows, Laura - USAI think the most important conversations you should have with a new executive are around expectations, boundaries and communication. It’s important to clearly define expectations early on and understand how and when they plan to communicate with you.

For example, are you comfortable with them texting or calling you late at night or on the weekend? Do they expect an immediate response from you during normal “off hours”? Do they prefer text, a phone call or email? Do they expect you to stay in the office late if they are working late? Will you be handling any personal tasks or communicating with their family members/spouse/etc.? Having these conversations early on will prevent any lack of clarity down the road when these situations inevitably arise.

“People respect your honesty”

Thomas, Catherine - WalesCatherine Thomas, Wales: “ The NHS Wales PA Network is something I am very proud off. It came to life after a conference 10+ years ago, where Susie Barron-Stubley spoke about the value of PA networks. By the time I had commuted back to Wales from London, I had written a business plan illustrating how we were going to implement a network in my organisation. My Director didn’t bat an eyelid at my idea. She did, however, challenge me to implement the network across NHS Wales and not just the six PAs reflected in my business plan!

I owe a lot to Susie Barron-Stubley. I will always be grateful to her for her encouragement to start to network and to my Director Sally Attwood for the push.”

“My goal at the end of the day is to be respected in my role”

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.”

Click any of the names below for my full interviews with the Real Careers alumni featured in 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers.

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