Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Beth Arzy, who is from Los Angeles and has lived in London since 2000.
Beth Arzy is an Executive Assistant at Channel 4 (Consumer & Strategy). Here’s a look at her world.
I usually get up around 6:00 and snooze for a bit, then check email and texts to ensure there are no surprises before I get into the office. I don’t have my first coffee until I get into the office as the Channel 4 Canteen makes a mean flat white to start the day off right!
My commute is around an hour and 15 minutes door to door, which includes a 20-minute walk to the station, and another 15-minute walk from Victoria to work. It’s only 20 minutes on the over-ground and I often wish it was longer so I could get stuck into a book or have a little sleep.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I’m a bit of a podcast junky. My heavy rotation includes The Micah Hanks Programme, The Infinite Monkey Cage, The Wired Podcast and The Evolution of Horror. If I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and need readjusting, I listen to classic Reggae and Dub as it rewires my brain and puts me in happy mode.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: I look after an executive and two of her Heads of Department, and my modus operandi is to ensure their diaries and days run smoothly. Lots of diary management, travel, and liaising on behalf of my managers. I make sure they’re where they need to be and are prepared for what lies ahead.
Morning Routines: I know a lot of people say that it’s not healthy to check emails and texts out of hours, but it’s totally an individual thing and I find it a lot less stressful to have checked email before I get to the office so I can respond or action anything urgent and stay one step ahead. When I get to the office, coffee is the first stop. Then, I fire up the email and keep going.
It’s essential in this role that we can understand our own emotions while also empathizing with other people
How long is your work day? Channel 4 recently launched “Agile Working” and we all have laptops and docking stations so we can work anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Because I don’t have set hours and will often start working very early, or work at home very late (or at weekends), there’s no pressure to be in the office at set times unless there’s a meeting or there are guests I need to attend to. I’m very lucky because I’ve never had any pressure to work out of hours. I do it to stay on top of things as I have three to look after and it makes the time in the office (with ad hoc requests coming from all sides) a lot less stressful.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? Channel 4 is very proactive regarding healthy working and a few people here do have sit/stand desks. As I’m constantly on the move making sure my exec is where she needs to be, I’m rarely stagnating at my desk.
What might be a typical lunch? TACOS! I get away from my desk for lunch from time to time, but I do like to grab tacos from Santana Grill in Strutton Ground (the best!) and eat at my desk as I can catch up on social media and emails.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I attend 4Women talks and events when I can, as my exec is Chair. I have joined a new group at work called 4Earth, a group of environment ambassadors formed by staff across Channel 4 to help inspire change, on and off screen, at Channel 4. I also try and attend 4Pride events as they’re a fantastic, award-winning LGBT+ staff network, driving change & celebrating diversity.
We also need to keep up with the networking, even if it’s something that’s out of our personal comfort zone
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Not having enough hours in the day! I have trouble switching off and would quite happily sit here working away while everyone else has gone, so I must force myself to prioritize and call it a day.
What do you most enjoy about your career? It sounds so cheesy, but I really do enjoy the satisfaction of knowing our team is a well-oiled machine, and one that I help to ensure runs smoothly. I also love the fact that the role of the assistant has changed so much over the years and isn’t totally about admin anymore (though that’s still a big part). When my managers ask for my advice/input on something, it makes me feel valued as a colleague as well as an assistant.
I really do enjoy the satisfaction of knowing our team is a well-oiled machine, and one that I help to ensure runs smoothly
On Saying “No”
I say “no” only when I must and there is no other option. I prefer to say, “Leave it with me”! If there really are no other options, I always try and have a few alternative solutions so it’s not a flat out “computer says no”. That’s never helpful and not something I’d want to hear myself, so I get no satisfaction out of saying “no”.
I’m from Los Angeles and moved to the UK in 2000. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I’m a 50/50 mix of both! I love brutalist architecture and concrete but also long for the fresh air of Shetland and love the sea. I need both!
How long have you been in this career? Over 25 years. What was your first role as an assistant? I worked in the music industry for many years and looked after the Head of a broadcasting department before I took on the additional role of Affiliate Relations.
