Day Nine: 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers

We’re in the home stretch, and I’m delighted to bring you Day Nine of the 2021 edition of this 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 from 27 countries since 2015. I do this to share insightful excerpts from just some of these interviews.

Enjoy today’s read, and see which ideas resonate with you and may help you as you wind down 2021 and prepare for the new year ahead. Some people featured in this series have changed careers and, this year, I’m also including excerpts from association leaders on pandemic experiences. To read the full interview from any of these individuals, just click on her or his name. 


Amanda Bagga, India, on the career amid a pandemic: “I also have recently started maintaining a gratitude journal, which I make it a point to do every morning while sipping my tea. It gives me time to reflect and be thankful for everything. The pandemic has changed our perspective on the things we used to take for granted … Be kind and grateful, and never take people for granted as life is too short and unpredictable.

… My biggest lesson has been to never stop learning. That is the only way you will get from where you are to where you would like to be. Continue to develop your existing skills and learn new ones that will help you further your career.”

“I have no problem saying ‘no’ to someone if their request goes beyond established boundaries”

Stacey BreBrewer, Stacey - USAwer, USA: “My current executive and I recognized from day one that our partnership would be much stronger if we initially invested the time to specifically develop our working relationship on a much deeper level beyond the standard daily interactions.

In addition to our weekly operational meeting, we also scheduled a weekly lunch meeting for the first six months to just really get to know each other. The more quickly the two of you can gain insight into each other’s past experiences and thought processes, the better; it will be well worth the investment in the long run.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions”

Jean Coco, USA: “The administrativeCoco, Jean - USA field is a career.

Early in my profession, I did not take the role as seriously as I do know. Professional development is very important in the administrative field, just as it is for any other role.

Find a mentor, whether it is another assistant or a manager. Find out all you can about the goals, mission and objectives of the business and department where you work.”


On professional development: “It is personal development, so if your organisation is unable or unwilling to support you, there’s nothing to stop you doing it in your own time”

Brenda Edwards, England: “ Put time into thinking about what you want to achieve, and discuss it with your executive/principal and HR. See if they are able to support you in that growth and give advice on how to achieve it.

Also check what’s available outside your organisation. It is personal development, so if your organisation is unable or unwilling to support you, there’s nothing to stop you doing it in your own time. When I started my degree, I did it for my own benefit. It was only when I mentioned in passing that I was doing one that my then-employer offered to support me in it.

Above all, don’t be afraid to aim high. The Chief Executive of our local Hospital Trust started as a nurse. One of the Cornish MPs used to be a secretary. Believe in yourself!”


“Communication is vital”

Susan Engelbrecht, South Africa: “Start practicing your assertiveness techniques in small situations, such as telling your friend that you don’t want to watch a certain movie.

Build upon each experience and soon you will find yourself to be assertive in other situations, too.”

“I have many mentors in the PA/EA fraternity who have assisted me in some way or exposed me to new ideas and opportunities … I have also mentored several PAs throughout my career. I like to believe that I have made an impact on their lives in the same way my mentors did to me.”

“Treat every day as a learning opportunity”

Melissa Francis, England, on seeking promotion: “Be brave when looking at job opportunities, and put yourself forward for as much training and development as you can comfortably take on.

Treat every day as a learning opportunity and be kind/respectful on your way up the promotion ladder; this in turn is usually reciprocated. Networking is incredibly important and can really help to build your personal brand.”

“Take ownership of your own development”

Ruth Hargreaves, England: “My first Line Manager, Lottie (a Senior Personal Assistant), was incredibly influential during my first role as a Personal Assistant. Lottie opened many doors of opportunity for me, and listened and invested in my development as if it was her own. I often reflect back on where I am now, and know I have her to thank for providing me with the foundations of my career.

 Keep on top of the latest industry news associated with your company and CEO, ask for feedback on your performance, and take ownership of your own development. Finally, get yourself out and about to share best practices with other likeminded PAs/EAs/Office Managers. You’ll gain confidence at the same time as making new friends.”

“My target for the coming year is to continue to develop and to advance in digitization”

Karin Hélène, Sweden: “I have always had a long-term goal for my career path and short-term goals for development and training.

… Become a member in a professional network; this will give you access to colleagues within your profession and you can get advice on how to further develop within your role.

Talk to your manager and talk to Human Resources about what your career path could look like within your workplace. Ask for training and ask to attend seminars to keep in the forefront in all aspects.”

“Work on keeping an open mind and eye to all the new digital developments”

Solveig Kristensen-fargeSolveig Kristensen, Norway: “I believe that our work days will be more flexible than today and … that we will be more efficient by working even more with digitalized apps, web pages and online programs. This will reduce the manual work and make us better able to monitor and track many of our tasks.

I believe that getting more digitized will broaden our job opportunities, meaning you may be able to get a job in a company situated in a country or area further from where you live.

Focus on two things: 1) Work on keeping an open mind and eye to all the new digital developments; know what is going on and do not fall behind by thinking this is too complicated for me or not interesting at all. 2) Work on your social skills. This is what will separate us humans from all the AI in the future, and this is what will be our one and only asset that the AI can not take from us.”

“… if you do not keep up with the latest tools available, you will become antiquated”

Deirdre McGovern, USA: ” LearninMcGovern, Deirdre - USAg is living; if you do not keep up with the latest tools available, you will become antiquated.

I regularly say no when I am unable to assist. I like to think of myself as a very helpful person/professional; I will assist just about anyone.

However, in saying that, if someone enters the office to ask me something ridiculous or if the person is trying to pass the buck, I have a plan in place. I stand, look them straight in the eye and very politely say,  ‘I am unable to do that. I really do not have the time as I am very busy’ – which is not a lie! I speak up for myself.” 

“No isn’t a word that naturally occurs in the vocabulary of admin. support, but it is one we need to learn to tactfully use”

Helen Parker, England: “‘No’ isn’t a word that naturally occurs in the vocabulary of admin. support, but it is one we need to learn to tactfully use in order to avoid being completely overwhelmed.” 

… on working with a new executive: “Opening up frequent dialogue early on is key to understanding each other’s style of work and to gain an insight into your executive’s priorities and methods of working. As the assistant, you need to adapt to their wants and needs, but don’t be afraid to offer your own ideas and suggestions.”


“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: “YoAnderson, Janice - Australia/Englandur 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.”


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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