Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Karine McKee of Hampshire, England.
Karine McKee is Executive Assistant to her organisation’s Group CEO. Here’s a look at her world.
I start my day early as I have a commute to work. I rise at 5:15 a.m. Once ready, I always ensure I have a coffee as I leave the house; it is made just before I go to ensure it is as hot as possible! I will scroll through emails and messages early to check if anything urgent has arisen while I have been asleep.
I take a train and tube and the journey takes just over an hour. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I love to take the time in the morning to get ahead. I work if needed, or listen to TED talks or music, depending on the day. It is a great time to focus and gets things in order. You have a fresh head.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My role is heavily based on email traffic and ensuring nothing is missed. The days can speed by as there is a lot to achieve, and therefore the focus is to maximize the use of time. Almost every day is back to back.
Morning Routines: I will take another coffee on arrival at work. I check my CEO’s inbox and note anything that I must achieve in that day. My first focus is then to highlight any issues/points that may need addressing before the day gets going.
How long is your work day? My role does require more than the traditional week. The CEO I work for has back to back days, therefore emails are often outside office hours. A quick email chat can help provide answers to move forward on items, and there is also often travelling outside the GMT time zone – which affects timings.
Know the dynamics of an organization
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 are fortunate at our work, in that we have adjustable desks so you can work standing when you wish. My role can be very desk heavy, therefore this is great to have.
What might be a typical lunch? Being in central London, our office does not provide a place to eat. Therefore it is often the case that I like to go out at lunch to buy a salad/sandwich to get some fresh air. However, a typical lunch is at my desk.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I like to keep updated with the assistant network and I am delighted to see that it has been growing over the years. It is great to meet with your peers and make new connections.
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? An assistant role can be can so varied and it is important to have a great understanding of the company. Building connections at every level is key. The work at my company can move quickly, therefore ensuring you are updated on all elements even when not present can be challenging.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the variety the role brings, in that you get exposed to parts of every aspect of the company.
On Saying “No”
It is sometimes not possible to achieve all that has been asked. I find that it is helpful to provide reasoning behind the answer, and to explain the impact of some requests that are put your way.
I was born in Middlesex, England and now live in Hampshire, England. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? My answer to this always used to be the city. I love the craziness, convenience and all the events. I have, however, experienced the joys of the country in the last few years and I like to now have the mix. Why not have both!
How long have you been in this career? Around 12 years What was your first such role? It was for an architecture firm. How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? My current role came through an agency through a job search platform.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I like to exercise. I am stationary so much in my role, and I like to get out and move and be in the outdoor spaces!
Being unflappable and decisive in planning enables me to make decisions in the executive’s absence
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? For me, it is enjoying time with family and friends and just taking time to do the simple things! I like to not rush and instead reenergize and catch up with quality time with those you do not get the time with during the week.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? Beautiful scenery, peaceful spaces and the sense of space. I like to be able to push my body to feel alive and get the adrenaline going! Again, the work week is at a desk and therefore holiday time is the opportunity to get out and about. Blue skies and the sun beaming are a definite bonus. Hearing the waves of the ocean can never be a noise I can tire of.
Podcasts and TED Talks are great ways to expand your mind whilst mutlitasking
Education and professional development
My degrees and speaking another language have certainly helped to get some interviews. For my current role, French was certainly a bonus.
I have attended the business executive academy through Winmark Academies. I also take opportunities to attend courses that are relevant for assistants, such as minute taking, speed reading and Microsoft package courses to ensure my skills are up to date. More training days are available for assistants, and I attend these where possible.
How have your networks or professional associations helped you? They have provided a sense of support and team. The assistant networks and events have helped provide contacts and support. The PA Show is great, and providers such as Victoria Wratten and Adam Fidler have been great drivers to push forward the profession. PA Life has also been great to connect with assistants.
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role? I have mentored assistants and led on events, operational teams and fleet management. It is great to have the opportunity to work in different teams. It provides the opportunity to develop a different skill set and enables you to achieve more and learn further.
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? Social networking sites and LinkedIn
The traditional tasks are becoming obsolete and the role is becoming more centered around events and project tasks
Networking, inspiration and achievements
Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. It has helped give the profession validation.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. Working at the top level of sports, when there are constant demands and changes
Inspirational reads? For me, podcasts and TED Talks are great ways to expand your mind whilst mutlitasking!
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? For me, it has been to be unflappable and decisive in planning; this enables me to make decisions in the executive’s absence.