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I contacted a small agency called Christopher Keats here in London and they said, “We have JUST the role for you. I think you’re quirky enough to fit in there perfectly”. I *think* they meant it as a compliment!?
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I’m in a few bands so generally my time away from the office/work is spent playing and/or recording music. That feels a lot like work as well, so in my “free” free time I like to watch AFC Croydon Athletic (lower league football) or I’ll be in a dark cinema watching scary films.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A good nap never goes amiss; the same is true of football and cheesy chips!
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? I’ve been to Shetland four times, which was pretty ideal, but as I get older it seems to be getting harder and harder to handle the cold, so I’m going to say in a hammock on a beach, in the shade, in Jamaica.
If I feel uninspired, I find that attending conferences/ workshops geared towards the development of assistants tends to get me back in the zone
Professional development and networking
I left (what we call) junior college and went straight into employment, so all my experience has been work experience. I was lucky to find my niche!
Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. If I feel uninspired, I find that attending conferences/ workshops geared towards the development of assistants tends to get me back in the zone. Practically Perfect PA has a great conference every year, with great speakers on personal development, technology, health and wellbeing, etc. I always come back to the office full of ideas and inspiration. I love networking when it results in making connections for other people; it’s nice to see those relationships grow.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I’m extremely proud to be an EA at Channel 4, and pretty chuffed that I’ve been able to (voluntarily) take on two extra Heads to look after and successfully manage my workload.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? The buzzwords of late seem to be “emotional intelligence”, but there really is something in that. It’s essential in this role that we can understand our own emotions while also empathizing with other people as this is beneficial in the decision-making process, as well as working with teams and unique personalities. You also must be able to multi-task and stay calm, which helps when looking after an exec and two Heads of Department!
On job interviews: Be confident, be honest, be yourself and don’t be afraid to let people know what your strengths are
Role models or mentors? Both executives I’ve worked for here at Channel 4: Gill Whitehead and Sarah Rose. Two exceptional strong, super-smart women who lead the way for others and always have a hand extended to pull people up with them.
Have you received any awards or recognition within this career? I was recently sent an application to nominate myself for an assistant’s award, but thought it would be terribly silly to nominate myself for doing my job, so I nominated another assistant I know who has a much more challenging role and carries it off with grace and aplomb!
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I let someone know that I’m out of my comfort zone but will give it my best shot. I take a deep breath and give it a go. Planning and research is key rather than being overly confident and rushing into something new.
- The New Executive Assistant: Advice for Succeeding in Your Career by Melba J. Duncan
- The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness by Jan Jones
- The Definitive Executive Assistant and Managerial Handbook: A Professional Guide to Leadership for all PAs, Senior Secretaries, Office Managers and Executive Assistants by Sue Frances
- … and anything by Stewart Lee. He has a way of making me laugh while keeping me grounded in reality.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? With our new offices opening around the UK, lots of new technology is being rolled out to link us all up. I’m looking forward to learning all the new systems and becoming au fait as soon as possible.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I’d love to stay at C4 for as long as possible; it will be eight years in April, but looking ahead, I would love to work in Data Science and Robotics/AI. One of the Heads I look after is the Head of Data Science and I find it fascinating.
Gill Whitehead and Sarah Rose: two exceptional strong, super-smart women who lead the way for others and always have a hand extended to pull people up with them
The Digital Age
What are your preferred forms of social media?Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Facebook
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Twitter and LinkedIn
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I don’t think it’s been invented yet, but I very much look forward to it!
Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones may have had on your quality of life. It’s only positive for me. My managers are super respectful of my time and contact me out of hours only when it’s urgent, so it’s nice to have that link. It enables me to take/make calls, respond to email and move meetings on the go which makes everything run so much smoother (than in the old days) in the office.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? We’re mainly paperless. We have a great intranet called “Moss” after the I.T. Crowd character, which is our central hub of information. It’s very user friendly and chock full of information.
