It’s Day 10 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 prepare for the new year ahead. Some people featured in this series have changed careers and, once again 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.
“Invest in your own career development”
Rebecca Agyirba Afful, Ghana: “Know your coworkers by their names and take particular interest in them. By that I do not mean getting into their personal lives but make them know you care about them. Be helpful to them and they will come to your aid when you also need their help.
… Take advantage of learning opportunities, invest in your own career development, know your job well, and when opportunities for growth/promotion present themselves take full advantage of it.”
“We need to be open-minded and ready to learn”
Alicia Álvarez (Spain): “I have a computing degree and English and French languages certificates. Languages have benefitted me because, when I started, there were not many people keen on this.”
On working amid a pandemic: “I have been very lucky, and have been working in the office during the pandemic. When the Alarm State began, we were considered essential because we produce packaging for the food sector, among others. Our offices are big, and we can maintain our distance from each other … Human beings are fragile. Life changes and surprises us everyday, and we must keep a clear mind to be able to get out of difficult situations … We must always be aware of and informed when it comes to new technologies. We must not have fear of changes, and we need to be open-minded and ready to learn.”
“Bring ideas, and show how important a new project or function would be for you”
Diana Brandl, Germany: “The interesting fact about being an assistant is that a new exciting opportunity may come sooner than you think. You might get a new boss, your current boss may changes roles within the company, or some new structures can generate new projects.
Loyalty, trust and transparency are extremely important for assistants in their working relationship with a boss. It would be hard for me to work with a boss who did not trust me. I always commit myself 100% to my manager and expect the same in return.”
Carry yourself with grace and dignity, and watch and learn from those you respect
Bianca Constance, USA and originally from Canada: “All of my academic degrees were in music – opera and voice, to be specific. My only business-related class was a typing class that I took when I was a freshman in high school. I stumbled into the world of the administrative professional because I could answer the phone, type very fast and was a quick study. There was no such thing as professional development when I started.
After I joined IAAP (the International Association of Administrative Professionals), I realised that professional development was very important. It completely changed my outlook on my job and my work, making me realize that this really was my career. I had always taken great pride in my work, but now it was different. It brought me out of my shell at work. I started reading all the trade papers and periodicals that my executives read and kept up to date on happenings in my industry, freely sharing my observations with my executive – much to her delight, I might add. She, in turn, would share my insights with her colleagues, the company’s management committee, which increased my visibility within the company.”
“Any leadership role with your peers can help you grow professionally and personally”
Laureen Dailey, Canada: “I have a post-secondary diploma in Legal Secretarial Sciences, supplemented by various professional development trainings and self-taught learnings over the years. Every little bit helps to keep abreast of changes in the profession and with technology.
… Any kind of leadership role with your peers can only help you grow professionally and personally by giving you an opportunity to learn new skills and become more confident in your abilities.”
“Never stop learning; it is beyond arrogant to think you know everything about the profession”
Kerry Dawson, England: “If you have an issue, somewhere in the world is someone who has had the very same problem and has worked through it. Ask for help on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
The PA profession can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Network, network, network.
The whole world is at your fingertips. It has never been so easy to network with subject matter experts and you don’t even have to leave the house to do it. Make social media work for you if you can’t network face-to-face.”
“Ask for that training you deserve. It took me a few years to appreciate that training is as important for me as it is for my colleagues.”
Giulietta Driver, England: “I have a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Management. Whilst not obviously linked to my role, it gave me a really solid grounding in administration and finance. It’s really helped with things like Board administration, as I actually understand the finance terminology … I love my career, but I get annoyed by the perception that being a PA/admin is not a serious career, or is beneath someone with a degree.
… Ask for that training you deserve. It took me a few years to appreciate that training is as important for me as it is for my colleagues. Learning doesn’t have to be formal. I’ve learned a lot by chatting to other PAs over Twitter, and reading blogs and magazines.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and active. Employers DO look at these things (I know I have when recruiting), so it’s important to keep it fresh. I’m in a few groups as well, which has raised my profile.”
“Qualifications are essential, of course, but experience is invaluable”
Sherri Eckworth, England: “A good education got me off to a great start. In most jobs I’ve had, I’ve been offered training and support to do the role to the best of my ability – and if it’s not been in place, I’ve asked!
Qualifications are essential, of course, but experience is invaluable.
In any new role, get to know everyone before attempting to change the way things happen. Learn what people do around you – make time for others.”
“EAs are notorious for saying yes when they feel the answer should probably be no”
Chantalle Freeborough, Canada: “Saying no to people is hard, but I’ve learned it is better to under promise than to not deliver! EAs are notorious for saying yes when they feel the answer should probably be no. Then they just magically make it happen. But that ‘magic’ includes putting added stress on themselves.
… I often tell people I’m a lifer student. I finished my Office Administration Executive diploma at Georgian College, and continued to study part time to achieve a Teaching and Training Adults Certificate and AAA’s (the Association of Administrative Assistant’s; now rebranded as AAP, Association of Administrative Professionals) Qualified Administrative Assistant designation. Since then, I’ve been working on a degree program on a part-time basis. In the midst of studying, I engage in professional development – there are no two ways about it, it’s been advantageous to my career.”
“Learn to say no, and dare to say yes”
Maria Gottberg, Sweden: “I enjoy keeping current on many issues at once, and being quick and efficient while also being proactive .
… I always try to help where I can and those I work with know that’s a fact. If I say no, it’s because I can not help them; I have no hidden agenda, and they know it.
… Focus on work when you are at work, and focus on your family when you are at home.”
“Look at joining a networking group, see if you can find a mentor, search for online training courses … “
Craig Harris, England, on seeking promotion: “Whatever the reason, really think about it before taking any steps forward. Then, after this, it really depends on what the change means for you. If you want to stay within your current organisation, it’s important to put together a business case that outlines what you are proposing.
