Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Amanda Bagga of India.
Amanda Bagga is Senior Executive Assistant to the CEO at Merit Software Services Pvt Ltd. Here’s a look at her world.
Tea and gratitude
I love my cup of tea in the morning. 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.
I drive to work, and this takes about 45 minutes. I use this time to listen to podcasts or listen to books on audible. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? EA/PA Chataway with Lindsay Taylor
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: These include calendar management, travel, and follow up on actions with various stakeholders. I ensure the smooth functioning of the CEO’s office.
Morning Routines: Once I get into the office I check my emails and also have my executive’s calendar handy, as I usually remind him of his next meeting a few minutes prior. I also manage a small team consisting of the front office colleagues, Admin and Facilities Manager, so I have individual catch ups with them to see how they are progressing with their tasks. These are followed by meetings and emails. Currently all the meetings are by calls, as we are still working from home.
Being a part of a network is like having your own support system with people who know exactly what challenges you face and are there to help you
How long is your work day? I work about eight hours a day, but there are days when it does get stretched, especially if there are a lot of different activities happening at the same time.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? We conduct sessions on the importance of being healthy and active. We conduct eye camps, health check ups and have sessions on mental health. In our office we have a mezzanine with a huge arched table where employees can stand and work, as well as high stools in case they want to sit. We also have health insurance.
What might be a typical lunch? I carry lunch from home. Our operations manager sits in a cabin right near my desk, so we usually tend to have lunch together at this lovely little kitchenette area away from our desks.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? Yes, I am a part of a learning and development initiative called ‘’Catapult”, which is being conducted for the managers. This is a 12-week leadership training program.
The objective of Catapult is to build a positive culture at Merit, where at all levels of the company we are helping each other become the best version of ourselves. This culture is based around learning, coaching and partnering.
Catapult: at all levels of the company we are helping each other become the best version of ourselves
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I think travel has always been a bit of a challenge, especially when flights get delayed or cancelled. There is very little in our control and we need to think on our feet and quickly. Also, following up with senior managers to get them to submit reports or complete their tasks was particularly difficult in the initial stages of my job.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy being able to interact with people from different departments while following up on tasks. This also gives me an insight into the business on a deeper level.
On Saying “No”
I find it very difficult to say NO to people. But that being said, I have in the last couple of months started pushing back a little. Or, if they really need me to step in, then I ask for adequate time around completing the task.
Working during a pandemic
Tell us about your experience with remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home definitely has its pros and cons. The pros being I am able to see more of my family in between work.
The con is that there seems to be no cutoff time. At least when you went into the office and the day was done, you could shut off most of the times. But now, it is just continuous work, even on the weekends. Also, at home there are a lot of distractions which makes concentrating on work all the more difficult.
How would you rate your productivity when working remotely? It really depends on the day. There are days when there may not be much going on, and yet other days will be really hectic and you cannot complete all the tasks.
What would be your ideal work scenario once we settle in to new norms? Would you prefer to be back in the office, at home, or proceed with a hybrid approach? At our workplace, we have started bringing people in. Each month, we stagger the number of employees coming into the office. I prepared to start going into the office from January onward, at least a couple of times a week. I would prefer a hybrid working arrangement. Although I think, practically, it would be better to work from the office as things move quickly and work gets done faster. I am able to concentrate better in the office.
What’s been your biggest career lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? 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.
What’s been your biggest life lesson/takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic? Be kind and grateful, and never take people for granted as life is too short and unpredictable.
Never stop learning
How many professional development-focused webinars do you estimate you’ve attended during the COVID-19 pandemic? I have attended quite a few, at least 10 if not more. I have been able to be a part of some amazing organizations due to the pandemic and all the webinars being online.
Do you enjoy learning via webinars, and/or are you very much looking forward to the next occasion you can attend an in-person conference or learning event? Webinars are indeed more convenient, and you are able to network a lot more through Linkedin. But it would be nice to attend at least one conference or event in person.
Individuals and employers are increasingly aware of the importance of taking steps to reduce our carbon footprints. What steps are underway within your workplace to reduce carbon footprints? In the office, we provide new hires with jute files for their use.
We use seed pens. These pens are made of paper and contain spinach seeds, so they can be planted to grow food after the ink has been used. We segregate our wet waste, as we have a sewage treatment plant (STP). The recycled water is used to flush the toilets and water the plants. We also do our own composting, and rely on natural lighting in the office.
We use seed pens. These pens are made of paper and contain spinach seeds, so they can be planted to grow food after the ink has been used.
Please highlight some steps you take to reduce your carbon footprint in your personal life. We’ve reduced consumption of water and electricity and use recyclable alternatives to plastic. We’ve minimised our paper consumption by going digital.
