Day Three: 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers

We’re on a roll

We’re on a December roll! This is the fifth year of my 12 Days of Real Careers tradition, in which we look back on the many Real Careers interviews I’ve conducted with high performing assistants from 27 countries to date.

Think of these interview excerpt as gifts of experience and wisdom that we can all incorporate.

To read my full interview with any of these individuals, just click on her or his name below.  


“Keep a running log of all your successes and wins

Leeanne Adu, England, on seeking a promotion: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get … but before you ask, make sure you have all your ducks in a row.  Write down all your achievements and your goals. Show your evidence and have the facts on hand.

When you approach your employer, don’t give them any room to doubt why they should give you the promotion. If you have it all written down in a factual and logical way, then it will be much harder to ignore. Of course we all want to feel valued and hope our bosses see it without our input, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Business cases are important for you to remember your value and also to help your employer remember. Keep a running log of all your successes and wins, and you can’t go wrong.”


“I want to do my very best for my executive and I can only do that if we’re on the same page”

Tonya Beattie, UBeattie, Tonya - USASA: “When we land a new job, we’re fresh from impressing a room full of strangers with our skills and abilities and the talents we’re bringing to the team. A new assistant needs to come in with an open mind and be prepared to learn.

Things are probably going to be done differently than you’re used to, and it’s going to take you some time to figure out the systems. Be sure to give yourself some grace. You’re going to make some mistakes; learn from them and move on. Be friendly to everyone. You never know who you’re going to need to lean on down the road.”


“Don’t take things personally”

Joanna Campbell, Canada (originally from New Zealand): “The only typical thing about by my day is that I can’t predict what will land on my desk. I have a to-do list, but have to be ready to switch between changing priorities at a moment’s notice.

I am proud of the relationships I have built and maintained. I think they are important to ensure I can do a good job, but they are also important to me personally.”

… on insights that would have been helpful early in Joanna’s career: “Stay organised. Don’t take things personally. Stand up for yourself in a polite, firm way.”


“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.”


“Ask for feedback – and ask those who you know will be brutally honest”

Kim Glover, England, on career growth and promotion: “Join a network. Identify a mentor. Understand whether your organisation has a competency matrix in place for your role, which should highlight what steps are needed to progress to the next level. Talk them through with your boss and agree on objectives, and what support you need from your boss/organisation in order to achieve them.

Ask for feedback – and ask those who you know will be brutally honest. If there are things about the way you behave or present yourself that are holding you back from getting that promotion, then you need someone who’s going to be really honest with you about them, otherwise you will never have the opportunity to do something about it.”


“You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want”

Amanda Hargreaves, England: “When I went into my first admin. role, I had never worked in an office before; so I would say listen and learn, and be confident – but not overly confident.

… Take time to work out and plan what it is you want. You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want.

How long will it take to achieve this, how can you achieve this, who can help you achieve this?”


“Read the reports and presentations that are sent to your executive and be able to understand the information. If there is something you don’t understand – ask someone.”

Lokken, MistiLynn -USAMistiLynn Lokken, USA: “ Read the reports and presentations that are sent to your executive and be able to understand the information. If there is something you don’t understand – ask someone. Most importantly, take ownership of your development and don’t wait for someone to hand you an opportunity. Never stop networking!

… I have had the honor of several mentors throughout my career, including a manager early on who took me under her wing and changed my life. Bridgette saw more in me than I saw in myself and invested time in my development over the course of several years. I am a better person today thanks to her, and have committed to paying it forward by mentoring others.”


“Find out more about the operational plan or strategic objectives and where your boss/executive and you fit in”

Marsh, Maria - EnglandMaria Marsh, England: “I have always negotiated my training at the interview/recruitment stage. I don’t think I could work for a company that did not support my development. You are never too old to learn, and I still enjoy going to conferences and trying new things.”

(On working with a new principal/executive): “I do the induction and training for our PA and admin roles. The most important aspect is to get the communication correct from the beginning, and adapt styles where necessary. Find out all those likes/dislikes and the executive’s preferred style – and then work to that style. It is an ongoing and developing process that requires regular check-ins. Also, find out more about the operational plan or strategic objectives and where your boss/executive and you fit in.”


“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.”


“I’ve learned the hard way that it is okay to say no”

Debbi Shaffer, USA: “When I begin supporting a new executive, I schedule an interview with him/her. This is very different from the interview you had to get the position. During the appointment I ask questions on a wide variety of topics: family, favourite foods, allergies, medical conditions I need to be aware of, preferred methods of communication, travel preferences, memberships, expectations, and specifics I can do to add value to the partnership. From that initial conversation, I begin to build an executive dossier. This is a binder, kept under lock and key, that has all the particulars on my executives. I am constantly adding to these dossiers.

One important piece of advice: should you part ways with an executive, be sure to turn the dossier over to your executive, not to HR or your replacement. The dossiers I’ve created have contained a lot of personal information and only my executives should decide who receives that information. I’ve spent years building extensive dossiers and know my executives would definitely not want that level of detail passed on to a new assistant until they have built a relationship of trust with that individual.”


“You must build a bond of trust and transparency”

Matthew Want, England: ” (Want, Matthew - EnglandMake) sure you don’t try and run before you can walk. When I first started I really wanted to be like other assistants I met, but I soon learnt that they had once been where I was and that only by being patient and learning what the role fully entails would I be able to reach that level.

(Make) sure that you have a clear strategy of what needs prioritising for your boss and yourself. It is key that you make sure you are continually on top of what your boss needs so you can make her/his workload easier – and, in return, helping manage the workload for yourself.”


“If you don’t ask, you don’t get”

Megan Williamson, England, on job interviews: “Be prepared and be you; being yourself will make you stand out more, we’re all unique! You’ve been shortlisted for an interview, so think positive; you’re half way there, so don’t doubt yourself. It’s you they want to see and there are no trick questions; answer as you would and with the knowledge you have.

It’s easier said than done, but the panel are prepared for nerves. Keep calm, take a drink if you need to and think about the answer before you say it; it’s normal to hear a voice and then realise it’s yours and you’re talking. If you’re unsure or didn’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask!”

On seeking career growth/promotion: “Communicate this; if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you have aspirations, make sure to make sure to make time to discuss this with your exec at the appropriate times and keep a log of what you want to develop and how you would do this; doing your homework makes the conversation a lot more productive. Although they might not act straight away, showing you’re keen and driven will ensure they consider you for opportunities that arise.”

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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