Real Careers: Jennifer Robson

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 21 countries to date: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales. Today, we make our first stop in Australia, to visit with Jennifer Robson.

Jennifer Robson is the Executive Assistant to the AECOM CEO – Australia, New Zealand. Here’s a look at her world.

Staying One Step Ahead

The typical day starts at 5:45 a.m. with me listening to the news while having coffee and a light breakfast. I check emails to see if anything is urgent and requires immediate attention. Depending on traffic, I have a 10 to 15 minute drive to the station. Then, I’m on the train for a journey that could take 50 minutes or sometimes over an hour and a half.  Whilst on the train, I check emails and catch up on my reading.

At the Office

Morning Routines: When I arrive at the office, my routine is to check if there are any voicemail messages, check emails, and review my “To Do List” as priorities may have changed overnight. I have a coffee to start the day.

Primary Responsibilities: My primary responsibility is to provide support the Chief Executive Officer. In addition, I also provide support to two other Directors. There are no two days that are the same for me. My first task is to scan all emails to action items, followed by diary management and responses to requests that require actioning. The following are among my responsibilities.

  • Management of executives’ email inboxes and responding on their behalf where appropriate
  • Travel bookings, both local and international, including ground transfers
  • Extensive email and diary management
  • Management and coordination of meetings and functions, including arranging meeting rooms, video conferencing/teleconference equipment (local and international)
  • Organising boardroom lunches/events, including the end of year event for 400 – 500 staff
  • Monitoring travel requests, including safety reports, for international travel
  • Responsible for the monthly Australia New Zealand Executive Committee meeting, issuing of agenda and collating of reports and circulation
  • Liaison with the office of our President, Asia Pacific in Hong Kong and other global offices as required
  • Providing ad hoc support to other members of the Executive Leadership Team
  • Acting as a central point of contact for management and staff with all levels within the organisation
  • Expense management
  • Victorian office representative on Community Social Responsibility Committee

How long is your work day? Officially, we work 40 hours a week, but I typically work nine to 10-hour days and some days even longer depending on business demands. 

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch?  A typical lunch would be pasta or chicken with salad/vegetables. Monday through Thursday, I usually bring my lunch from home but I usually purchase lunch on Fridays. I have recently started to move away from my desk to have lunch and to give me thinking time to refresh.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Yes, I do this on a regular basis.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect of my day is managing the many requests that I receive for urgent meetings and rescheduling meetings/travel changes. As EAs, we need to have the resilience to be flexible and adaptable and respond to these requests in a professional manner and understand that business needs change. I see these challenges as opportunities, as they provide me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and rise to the challenge to get the task done.  At the present time, the organisation is going through many changes and it has given me the opportunity to respond effectively to the changes.

I see challenges as opportunities, as they provide me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and rise to the challenge

What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy the variety that an EA role presents. It provides the opportunity to be a true partner with the business, and to provide leadership and project management while serving as a connector for internal/external stakeholders and providing support to the team.

On Saying “No”

It’s not very often that I say “no” to people, because if I can assist and have the capacity to action items, I will do so. On occasions when I have had to say “no”,  my comment is that I would happily assist, however, on this occasion due to priorities and workload, I am unable to assist. I provide the person with an option, and refer him/her to an individual who can assist. Or, I provide guidance as to how the person can do the task.

Jennifer’s World

Map of worldI was born in Bangladesh and lived there until I was 19 years old. Then, I made a decision to migrate to Melbourne, Australia on my own and leave behind my family. I started a new life in Australia, which I have not regretted as it has provided me many opportunities (I probably take after my ancestors, who went to India from the UK and Portugal during the East India Company era).

I am a city girl at heart, but enjoy going living in the suburbs; my house is 45 km/28 miles away from the city centre. I love the excitement of going into the city every day, and the buzz you find in big cities, and I love Melbourne. London is another favourite city of mine.

Away from work, I spend time catching up with friends for drinks, dinner, and horse racing; a few of we ladies are part of a racing syndicate. As I work long hours, I do enjoy having down time at home relaxing with a good book and catching up on watching “ Who Do You Think You Are?”, which I find fascinating.

I have recently started to move away from my desk to have lunch and to give me thinking time to refresh

How do you pamper or reward yourself? After a long day or tough week at work, I reward myself by having regular manicures and pedicures – and, every so often, facials.

 A dream holiday or travel adventure? I have a couple of places that would be my ideal holiday. This would include visiting the South of France as well as Tuscany, Croatia, and taking a European River Cruise.  Last year I went to Mahón, Spain and did the Italian Lakes, which were magnificent.

Education,  Professional Development and Professional Affiliations

Education and Professional Development: I earned an Associate Diploma of Business (Office Administration) in 1996, and Foundations of Human Resources in 2003. I’ve also taken professional development courses, including Quality Assurance Services – Internal Auditor training. I am an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Office Professionals; I earned this designation in 2013.