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. I did my schooling and college in Mumbai. I moved to Chennai, which is in the south of India, after marriage. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I am for sure a city mouse; I’ve never lived in a small town. But I do enjoy the peace and quiet of a small town.
How long have you been in this career? I have been an Assistant for the last nine years. What was your first such role? I was the Executive Assistant to the Managing Partner of a law firm in Mumbai.
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I interviewed for the role of a Quality Analyst but when our CEO Con Conlon interviewed me and asked me about my previous job experience, he offered me the role of an Executive Assistant. So I decided to take it up, and eight years on I am still with the same company. Working with my CEO has taught me a few life lessons which I will never forget.
On role model and CEO Con Conlon: Con has always supported and encouraged my learning and development
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? In recent months, I have spent my time setting up a network for EAs and PAs here in India. We formed IMA India, International Management Assistants India, in December and launched it in February 2021.
Our vision was to have an international networking community for management support professionals, one that will help them grow to the next level in the profession. We are also increasing IMA’s global footprint in one of the world’s largest emerging economies, in a way that is mutually beneficial.
IMA India: We are also increasing IMA’s global footprint in one of the world’s largest emerging economies, in a way that is mutually beneficial
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Spending time with my four year old daughter energises me. She is my stress buster. The curiosity that kids have towards life is so refreshing and pure.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? My ideal holiday would be a beach destination. Sun, sand and surf! A place where you can just relax and unwind.
Education and professional development
I don’t think my formal education really helped me with my career development. As an Executive Assistant in India, there aren’t many options to pursue. But I have attended a few conferences, webinars and workshops that have helped me tremendously in my role.
The conferences that really made a difference to my career and role are Executive Secretary Global and Tech, and Your Excellency Academy for accounting and project management. Lindsay and Malcolm Taylor are the founders and are doing an exceptional job curating workshops for EAs and PAs.
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of International Management Assistants (IMA), IMA India, India’s delegate to the World Administrators Alliance (WAS), and am a member of The PA Way. I am the National Chairman for IMA India.
How has your leadership role within IMA India impacted you? We have just recently registered and launched IMA in India, so it is a little early to say how this has helped my career. However, through the process of setting up IMA India, I have met some wonderful people from around the world who have supported me, guided me and have been an absolute inspiration through the journey. It has helped me to take on more responsibility at work.
… through the process of setting up IMA India, I have met some wonderful people from around the world who have supported me, guided me and have been an absolute inspiration through the journey
How has participation in your network(s) or association(s) helped you? Being a part of a network is like having your own support system with people who know exactly what challenges you face and are there to help you. It is equally importantly what we can contribute in terms of experience and support others in the group.
Networking, inspiration and achievements
Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. I had always wondered how to go about being a strategic partner. I knew of the term but the path to getting there wasn’t clear. Being a part of various networks and associations, I was able to identify my learning gaps. So, I now have a clearer focus on the skills that I need to develop in 2021 to get to the next level. For example, I am not tech savvy and I am conscious that I need to work towards it. I also need to improve my presentation skills.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. Gaining the trust of my executive has been the most important. He allows me to work independently and take decisions. As well, I’m part of the core team developing the leadership program for the senior management at Merit.
Inspirational reads? Jan Jones’ book, The CEO’s Secret Weapon, was very inspiring. What really hit home was when she spoke about anticipation. That is the key quality an executive assistant should possess.
Recruitment is often competency-based, with competencies reflecting both behavioural (“soft” skills) and technical (“hard” skills) competencies. Please identify behavioural competencies and technical competencies you possess that are most relevant to success in your current position. Being proactive, anticipating, being quick with decision making, and time management
Role models or mentors? My executive, Con Conlon, has been my role model. At such a young age, he set up a company here in Chennai and being able to see it grow is inspirational. I see his dedication and focus to the business and I try and learn from him. What I really admire about him is no matter how busy he is, he will always reply to everyone’s emails. I have rarely seen people do this. Con has always supported and encouraged my learning and development. Very rarely do you come across executives who are as supportive and encouraging.
There have been so many wonderful people who have mentored me recently to achieve my goals: Paula Harding, Skevi Constantinou, Lucy Brazier, Chantal Sneijkers, Helen Monument, Corrie Fourie and Menekse Ahbab.
In the past I have been very nervous about networking, but I realized if I wanted to have a voice and promote our profession, I would need to start developing my network
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I try something new and practice till I feel comfortable. In the past I have been very nervous about networking, but I realized if I wanted to have a voice and promote our profession, I would need to start developing my network and be active on social media with topics that concern the EA profession.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I want to enhance my Excel, Word and PowerPoint skills and discover new apps that can help make my day more efficient. I will develop my writing skills, and learn how to read and analyze data. For presentation skills, I scheduled a session with Helen Monument. Helen is a wonderful and greatly experienced speaker in the administrative field.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? My aim is to be Chief of Staff. IMA India is helping EAs/ PAs reach their potential and enhance their careers and be the best version of themselves. I would like to be able to establish certifications for executive assistants in India. I want to create awareness of our profession throughout the country, right from the top down.
