Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Peyton Tickner of Knoxville, Tennessee in the USA.
Peyton Ticknor is an Administrative Assistant at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Here’s a look at her world.
Coffee, breakfast and quiet time
I am lucky enough to be on a 90% work schedule. I typically work 9:00 to 4:45 each day since I have a small child in daycare. I wake up between 6:30 and 7:00, and must have coffee and breakfast and a few minutes in quiet before I start my day. My commute is about 17 miles (27 kilometers) each way, and I drive.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: These include calendar and email management, travel reservations and expense reporting, booking meeting rooms and setting up visitor agendas. I’m also responsible for onboarding new hires, relationship management with the team, and keeping meeting minutes.
Morning Routines: I check email to see what is urgent and attend to that first. I use my email as a task list, so I attend to whatever is left from the day before (or earlier). I receive walk-in questions from staff, and will assist those people first over the email. I leave in-progress work in a routine spot when I leave the office, so that it will be staring at me when I arrive the next day.
How long is your work day? I am currently on a 36-hour work schedule per week, since I have a small child. I do check my email in the evenings and in the mornings at home to see if there are any hot ticket items that need my immediate attention.
On the occasion I have something to take care of, I have a laptop at home and can VPN into our network to take care of it. I’d say that happens only a couple of times a month. Since I drive my personal car to work, I don’t “work” during my commute, but I do use the drive in to work to focus my mind on the day ahead and set a “to-do” list in my head on what I need to take care when I arrive. I use the drive home to decompress and prepare to take care of my little one’s needs.
I do use the drive into work to focus my mind on the day ahead
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? Several staff were given the option to get the sit-stand desks back in 2015, and I got one. I also take the stairs and park far away from the building. In the office, I move around quite a bit since we have staff all over our campus.
What might be a typical lunch? I will sometimes take a walk or go do some sort of exercise, but I almost always eat at my desk.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? Outside work, I served as an Advisory Council Member for the 2019 APC (Administrative Professional Conference). I participated in calls with the conference organizers as well as providing my opinions on planning for the annual conference. I served at events onsite during the conference, as well as providing outreach for the organization.
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I think right now, with a small child, my biggest challenge has been the work-life balance. I feel guilty sometimes for not being more present and available for things at his school, or spending more time with him. He currently goes to daycare, where he stays for eight to nine hours a day.
What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety. No one day is the same.
Think before you speak, accept all types of people and personalities, leave work at work
On Saying “No”
I don’t say no often. Being an administrative professional, I help people. I have had to tell people that I couldn’t do something right away as I was in the middle of a project or a deadline, and that I would get to them as soon as I could. I have also delegated to other admins who may have a lighter workload, but I often try to handle priorities myself first.
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I prefer the suburb life. It has all the conveniences close by, while still being a quiet community.
How long have you been in this career? About 11 years. What was your first such role? As a receptionist at a software Company in Burlington, Massachusetts
How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? My husband was transferring to this Laboratory and passed along my resume to the recruiter. I applied to several admin jobs at the Lab and, once we arrived in the area, I interviewed and landed a job quickly.
Don’t be scared to ask for what you need to succeed in your career. All they can say is no, and then you move on.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Exercise, hanging out with friends, entertaining my young child, watching Netflix, trying new beers and wines
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? with an adult beverage or two
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? Honestly, I LOVE Walt Disney World Resort. If I had all the money in the world, I would go a few times a year. The experiences are priceless and the whole place makes me forget about the real world for a few days.
I am a first-generation college graduate in my family
Education and professional development
I am a first-generation college graduate in my family. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from The University of Georgia in 2008. I think the hard work and determination to complete this degree helped shape me into the person I am now in my career, as I remain determined and curious.
Peer and Professional Associations: I’m a member of The American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP). Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role within ASAP? I served on the APC Advisory Council for 2019. I haven’t had the opportunity to hold a leadership role other than the APC Advisory Council, but I certainly hope this is in my future.
How have your membership in ASAP helped you? I have been able to ask for advice or send out scenarios for insights. What are the primary means of communication for ASAP? We rely on social media groups, emails, and text messaging.
Networking, inspiration and achievements
Let’s talk about the positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. Through my network, I have received help revamping my resume and cover letter, I’ve been able to get answers in minutes when I send out a post with questions on a private group, I’ve received job interviews, and I’ve met friends whom I consider family.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I think being accepted into the APC Advisory Council for 2019 has opened doors for me to step out and mentor, teach, train, and provide outreach to other admins.
Inspirational reads? Rachel Hollis, Peggy Vasquez, Mary Miscisin, Patrick Lencioni
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? I bring strong organizational skills and friendliness. I’m open-minded, flexible, knowledgeable, and able to connect with all kinds of people and personalities.
Role models or mentors? I really admire the speakers and presenters I have met at the APC conference. Many started as admins and have grown into trainers and speakers. I really admire that they share experiences and provide to all tips, tricks, advice, and guidance via newsletters and webinars. Peggy Vasquez, being an admin from another Department of Energy National Lab, really stands out as a role model for me. She is a best selling author and has just decided to retire to give this speaking, training, mentoring, writing thing her full attention. She started out just like most of us, so she gives me inspiration to keep trying to achieve more. I really admire her and she is so down to earth in person.
