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, Canada, England, the Netherlands, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Halifax, Nova Scotia to visit with Christabell Pinchin.
Christabell Pinchin is Executive Assistant, Board of Governors for the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). Here’s a look at her world.
Snooze Button and Strong Coffee
I should first clarify, I am NOT a morning person. I am a night owl and the snooze button is my best friend. I sleep as long as possible in the morning and take a maximum of 30 minutes to get ready in the morning. I typically think about what I’m going to wear the night before so I’m up and out the door quickly. Breakfast for me happens only on weekends but I rely heavily on dark, strong, black coffee every single day.
My commute can be anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on traffic. For the most part, my drive to work is around 20 minutes but there are those glorious summer days when school is out and traffic is light and I’m at the office in 15 minutes. My husband and I have one vehicle, so he drives as far as his work and then I scoot over to the driver side and continue to the office. Living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and working in Halifax means I get to travel the bridge every day, which can be interesting when there is bad weather or an accident.
What musicians or composers are on your commuting playlist? I’m all about music and, depending on my mood, my choices change. You can find my satellite radio tuned to 80’s on Eight, Hair Nation or Hits 1.
At the Office
Morning Routines: COFFEE is the number one priority when I arrive at the office. If the dishwasher needs emptying, I typically do that while the coffee is brewing. I am usually the first one in the office (depending on traffic) and I use that small window of quiet time to look at my email. This is usually when I map out my day … of course, mapping out my day is sometimes pointless, because in a role like this you just have to go with the flow.
- Managing the day-to-day operations of the Board of Governors
- Legal Support
- Policy Support
- Risk Management
I would not describe my role as having a typical day. Each day is different and you never know what to except. There are ebbs and flows in my work cycle; leading up to Board Meetings is extremely busy. When I first started in this role, my day centered mainly on the Board of Governors. As I have grown in my role, so have my responsibilities … there is rarely a dull moment.
How long is your work day? My official start time is 8:30, though I typically arrive a bit earlier. My day officially ends at 4:30, but I rarely leave on time. My poor husband has been left waiting for a drive more days than not.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? The one thing I do try to do consistently is stop for lunch. We have a tiny kitchen in our office and the team stops and eats together. Conversations flow between work and personal. We are often interrupted by the phone or a guest but the key is that we stop, eat, laugh and refuel for the rest of the day.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Absolutely. In my role I am available to respond to any situation at any time. I carry an iPhone and am always connected to the office.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I think that, like most things, the challenges change. Sometimes the biggest challenge is finding time to get the little things like filing and invoicing done.
Saying yes to everyone means you’re spread too thin; learn to negotiate
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love my role. I love the type of work I do. I love that there is a good mix of administrative and strategic work. I love the people I work with and the organization I work for. I’m proud to be a part of the Nova Scotia Community College as we continue to build Nova Scotia’s economy and quality of life through education and innovation.
On Saying “No”
“No” was not in my vocabulary early in my career. The past few years I have learned to say “no”. I want to help and be accommodating, but by saying yes to everybody, you are spread too thin and you can’t do your best work. My advice for others is to start small. Learn to say “No, but …” For example. “No, I do not have the time to help write that report, but I would be able to find a bit of time to do a final proof for you if that would be helpful.”
I was born and raised in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and live in the same neighborhood I grew up in. I think I’m a mix of city and country person. I love that I’m 10 minutes from the ocean, 10 minutes from downtown and a short drive to seclusion. I run a YouTube channel where I share tutorials on creating various nail art designs. When I’m not working on my YouTube channel, my husband and I love to go for long drives and we love exploring new places to eat. I’ve been known to hop in the car and drive to Cape Breton (5 hours) just to get a good burger.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? It really depends on my mood. I love music. I can also listen to the same song on repeat all day long. I also don’t care if people hear me singing … they, however (she says with a smile), may care greatly.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A cold beer, a fresh manicure, a nice dinner out.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Anywhere quiet with great food, drinks and relaxation.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Many moons ago I graduated from the very College where I now work. I took the Secretarial program with the plans of working in an Elementary school. I always knew I wanted to work in an administrative field and my education has supported that path. Along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of working in very demanding and exciting roles. I’ve learned a lot “on the job”. I’ve also had the ability to participate in a number of professional development opportunities that are really focused on the work I do.