The Digital Age
What are your preferred forms of social media? LinkedIn What apps do you make use of in your professional life? I use Canva, Sway, and MS’ To Do list Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An aggregator for the best flights, hotels, concierge services, taxis, airport assistance – all on one app
Let’s think about the pros and cons of having an employer-provided smartphone: I do have an employer-provided Smart phone. It is most convenient and handy; the only drawback I see is there is no cutting off from it.
How digitized is your role? We use SharePoint and OneDrive for saving all our documents. We also have an intranet for communications, employee development and analytics. Please tell us about how digital assistants and artificial intelligence (AI) have impacted your role. The main impact is when you try reaching customer service to get something sorted, you have a bot instead of an actual someone who can help you.
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What positive impact(s) do you think artificial intelligence (AI), digital assistants and the internet of things (IOT) will have on the assistant of 2025? The positive impact would be that AI would be able to take over the repetitive tasks assistants do, like calendar management and appointment scheduling. The assistants would be then required to perfume a more strategic role.
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? I would suggest joining an EA/PA network, as there always relevant workshops and conferences being conducted to keep us up to date on the latest technology or how to develop our soft skills.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? I use folders in OneDrive to keep all the travel documents in one place. Also, I have a checklist for all the things that need to get done and tick it off and when tasks get completed. I give my executive a travel pack with a printout of all the documents that are required for his trip. Also, the sheets have labels to easily access specific documents.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? We currently do not use any apps. For expenses, we use Excel.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Try and learn a new skill in the time you have while looking for a job, as it shows your employer you are keen on furthering your career and are utilizing your time well. I would suggest they highlight those skills. Also, try and see where you can make an impact on the other person’s life.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Research the company. It is always good to read what the business is about. Keep your resume short and crisp, highlighting your certifications and training.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Keep all important information handy, and easy to access from either your desktop or phone. I use OneDrive and I can access documents from both. Have all important contacts and numbers handy.
Make it a point to learn at least one new skill every year. It will help keep you relevant. I really wish this was something I knew earlier. Also, join an EA/PA network, as members can be your support system that you can rely on.
Make it a point to learn at least one new skill every year
What advice might you offer a new parent returning to the workplace? Initially it was very difficult to leave my young daughter at four months and return to work full time. If you have an option, stay at home till your baby is six months old. Mentally prepare yourself to let other people help you in looking after your baby.
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? Speak to people from various departments, whether it is over a cup of coffee or lunch. It helps to build rapport and it enables a smoother flow of tasks. Never indulge in office gossip, a big no no.
Your most effective time management strategy? Plan your day. When I start my day, I use the first half hour to list any previous pending tasks that need to be completed. Make a list of your tasks, whether it is online or in a diary. I like to use OneNote to create my daily task list. I check my emails and update my to do list with the current tasks. This helps me to streamline my day and save time. Also, I try and finish the smaller tasks quickly and set aside enough time to complete the bigger ones that are more time consuming.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Setting boundaries on the work time is an important one. If you want to spend the weekend with your family, you need to make it clear. It can be extremely difficult to do this later. Also, check with your employer if they have a training budget for the year for executive assistants. If they don’t, maybe suggest it to them.
I want to create awareness of our professional throughout the country, right from the top down
Your thoughts on goal setting? Goal setting is important, as it give you a pathway to achieve milestones. This year, I have identified the areas that I need to develop and will focus on them. This will help me advance my career as well help me with promoting IMA India.
For those interested in promotion: Network. Learn.
About Shelagh and her Real Careers interviews
At the age of 21, Shelagh was a direct report to a COO. Within the same corporation, she became an editor and then a corporate trainer before a relocation and a return to what became an almost 30-year assistant career. Wrapping up that career in 2018 after a decade in governance, Shelagh’s been a direct report to four CEOs and accountable to four board chairs. Now, she delivers quality training internationally. She speaks at conferences, works with corporate clients, facilitates retreats, and delivers webinars to diverse audiences of assistants who want to perform at a high level.
Shelagh launched her Real Careers series in 2015. She interviews assistants around the globe in order to showcase individuals and the career itself. This series and the questions Shelagh poses continue to evolve. In addition to providing interesting reads and diverse perspectives, these interviews can constitute a form of professional development, as readers can explore different approaches assistants take to building and maintaining successful careers.
To date, assistants in 27 countries to date have generously shared the benefit of their experience with Shelagh. Shelagh has also assembled international Real Careers panels to explore perspectives on career dynamics, issues and opportunities. To explore any of Shelagh’s Real Careers interviews, follow drop-down menus on this page as follows: Real Careers/Interviews … and then dive into interviews by country.