Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Anita Olsen of Norway.
Anita Olsen is Administrative Advisor at the National Union of Students in Norway. Here’s a look at her world.
A social start
My day starts at 7:00 a.m.; I am not a huge fan of early mornings. I have a quick breakfast, usually a slice of bread with something sweet on it. Then I check social media before I get ready for work.
I have a short walk to the bus. Depending on the traffic, the ride takes 30 to 40 minutes, and then I have another short walk to reach the office. Who or what is on your commuting playlist or podcast? I usually listen to music. I have a playlist with my favourite songs and may also listen to an artist’s album. Sometimes I listen to a Norwegian podcast.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: I work in a student organisation where my colleagues work with student politics. We have around 100 representatives on different committees in organisations or government. I have the responsibility of sending out information so students can apply for these committees. I receive fund applications and write case documents for these applications to our executive committee. I write the agendas for these meetings and prepare case papers. I support travel for all our representatives, booking hotels and helping with anything for which they need assistance. I review and update office routines, and do event logistics for meetings, conferences and our annual congress.
I have been working for this organisation for less than a year, so I’m still learning this field and establishing routines.
Morning Routines: Usually, I start my day by creating a to-do-list for the day, checking my mail and Slack (collaboration software). I check our executive committee leaders’ email to see what needs attention. I also maintain longer monthly, semi-annual and annual to-do lists.
Next, I start on my to-do-list. I respond to emails, book hotels, write case papers, post information on our web pages and social media. I document routines for manuals, read our statutes and learn new and unfamiliar software. In the spring, a lot of my work is connected to our annual congress.
How long is your work day? I usually work from 9:00 until 4:30 or 5:00. When I leave the office, I log off and no one expects me to be available during “off” hours. My general manager and executive committee leader can reach me if they want on my private mobile, and others can do so by messenger on Facebook.
What might be a typical lunch? We all sit down for a casual lunch of bread with toppings and juice. We also have free coffee and tea.
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 all have adjustable desks at work. I also have a balance pillow (a balance pad or disc) on the floor that I sometimes use when I stand at my counter. I do take breaks to walk around in the office throughout the day or do something other than my tasks. My employer also pays for membership to a fitness centre.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? In the early months in this role, some of the tasks were new to me and I learned new software and routines.
Review your career annually: Where do you want to be, and how do you get there?
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy the diversity of my role. One day I may work with event logistics; another day may be filled with reading funding applications and preparing case documents and reading other materials.
On Saying “No”
It hasn’t happened yet at my new job but, at other workplaces, I have said “no” to people. Sometimes I have had deadlines for one or several tasks; at that point I will say “no” to new tasks. In general, though, I usually ask about the task and when the work needs to be done. I decide on my approach based on that information.
I was born on an island, an hour and a half southwest of Oslo, Norway, where I live today. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I live in the suburbs, 20 minutes by subway outside the city centre. I love hanging out with friends in the city. I also love spending my holidays with my family on the island where I was born.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I spend my free time with friends, family or by myself. I enjoy reading, watching movies and tv.
How long have you been in this career? I have been an admin. for about 25 years. Most of my career has been in government, serving parliamentarians. I had responsibility for running organisations’ day to day routines, including ordering supplies, accounting, fund applications, answering phones and emails. What was your first such role? I had a summer job at my father’s accounting business, punching invoices. How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I was an external applicant and found the opportunity on a jobseeker page.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I meet up with friends, or have my nails or hair done. I may go to the movies or shopping, or prepare a good meal. I also network, watch tv or read. I also do some journaling or do puzzles.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? That would be spending time with my family on my holidays; my homeplace on the island is a summer paradise. Just getting away from the city to the countryside is my ideal holiday.
Julia Schmidt made the most significant professional impact on me
Education and professional development
My educational background is in marketing, administration, accounting, travel study and HR. I try to attend all IMA (International Management Assistants) Norway meetings, webinars and breakfast meetings.
I also attend some other meetings such as a large Norwegian conference called “She Conference” and IMA Norway’s Fall Conference. I hope to attend the IMA Central Training Day or the IMA Annual Conference. I also belong to IAM, so I do some of their webinars. I do other webinars like Sawbucks, IAAP and so on.
I want to stay inspired and eager to learn new things.
Peer and Professional Associations: I’m a member of IMA Norway and IAM. They inspire and educate me. How have these networks or associations helped you? I have a lot of admin connections online; they share tips and give great advice on everything admin-related. They help me keep myself updated on tech, routines, apps and software. In my current job, my networks have helped me in teaching my coworkers how to use OneNote and in keeping my email in box organised.
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role in such an organisation? No, I have not. Maybe I will offer to serve as a member of the board some day.
Have you earned any certifications earned through the association? I’m an IAM affiliate, and have participated in a number of IMA Norway events: the IMA Norway Weekend Seminars in 2017 and 2018, and the 2017 and 2018 IMA Norway Fall Conference. I served on the 2018 IMA Norway Fall Conference Committee.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? We communicate through network and breakfast meetings, webinars, email, newsletters, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Inspirational reads? I find inspiration from different people. To mention a few, Isabelle Ringnes loves tech and she speaks about it passionately. Isabelle and Marie Louise Sunde have written and recently published a book about gender equality. Svein Harald Røine speaks about being brave, and he has also written a book about this. Per Henrik Stenstrøm and Elaine Eksvärd talk about personality types. Diana Brandl, Julia Schmidt, Julie Perrine and all my IMA friends inspire me every day to keep me at my best.