Jennifer: an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Office Professionals

Peer and Professional Associations: I am an Advisory Board member of the EAN (Executive Assistants Network), and also a board member of the Directions Group which is an EA/PA Network, and a member of the Melbourne Executive Network Group.  I am the Victorian office representative on the AECOM’s Melbourne Corporate Social Responsibility Committee.



Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter and LinkedIn are my preferred forms of social media.

Awards and Recognition

AECOM has an award system called “Encore”,  and nominated staff receive gift vouchers; the value can range from $100 to $1,000. I have received a few such awards over the years, the largest for the sum of $500.00 However, these awards are done on a discrete basis.

Mentors provide guidance to push you to take the first step, and to figure out what is what you really want

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? My go-to outfit for an important meeting is either a smart suit or a dress that inspires confidence – and definitely heels, as well as discreet jewellery.

What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lipstick and parfum

Heels or flats?  Heels for work, and flat shoes for walking. Favourite brand of shoes (if I could afford it) would be Christian Louboutin.

Preferred scent: Chanel N°5 N°5 Eau Première

What might we find in your desk drawer? As the organisation has moved to agile working, we do not have any desk drawers but do have lockers.  In my locker, I have hair spray, perfume, tights, an Iphone charger, Panadol and more.

Travel or travel planning advice? Use the services of a dedicated travel company. There are numerous benefits, in that they know the travel industry and can save time researching timetables/itineraries. They also provide advice on accommodation, airlines and visas, all of which are time consuming.

Inspirational reads? I am reading the book, “You Have the Power to Change Stuff” by Daniel Flynn, and it has inspired me.

As EAs, we need to have the resilience to be flexible and adaptable … and understand that business needs change

Role models or mentors? Reflecting back, there are a couple of people who have influenced and shaped my life – the first being my parents. They provided me encouragement and support and always encouraged me to not be afraid to step out and take on challenges. Knowing that they were there to support me gave me the confidence to take on challenges such as migrating to Australia on my own at the age of 19.

The next was my then-manager Derek Lees, who provided career advice and gave me the opportunity at the age of 18 to attend meetings and events, which assisted in my professional and personal development. This provided me with confidence in meeting with people from diverse backgrounds, and in accepting challenges and developing them into opportunities.

The other person was Pam Mellor in Melbourne. I was her assistant and she provided me strong guidance on what is required to be a strong EA. I am still in contact with Pam, who is now 80 years old, and her advice and knowledge have been extremely beneficial.

It is important to have a mentor as s/he can provide a simple path of guidance to push you to take the first step, and guidance to figure out what is what we really want. A good mentor will share their invaluable experience, to help us to achieve our goal in the best possible way they know. I know I have personally benefitted from having various mentors along the journey.

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I’ll mention two.

AECOM – International Secondment: I am extremely proud of being the only AECOM EA in Australia New Zealand to get an international (eight-week) secondment to Abu Dhabi, UAE.  I was specifically nominated by the Project Director for the Al-Raha Beach Development for this secondment. There, I project managed a roadshow for the APAC President, COO and senior APAC leaders’ visit to Australia and New Zealand.

Export Access – While with Export Access, my previous employer, I liaised with private sector industry associations as well as government departments and agencies in the administration of the Export Access Program. In this role, I managed the office activities, supervision of office staff, and the submissions that were prepared for Government Ministers and Departments. I handled enquiries from the various service providers delivering the program, and enquiries from their clients.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Social media and keeping up to date, as the role of the EA is always evolving and I would like to avail myself of opportunities  – e.g., project management – that come my way.

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career?  It would have been helpful to understand that, at times, the message to the executive needs to be adjusted to get the best outcome.

On promotions: Be prepared to take on the responsibility; a career as an EA is extremely rewarding but requires dedication

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Sit down with the executive/principal to get an understanding of how s/he likes to work. That will help you understand their priorities, which will help in developing a good partnership to achieve the desired objective. It is important to have alignment.

Your most effective time management strategy? That would be my “To Do List”, which can change depending on priorities. I would be lost without my “To Do list”.

It is vital that both parties trust each other and know that whatever is discussed/seen is private and confidential

Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Be mindful of limitations and do not add extra stress. We need to balance family life and not strive to be a perfectionist. I do believe that we put a lot of stress on ourselves because, as EAs, we always strive to provide exceptional service.

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Schedule time with your assistant to discuss how partnering with her/him could be beneficial.  It is vital that both parties trust each other and know that whatever is discussed/seen is “private and confidential”, and not to be discussed with anyone. The executive needs to understand that, by being inclusive and involving his/her EA to take control, they can focus on the strategic items.

For those interested in promotion: Research what is required of the role and be prepared to take on the responsibility. A career as an EA is extremely rewarding; however, it does take dedication.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Jennifer 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 or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.

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