Day Six: 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers

It’s mid-December, and we’ve reached the halfway mark of this fifth annual 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 since 2015 and take on the daunting challenge of selecting snippets from just some of these interviews.

Enjoy Day Six, and see which excerpts particularly resonate with you and where you are at this point in your career. This year, I’m also including excerpts from interviews with professional network and association leaders on pandemic experiences. To read the full interview with any of these individuals, just click on her or his name.


“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.”


“Research how AI could help you in your role both currently and in the future”

Dawn Becker, Canada: “… I cBecker, Dawn - Canadaan and do say no. If what is being requested of me does not support my primary responsibilities to the Boards, the CIO and CEO, I will quite often say no.

… research how AI could help you in your role both currently and in the future. Be on the front of AI – not behind it.

By moving some routine aspects of the role to technology, those in this profession will have the opportunity to specialize in areas and demonstrate the value this profession brings to business.” 


“It’s not immodest to speak about yourself or to be proud of your achievements and how far you have come in your career”

Denise-Delamain-England-RC.jpgDenise Delamain, England: When you start a new role or have a new executive start with you, I’d really recommend booking some time with them as soon as possible.

Ask them what they are looking for in an assistant and how you can help them. Tell them about projects you’ve undertaken in the past so they get to know your strengths and competencies. Don’t sit back and wait until you’re asked – yes, you or they could be finding their feet in an new organisation, but the only way to move forward in the relationship is to show them what you’re capable of. It’s not immodest to speak about yourself or to be proud of your achievements and how far you have come in your career.”


“Use your networks wherever they may be”

Vicki Faint, New Zealand, on life lessons arising from the COVID-19 pandemic: “We can not be assured of anything. Things can change very quickly, and some things will never return to how we knew them before COVID.

Appreciate your family members who live close to you – many of us have family offshore who we may not get to see in the flesh for quite some time.

Use your networks wherever they may be – technology has forced our hand to learn and adapt to change.”



“No matter what challenges you face, you need to maintain a clear vision, update your goals, review how you will reach them, and most importantly then – get cracking on implementation!”

Fiona Kelly - Corporate 2 (1)Fiona Kelly, Ireland, on the career in pandemic times: “I think security risk is a big issue for a lot of organisations and in particular matters around GDPR  and people accessing sensitive information from home. However, the majority of employers have put systems in place so that their staff could continue their work. It’s amazing how quickly people have adapted to new working environments – as humans, we are inherently adaptable and resourceful.

people are changing how they do business, how they shop, live, learn and grow – we’ve enabled our courses and the 2020 Executive PA Forum to be accessible online. I’ve realized that no matter what challenges you face, you need to maintain a clear vision, update your goals, review how you will reach them, and most importantly then – get cracking on implementation!”


“Education has always been very important to me”

Jacqueline (Jackie) M. Leib, USA, on job interviews: “Be honest, bring a portfolio of your work and follow up with a hand written ‘thank you for your time’ note. Both Julie Perrine and Sandy Geroux have excellent ideas on how to build a portfolio and what to put in it.” 

“Education has always been very important to me. I have an appetite for knowledge in multiple forms and avenues. I obtained my Associate Degree in Office Management and Administration in my early twenties. I went back to school and earned my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Management two years ago. This past April, I received my CAP designation (Certified Administrative Professional). Each month I sign up for webinars and take courses …”


“Building connections at every level is key”

McKee-Karine-EnglandKarine McKee, England:: “Get to know who is who. Know the dynamics of an organization. This will help you to be able to navigate and take on tasks that your executive may have to otherwise do. You want to focus on freeing their time to focus on the vision overall and not the detail. You can manage the detail and you can help see the gaps of what can hinder achieving the goal.

… Be up to date with any trends and software packages that can help in the role. Do not be afraid to embrace the new systems; be the one to implement and help install the process around how the company should use it. Be part of the development and learn where the new gaps will be, and become skilled in these areas.”


“I like being in charge of my career”

Renée Neverson, USA: “I Neverson, Renée - Maryland, USAwas determined to succeed and learn from mistakes that I’ve made along the way, and that has led to my success as an administrative professional.

Through my educational journey, I have been afforded many opportunities within the last 12 years – such as obtaining a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, and becoming a certified Records Management Specialist through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) … I’ve also participated in various administrative professional webinars, attended administrative conferences, and taken several Human Resources classes. I like being in charge of my career, and these opportunities help me do that!”


“Do not underestimate the value of good relationships”

John D. Shaw, USA: “All relationships need to be nurtured and a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’ can go a long way.

Make sure you have a record of special occasions in peoples’ lives. Sending an unexpected ‘happy birthday’ wish to a contact lets them know they matter to you. I prefer sending hand-written notes – it’s more personal.

I’ve been very fortunate in having a wide-ranging professional network and have maintained many of these relationships for over 20 years.” 



“Being positive about life can get you through anything”

Melanie SheehySheehy, Melanie- England, England: “A lot of it is up to you as an individual, though, and how much you want to succeed in life and make your job your own … take on more work that is outside your remit. Also, it’s all about the little things! Get them right and you will go far.

For me, just being a working mum and seeing that I am achieving my goals at work but also seeing that my boys are happy is an accomplishment. The other accomplishment is seeing how far the Manchester PA Network has come … and to finally say we can recognise PAs in Manchester with the Manchester PA of the Year awards.”


“Build a career of substance”

Chantal Sneijkers, BSneijkers, Chantal - Belgiumelgium: “Being a member of EUMA (now IMA; International Management Assistants) changed my whole professional world. I learned and continue to learn so much that I bring to my office, and this has contributed to my career growth, and reaching the level and position I now hold.

Beyond that, I have met some great people from whom I also learned extra soft skills. As well, the cultural differences between the European countries have been personally enriching.” 


“Get to know some of the people with roles you aspire to, to see what their career path has been”

Lesley Young, England: “Don’t thinDexter, Lesley - UKk that you can’t get to the same position as people who inspire you; their career paths are probably not that different to your own.

… There are many ways of keeping up to date with professional developments, not least networking and meeting other EA/PAs, either in person or by linking on social media.

The main aim of our East Midlands PA Network is to connect EAs and PAs through training and networking opportunities to share best practice, inspire each other, and develop collaborative relationships.”


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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