Day Eight: 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

… and just like that, we’ve reached Day Eight 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 from 25 countries since 2015. I do this to share insightful excerpts from just some of these interviews.

Enjoy today’s read, and see which ideas resonate with you and may help you as you wind down 2020 and prepare for the new year ahead. 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.

“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.”

“Treat every day as a learning opportunity”

Melissa Francis, England, on seeking promotion: “Be brave when looking at job opportunities, and put yourself forward for as much training and development as you can comfortably take on.

Treat every day as a learning opportunity and be kind/respectful on your way up the promotion ladder; this in turn is usually reciprocated. Networking is incredibly important and can really help to build your personal brand.”

“EAs are notorious for saying yes when they feel the answer should probably be no”

Freeborough, Chantalle -CanadaChantalle Freeborough, Canada: “Saying no to people is hard, but I’ve learned it is better to under promise than to not deliver! EAs are notorious for saying yes when they feel the answer should probably be no. Then they just magically make it happen. But that ‘magic’ includes putting added stress on themselves.

 … I often tell people I’m a lifer student. I finished my Office Administration Executive diploma at Georgian College, and continued to study part time to achieve a Teaching and Training Adults Certificate and AAA’s (the Association of Administrative Assistant’s; now rebranded as AAP, Association of Administrative Professionals) Qualified Administrative Assistant designation. Since then, I’ve been working on a degree program on a part-time basis. In the midst of studying, I engage in professional development – there are no two ways about it, it’s been advantageous to my career.”

“My target for the coming year is to continue to develop and to advance in digitization”

Karin Hélène, Sweden: “I have always had a long-term goal for my career path and short-term goals for development and training.

… Become a member in a professional network; this will give you access to colleagues within your profession and you can get advice on how to further develop within your role.

Talk to your manager and talk to Human Resources about what your career path could look like within your workplace. Ask for training and ask to attend seminars to keep in the forefront in all aspects.”

“Read the reports and presentations that are sent to your executive and be able to understand the information. If there is something you don’t understand – ask someone.”

Lokken, MistiLynn -USAMistiLynn Lokken, USA: “ Read the reports and presentations that are sent to your executive and be able to understand the information. If there is something you don’t understand – ask someone. Most importantly, take ownership of your development and don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Never stop networking!

… I have had the honor of several mentors throughout my career, including a manager early on who took me under her wing and changed my life. Bridgette saw more in me than I saw in myself and invested time in my development over the course of several years. I am a better person today thanks to her, and have committed to paying it forward by mentoring others.”

“If your company won’t invest in you, then invest in yourself”

McAulay, Kelly - ScotlandKelly McAulayScotland: “Make time for training and learning – ask for the opportunities and, if your company won’t invest in you, then invest in yourself.

Just as importantly, network like your life depends on it!

By networking, you build contacts and relationships, and are able to keep up to date with the industry – there are often many free learning opportunities to support your professional development.”


“Saying no will get you a lot further than saying yes and piling the pressure on yourself”

Stacy, Carys - UKCarys 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!”

“Take charge of your own career; ask for extra training as and when required”

Louise Whitehead, England: “There arWhitehead-Louise-Englande 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.”

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get”

Megan Williamson, England, on job interviews: “Be prepared and be you; being yourself will make you stand out more, we’re all unique! You’ve been shortlisted for an interview, so think positive; you’re half way there, so don’t doubt yourself. It’s you they want to see and there are no trick questions; answer as you would and with the knowledge you have.

It’s easier said than done, but the panel are prepared for nerves. Keep calm, take a drink if you need to and think about the answer before you say it; it’s normal to hear a voice and then realise it’s yours and you’re talking. If you’re unsure or didn’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask!”

On seeking career growth/promotion: “Communicate this; if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you have aspirations, make sure to make sure to make time to discuss this with your exec at the appropriate times and keep a log of what you want to develop and how you would do this; doing your homework makes the conversation a lot more productive. Although they might not act straight away, showing you’re keen and driven will ensure they consider you for opportunities that arise.”


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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