If you are looking outside the organisation for promotion, really outline the skills that you have on your CV and think about what you want to get out of the move. Make sure this is communicated in your CV.
If it’s a case that you are looking for growth or development, there are ways that you can do this outside work. Look at joining a networking group, see if you can find a mentor, search for online training courses … or consider investing in yourself and paying to attend a course. Your growth and development are as much your responsibility as anyone else’s, so believe in what you can achieve and go for it.”
“Know your worth and value yourself”
Susan Henderson, England: “Ensure you have a career plan and work on developing this with your boss to ensure your growth. Know your worth and value yourself. Join online groups/networks via LinkedIn or pa-assist.com, and subscribe to magazines such as PA Life, Executive PA or Executive Secretary with Lucy Brazier.
Definitely get on social media (there is a whole community out there who will support you) and enhance your networking skills. Always show willingness to attend appropriate training and keep your IT skills up to date – there are always new tricks to learn.
Update your CV regularly with your accomplishments, or keep a separate document which you can refer to at appraisal time. If you do not keep a note, you are likely to forget something crucial which could cost you a promotion or a salary increase. Ask your firm to support your career development and invest in your training.”
“Goal setting is not only important to you and your professional development, it’s important to your executive and your organization”
Juanita Mort, USA: “I don’t think goal setting is something all admins do easily. I think we are often so ‘in the fray’ that we don’t take time to set goals – which is a big mistake.
Goal setting is not only important to you and your professional development, it’s important to your executive and your organization as it helps you connect with and become accountable to the whole, giving you something to work toward.
… Find someone who exhibits the professionalism, skills and experience in the areas you want to grow and ask them to mentor you.”
Click any name below for my full interview with any of the Real Careers alumni featured in 2021’s 12 Days of Real Careers
- Day One: Beth Arzy (England and USA), Erin Floss (USA), Corrie Fourie (South Africa), Janice Parker (Australia, having returned from England), Karen Richmond (Scotland), Julia Robertson-Avenell (England), Peyton Tickner (USA), Julia Schmidt (Brazil and Norway), Carla Stefanut (Italy), Barbra Unger (Canada), Emily Walker (England), Catherine Williamson (England)
- Day Two: Suzanne Benderski (USA), Nicole Blanchette (Canada), Marcela Silva da Conceição Brito (Brazil), Kemetia Foley (USA), Helen Gallienne (England), Joanne Gallop (New Zealand), Jill Goertzen (Canada), Claire Grace, (England), Stephanie Henry (USA), Luciana Landini (Italy), Breda Shanahan (Republic of Ireland), Teri Wells (South Africa)
- Day Three: Leeanne Adu (England), Tonya Beattie (USA), Joanna Campbell (Canada and New Zealand), Maria Cirillo (Sweden), Kim Glover (England), Amanda Hargreaves (England), MistiLynn Lokken (USA), Maria Marsh (England), Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha (Uganda), Debbi Shaffer (USA), Matthew Want (England), Megan Williamson (England)
- Day Four: Rebeka Adamson (New Zealand), Juliana Carneiro (The Netherlands; originally from Brazil), Paula Harding (England), Beth Ann Howard (USA), Else-Britt Lundgren (Sweden), Michela Luoni (Italy), Jacqueline McCumber (USA), Christina Martinez (USA), Tholo Motaung (South Africa), Jacqui Prospero (Canada), Helen Rees (England), Laura Swallows (USA)
- Dave Five: Bonnie Cookson (England), Angela Downey (England), Katie Driver (England), Cathy Harris (South Africa), Florence Katono (Uganda), Phiandra Peck (USA), Jennifer Robson (Australia; originally from Bangladesh), Marc Taylor-Allan (England), Sally Thomas (USA)
- Day Six: Nina Aunula (Finland), Dawn Becker (Canada), Denise Delamain (England), Vicki Faint (NZ), Fiona Kelly (Ireland), Jacqueline (Jackie) M. Leib (USA), Karine McKee (England), Renée Neverson (USA), John D. Shaw (USA), Melanie Sheehy (England), Chantal Sneijkers (Belgium), Lesley Young (England)
- Day Seven: Margo Baptista (Canada), Alison Boler (England), Sofie Koark (Sweden), Rosemary McLennan (Scotland; Scottish PA Network), Amy Marsden (England; now in New Zealand), Angela Parker (Germany), Melanie Richardson, (England), Anastasia Tertigka (Canada; originally from Greece), Peyton Tickner (USA)
- Day Eight: Amanda Bagga (India), Stacey Brewer (USA), Jean Coco (USA), Brenda Edwards (England), Susan Engelbrecht (South Africa), Melissa Francis (England), Ruth Hargreaves (England), Karin Hélène (Sweden), Solveig Kristensen (Norway), Deirdre McGovern (USA), Helen Parker (England), Janice Parker (England and Australia)
- Day Nine: Amanda Bagga (India), Stacey Brewer (USA), Jean Coco (USA), Brenda Edwards (England), Melissa Francis (England), Ruth Hargreaves (England), Karin Hélène (Sweden), Solveig Kristensen (Norway), Deirdre McGovern (USA), Helen Parker (England), Janice Parker (Australia and England)
- Day 10: Rebecca Agyirba Afful (Ghana), Alicia Álvarez (Spain), Diana Brandl, (Germany), Bianca Constance (USA; originally from Canada), Laureen Dailey (Canada), Kerry Dawson (England), Giulietta Driver (England), Sherri Eckworth (England), Chantalle Freeborough (Canada), Maria Gottberg (Sweden), Craig Harris, (England), Susan Henderson (England), Juanita Mort (USA)