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, Turkey, the USA and Wales. Today, we make our way to Wasaga Beach in Ontario, Canada to visit with Chantalle Freeborough.
Early to Rise for this Animal Lover
My typical day starts with an alarm on my phone alerting me to wake up at 5:40 a.m. I take my dog outside and check the weather trends for the day. Following this, I immediately brew a fresh pot of coffee – this is a must have in my morning routine. I apply my makeup and figure out what’s going on with my hair (do I need to blow dry, use a curling iron, or leave it straight). In the colder months, I start my car around this time, and in the fifteen minutes before I leave, I feed the dog and take any garbage or recycling outside.
My commute is a 45 minute drive from Wasaga Beach to Barrie, Ontario. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? On my way to work I listen to the Jack and Carey morning show on KICX 106 (country radio station). I absolutely love them!
At the Office
Morning Routines: The first thing I do, when I arrive between 7:45 – 7:55 a.m., even before I take off my coat, is turn on my computer. I unlock each of my coworkers’ office doors, so they don’t have to shuffle for their keys. Once I sit at my desk, I then scan through my emails/voicemails and my work list actions, as well as any outstanding matters carried over from the day before. At 9:00, I usually get hot water for my tea (I carry an infuser mug and loose leaf tea with me to work). Following my tea break, I start on any assigned project work.
Primary Responsibilities: I welcome clients who come into the Centre. Our purpose is to connect people to entrepreneurial resources. Need help starting a business? Want to improve your current business? We do this for free – yes, my job is pretty cool. I help by managing my boss’ calendar and scheduling meetings, booking travel arrangements, preparing travel and credit card expenses, initiating and preparing correspondence, recording minutes, organising events, assisting with the coordination of HR processes, tracking and coordinating departmental projects, coordinating the day-to-day general office operations, providing customer service to internal and external stakeholders … and I take care of data collection/dashboard compilation, updating social media and website pages along with providing support to the Centre for Applied Research and Innovation.
I work with an amazing team, and I wouldn’t trade that in for anything
A typical day includes greeting and helping many energetic and eager people coming to the Centre with their startup business ideas. That involves lots of conversation to see what stage in the process they’ve reached, and determine how I can help them. The day is filled with many interruptions; I could start a project and have to stop many times, as there is a lot of activity. I’m very often running from one place to another, talking to a person on the phone, while in the midst of setting up a meeting on the computer, even as another person walks through the door. Therefore, the days go by very quickly. At the end of the day, I can look at something I started at 9 :00 a.m., and see that a task that should have taken half an hour to conclude is still not complete. At the end of the day, I review my priority list and start on my list for the following day. I drive home from work and debrief from the day. I work with an amazing team, and I wouldn’t trade that in for anything.
How long is your work day? My working hours are from 8:00 to 4:00, with a one hour lunch break. Whether I stay past traditional closing hours depends on the day and various deadlines. I try to leave on time most days, but if I feel I need to get something completed, I stay.
What might be a typical lunch? I’ve started packing a lunch on a regular basis, which means I do tend to stay at my desk. However, I may get up and have a chat with one of my coworkers or grab a coffee/tea – maybe not over lunch hour, but at some point in the midafternoon.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I am always checking my email on my phone. Even if I do not respond to my emails after hours or over the weekend, I scan them to make sure there are no urgent items that need my immediate attention. If there are, I work on them from wherever I am.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect of my day is my work station location within the Centre. I sit at the front desk, and therefore all traffic flows my way. Managing my project work and meeting deadlines is challenging, due to the constant interruptions. The result is having to sometimes stay after hours or work from home in order to meet deadlines.
I love learning about new and upcoming trends in the app world
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy helping and supporting people, which is why being an Executive Assistant (EA) is the perfect job for me. I also really enjoy the techy side of things. I love learning about new and upcoming trends in the app world.
On Saying “No”
Saying no to people is hard, but I’ve learned it is better to under promise than to not deliver! EAs are notorious for saying yes when they feel the answer should probably be no. Then they just magically make it happen. But that “magic’” includes putting added stress on themselves.
Often, if a coworker asks me for something, I ask questions about the urgency and deadline so that I can decide if I have the time to devote to their request. If I have two or three time sensitive projects that need to be completed first, I make sure they are aware of what I’m working on and that I cannot guarantee I’ll have their request fulfilled within their timeline. I promise to try; I don’t provide a guarantee.
Involvement in the Association of Administrative Assistants … has accelerated my career
At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? This is tough; I’m split right down the middle. I absolutely love being a country mouse and hiking, swimming at the beach, as well as country drives and many other perks of living in a small community. However, the city also steals a small part of my heart, as I love to dine out at restaurants, small cafes and bistros you find only in the heart of a city. There, I enjoy experiencing different cultures, seeing a show once a week with my movie group, great shopping and, well, I love meeting new people, too!
Away from the office, I spend time working with my executive members on upcoming events for the Association of Administrative Assistants (AAA), Pinterest projects and, when the weather gets warmer, taking part in outside activities including hiking, swimming, camping and more.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Good food and wine form my indulgence after a tough week, with time spent in my favourite spa for pedicures, etc., as often as I can.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Every year when I was a child, my family would take a two-week trip to Florida. We spent most days at the beach and the evenings exploring every mini golf course on the strip; I love this. This year, I’m travelling to Vancouver for the Association and taking a few extra days with a friend to explore Seattle. The ideal holiday is experiencing new things, meeting new people and, if there is warm weather, then that’s a bonus.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I often tell people I’m a lifer student. I finished my Office Administration Executive diploma at Georgian College, and continued to study part-time to achieve a Teaching and Training Adults Certificate and AAA’s Qualified Administrative Assistant designation. Since then, I’ve been working on a degree program on a part-time basis. In the midst of studying, I engage in professional development – there are no two ways about it, it’s been advantageous to my career. My involvement in the Association and the networking has accelerated my career; I attained a position as Executive Director’s Assistant at the age of 24.
