Real Careers: Tonya Beattie

Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Tonya Beattie, who lives near Hood Canal off the Puget Sound in Washington State, USA.

Tonya Beattie, CAP-OM, is Executive Assistant to the Board of Directors at her workplace. Here’s a look at her world.

Coffee and quiet

My husband and I both wake up at 4:00 a.m. We like to have an hour of coffee together but I also like that to be an hour of quiet before getting in to the day. I usually check on the news/entertainment/social media on my smartphone and head out the door by 6:00 and at my desk at 7:00.

Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? A few hundred people work in my building but I don’t think anyone lives near where I do, so sharing the commute isn’t really an option. I’m sure no one wants to hear my car karaoke anyway. My drive is almost an hour, with half of it freeway and the other half wooded highway, but it’s all in a beautiful part of the region with amazing views on most days.

Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? My favorite podcast is Your Last Meal with Rachel Belle. It has a new episode out only every two weeks, but it’s a great listen for my commute, very entertaining. I also enjoy This American Life and Serial podcast. In between those I usually listen to streaming music through one of my apps, mostly country and anything from the 1980s to current.

At the Office

Primary Responsibilities: I’m a one-man-band for the Board of Directors of the third largest public school district in our big beautiful state. There are five directors and one of me. They don’t have offices in my building, and some of them have other, very demanding full time jobs while others have more available time.

I manage their calendars, their travel, and I put together their board meetings from notice to gavel to minutes

I manage their calendars, their travel, and I put together their board meetings from notice to gavel to minutes. With the combination of efficient procedures, strict timelines, a great paperless meeting product and amazing colleagues, my board members really shine in front of their constituents.

Morning Routines:  I like to be very organized. The first thing I do every morning is clear out any junk from the voicemail and email. Then I’ll take stock of current to dos and reevaluate those against anything new that’s come in. Once I’ve got the day’s priorities in order, then I’m good to go. There’s always a good chance that something else will come up and I’ll need to reprioritize, but that’s fine.

How long is your work day? I usually work an eight-hour day, but our board meetings typically occur three nights of a week and so those are 12+ hour work days.

Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? My employer is very supportive of employee health. I’ve seen more and more stand desks showing up over the past two years, which is really great. Teams will also participate in the HealthyWage Challenge.

What might be a typical lunch?  I usually at least get away from my desk for lunch and I almost always bring my lunch from home.

Even if I only go down the hall to someone else’s office, I think the change of scenery is necessary for a little brain break during the work day.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect is that there isn’t a higher level EA position to work towards at my current employer. I’m at the top of the org chart and I have another 16+ years still to work. I’m not the type of person who can go without challenge for long. It was the same situation at my last employer.

On IAAP: I’m coming out of my shell and feeling empowered to go after what I want

What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy being able to learn new things, to participate in projects where an EA wouldn’t normally be at the table. I enjoy when my superiors realize that I have untapped potential and skills they didn’t realize yet. I really enjoy that.

On Saying “No”

I don’t think I say “no” often at all. I don’t feel comfortable saying “no”. If I can help someone, I’m going to. Why wouldn’t I?

Tonya’s World

Map of worldI was born in the small rural town of Goldendale, Washington and I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest in Washington State my entire life. I currently reside near the Hood Canal off the Puget Sound.

At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I’m a country girl at heart, so when I’m headed out of the city after work, driving towards the forest and the rivers, I get pretty relaxed. I love being surrounded by tall fir trees, large bodies of water, both fresh and salt, very few cars, no sirens, and stars in the sky at night.

I love being surrounded by tall fir trees, large bodies of water … and stars in the sky at night

How do you like to spend your time away from the office? My husband and I have six kids and eight grandkids with one more on the way. Our youngest son is a high school junior, so we enjoy going to his basketball games. Our youngest daughter is a senior at Washington State University and we enjoy trekking across the state to visit her. We love boating in the summer, and anything that has to do with family.

How long have you been in this career? I’ve been an administrative professional for about 22 years. I got started very young; I was determined and stubborn, and it turned out to be the combination that I needed to propel me forward. I overcame some tough barriers to get started, and I’m really glad I did. What was your first such role? I was hired as the City Clerk/Treasurer for a small bedroom community in the Columbia River Gorge when I was only 24 years old. This was a huge opportunity and a responsibility that I took very seriously. I made some mistakes and I learned a lot. I’m very grateful for the experience.