Role models or mentors? I have learned a lot from all the fabulous ladies at IMA. They are all great role models and mentors. But I think Julia Schmidt made the most significant professional impact on me. I always learn a lot from Julia, reading her articles and social media posts, and personal experiences that she has shared over the last two and a half years within IMA.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I’m particularly proud of my planning and logistics around events for The Progress Party’s parliamentary group Christmas Party, Summer Party, travel to Iceland, Stockholm, Copenhagen and fourth year party. It’s so stressful during the planning, but so fun when everything comes together. And of course there’s the event itself with all the memories.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I try to think about what I can learn when I leave my comfort zone. Usually, I get a bit nervous and insecure. If I have the time I will try to educate myself about the task ahead. Over the years, I have become better at moving outside my comfort zone – learning and experiencing new things and meeting new people.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? Getting a better understanding of student politics and mastering all my different tasks will be important. I will keep myself updated on the administrative field, do webinars, participate in conferences and network.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am keeping up with technology. I want to stay inspired and eager to learn new things. I’ll share things that inspire me with my networks. This year, gender pay gaps and equality interest me a lot; I want to learn more about this. I am also interested in personality types, training and mindfulness.
The Digital Age
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I sometimes publish to Facebook and Twitter for the organisation.
What are your preferred forms of social media? I use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter professionally and personally. My Instagram account is mostly private and Snapchat is private only. Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. A large part of my social media is related to my admin role for learning and sharing. It helps me keep up with what happens in the admin world.
Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? I sometimes publish on my organisation’s website.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Mostly Slack and OneNote
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I think that OneNote will be my favourite for a long time. It makes my life so much easier. Thanks, Melissa Esquibel, for teaching me the usefulness of OneNote.
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? In my previous job, I digitised most of the archives.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes, but only for work. I don’t use it outside work hours. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones may have had on your quality of life. It doesn’t impact my life much at all. I use it only for answering calls.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? Do you continue to produce hard copy meeting packages for participants? They are mainly digital. There are still expectations that some meeting materials will be paper-based.
Does your organisation make use of a portal, intranet or SharePoint for any of its bodies/committees? We are looking into implementing a portal.
I’ll share things that inspire me with my networks.
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in your environment. In my environment, it will be planned and logical. What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources such as Siri and OK Google and more? At the moment, AI isn’t a focus at my workplace.
Your experience and thoughts on cyber security/data security practices? With GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), there are a lot of new requirements. It`s a constant work in progress. We also have an IT support person at work who maintains our network and keeps our servers safe.
What positive impact do you think AI, digital assistants and the IOT (Internet of Things) will have on assistants of 2025? I think some of the admin’s routine tasks will be handed over to AI and digital assistants. Our role will be more that of an advisor to an executive. It is important for admins to stay on top of AI and IOT.
Also, keep all your travel info in apps like Tripit or TravelPerk.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Update your LinkedIn profile and CV, connect with recruitment companies and do face to face networking. Spread your information to family, friends and your networks, and have a business card with your info and listing your best qualities. Hand out your business card wherever you go.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Research the company and have a few questions ready. Ask questions during the interview. Be prepared to give examples of things you have done well. Look clean and sharp, dress conservatively. Smile and say thank you. Give the people an elevator pitch about yourself and tell them something personal, like what you are passionate about or a hobby.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? I’d have it in my backbone that no one is perfect, and have some ground rules. I’d know to review my career annually: Where do I want to be, how do I get there? Then, work towards my goals and dreams.
Are there any business courses related to your field that can help you or your company grow?
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? Make to-do lists and establish good routines for the tasks at hand. Stay organised, have some ground rules in place. Know what is expected of you. Ask for help if you need it and remember that no one is perfect.
Your most effective time management strategy? To-do lists and muting my email notifications
What lessons have you learned when it comes to goal setting? I still strive to get all my goals, both professional and private, in place. Some, like reaching deadlines at work, are easy. It’s harder to establish goals for the year when you’re still learning the job. Personal goals or dreams are hard to put to paper. I try every day when I work in my Mynd Map (journal). But at least I am aware of this, and I challenge myself to dream.
Ask for help if you need it and remember that no one is perfect
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? First I would talk about what I can do for the executive to make his or her work day easy and smooth. Then I would get to know them on personal and professional bases.
What advice might you offer a new parent returning to the workplace? Ease back into it, and be strict on work hours.
For those interested in promotion: Join a network, learn about the different admin roles. Learn about the business in which you work. Are there any business courses related to your field that can help you or your company grow? Follow your dreams.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Anita mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- IAAP – International Association of Administrative Professionals
- IAM – The Institute of Administrative Management
- IMA – International Management Assistants
- IMA Norway
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