Don’t be afraid to step up; take on opportunities when presented, but don’t sit back and wait for them
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan): Governance and President’s Office Professionals (GPOP) and Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD).
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An app that would file for me and complete my expenses and invoicing.
Style and Substance
Heels or flats in the office? Everybody looks better in heels, but I rely on flats when I have a lot of running around to do. For your commute? Recently we bought a truck and I’m scared to drive it in heels, so flats all the way. Favourite brands of shoes? No favorite … as long as they look nice and are comfy.
Preferred scent: Vanilla
What might we find in your desk drawer? Have you seen the episode of Friends where they open Monica’s secret closet? That pretty much sums up my desk drawer.
Travel or travel planning advice? Oh, dear … my advice is to find a good travel agent. I’m geographically challenged and arranging travel is one of my least favorite things to do. Thank goodness for travel agents.
Inspirational reads? Marcus Buckingham all the way. Buckingham promotes the idea that people will get the best results by making the most of their strengths rather than by putting too much emphasis on weaknesses. His views have helped me professionally but, more so, his way of thinking has changed how I am as a mom.
Role models or mentors? I wouldn’t say I have just one mentor or role model. At different stages in my career, I’ve leaned on different people for different reasons. Early in my career, I worked with two men that played a big part in my growth. They pushed me when I needed pushing, and encouraged me when I needed encouragement.
For the past eight years, my boss has played a huge part in my development. She has mentored me both personally and professionally. She worked as an Executive Assistant earlier in her career, so can really relate well to the role I’m in and the path I’m on. I’m not sure I would be where I am today, without her.
An EA is an executive’s strategic partner
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. There are a couple.
- Paperless Board: I had a vision of moving to a Paperless Board Model and made it happen. It was a project that I started shortly after joining the College, and it unfortunately didn’t get much lift off. A few years later, I tried again and despite being told by a number of people that it wasn’t going to work, I persevered. We are now in our fourth year of being paperless and it continues to be going strong.
- Risk Management Framework: In December 2014, I was asked to work closely with the Executive Director, Corporate Relations (my boss) to create a Risk Management Framework for the College. The Board had given the College four months to report back with this work. A small team was formed and we worked day and night to develop a Framework, Policy and Crisis Communication Plan. The feedback from the Board was overwhelming. The work continues, and is guided by the Framework that was developed.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Don’t be afraid to try something new. because you are more likely to regret something you didn’t do. It is okay to make a mistake … we learn from mistakes.
Perfection is the enemy of good enough; sometimes, “good enough” is, indeed, good enough
Your most effective time management strategy? Two things: Perfection is the enemy of “good enough”. My biggest time-management issue was that I felt everything needed to be perfect the first go ‘round. I have learned to remind myself often that sometimes “good enough” is indeed good enough. Break a project into pieces and check in often with those around you as you finish each “piece”. It’s easier and much more efficient to correct a path you are on mid-way through rather than starting over from scratch.
Persevere, and be unafraid of trying something new; you’re more likely to regret actions you didn’t take
Advice for a new mother returning to the workplace? Work-life balance is different for everybody. Listen to your gut and do what is right for you and your family. One size does not fit all.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Communication is key. An exceptional EA is able to adapt to different working styles but, as an executive, have trust in your EA and be willing to try things his/her way. You might be surprised at the impact it makes on your day. An EA is not just an Assistant, but your strategic partner.
For those interested in promotion: Don’t be afraid to step up. Take on opportunities when presented, but don’t sit back and wait for them … put yourself out there. Be brave and share your ideas and opinions, and remember to be supportive even when your idea isn’t taken.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Christabell referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.