Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Norway’s Monika Bercher-Pettersen.
Monika Bercher-Pettersen is Personal Assistant to the CEO of Sissener AS. Here’s a look at her world.
A productive start
My day starts at 5:15 or 5:30 a.m. I go for a quick walk with our dog DJ, take a shower, get dressed and have breakfast with my family. I usually have the TV on in the background to see what is on the news. For breakfast I usually have porridge or overnight oats with fruits, orange juice and coffee. Coffee and orange juice are “must haves” in the morning. Otherwise I do not function.
How long is your commute? It all depends on the season of the year. In winter, my husband drops me at the railway station on his way to work. In summer, I cycle or walk to the station. My commute from door to door is about an hour.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: My primary responsibility is to support the CEO. That includes managing the day to day operations of his office, monitoring and screening emails, accounting, telephone calls, correspondence, travel organization and project management, etc.
I liaise with board members, internal staff and external parties in different countries in Europe in different languages (English, German, French and Norwegian). I also run and schedule private errands for the CEO and his family.
Morning Routines: I grab a coffee and a bottle of water and start scanning emails – the CEO’s and mine – for anything urgent. I double check his agenda to see if there are any changes or urgent things he needs be aware of. Once that is done I make a list of matters for discussion with him; we usually meet at around 9.30 a.m. Then I take care of any urgent matters, followed by my to-do list. If there are any ad hoc tasks, they come in between.
How long is your work day? We can start work between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. I am usually at the office around 8:30 and leave the office at 4:30 p.m. I do check my emails in the evening and weekends and respond as required. We also have the possibility to work from home now and then. It is nice to have that option.
What might be a typical lunch? We have a small kitchen where everybody eats lunch together. It gives you the opportunity to also catch up on ongoing office matters at the same time. For lunch we have a large variety of choices: different kinds of salad, fruits, yoghurt, lean cold cuts, cheese and bread. Once a week we have a warm meal or sushi. From time to time I go out for lunch to meet business partners and peers. It is a nice way to establish and cultivate your network.
You can conquer anything with an open mind and a positive attitude
What do you most enjoy about your career, and what do you find challenging? When working with top executives you will find that all of them have different working styles, personalities and expectations. Nobody comes with a manual. You are in charge of making their days smooth, perfectly organized, efficient and productive. It can be challenging at times – but I do like a challenge. It would be boring if every day was the same. You will work on different matters at the same time and, since things can change quickly, it is always good to have a back up plan.
Being organized and having very good communication skills and excellent time management are of the essence. Having a broad cultural background is definitely an advantage. I enjoy the fast-paced environment I work in and the responsibilities I am entrusted with. All of that makes the job so interesting and challenging. I love my job. I would not have it any other way.
I was born in the south of Germany. For more than 15 years, I worked for the German Foreign Office and lived and worked in different countries including Iceland, the UK, the USA, Guinea, Norway, Congo and Canada.
The Foreign Office has a general police that all employees change their position every three to four years and move to another country. It is not always easy for the accompanying partner to find a job in the location of the new posting. That is why we, my husband and I, decided to settle down in Norway. I work for a Norwegian company now.
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I was born and raised in a small village in Germany. Since I left Germany, I have always lived in big cities. I have to say I like both – the city and the country.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I will always prioritize my family, seeing that the time during the week is very limited due to my work. We go cycling, fishing or hiking, or take long walks with the dog. I do catch up with my friends on the weekend, too.
How long have you been in this career? Twenty years. What was your first such role? I was working as Executive Assistant for the Deputy Commander of the German-French Brigade in Müllheim/Germany. French and German were the working languages. It was a little bit of a challenge to adapt to the military working style. I had a very nice boss, who gave me some inside tips. That helped a lot.
Having a broad cultural background is definitely an advantage
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? A headhunter contacted me via LinkedIn.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I go to the fitness centre three times a week. I love aqua fitness. Tennis is another great sport to recharge your batteries.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? It would be a beach vacation with sightseeing and other activities. Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Barbados or Cuba are on my list.
IMA Norway offers different meetings and workshops with a broad spectrum of topics
Peer and Professional Associations: I have been a member of IMA (International Management Assistants) Norway for almost two years.
How has your membership in IMA helped you? IMA Norway offers different meetings and workshops with a broad spectrum of topics, all related to my profession. It is also nice to socialize with other members.
In general it is essential to have a well-established network. It helps you to develop and improve your skills. You have the opportunity to exchange fresh ideas and it makes you visible. It also opens doors to new opportunities.
Having a well-established network … makes you visible and opens doors to new opportunities
What are your preferred forms of social media? I use LinkedIn professionally, and use Facebook and Instagram for personal purposes.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Think about the kind of job you are looking for and the field/area you would like to work in.
Make a list of tasks you like to do and a list of tasks you rather would like to avoid. This helps clarify the kind of job ads you should look for.
Be different; be better
Update your Linkedin profile. Many headhunters look on Linkedin for suitable candidates. You are up against many qualified candidates. You want to be the one who stands out. Be authentic. Be creative. Be personal. “Be different; be better”. Try to send in a creative application, or a visual one. You can find so many excellent examples of original PowerPoint job applications on the internet. You just have to give it a try.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Everybody knows how important first impressions are. They are crucial when it comes to an interview. Within the first seven seconds of meeting, people will have a solid impression of you. You want to make sure it is a great one.
Here are some basics to remember: dress smartly (do not overdress nor dress too informally), introduce yourself, offer a firm handshake, maintain eye contact and smile. Be positive. Be yourself.
Nobody comes with a manual
In regard to the interview, make sure that you are well informed about the company. Research what they do, their their vision and so on. Study their website thoroughly. Some related questions might come up during the interview. You want to make sure you can answer them.
It is very important that you also ask the questions you might have. For example: What kind of a job will I be doing? Can you give me more details on it? What is the management style of the executive I will be working for? How would I fit into the team and the company?
Asking questions shows that you are interested in the job, and at the same time you learn about the working environment. You might decide that it is not what you are looking for.
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? You want to be on top of things as fast as possible. I would advise you to reconnect with colleagues. Go out for lunch or coffee to get an update on the ongoing things in the office. Ask also for a short briefing on projects, events, etc . that took place while you were on parental leave.
Do the same for your network connections outside the office. You will see that you will be up to date in no time.
I will always prioritize my family
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Monika mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
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