How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? My current workplace is literally 1,000% larger than my previous workplace. I knew I was taking a huge leap of faith in applying for the job, but I also believed in myself. I needed to make a change and this current employer felt like the right fit.

How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I really just mostly enjoy being home. Getting into comfortable clothes, with a hot cup of tea and relaxing on the couch is exactly what I need after a tough day. I can, and often do, happily waste away an entire Saturday morning just relaxing and being lazy. I’m active all week; I don’t feel pressured to be active all weekend also.

Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? As soon as we both retire, my husband and I are going to take a long, leisurely trip all over Italy. We’ll sample all of the pasta, wine, cheese and olive oil they have to offer.

 Be sure to give yourself some grace. You’re going to make some mistakes; learn from them and move on.

Education and Professional Development 

I’ve worked my way up to being an Executive Assistant mostly through perseverance and grit. It’s only been in the last five years that I’ve really developed an insatiable desire for career development. In fact, when I found my tribe in 2016, IAAP (the International Association of Administrative Professionals), I went all-in right away.

Within the first year of membership with the organization I attended the annual Summit conference, obtained my Certified Administrative Professional status, and completed the 16-week Leadership Academy. The next year, 2017, I obtained my additional endorsement in Organizational Management and took a Project Management Boot Camp. I didn’t slow down the following year, either; I obtained my LeanSixSigma Green Belt certification.

I’m also the Branch Director for the IAAP Pacific Northwest Region-South Sound Branch. All of this is really helping me define my brand, be less shy, go after what I want, and tell my employer what they need and how I can make it happen. I really feel like I’m climbing that career ladder, but I’m building it as I go; it’s my design.

All of this is really helping me define my brand, be less shy, go after what I want

Peer and Professional Associations: It took me a long time to find a professional association that I felt I clicked with. When I found the International Association of Administrative Professionals, I really felt like it offered the type of professional development I’ve been seeking. Its core values speak to me, and the fact that IAAP charges a reasonable membership fee helps as well.

How has your membership in IAAP helped you? First and foremost, the caliber of presenters they bring in has been very impressive. Many of these presenters have inspired me to pursue additional career goals and professional development. The education I’ve gained has enabled me to grow personally, as well. I’m coming out of my shell and feeling empowered to go after what I want. I’ve been able to examine my personal brand and really think about how I want to spend my next 15 years in the workforce. I’ve also made new friends from all over the US who are just as passionate about the field as I am.

Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role in such an organisation? Yes; I’m the Branch Director for the IAAP Pacific Northwest Region-South Sound Branch. How has this leadership role in particular helped you? I’m very excited about this opportunity for several reasons. First, IAAP isn’t well known on the west coast yet and I’m thrilled to share it with admins in my area. IAAP has so much to offer and I want my colleagues to have the opportunities that I do. Also, being in this leadership role is a little out of my comfort zone and I know that’s what I need. I need to keep adding these little pushes at myself even – and especially – when I’m uncomfortable, so that I keep growing and moving forward. Nothing I achieve will ever be handed to me; I’ve got to push forward, step out and grab it.

Being in this leadership role is a little out of my comfort zone and I know that’s what I need

Have you earned any certifications earned through the association? I’m a Certified Administrative Professional with an additional endorsement in Organizational Management (CAP-OM). I’m certified in what’s relevant in my field today, as opposed to courses and classes I’ve taken over the past 20 years. I didn’t get a raise or a promotion or really anything at my job for the certifications, but I got a great deal of personal pride and self validation.

What are the primary means of communication for your IAAP branch? We utilize all means of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and newsletters and email.

Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? My organizational and time management skills are vital to success in my current position. I work 99% independently and with very strict timelines. It’s up to me to know what the work is, and make sure it gets done to specification and on time.

Nothing I achieve will ever be handed to me; I’ve got to push forward, step out and grab it

Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. While I was working for a city, with no prior road construction or grant writing experience, I rewrote a grant application to get funding for a major transportation/ economic development project that had failed over several years before. I helped defend the project to a state funding board and we were successful. It was very rewarding for me and for the city. The project value was half a million dollars and its completion enabled a major hot springs resort project to move forward. I was very young, and think many of the city staff weren’t sure if I was right for the job. I really needed that win.

While working for my first public school district administration office, I asked to participate in the creation of a District Level Emergency Response Plan. I did more than participate; I took over. I led the project and did most of the work, happily. The other team members were really great colleagues; I just had less responsibility and therefore more time to dedicate to a project. We created a really great, comprehensive, FEMA-compliant (Federal Emergency Management Agency-compliant) plan and had just begun table top drills when I left that job. I’m really proud of that product.