Have you received any awards or recognition within this career? Not at this time, but I sure hope this will be in my future.
Networking: I’ve been able to get answers in minutes when I send out a post with questions on a private group, I’ve received job interviews, and I’ve met friends whom I consider family
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? Try something new, change your routine up, ask a close friend or family to give you constructive feedback, go shopping for a new outfit, ask to help on a project you have never worked on. I could go on and on here.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I want to get better/more comfortable with public speaking and making presentations.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would like to move into a higher level position where I can become a mentor to admins, lead a session at a conference for administrative professionals, get nominated for an award, and learn new things to help me be a better person.
The Digital Age
What are your preferred forms of social media? Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, SnapChat
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? I have just emailed myself reminders to my work email, set reminders into my phone, and left sticky notes on my monitor. This makes me sound old!
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Honestly, I just wish I could get a summer intern to help. I’m still old school and want an actual person to help me with things I put off. like organizing and cleaning out old files and equipment.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? I have managed to resist this and I think it is for the best that I don’t have one.
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals?We use SharePoint, a shared hard drive, Google Docs, internal Wiki and Confluence. We are moving more towards becoming paperless, as we are recording meeting minutes in Confluence now in real time … and it is NICE!!!!
Be curious, be willing to make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone, and just be you
What positive impact(s) do you think AI, digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the assistant of 2025? This is a tough question. I have managed to resist AI and all things related for this long, so I have no idea what it will be like in five years. I don’t think robots will ever replace administrative professionals other than what is already happening with the digital receptionist/ automated attendants.
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? Sign up for any and all admin newsletters. Join ASAP; it’s free. Sign up for the free ASAP webinars. See if your organization will pay for some of the relevant webinars ASAP offers and book a conference room and invite other admins from your organization and share the knowledge. Look for books by former admins such as Peggy Vasquez. Find Facebook groups with other admins so you can share knowledge, tips, and tricks.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? The sooner you know all the details and can arrange it, the better. You get better prices and better seats on the plane, and even the best rate on the hotel rooms. I know not everyone knows much in advance when they have a work trip, but if you do, don’t put it off. Set up a quick travel checklist to send to your new travelers in the company to help them get the right details to you, so you can assist in booking.
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and expense tracking? Since we are a government agency, we are bound to Concur for booking travel and the in-house systems in which our organization has created for tracking expenses.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. First, make sure your resume and cover letter are up to date. You could have a colleague or mentor review them for you. Make sure you are tailoring the cover letter to each job you apply for. It is not uncommon for administrative job postings to draw hundreds of applicants, so you need to make sure you stand out.
It is not uncommon for administrative job postings to draw hundreds of applicants, so you need to make sure you stand out
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be yourself, because if you land the job, you true self will come out then. Dress to impress.
If you haven’t interviewed in a while, print out some sample interview questions from the internet and practice, first with yourself, then with a trusted colleague, mentor, or friend. Next, dress to impress, not just for the interview, but every day. Dress for the job you see yourself in. Last, once you get an interview on the schedule, practice, stay calm, and be yourself. If it doesn’t work out, you at least were selected over other hundreds of applicants and the interview experience is priceless.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Think before you speak, accept all types of people and personalities, leave work at work.
What advice might you offer a new parent returning to the workplace? The first six weeks are hard. We don’t think we can do it, and we miss our kids like crazy. After the initial six weeks, you will ease right back in and realize that this is right for both you and your child. You will likely be working the hardest because you have learned to become efficient and diligent.
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? Try and get the high level people you support in a more casual setting (coffee, lunch, happy hour) and really get to know them. When you know someone on a personal level, it makes working with them easier. It takes time to build these effective relationships, but I believe it comes from getting to know the person on a personal level in a relaxed atmosphere.
Your most effective time management strategy? Get the hardest things done first thing. Don’t put them off, because the day will always go in a different direction.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? You need to get to know the new executive, so you know his/her story.
If you haven’t interviewed in a while, print out some sample interview questions from the internet and practice
Your thoughts on goal setting? Set one or two goals per year. That way, you aren’t overwhelmed and can attain those goals. Each year is an opportunity to set another goal or two; take it easy on yourself.
For those interested in promotion: Sign up for courses on advanced skills, ask for training, reach out to those who are in the position/level you are interested in advancing toward. Ask for a mentor, get your resume and cover letter critiqued, ask questions, be curious, be willing to make mistakes, step out of your comfort zone, and just be you! Don’t be scared to ask for what you need to succeed in your career. All they can say is no, and then you move on.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Here are some links to ideas, people and/or resources mentioned above.
- American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP)
- APC: Administrative Professionals Conference
- Shelagh Donnelly – Closing the Interview: What Questions Should You Ask?
- Rachel Hollis
- Patrick Lencioni
- Mary Miscisin
- Peggy Vasquez
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.
Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 24 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.