We’re approaching the end of a second year of living and working through pandemic times. Omicron, the most recent COVID variant, has led some of you to undo or rework office and personal holiday plans. If ever the time was right for some inspirational and helpful reading, this is it.
With that in mind, I’m especially pleased to continue my annual tradition. With the holidays now well and truly on our doorstep now, and in the spirit of positive thinking, I’m delighted to bring you Day One of my 2021 edition of 12 Days of Real Careers.
A tradition, highlighting inspiration and wisdom shared by assistants
Since 2015, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing numerous assistants from 27 (and counting) countries, and leaders of professional networks. These women and men have shared insights that factor into successful real careers.
Five years ago, I began featuring snippets of insights from a number of those interviews in what became my first annual 12 Days of Real Careers posts. They’re so popular that I’m delighted to continue the tradition, with a new mix of interviews ranging from 2015 to this year.
Given the people I’ve interviewed, and their collective depth of experience, there’s a lot of wisdom to be shared. Some people have moved on from the roles – and even the countries – in which they were interviewed, yet their insights remain beneficial. Each day over a series of 12 days, you’ll find inspiration and strategies from past interviews. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name. Let’s start!
“It’s essential to futureproof our roles by keeping up with technology”
Beth Arzy, USA and England: “I don’t fear AI or think it’s going to be the bitter end for Assistants. I think it can only be positive and help us with certain aspects of our roles, to free us up to be more creative and forward thinking. Smart technology for smart Assistants. I read somewhere recently that ’empowered machines will act as smart Assistants for us’, which is how I like to look at it.
… It’s essential to futureproof our roles by keeping up with technology, which seems daunting as everything’s moving at top speed! We also need to keep up with the networking, even if it’s something that’s out of my personal comfort zone …”
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get, but earn it”
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.”
“Map out strategic connections”
Erin Floss, USA: “Very early in my career, goal setting was challenging for me; I felt unsure of where to begin. I was focused on the tasks I completed on a daily basis and found it difficult to expand them into goals.
What I realized was the importance of linking the value of the tasks I complete to my leader’s strategic priorities. Once I had mapped out those strategic connections, I was able to quickly document my work as goals that support my leader’s strategic goals.
This was a gratifying mind shift for me. Suddenly, even the most basic administrative tasks had strategic value. ”
“It is our responsibility to stay in demand through the continuation of our own self development and training”
Corrie Fourie, South Africa: “Working remotely, social distancing and self-isolation tested and unveiled our humanity as management assistants.”
“Working as an EA, one have to be able to adapt at short notice. The EA has a pivotal role to play within any organisation and it is up to us to remain the binding factor in support of our management.
As well, it is our responsibility to stay in demand through the continuation of our own self development and training, grasping every opportunity to do so through endless opportunities which we are given.”
“Your time and opinions are just as valuable as those of any other member of the team”
Janice Parker, from Australia and living in England: “Your time and opinions are just as valuable as those of any other member of the team. Do not be afraid to put time in your manager’s diary to catch up or discuss more serious topics. If the meeting is moved, reschedule it as soon as possible and do not let your colleagues make you feel that their meeting should go before yours (unless it is business critical).
Do not be afraid to speak up and be heard; you will have interesting things to say and your colleagues will want to listen.”
“Know your worth!”
Karen Richmond, Scotland: ” Know your worth! Looking back to when I started as a PA in a factory office, I’m amazed at how sexist attitudes were (from both male and female colleagues). I’m glad that has changed, but I do think it is important for young people to realise how valuable they are to an organisation and to realise their self worth.
Use every opportunity to work with different people. You can learn so much from peers, those in different roles, different executives, etc. Don’t be afraid to push your boundaries a little and step outside your comfort zone now and again. Look at all the online resources available and, if you are unable to network with peers within your organisation, join one of the many online networks and groups available. Just go for it.”
“Accept feedback as a gift”
Julia Schmidt, Norway (originally from Brazil): “Accept feedback as a gift. When I was young, I did not have the positive approach to feedback that I have today. It is a tool for improvement and a background to starting career development plans.
… Time management has a lot to do with the right prioritisation. Therefore, my most effective strategy is doing first the tasks I like less. It will (help us) avoid procrastination. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing. It is bad management. Another important element is creating realistic deadlines.”
“Ask questions, be curious, be willing to make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone”
Peyton Tickner, USA, on seeking a promotion: “Sign up for courses on advanced skills, ask for training, reach out to those who are in the position/level you are interested in advancing toward.
Ask for a mentor, get your resume and cover letter critiqued, ask questions, be curious, be willing to make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone, and just be you! Don’t be scared to ask for what you need to succeed in your career. All they can say is no, and then you move on.”
“Listen to those with experience, make connections and undertake training”
Julia Robertson-Avenell, England: “I like the variation that an administrative and PA role has to offer. I’ve been able to attend some incredible PA events, attend great training courses and have met some amazing people along the way – people who have provided support/training and mentoring when I’ve needed it.
Listen to people who have done the job; how did they get their roles? What training could you commence right away? Begin to make your connections now.”
“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.”
“Don’t let mistakes be a stumbling block; acknowledge the mistake, learn and grow from it”
Barbra Unger, Canada: “Don’t let mistakes be a stumbling block; acknowledge the mistake, learn and grow from it, and keep on keeping on.
… Saying ‘no’ is something I struggled with, so my executive coached me early on in my role that it’s okay to say ‘no’, especially when the request does not immediately support where my focus should be. I enjoy supporting and helping others, yet when I determine that I need to say ‘no’, I say it respectfully, along with providing resources and potential solutions that the individual can take away to complete it themselves, or within their team.
“When you are an executive assistant, you should not be working reactively. You do not wait for your executive to designate tasks; you create your own work. “
Emily Walker, England: ” If you are new to working with an executive, you may need to change your mindset. When you are an executive assistant, you should not be working reactively. You do not wait for your executive to designate tasks; you create your own work. You are proactive, you plan ahead, you anticipate their needs before they even realise it is a need.
You protect their reputation, and how they are perceived can also reflect on you. If your executive is late submitting their report, are you effectively managing their time? They may be the executive, but sometimes you need to be the one to direct their activity to ensure they are achieving their goals.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask, don’t be afraid people may not like you, and don’t try to save the world”
Catherine Williamson, England: “Research development, training and networking opportunities. Never be afraid to ask (the worst answer can be no). Not to be afraid that people might not like you, and not to try and save the world.”
On career accomplishments: “(In 2013) I co-founded a network of PAs in Westminster (Network PA SW1) with a friend, Gill Quirk, who works in Whitehall, where our government departments are predominantly based. It’s gone from strength to strength and I’m incredibly proud of that.”
Click any name below for my full interview with any of the Real Careers alumni featured in 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers
- Day One: Beth Arzy (England and USA), Erin Floss (USA), Corrie Fourie (South Africa), Janice Parker (Australia, having returned from England), Karen Richmond (Scotland), Julia Robertson-Avenell (England), Peyton Tickner (USA), Julia Schmidt (Brazil and Norway), Carla Stefanut (Italy), Barbra Unger (Canada), Emily Walker (England), Catherine Williamson (England)