Day 10: 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

It’s Day 10 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.


“Having a well-established network … makes you visible and opens doors to new opportunities”

Monika Bercher-Pettersen, Norway (born in Germany), on job searches: “Think about the kind of job you are looking for and the field/area you would like to work in.

Make a list of tasks you like to do and a list of tasks you rather would like to avoid. This helps clarify the kind of job ads you should look for.

Update your Linkedin profile. Many headhunters look on Linkedin for suitable candidates. You are up against many qualified candidates. You want to be the one who stands out. Be authentic. Be creative. Be personal. ‘Be different; be better’. Try to send in a creative application, or a visual one. You can find so many excellent examples of original PowerPoint job applications on the internet. You just have to give it a try.”

Problems aren’t problems, they’re just an opportunity to find a solution”

Brazzill, JaneJane Brazzill, England: “You’re not just a secretary – you’re not just anything. You’re a crucial and integral part of the team … Don’t let anyone undermine you or make you feel less worthy.”

“If you’re like me and you’re constantly got a voice in your head telling you the million OTHER things that you have to do, keep a pad of paper on your desk and write down each of these to-do items as they come to you.

Emptying them out of your head allows you to stay focused on the task at hand, and you won’t worry that you’re forgetting something important.”

“Fail to prepare; prepare to fail”

Claire Grace, England, on job interviews: “I don’t think you can go wrong with the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique when answering competency based questions, as it keeps you on track without waffling!

I think the quote, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is also poignant here. Show that you know your stuff where relevant; research their website and social media profiles to get a better sense of their brand values. Have they won industry awards in a part of the business where you want to work? Have they shared any content or contributed to recent articles that resonated with you and your passions? Top of my list, though, are: make sure you listen, take a breath to work out your answer before you respond, and make sure you go armed with a couple of questions to ask them, too!”

“Leave negative energy at the door”

Erika Giesl, Canada, on job searches: “ I would recommend doing your due diligence prior to applying for any employment opportunity. If you know more about the company, you may know more about where you would like to fit in.

Find out what technology based environment they are working in, and whether they have a professional development plan for employees. Also investigate whether there is opportunity for advancement within that role, in another department, and if there is room to grow.  Talk to an employee in that company to get a better feel of the culture.”

… and on job interviews: “I totally believe in dressing for success. Perhaps I am old school, but I do believe that if you look good, you feel good walking in. Always keep mindful of what is being said, and hold eye contact to demonstrate confidence.”

It is important to be assertive but not aggressively assertive

Harding, Paula - UKPaula Harding, England: “Over the years, my confidence and ability to say no have grown. I have realised that, whilst I can do anything, I can’t do everything.

I know I am the most organised that I can be, I know I work as hard as I can, and I know that I work as many hours as I need to get my work done. That gives me a real confidence when saying no.

Sometimes the answer isn’t a straight no. It is more about managing expectations. Relationship building is a key skill for assistants, and this is crucial when managing an ever-changing workload and priorities.”

“Balance all the roles you fill in your life; if one is not fully cared for, it will hurt all your other efforts”

Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha, Uganda, on seeking career promotion: “Believe you can be better than you are now; challenge yourself and think out of the box. Be modern and move with the dynamics that come with the job.

Keep on top of your game and be a step ahead of the rest, even your supervisor.

Think on your feet and, when you face a challenge, always present your supervisor at least two solutions of your thinking. Give him/her a choice to start with, and you will be a valuable member of the team.”

“Use your influence to introduce new ideas and systems”

Jacqueline McCumber, USA: ” I tell my emplMcCumber, Jacqueline - USAoyees all the time, ‘If you’re not ever uncomfortable, you’re not challenging yourself.’ When I am faced with doing something outside my comfort zone, I focus my attention on the detail that is causing me the most anxiety – and redirect my energy into increasing my awareness of that detail, project or system.

…  I started out as the Receptionist. As a young woman, I had to ensure that I continually relayed my willingness and ability to learn and take on more tasks – which meant asking senior management for more responsibility, standing my ground when necessary to highlight my maturity, and providing flexibility at times to show my understanding of what was required of me in times of crisis or chaos.”

“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. I have worked for machine builders, logistics companies and wholesalers of varying sizes and corporate structures. 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.”

“Always bring your A game; make yourself indispensable and always be positive”

rees-helen-englandHelen Rees, England: “Plan ahead. Look through your day at the start and identify hotspots, potential conflicts and potential moments of calm. Don’t keep checking email all the time; make specific time slots where you tackle emails so that you can get your other work done.

Don’t promise what you can’t achieve or deliver – if you are asked to take on a task, people would usually prefer an honest answer that gives a realistic timescale for completion (or reasons why it’s not possible) than for you to say yes and then not be able to deliver.”

“It’s important to look after yourself and ensure you have balance in your life”

Richardson, Melanie - UKMelanie Richardson, England: “I’m a big believer that you need to be constantly evolving, developing and moving out of your comfort zone. I see this as just as important for me even now, after so many years in the profession.

Over the years, more often than not I’ve  just said ‘yes’ to new things and then figured out afterwards how do to them! That’s required me to call upon my personal courage many times, to face my fears and to have to change deeply-entrenched behaviour – which isn’t easy.”


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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