Building connections at every level is key
Role models or mentors? There have been a number of people during my career. I have had bosses who have been true supporters and colleagues. Drawing certain elements from what I’ve read helps guide me. I believe it is important to learn from many different fields, and take with you elements that are relevant for your personality and journey.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I remember my end goal, and remind myself that it (discomfort) is only for a short period.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? To have a greater focus on the business development side of the organization
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? To keep learning and taking on tasks that push me outside of my comfort zone
The need for assistants’ emotional intelligence will increase
The Digital Age
What are your preferred forms of social media? Twitter, as it has quick and concise information
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An instantly updated list of outstanding work that highlights what urgent tasks needs doing would be great!
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes. How does that 24:7 availability impact you? Needless to say, having a phone means that you always feel connected to work when it is time for rest. There is always a sense of needing to check what’s coming through.
Having said this, I also believe it can give you freedom and this means that you do not always have to be tied to one space.
Do not be afraid to embrace the new systems; be the one to implement and help install the processes around how the company should use them
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? The company is moving toward a more paperless approach. Many of the team members do a large amount of travelling, therefore travelling light and having what you need in a soft copy form is also required for ease. SharePoint and Teams are being used more.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI, digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the assistant of 2025? I believe it will help assistants, as it will allow them to become more involved with their teams. The need for assistants’ emotional intelligence will increase.
How have digital assistants and artificial intelligence (AI) impacted your role? I have certainly seen a shift in how assistants work and how the tasks have changed. The traditional tasks are becoming obsolete and the role is becoming more centered around events and project tasks. Having said this, it is very much dependent on the executive and on how many meetings and how much travel they have.
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? Be up to date with any trends and software packages that can help in the role. Do not be afraid to embrace the new systems; be the one to implement and help install the processes around how the company should use it. Be part of the development, and learn where the new gaps will be and then become skilled in these areas.
I would also suggest building in the possibility of changes, or at least knowing the implications if a change was to happen. For example, is a ticket changeable? I like to ensure that, according to who I work for, I have factored their preferences in to the planning.
Build in the possibility of changes, or at least knowing the implications if a change was to happen
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? If the travel agencies you work with have an app, I always ensure I have it, as it is usually quicker to work from apps. Seat Guru is helpful when selecting the seats for air travel. I am currently trialing different expense applications to have implemented in the business.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Ensure that the online you that people see through searches reflects the skills that you have and the experience you have gained. Yes, ensure your CV is updated but also reach out to the people you already know as they may be able to assist. Do not be shy of following up on applications, and try going to networking events to build your connections.
Ensure that the online you that people see through searches reflects the skills that you have and the experience you have gained
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be prepared. Know the company and its style. Do not hesitate to show you (yourself) as, being an assistant, the personality fit is very important for a productive working relationship.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Recognise that the assistant plays an important role in the team. Assistants should always have an understanding as to why documents need signing, or why meetings are taking place, etc. This will enable assistants to plan when things need doing and, in time, will enable the assistant to start developing into a higher level of support role.
What advice might you offer a new parent returning to the workplace? Not to feel guilty, as I know this is often a feeling many parents have. Focus on the task at hand, whether that be work, or being a parent. Be in the moment, to make the most of what you are doing and ensure quality.
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? Talk. Get to know your colleagues. Help where you can, as it teaches you greatly about the business and in turn enables you to support the executive better.
Be in the moment, to make the most of what you are doing and ensure quality
Your most effective time management strategy? I always have reminders and clocks around me. Preparation helps you to stick to timings, and also knowing what needs to be achieved will help you in planning what amount of time should be apportioned where.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Get to know their preferences and style. What’s the best way for you to communicate when something is urgent? Is an acknowledgement of a task request helpful, or filling up their inbox? Get to know what is most important for scheduling, and preferred locations and general dislikes.
The personality fit is very important for a productive working relationship
Your thoughts on goal setting? Have a goal and break down how you are going to get there. Dealing with smaller sections helps you keep on track and allows you to avoid being overwhelmed.
For those interested in promotion: Get to know who is who. Know the dynamics of an organization. This will help you to be able to navigate and take on tasks that your executive may otherwise have to do. You want to focus on freeing their time to focus on the vision overall, and not the detail. You can manage the detail, and you can help see the gaps that can hinder achieving the goal.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Here are some links to ideas, people and/or resources mentioned above.
- Adam Fidler Academy
- Executive and Personal Assistants Association (EPAA) – Victoria Wratten
- PA Life
- PA Show
- Seat Guru
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.
Interested in knowing more about some of the professional associations and networks specifically for assistants? Click here to see the list Shelagh’s developed based on your peers’ recommendations.
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