Day 12: 2020’s 12 Days of Real Careers

… and with this drumroll, I bring you the last day 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. The task grows more daunting each year, as there are more and more good interviews and insights from which to choose.

As mentioned in an earlier post, this year’s edition also includes excerpts from my interviews with association leaders on pandemic experiences. To read the full interview from anyone featured in this series, just click on her or his name. Enjoy today’s read, and see which ideas resonate and may help you as you wind down 2020 and prepare for the new year ahead.

“Fit is important; it’s not all about your skill level”

Rebeka Adamson, New Zealand, on insights that would have been helpful early in her career: “Listen more and talk less. I had an ego in my early working life, and was not prepared to listen to experienced colleagues. I was opinionated and closed-minded; I think I burned a few bridges by behaving this way.

Looking back, I had access to fantastic mentors who could have made a much bigger impact on my career if I’d let them. Thankfully, I have learnt my lesson and have grown from adopting a much humbler approach; I strive to be a good role model for others beginning their careers.”


“Always remember, your attitude (and your emotional intelligence) are your most powerful tools”

Nina Aunula, Finland, on working during the COVID-19 pandemic: “I’ve been learning to be more useful utilizing new digital tools that can be synchronized across all your devices – and applying some of these tools in working with my manager.

There’s also the realization of how important it is for managers and team leaders to check in on their employees, asking how they are doing, and not only work-wise. As well, though nothing can compete with live interaction, it’s good to take on board and listen to the experience, views and ideas colleagues and friends have to offer.”

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get, but earn it”

Maria Cirillo -Sweden -Foto Jonas Bilberg

Maria Cirillo, Sweden (interview to be published in early 2021), on seeking promotion: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get, but earn it. Be prepared for the extra responsibility and work and go for it!

If you’re somewhere where you’ve hit a wall and there truly is no where for the growth that you need to excel, it may be time to move on.

If you feel you’d like to move up but don’t feel quite ready, I highly recommend a coach or mentor; there are lots of great ones out there who were assistants themselves and their guidance/advice comes from a place of experience and growth.”

“Your future job may look different from your past and current jobs, so think forward; adapt”

Angela Downey, EnglanDOWNEY, Angela - Englandd: “It (artificial intelligence) is already here, and maybe there’s room for all of us! It’s a culture change, but AI is another tool in the box to complement your role and it can be embraced. The assistant needs to adapt and rethink how to use these new skills. Your future job may look different from your past and current jobs, so think forward; adapt and integrate these technologies.

… Look ahead – what are the skills you need to grow?  Use training needs analysis to establish what you need and when, rather than irrelevant trainings – be specific.

Give to others: give your time, your knowledge, and your support; the rewards are endless. Work regularly with a mentor. Use positive and creative thinking techniques to create your personal brand and get a USP (unique selling point).”

“Be willing to put in the time and develop yourself”

Helen Gallienne, England: “I probably enjoy the learning aspects of the role the most … With this role, there is always something new to learn and we must keep up to date with technology so that we can help our executives and be the ‘go to’ person in the office.

 Be willing to put in the time and develop yourself. A PA needs to be up to speed with the latest technologies in case an exec requires our help. Learn as much as you can and, if your employer does not support you by sending you on courses, there are lots of online materials to help you.

I would also suggest joining a PA network where the connections you make can come in very handy.”

“There is always a way forward, and what may seem like a diversion just now may well become your new streamlined path for the future”

Rosemary McLennan, Scotland, on the career in pandemic times: “The Great British spirit is has well and truly come to the fore during the pandemic. Employers and colleagues have refused to be daunted by physical and emotional challenges, and team spirit is stronger than ever before. 

Having a deep insight in to technologies available to support us at this time of remote working is key to keeping the business operating. There is always a way forward, and what may seem like a diversion just now may well become your new streamlined path for the future.

We have become far more proficient at using technology that enables us to connect remotely. We’ve also been able to enjoy working from home in a far more productive way.” 

“I try to embrace change, and never fear something new”

Marsden, Amy - UKAmy Marsden, from England and now in New Zealand: “I would say that I surprise everyone, including myself, at regularly stepping out of my comfort zone – I don’t just step, I leap into new things with all my energy and figure the rest out later.

… Although I am a planner in my work, I like to trust my gut feeling in most tasks (professional and private) and, if something feels right, I am happy to tackle the unfamiliar.

…  Technology is constantly changing, new features are added to existing programs, and we are expected to not only keep up, but also use technology in innovative ways. I try to embrace change, and never fear something new. The best way to learn is to learn by doing, and as such I tackle new software head on.”

“I wish I had realised early in my career how important networking was”

Christina Martinez, USA: “The aspect I love most about my career is that as an EA you are afforded the ability to interact across all levels and functions within any organisation. The possibilities of meeting and opportunities for learning from others are infinite.

As the workplace continues to evolve, companies are realising their EAs are an integral part of their business – and companies are beginning to structure training opportunities for them.

Any assistant looking for career growth should be learning as much as possible about the industry and organisation s/he is interested in.”

“Your professional growth and value are a reflection of your performance and the barriers you break within yourself”

Paula Moio, England (“I am from Luanda, Angola. I grew up in Portugal and now live in London”): “… Work hard as if it really matters. Find your purpose and ignite your passion because you care. Be prepared to make compromises and sacrifice what’s not relevant. Have clear boundaries, but be adaptable and open minded. Listen and empathise.

