Day Two: 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers

Career insights from assistants around the globe

It’s a pleasure to bring you Day Two of this year’s edition of 12 Days of Real Careers.

If you missed Day One of this celebration of insights and fellow assistants, have a look at yesterday’s post to learn more.

Think of these 12 Days as gifts of experience and wisdom we can all incorporate. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name.


“There are several role models whom I respectfully follow or lean on”

Nicole Blanchette, Canada: “Prioritise your day eBlanchette, Nicole - Canadavery morning or the night before you walk into the office, and work on one task at a time from start to finish. Multi-tasking does not work for me. I recognise that, in a busy office, we will encounter many interruptions and working on one task at a time may be difficult.

I always have an open journal/notebook on my desk and will jot down the interruptions so that I can follow up after I have completed the task at hand. Of course I also need to be flexible and willing to switch direction if needed. Once the diversion has been addressed, jump back on the task you were working on.”

“I’ve been learning to do things I couldn’t have even studied in school because the field didn’t exist! ”

Benderski, Suzanne - USASuzanne Benderski, USA: “When I was in my early twenties, I was very focused on the immediate tasks and situations.

Now, I would tell my younger self to keep more of an eye on the end game and longer-term goals, and not to be so short-sighted – especially in some of my decision-making.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to get the job I have without the education and certifications I’ve picked up over the years. I’ve spent many, MANY hours in the past few years learning everything I can about managing social media platforms and advertising – attending seminars, workshops and webinars, and reading, reading, reading. I’ve been learning to do things I couldn’t have even studied in school because the field didn’t exist! Continual professional development is crucial. The world is moving at break-neck speed, and you have to always keep learning.”


“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.”


“One doesn’t have to be friends with every person in the company”

Kemetia Foley, USA: “Be professFoley, Kemetia - USAional. Dress professionally. Ask questions. Understand the corporate culture and mission of your employer/company. Invest in a headshot photo and make certain you have a relevant LinkedIn profile. Engage with other administrative professionals and leaders in the office support domain. My quote: ‘Administrative professionals are only as good as their resource network.’

I belong to IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and have earned its certification, Certified Administrative Professional with a speciality in Organisational Management. I have held many leadership roles with IAAP, and am just finishing up my term as Local Area Network Director for Washington, DC. I also have memberships in The American Society of Administrative Professionals and National Business Education Association.”


“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.”

“I like change; to me, change equals growth”

Gallop, Joanne - New ZealandJoanne Gallop, New Zealand, on seeking promotion/career advancement: ” Read as much as you can, put together a proposal if you are interested in attending training/conferences, etc. Make sure you include the benefits for the organisation. Join an appropriate association – there are great rewards for very little cost!

On a personal note, my husband and I sit down with a drink every New Year’s evening and review what we have achieved over the year and what we want to achieve the following year. I use this for my work life, as well. I plan my personal and professional development and career progression. Don’t forget to review what you have achieved – you’d be surprised how much you’ve done!”

“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.”

“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!”

“I never want to become the person whom everyone thinks is stuck in the old ways”

Bergsieker, Stephanie - USAStephanie HenryUSA: “I try to be aware of what’s going on in our industry and community in order to benefit my company.

Stay up with and on top of technology. I feel like there will always be a need for assistants, but we will need to be able to use and manipulate technology.”

“I feel as though my willingness to venture outside of my expected role and try new things has proven very helpful. I feel that I am most successful due to the relationships that I build. Of course, tech-savviness is a tremendous help as well.”


“I believe assistants need to be brand ambassadors for themselves”

Luciana Landini, Italy:  “It is also important to build a strong network based on trust and honesty. It will help you face the complicated situations in your work life and improve your position in case you decide to – or have to – find a new job.

Last but not least, your time is precious; make a plan for the current year and for the following years, and decide where you would like to get. You might not fulfill your expectations but it helps you make the point, and decide when it is time to change plans.


“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. 


“Your attitude will determine your altitude”

Teri Wells, South Africa: “I know it is an old cliché, but your attitude will determine your altitude.”

“I work hard to ensure that I am seen as a key member of the Executive Team and that I can be part of the strategic decisions and discussions that are taking place. I try to ensure I always have a seat at the boardroom table so that I know what is happening. This helps me anticipate issues that might arise and helps me be proactive in the work that I do.”


Shelagh-Donnelly-Grouse-Mtn-2018-4944-Copyright-Shelagh-DonnellyClick any name below for my full interview with any of the Real Careers alumni featured in 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers


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