I don’t fear AI or think it’s going to be the bitter end for assistants … smart technology for smart assistants
What positive impact(s) do you think AI, digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the assistant of 2025? I look forward to finding out! I don’t fear AI or think it’s going to be the bitter end for assistants. I think it can only be positive and help us with certain aspects of our roles, to free us up to be more creative and forward thinking. Smart technology for smart assistants. I read somewhere recently that “empowered machines will act as smart Assistants for us”, which is how I like to look at it.
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? It’s essential to future-proof our roles by keeping up with technology, which seems daunting as everything’s moving at top speed!
We also need to keep up with the networking, even if it’s something that’s out of our personal comfort zone; I’m a prime example! I’ve been asked to speak at a few conferences and force myself to do it. I’m not great, but always taking learning points from the other exceptional Assistants and what take back to the office I find really useful. On-going training, (where available), is also essential. Everything is changing so fast that we can’t stagnate. We have to keep learning all the time.
Travel or travel planning recommendations?I know it’s stating the obvious, but checklists and itineraries are a must. When I plan someone’s trip at work, I look at it as if it was for myself. What would *I* need to know?
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking?We use WhatsApp for coordinating groups when travelling, as well as Google Maps for getting around. As far as expenses go, it’s generally me chasing our Accounts Payable Department until people are paid!
I love networking when it results in making connections for other people
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. All the things that are so hard to apply to myself when I’m in that position … Be confident, be honest, be yourself and don’t be afraid to let people know what your strengths are.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Research, research, research. If you want a role badly enough, go in there armed with as much information as your brain can hold and impress them with how much you know about the role and organization.
If you want a role badly enough, go in there armed with as much information as your brain can hold and impress them
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? BE NICE. Lose the attitude. Work hard.
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? It helps to be helpful and not a “bulldog assistant”. No one has time for that anymore.
Assistant groups are fantastic, whether it’s just an email group or a group that meets; the assistants are stronger together and there’s no room for competitiveness. Sometimes, but not always, it’s better to go have a chat than call! Lunches and afterwork drinks (when the diary allows!) are great ways to get to know colleagues as people so you can relate to each other as humans, rather than just a barrier to get past to get into their manager’s diaries.
Your most effective time management strategy? Trial and error. There’s no set way for any one person, and everyone is different. You have to find your own balance.
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? I’m not a parent so not in a place to offer advice, but I’ve seen people return to work being very apologetic. Apologetic for having to do the school run, or take time off, or leave to collect a sick child. I met a lovely Assistant recently who was afraid to ask her boss if she could come in later on a Wednesday so she could do the school run. WHAT?! Don’t be apologetic, be fierce! Not everyone has created a life and it’s awesome!
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? If the personality allows, ask about their family, what they like to do outside of work, what kind of music do they like, where do they like to go on holiday?
I think it helps to work with people on a professional level if you know what kind of a person they are. If it doesn’t feel like that kind of a friendly meeting, I’d start with, “How do you like to work with an assistant?” and find out their comfortable ways of working. Ask about the diary; what kind of keep free desk time do they like? When are the school drop off days? When do they work from home? Are they happy to have weekly 1:1s with you to keep the lines of communication open?
Planning and research is key rather than being overly confident and rushing into something new
Your thoughts on goal setting? I’m not great at goal setting. My goal is to be better at goal setting/hitting!
For those interested in promotion: If you don’t ask, you don’t get – but earn it. Be prepared for the extra responsibility and work and go for it! If you’re somewhere where you’ve hit a wall and there truly is no where for the growth that you need to excel, it may be time to move on.
If you feel you’d like to move up but don’t feel quite ready, I highly recommend a coach or mentor; there are lots of great ones out there who were assistants themselves and their guidance/advice comes from a place of experience and growth.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Beth mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- Duncan, Melba J.: The New Executive Assistant: Advice for Succeeding in Your Career
- Jones, Jan: The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness
- France, Sue: The Definitive Executive Assistant and Managerial Handbook: A Professional Guide to Leadership for all PAs, Senior Secretaries, Office Managers and Executive Assistants
To explore a range of resources that are relevant to your career, click here to explore what you can find under Exceptional EA’s Real Careers tab.
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