Go above and beyond in everything you do and don’t limit yourself to a job description. Your professional growth and value are a reflection of your performance and the barriers you break within yourself.”

“You need to be thoughtful around networking and building relationships”

Heather Moore, USA (watch for Heather’s interview in early 2021): “I have been working from home for around six years. I have no worries about my productivity. In fact, I have been told to stop working because it is easy to get sucked into doing ‘one more thing’. Finding balance in both work and home life is key when working remotely.

I will continue to work from home after the pandemic. I am in the Midwest and my team is spread along the East Coast. Being knowledgeable and comfortable with technology is a huge part of successfully working from home. You also need to be thoughtful around networking and building relationships.”

“No one knows everything, no matter how long you’ve been in a role; you can always learn”

Donna Olliver, England: “Learn. Have a mentor, even if you don’t feel you need one. It’s great to become a mentor and to be mentored. You learn so much. Go on as much training as you can, and pass the knowledge on. No one knows everything, no matter how long you have been in the role. You can always learn. It may be something that you have done a certain way for years, but maybe now there is a different way or an app for it.

We are lucky that KPMG value their PA team and they value our ideas and input. If I have an idea, I feel that I can voice it at the team meeting just like any other member of the team. In my early days as a PA, I remember being at a client event and caught myself saying to a client, ‘Oh, I’m just the PA.’ The client turned to me and said, “There is no such things as just anything.” That has always stayed with me and I’ve never said it since, because I know that PAs bring value to their teams and workplaces … most of all, we are ambassadors for the firms we work for and ourselves.”

“Look for stretch opportunities and take appropriate initiative”

Lisa Olsen, USA: “  Making mistakes is okay. Own them, learn from them. If you are a working mom, never compare yourself to another working mom’s situation. Work hard and be nice to people – it’s been the best piece of advice I ever received and has opened more doors than any other skill I have.

Value yourself enough to be committed to your role – no matter what capacity or level. Look for stretch opportunities and take appropriate initiative. Always have a professional attitude and carry yourself well. Maintain your credibility at all costs. Don’t get caught up in office gossip, and never speak negatively about your boss. Read. Find a mentor or coach. Practice being the assistant you aspire to be!”

“Always work at expanding your knowledge and skill sets”

Nora_OnishiNora Onishi, USA: “If you don’t articulate what you’d like to accomplish or where you’d like to go, you’ll find yourself exerting a lot of energy without getting anything done or getting anywhere. You’re like a ship that has lost its rudder and is adrift in the ocean.

It’s a good practice to set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals.

Write them down to make them real and not just a dream. If the goal is large, break it down into smaller ones and set a deadline to keep from wandering off course. The deadline will also force you review and modify your goals to reflect any changes going on in your life.”

“Dream, dare and do it”

Jannie Oosterhoff , The Netherlands: “Be yourself and believe in yourself. 

Be clear about your ambitions and your added value. You are the director of your own career.

Be a member of a network for personal development, sharing experiences and expanding your network.  

I also regularly attend network meetings that are unrelated to my profession. Networking is very important for a management assistant.”

“Identify the needs of the business and offer solutions; this will help you be seen”

Rosy Painter, England: “The role is transferable into any business.

Set your goals in terms of what you want to achieve. If you don’t put them down on paper, they are less likely to happen.”

… on seeking promotion/career advancement: “Have the conversation with your manager. If s/he is unaware of your aspiration, s/he can’t help you. Also, identify needs of the business and offer solutions; this will help you be seen.


“Opportunity knocks only for those who are prepared”

Barbara J. (BJ) Parrish, USA: ” Be a continParrish, Barbara J. -USAuous learner who is always seeking self-improvement, including the soft skills areas such as communication, teamwork, and emotional intelligence.

Opportunity knocks only for those who are prepared; be prepared when it knocks for you. Don’t wait for things to happen; make things happen.

Take on projects to learn a new skill or engage with people with whom you don’t normally work. Keep your eyes and your options open. Be fearless!”


“Saying yes to everyone means you’re spread too thin; learn to negotiate”

Pinchin, Christabell - CanadaChristabell Pinchin, Canada: “‘No’ was not in my vocabulary early in my career. The past few years I have learned to say ‘no’. I want to help and be accommodating, but by saying yes to everybody, you are spread too thin and you can’t do your best work. My advice for others is to start small.  Learn to say ‘No, but …’ For example: ‘No, I do not have the time to help write that report, but I would be able to find a bit of time to do a final proof for you if that would be helpful.’

… Don’t be afraid to step up. Take on opportunities when presented, but don’t sit back and wait for them … put yourself out there. Be brave and share your ideas and opinions, and remember to be supportive even when your idea isn’t taken.”

“Do not passively wait to be told something”

Carla Stefanut, Italy: ” I watch the news because it is my opinion that an EA, no matter her/his role or position, should be constantly informed – and not only about one’s industry, but also on what happens around the world. In a global economy, nothing exists in isolation any more … Read about your industry to develop an understanding about the business. And accept new challenges; never stop learning and improving one’s self.

I believe in the importance of being social, not only for personal purposes. EAs/PAs are a fifth of the world’s working population and, if we make ourselves visible, we become not only brand ambassadors for ourselves or for our company, but for our profession, too.”

That’s it for 2020! 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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