The next goal on my hit list: completion of my Bachelor of Business Administration degree
Peer and Professional Associations: I’m currently Branch President for the Barrie/Simcoe County branch of the Association of Administrative Assistants.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are my preferred forms of social media.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An app that links only EAs and AAs to each other on a unified platform with the ability to search someone based on capabilities and strengths – and offers free or low cost webinars, helpful tips and quick tricks/resources/best practices. It would help you connect with a mentor, a place to get help or advice with work place problems, and find solutions from other admins who have been there and done that … wait! This sounds like the Association of Administrative Assistants! We’ve got this all covered; we’re not an app, but we function as a virtual office most of the time, plus we have in-person meetings bimonthly.
EAs are notorious for saying yes when the answer should be no; they magically make things happen, but that magic includes added stress on themselves
Awards and Recognition
I was presented with the Honour Roll Award by the Barrie/Simcoe County branch of the Association of Administrative Assistants. I was thrilled and it felt so great that members recognised my efforts.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? On important days in the workplace, I like to wear my favourite black blazer, usually with a soft (pastel) colour or white shirt underneath, and either a pair of black pants or a skirt, with a short heeled shoe.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? My travel bag would be empty without bronzer and mascara. If I could pick a third it would be lip balm, because there is nothing worse than chapped lips.
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. For your commute? Flats – no choice here, I drive stick shift. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Honestly, the store, Spring. They carry half sizes, they are pretty and the shoes are affordable.
Preferred scent: Hot Couture is my favourite perfume.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Tea, sticky notes, a lint roller, paper clips, and breath mints – along with a random selection of objects that I use every day.
Travel or travel planning advice? I like to read reviews on several different sites before travelling. I will read blogs, ask other people who have travelled to the same place if there are any “must do’s” while being there, make note of any time changes and research weather patterns. It is important, as well, to understand the culture of the place you are visiting. It was on my bucket list to visit Banff and Lake Louise, so while I was travelling to Alberta for business for the Association of Administrative Assistants, I took an extra day to go for an excursion to the hot springs and to take a gondola up the mountain. It certainly added to my experience!
Inspirational reads or authors? J.K. Rowling. I absolutely love the Harry Potter series and, although it is fictional, I feel inspired by Rowling’s creative ability and how she leveraged herself from living on welfare to becoming one of the top selling authors of all time, which proves to me you can do anything you put your mind to!
Role models or mentors? I have two important people who are my career role models/mentors. First, I’ll tell you about Charlene Van Maren, the one who encouraged me to go enter post-secondary studies to take the Office Administration program. She felt I would be good in this profession. She also works at the college and, during my time in school and on the job hunt (and even during my working hours), she was – and still is – right there beside me, teaching me the ins and outs of the admin. world.
My other mentor, and now a very close friend of mine, is Arlene Stone. I met her when she was Executive Assistant to the Vice-President Academic at Georgian College. Arlene was, at the same time, serving as Vice-President and Barrie/Simcoe County’s Branch President for the Association of Administrative Assistants. She introduced me to the Association and has long provided me with valuable advice in all aspects of my life.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Two career accomplishments I’m particularly proud of are receiving my QAA (Qualified Administrative Assistant) designation, designed for office professionals looking to keep skills up to date with current trends and meet the challenge of today’s demanding work force. The second is being inaugurated as Barrie-Simcoe County Branch President of the Association of Administrative Assistants.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? The next goal on my “hit list” is to complete the Bachelor of Business Administration degree I started, as I’m working on this part-time. I hope to accomplish this in the next five years.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? I would say, volunteer while you are still in school or without a job. You cannot get a job without applicable work experience. Find yourself a mentor who is willing to teach you best practices, proofread your work and teach you how to improve your writing and proofreading skills – these are very important skills to have as admins.
Find yourself a mentor who is willing to teach you best practices
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Learn about his/her work and home life norms and routines. Share yours, too. Ask your executive what it most important, and how s/he would describe them self. Ask about your executive’s biggest pet peeves . Also ask what, in an ideal world, their idea of the perfect assistant sounds like.
Allocate time in your calendar to work on specific projects
Your most effective time management strategy? Do not spend too much time on your email; I promise you it will be there when you return to it. Allocate time in your calendar to work on specific projects so you feel as though you’ve achieved something. There is nothing worse than the day passing by without being able to scratch a line through at least one item on your to do list.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Although things may have changed somewhat while you were away, learning is a lifelong process. So, rather than get discouraged, become enthused about learning some new things that just may make your work life easier in the long run.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Communication is the key! Share as many of your ideas with your assistant as you can. Let your assistant know that you want her/him to succeed, too, because you are a team. Let your assistant know that you are approachable and open to his/her ideas; an idea can evolve and come to fruition through others’ input, and no idea is a bad one. You can also find out things you simply didn’t know, or methods you wouldn’t have otherwise explored when you work together as a team; it builds both your strengths and brings range to your portfolio. Also, be sure to show your appreciation for a job well done.
Volunteer on committees to expand your experience and connections
For those interested in promotion: Continue to educate, help others in every way possible, and volunteer on committees to expand your experience and connections. Learn, learn, learn!
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Chantalle 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.