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 Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Wisconson to visit with Catherine Marshall.
Catherine Marshall is an Executive Administrative Assistant at at County Materials Corporation. Here’s a look at her world.
Coffee with Music or Motivation
A typical work day starts for me at 6:00 a.m.; I wake up and check the news to keep updated on current events. Sometimes it consists of listening to a podcast or a TED Talk to get motivated for the day. Most of the time my morning routine consists of listening to music that fits my mood for the day. And a definite must have is coffee. I’m a coffee lover and I’ve fallen in love with my French press.
My commute to work is two and a half blocks. I really should walk, but I drive in the morning since I love picking up my mail during my lunch hour. I’ve been very fortunate, most of my career, to live within a few blocks of where I work. My thought process for living close is that, first, I save money by minimising my commute. Second, I feel my focus should be taking advantage of every possible second I have in the day to get the most accomplished.
What musicians/composers are on your commuting playlist? When I have had to travel or commute to the office, easy listening music is my preference: Jackson Browne, Creedence Clearwater Revival and a little Lynard Skynard when I need a boost. I love music, and listening to blues that comes on our local news radio station has really been feeding my soul as of late.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I really love the song Something to Talk About, by Bonnie Raitt. She is amazing, and I will sing that tune as loudly as I can when no one is watching or listening.
At the Office
Morning Routines: Usually, right when I get to the office, I check my executives’ calendars to see how their days are scheduled. This helps me prepare for any calls or emails I get from people wanting to get in touch with them. I select my communication platform with them based on their calendars. Then I run through my emails and prioritise what I need to get done for the day and which goals I should start tackling. My usual goal is that I need to get rid of my Outlook inbox scroll bar. Sometimes it doesn’t disappear for weeks, but ultimately that’s my motivation for getting my tasks done. It’s my check mark for accomplishing tasks. My other trick is that I never move emails to folders until they have been completed.
I definitely need music as a background in my office. I’ve been listening to Blues Traveler recently, but my playlist changes on a monthly rotation.
Lately, I have been working to post items on our LinkedIn company page to gain new followers and keep our postings consistent. This is something I check at least once a day to see if we’ve gained new followers, and log the count in a spreadsheet.
Primary Responsibilities: I provide administrative support to the Company President/CEO, owners, the corporate Communications/Promotions Director, and other company executives. This includes calendar management, coordinating itineraries, creating communications and corporate reports and database management. I track participation in internal training, conduct extensive online research, create spreadsheets and departmental status reports, and more. I also work in conjunction with the owners on the family’s foundation events.
What might be a typical lunch break? Since I live close to the office, I usually go home. I feel it is important to take an hour away from the office and decompress and give myself a break. It’s important for the mind to relax and refresh, to work effectively and efficiently. How long is your work day? A typical work day is 7:30 to 4:30. However, during our busier parts of the year, my hours increase depending on the workload needing to be accomplished.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I have access to my emails on my mobile phone, and try to keep up by deleting junk email or forwarding others that are time sensitive. Typically, I try to keep work at work; however, keeping an eye on emails coming in helps me to prepare for the next day or week.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Sometimes I feel there are not enough hours in a day. The right mindset is just to keep doing my best and get as much accomplished as I can and not feel bad about it. I love feeling and being challenged. I feel lucky to be in the position I am in, and I try to take advantage of every aspect of how fast paced the environment can be. My executives push and challenge me; because of this, I can say I have grown both personally and professionally.
School and volunteering are investments in your future
What do you most enjoy about your career? I really enjoy continuous education. It’s important to make an investment in yourself and create a vision for what you want your career to be. Once I had a plan or an end goal, I was able to create a plan and build myself toward that, with the tools of education and networking. I invested in myself and am always developing new goals of what I can accomplish.
I also really enjoy the variety of what my career holds. There are some tasks that are less desirable than others, but I am thankful that I have something new each day to work on. Variety is the spice of life to me. This keeps me intrigued, curious and driven. I am a task/goal driven person.
On Saying “No”
I try not to say “no” unless I really have a busy schedule; when I do, I address any new requests with my supervisor to help me decide if the task should be delegated or if the task is something we can work into my responsibilities. Before I do that, I see how I can fit a request into my workload and, if I can, I will. My thought process is that if I go to someone for help, I should return the favour; that’s common business courtesy. It’s important to use this thought process within reason.
Be your own advocate
I was born in Tucson, Arizona, and I now live in Marathon, Wisconsin – a huge change for weather, that’s for sure. I would say I am a little bit of both city gal and small community person. I definitely love to vacation in the country to disconnect and recharge, but I love city life. I like the fast pace and lively culture of cities.
Outside the office, family is most important. My boyfriend and I are always travelling to visit with our families, especially during summer months. I also like to run, see live music, read, and binge watch movies or television shows. Lately, my fix has been the show Parenthood.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I like to reward myself in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it’s splurging and making a really fancy meal, other times it’s buying a new piece of jewelry I’ve kept my eye on, and other times it’s taking some time alone to do a facial or nails. Honestly, it depends on how much time I can steal away.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? My dream would be to travel to another country. I have my heart set on visiting Prague, Ireland and Tuscany. I think all three places are absolutely beautiful and it would be an amazing experience to see them in person.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Education and professional development have shaped my career by providing necessary skills to get the job done. I went to Globe University, a business school in Wausau, Wisconsin, and earned my associate degree in Business Administration. It was a long two and half years of working full time, going to school full time, and volunteering full time. I really had no time, but somehow I made it through by working very hard. School and volunteering were investments in my future, and they paid off.
