Day Four: 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers

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Day 4 - 12 Days of Real Careers

I’m happy to bring you Day Four of this year’s edition of 12 Days of Real Careers.

If you’re just catching up on this celebration of insights and fellow assistants, you’ll find links to the first three days’ posts at the base of this article.

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


“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.”


“If you find training you are interested in, ask for it. If the first answer is no, ask again in six months.”

Carneiro, Juliana - Brazil / The Netherlands

Juliana Carneiro, The Netherlands, and originally from Brazil: “In Brazil, all the assistants need to have a university degree in Secretarial Education so, yes, education was highly important and a key thing for my career. When I say that I have a Bachelor’s degree in Secretarial Education, it opens a lot of doors.

… Learn, learn, learn, and talk to your executive about what you’re learning. If you find training you are interested in, ask for it. If the first answer is no, ask again in six months. If you don’t give up, your executive will understand that you mean business.”  

“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.”

“Own your successes; it’s not bragging to share good news or good ideas”

Beth Ann Howard, USA: “Plan ahead. I spend theHoward, Beth Ann - USA last few minutes of the work day planning the next day’s schedule, and I block off time on my calendar for the must-do list. I have a master to-do list with deadlines for important projects, but I know the must-do list is the urgent one.

Don’t spend too much time trying to solve a problem on your own—certainly try, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. It makes you more efficient and it helps you build connections.

Own your successes. It’s not bragging to share good news or good ideas, especially when they can help others be more successful, too –  and those ideas are the things that get you noticed and recognized by forces higher up in the organization.”

On IMA: “You develop a better understanding of different countries and cultures”

Else-Britt Lundgren, Sweden: “IMA is a unique network; you have the national as well as the international network, in which you develop a better understanding of different countries and cultures – which is so necessary in our global business world. I have definitely benefitted from improving my  leadership skills.

This is the case, too, with my project management skills and having gained a better understanding of different businesses. Through networking at our events, you keep pace with trends in our profession and you can often create your own contacts with whom you share ideas, experiences and learning.” 


“You are an extension of your boss; let that guide your actions”

Michela Luoni, Italy: “After attending Executive Secretary LIVEin 2013, I was keen to stay in touch with professionals of such value and afterwards I joined EUMA (now IMA; International Management Assistants) …  So, I’ve been building an international and high quality network. I warmly encourage everyone to join a professional association where available, in order to keep learning, remain up to date on the latest trends and evolve with the role.”

Try to be always one step ahead of your boss, give him/her solutions and not problems, and speak up for yourself when necessary.”


“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.”

“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.” 

“Always saying ‘yes’ to everything? You run the risk of being overloaded”

Tholo Motaung, South Africa, on conversation topics to initiate with a new executive: “ Communicate expectations and deal breakers in the work relationship, and define the work style required to be able to build a good working relationship.”

… and ideas for those seeking career growth/promotion: “Take initiative, be dynamic and willing to learn from the job, colleagues and formal education. Maintaining professional conduct is of utmost importance.”

“I can do what I do for anyone, anywhere in the world, in any industry

Jacqui Prospero, a virtual executive and personal assistant in Canada: “Remote work ebbs and flows, just like in the office. However, it has a more immediate feel to it. When a colleague ‘pings’ you on Teams, there is that feeling of urgency when, in reality, sometimes it’s not urgent. We have just graduated from calling people to instant messaging.

Making the time to be productive and focused has evolved in the last year, as the rest of the working world has had to develop coping mechanisms to get that type of time to drive innovation. Calendar blocking can help with this. For example, an appointment to ‘spend time doing xxx‘ is likely to be kept, versus the ‘I’ll get to it later’ approach to planning.”

“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.”

“I think it is important to have a mentor who sits at the level that you strive to reach”

Laura Swallows, USA: “Swallows, Laura - USAI think the most important conversations you should have with a new executive are around expectations, boundaries and communication. It’s important to clearly define expectations early on and understand how and when they plan to communicate with you.

For example, are you comfortable with them texting or calling you late at night or on the weekend? Do they expect an immediate response from you during normal “off hours”? Do they prefer text, a phone call or email? Do they expect you to stay in the office late if they are working late? Will you be handling any personal tasks or communicating with their family members/spouse/etc.? Having these conversations early on will prevent any lack of clarity down the road when these situations inevitably

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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