Day Nine: 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

We’re in the home stretch, and I’m delighted to bring you Day Nine of the 2020 edition of this 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.

“Right now, discipline, planning and organization make the difference”

Marcela Silva da Conceição Brito, Brazil, on the COVID-19 pandemic: “People are visibly more sensitive about their peers. I am surprised because work engagement increased and employers are more interested in employees’ wellbeing at work.

Right now, discipline, planning and organization make the difference. This is our great opportunity to prove our productivity beyond the traditional model of work. North America and Europe are more open to the remote work but, in Brazil, we have old legislation on work and it becomes more difficult to move activities out of the office. I expect that one of the consequences of COVID-19 will be to encourage flexible and remote work for Brazilian executive assistants, in both the public and private sectors.”

“Asking questions to assess priority levels of incoming requests helps you prioritise your tasks”

Jill Goertzen, Canada: “Get to know others in the office. Having relationships with other staff can be invaluable.

… Always ask about the priority level of a specific request. Once you know how urgent something is, you can prioritise your tasks for the day / week and you don’t end up staying late working on a task that isn’t urgent at all.

Also, take specific times of the day to check email. Don’t constantly check messages throughout the day. This can be a huge time sucker. Set specific times throughout the day to check/respond to email. It’s often very helpful to at least acknowledge receipt of an email, and let the other party know that you will respond by X time or whatever works best given that situation.”

“Approach a job interview as a puzzle, and remember it’s a two-way conversation”

Sarah Howson, EnglandHowson-Sarah-England, on returning to work as a new parent: “You can 100% be the person you were before you had a baby! It’s daunting, it’s nerve-wracking, but you can do it. I found having a ‘project’ to focus on whilst I was off kept me on my toes and kept my confidence up. Search out your local PA networking group and attend a session – or, better yet, offer to help organise an event.”

… on job interviews: “Think of it as a puzzle that needs to be put together from all angles, and remember that it is a two-way conversation. Have plenty of questions to ask about how you’d be working in real life. I firmly believe you need to be happy at work and love your role.”

“I have found that the most important thing for me is the personality fit with my executive(s)”

Cindy Moeser, Canada: “In my career, I Moeser-Cindy-Canadahave found that the most important thing for me is the personality fit with my executive(s). A bad fit can be very challenging and often demotivating. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to go with your gut when moving from one role to the next, and keep an eye out for red flags during the hiring process – if something does not feel right, there is a reason. I once ignored my gut to get out of a job that I was not enjoying and it landed me in an even worse situation.

For career growth, I would recommend that you network with other EAs and attend as many events as you can to understand the dynamics of this ever-changing role.”

“Each employer afforded me the opportunity to learn something new and see business from a different perspective”

Angela Parker - GermanyAngela Parker, Germany: “Ever since I was a teenager, I have always wanted to work with people from other countries. I have always worked for companies with international business ties and it has been enlightening in so many ways … Each employer afforded me the opportunity to learn something new and see business from a different perspective.”

(on taking on a leadership role within her national network): “… I have always preferred to remain in the background. Over the past few months I have learned to venture out and take centre stage. The feedback I have received has been positive and I can see that I have developed as a person. Moreover, networking is always a good idea, to improve your visibility.”

“Take chances and roads less travelled, and always learn from your mistakes”

Breda Shanahan, Republic of Ireland: “My parents are my rShanahan, Breda - Republic of Irelandole models. They always worked very hard and instilled this in me from a young age. My two bosses are my mentors!

I’m a member of the Association of Professional Administrators in Ireland (APAI).  Networking is a really valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from others’ success, attain new contacts and showcase your organization.

I read and share lots of the articles they publish, and it also helps me to connect with EAs and PAs within my organization and externally. 

“Do not underestimate the value of good relationships”

John D. Shaw, USA: “All relationships need to be nurtured and a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ can go a long way.

Make sure you have a record of special occasions in peoples’ lives. Sending an unexpected ‘happy birthday’ wish to a contact lets them know they matter to you. I prefer sending hand-written notes – it’s more personal.

I’ve been very fortunate in having a wide-ranging professional network and have maintained many of these relationships for over 20 years.”


“Get to know some of the people with roles you aspire to, to see what their career path has been”

Lesley Young, England: “Don’t thinDexter, Lesley - UKk that you can’t get to the same position as people who inspire you; their career paths are probably not that different to your own.

… There are many ways of keeping up to date with professional developments, not least networking and meeting other EA/PAs, either in person or by linking on social media.

The main aim of our East Midlands PA Network is to connect EAs and PAs through training and networking opportunities to share best practice, inspire each other, and develop collaborative relationships.”

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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