What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I try really hard to pay attention to my self-talk. I can be really harsh with myself, or talk myself out of something. I try to catch that and turn it around. I give myself a pep talk instead. I acknowledge that something is out of my comfort zone and also acknowledge that, in reality, everything is going to be okay. I take some deep breaths and give myself some positive affirmations, like I would for a best friend who was afraid and needed a little help.

I’m definitely going to conquer this in the next five years

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I need to continue to work on my public speaking skills. It’s been a fear and a weak area I’ve been working to overcome for many years. I don’t get the opportunity to practice often enough to maintain a consistent comfort level. I have a deep admiration for people who appear completely at ease and comfortable, and their words just effortlessly flow in front of a crowd. How do they do that?! I’m definitely going to conquer this in the next five years.

The Digital Age

What are your preferred forms of social media? I think LinkedIn is a great resource for work-related articles and information. I prefer Facebook for personal social media.

Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? Webmaster is one of my responsibilities but the site doesn’t change substantially very often, unless I want it to.

Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? I use my personal smartphone but I receive a stipend for being available and/or on call when needed. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability may have had on your quality of life. I like being able to help one of my board members no matter where I am, and they know they can count on me. I’m a little obsessive about foldering in my email in box so that I can take care of a lot of business from my phone quite easily.

I had to turn off sound notifications for incoming work email and train myself to cut down on checking it to only once per evening. It took me a while to learn that just because I had received an email and knew the answer, I didn’t have to respond right away. I needed to turn off my work mode and learn to be present for my family. I’m much better at it now.

Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? My board meetings are exclusively paperless and we really love it. I encourage guests and presenters to be paperless as well.

Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? I was able to transition the board from a clunky error-prone home-based system to a hosted third party site. I developed the transition plan, recommended the limited user access plan, and implemented the training when we launched. Overall, I think it was well received and we really love it four years later.

I had to turn off sound notifications for incoming work email and train myself to cut down on checking it to only once per evening

Lessons Learned

You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. While you’re polishing your resume, also polish your online presence. Without question your LinkedIn profile should be current and showcase your professional life, but also take the time to review your other social media accounts. Review your timelines through the lens of a potential new boss. If there’s anything there that makes you pause or cringe, perhaps a scrub is in order.

It’s my advice not to announce your job search endeavour at your current job, if you have one. The gossip grapevine travels long and fast and it’s not in your best interest, in most cases, for your current boss to know you’re planning to leave until you’re prepared to submit your resignation with a new job offer already secured. We want to believe our bosses want the best for us and our career growth, but I think the reality is that it’s best for us handle this journey on our own and not take the risk.

Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Do your research and be prepared. Don’t try to wing it. Know about the company and the department. Your application, your resume and cover letter have told one story. The interview is your opportunity to tell the rest of story. Don’t waste time by restating what they already have on paper. Let them get to know the real you through your work. Let your personality come through, and believe in yourself.

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? There’s a lot that can be learned from the seasoned veterans of the office. When we land a new job, we’re fresh from impressing a room full of strangers with our skills and abilities and the talents we’re bringing to the team. A new assistant needs to come in with an open mind and be prepared to learn. Things are probably going to be done differently than you’re used to, and it’s going to take you some time to figure out the systems. Be sure to give yourself some grace. You’re going to make some mistakes; learn from them and move on. Be friendly to everyone. You never know who you’re going to need to lean on down the road.

 I want to do my very best for my executive and I can do that only if we’re on the same page

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? I think that communication style and expectations are the top priorities to work out right away. I want to do my very best for my executive and I can do that only if we’re on the same page. We’ve got to get clear about managing other peoples’ expectations of time with the executive, in terms of calendaring and travel. I want to be sure I understand what level of autonomy my executive is comfortable with me having regarding the running of things, so there are no misunderstandings later.

I want to be sure I understand what level of autonomy my executive is comfortable with me having

For those interested in promotion: Take advantage of any and all opportunities offered by your employer.  If they offer classes or webinars that interest you, ask to attend. If they offer professional development funds or reimbursement, don’t let that free money go to waste. There are a lot of free resources on the internet you can find by searching your field of interest and narrowing down by webinar, etc.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Tonya mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.

To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.

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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 23 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, 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.

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