Create a network of like-minded, career driven, and supportive individuals
Peer and Professional Associations: I am going on my fourth year as a member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, or IAAP. The organisation as a whole offers many opportunities for quality education, training, networking, and volunteer / leadership opportunities. Being part of the association, I was able to create a rather large network of supportive administrative professionals.They all helped me to get involved, and pushed me to step up when I was just starting out. Ann Dahlke, was really my biggest supporter and mentor; she helped me grow and develop in the association more than I thought I ever would. The association helped me create a clear career path that I wanted to follow, and opened doors to new opportunities I had never even thought of.
I’ve recently been selected as the IAAP Local Area Network (LAN) Coordinator for the Greater Central Wisconsin Area. LAN Coordinators are network leaders responsible for planning local professional development and networking events, maintaining member recruitment and retention, and coordinating marketing efforts for the LAN, with an emphasis on social media.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I absolutely love LinkedIn. It’s an amazing tool that produces great results when utilised in the right ways. Honestly, it’s how I was found for my current position. I also have Facebook and have been transitioning to using it for business rather than just personal use. Recently, I have discovered Twitter and am exploring my options and resources to gain new followers and keep up to date on current events.
Awards and Recognition
I was awarded a scholarship to attend Summit 2015, my first IAAP Summit, and had the opportunity to share my membership experience with over 850 association members who attended the six day educational conference.
Don’t let doubt or negative self-talk bog you down
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I would say having a completely coordinated outfit makes me feel confident. I usually go with a really nice business sheath dress or a pencil skirt, blouse, and blazer outfit. Really, it’s the shoes that make the outfit. I have to feel it’s the right outfit for that day, and be sure it matches with my shoes; then I feel complete.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? I always have Burt’s Bees chapstick, along with a sheer nude or shear mauve lip gloss from New York & Company.
Heels or flats for the office? I wear heels 96% of the time. I feel like heels make my outfits polished. For your commute? If I have a ton of walking, then it’s flats, but if it’s driving between appointments I will wear heels. My limit is 3 ½ inch heels to walk with ease and be graceful. I never go any higher than that, or I feel like I am going to fall over. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? By far my favourite brand of shoes is Naturalizer. They have great padding, they fit my feet like a glove, and they add a dash of sassiness to my wardrobe.
Preferred scent: I have two perfume scents. One is Amor Amor, which smells like fragrant flowers with delectable honey; the other would be a signature Victoria’s Secret perfume.
What might we find in your desk drawer? My favourite pens, a pin ball for luck, and trusty Post-it notes.
Travel or travel planning advice? I would recommend using travel apps; they really make life a lot easier. For me, the Delta App is a great resource to have on my phone; I can do all of the transactions electronically instead of carrying paper everywhere. It’s nice to always have a backup just in case anything happens; I always carry a spare charger for those “just in case” situations.
Role models or mentors? My career role model or mentor has been an amazing woman named Ann Dahlke. I met her when I joined the IAAP. She took me under her wing and taught me how to take advantage of opportunities to gain experience and growth. I remember when I first met her; she would tell me things she did at her office. I thought to myself that I wanted to have a successful career just like hers. Since I met her, she has been there every step of my career so far, and I hope we can always remain friends no matter what our careers hold for us.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. One career accomplishment I am proud of is that I have reached my goal of being an Executive Administrative Assistant. This was realistically the next step for me once I graduated from college, and I thought I would be searching for a longer period of time or need more experience. Instead, I was sought out for the position I am currently in. It felt great to finally hit what I had been working towards for years. It felt surreal, and it was an adjustment from other positions I had been in.
Working with a mentor? Listen, keep your eye on the bigger picture, and act on good advice
The second accomplishment I am proud of is that I have created a network of like-minded, career driven, and supportive individuals. Essentially, I developed a network of mentors to help me along my career path and give me good advice. The challenging part of this was listening when sometimes I wanted to do things my own way, and trying to see the bigger picture. Once I was able to see the bigger picture, taking and following good advice was a benefit in my career.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? My career goals over the next five years are to become an indispensable assistant at County Materials Corporation, and take on new responsibilities that keep pushing me to a higher level in my career. This will open new opportunities I may not have thought of before and give me valuable experience.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Find a mentor, or multiple mentors, and truly listen to their advice. Try to step out of your own way and see the bigger picture of what you want for your career. Think of the advice as stepping stones to your success.
A second piece of advice or insight is to get involved and be willing to step outside of your comfort zone, because that’s where the growth is, and this will make more of an impact than you expect – professionally and personally.
Step out of your own way; see the bigger picture
Your most effective time management strategy? My most effective time management strategy is that I take five to ten minutes to review what I’ve accomplished in the day, and what needs to be done the next day. This way, when I get to work in the morning, I already have my list and am prepared for the day.
The next time management strategy is setting calendar reminders for how long I spend on certain projects. This helps keep my time dedicated in areas where I need to be focused.
Take five to ten minutes daily to review accomplishments, and make a list of plans for the next day
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Make lists and be confident to stay on your game. Never for a second let doubt creep in, because it is very easy to get bogged down by negative self-talk.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Open communication is really the key to making any relationship work. As an assistant, I truly value getting clear direction from my supervisor, and knowing what the vision is for what we are accomplishing. Having that communication really helps an assistant learn who the executive is, as well. This makes it less challenging for the assistant to meet and exceed your expectations.
For those interested in promotion: Make sure you have an idea or an end goal of what you want to obtain in your career, and discuss it with your employer. This shows initiative and that you’ve put thought into the career you want. Opportunities will open up if you put thought into an idea, and discuss it with your employer. Show them how you can benefit a project, and how the organisation can benefit by participating in new projects. Show them what they have to gain if they give you the promotion. Be your own advocate of you and your skills.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Catherine referenced 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.