Join me for today’s Real Careers interview with Erika Giesl of Toronto, Ontario.
Erika Giesl, CCAP (Canadian Certified Administrative Professional), is President of the Toronto Charter Branch (TCB) of the Association of Administrative Professionals (AAP). AAP was formerly known as the Association of Administrative Assistants.
While Erika’s adminstrative career began in downtown Toronto, she subsequently joined a large international firm in Germany and then Switzerland before returning to Canada. Her work history encompasses a number of industries – investment, insurance, IT, electronics and education. Here’s a look at her world.
Taking care of family
As a single mother of three girls, my day starts with ensuring my girls are up and off to school – on gifted days, I will drive. Then, a morning coffee and a look at what lies ahead for the day. Not one day seems to be the same, regardless of what my “to do” list for that day is.
Working from home
Primary Responsibilities: Working with a volunteer organization, my primary responsibility for the TCB AAP is to ensure that our annual season runs smoothly on a number of fronts. This includes our guest speaker series for the season and reviewing input provided for the newsletter. I oversee all aspects of the team to ensure that Association business moves forward and our members are provided the opportunity to participate in professional development.
Additional Responsibilities: I also organize for the Etobicoke Ringette Association, assist with the annual fundraiser for the Etobicoke/Queensway Lions Club to send underprivileged kids to camp, and had the honour of participating on the Advisory Board for the annual Administrative Professional Conference of Canada. I also have the honour of participating on the Program Advisory Committee for Centennial College and participating on the Incentiveworks Advisory Committee.
With regard to a normal day: as I am not in an office environment, it is necessary for me to have self discipline to complete tasks in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, when family issues arise, dates may need to be moved accordingly.
Tell us a bit about your work day. My best communication is done later in the day when I am distraction free and focusing on what needs to be completed. I find that I work best under pressure or timelines. As I have family responsibilities as well, and sometimes appointments, illnesses or the like that may interfere, later in the day works wonderfully well.
What might be a typical lunch? Lunch usually ranges from leftovers to a quick shake, depending on what is happening that day.
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you adopted any steps to support good health? I make it a point to get up and do something different for a few minutes every hour, unless of course I am midstream in a thought/communication. Moving around provides not only a break, but also a “refresh” as to what is currently happening at my desk. I take the time to rethink and reread once I return, usually making for a better written word or solution.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging part of my career is trying to keep up with the hard skill set required in our professional environment. Booking the time to learn the new technology skill set is my biggest obstacle, as I do everything from home and there are always so many other aspects of an administrative career that can get in my way or distract me from taking that step.
As I am a very visual person, booking a one on one to become more tech savvy would be my short term goal for this season. My girls are a great resource. I will encourage them to make a date with me; how exciting is that!
I love the networking and putting people together to share ideas and enrich each other’s lives
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the networking and putting people together to share ideas and enrich each other’s lives. I also love the fact that I, too learn from all those I come in contact with. They are each part of my journey and I am very grateful for having met them along the way.
On Saying “No”
I do like to help people when and if I can. I do sometimes find it difficult to say no. I am learning, however, as I realize that there are a lot of other people who can assist just as well as I. It is a part of letting go and as I continue on my journey, my priorities change. As my priorities change, I believe it will assist in making it easier for me to say no.
I was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada back in the 1960s. I grew up with a black and white tv, learned how to type on a manual typewriter, and had no cell phones – but we did have Encyclopedia Britannica and I loved it!
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I love the city life. In my early career, I spent time after hours trying new downtown restaurants, attending shows and having a drink now and again with my coworkers. As a mother now, although still living close to the transit system, I find it harder to spend time downtown due to other extra curricular activities that involve equipment and driving my girls.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I love getting together with family and friends and eating a good meal. My girls are a big part of my life and we have made traditions throughout the years that continue to this day. We talk daily about what is going on in their circles and sort through solutions we can make for any issues that may arise.
I was a Contralto soloist for a church for many years, and held the position of President of the Toronto Camerata (a 24-voice a capella choir). I also sang with the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, and the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus. I started singing when I was nine years of age. To this day, I still love to sing where and when I can. The last time I performed was in a German cathedral for my niece’s wedding three years ago.
How long have you been in this career? I have been an administrative professional for over 20 years, and have worked in both the private and public sectors. What was your first such role? After graduation, I had my first administrative role at Roger du Toit Architects. At the time, they were located on Colborne Street just behind the King Edward Hotel. There were 12 architects / landscape architects in the office, and I was the only female besides the principal’s wife. Every Monday morning I led the weekly scheduling meetings.
It was a wonderful experience, as I got to learn quite a lot of other responsibilities as well – payroll and architectural labeling, and I typed a façade book with one of the architects and my name was published in the finished book. Every employment opportunity that I’ve encountered over my career has been, in my opinion, a win-win!
Working in Switzerland … I answered two phones, one in English and one in German
What might we find in your desk drawer? Usually paperclips, Post-it notes and thank you cards – nothing too exciting.
How did you come to join AAP’s Toronto Charter Branch (TCB)? I attended an Association meeting one evening back in 1994 as someone mentioned it to me. I then learned of the Qualified Administrative Assistant (QAA – now called the CCAP) program offered in colleges and universities across Canada. It perked my interest as this represented another learning opportunity. I joined as a member of the Association that year, and shortly thereafter registered as a student. I participated as an active volunteer to grow both my personal and professional life.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? After a tough day or week, I put my feet up and make myself a cup of tea and watch a little tv. Depending on how I feel that day, a stronger drink may apply.
Your ideal holiday or travel adventure? My ideal travel adventure would be to jump in the car and drive. The girls and I love to travel, and our car is our best friend. I drive down to Florida with the girls during March break every year and although it is a long drive for me, I do enjoy it. We sing, tell jokes and watch movies – just a good vibe. I’d love to take the girls back to Germany one day; I’d love to go to Alaska, and I’d love to go on my first ever cruise ship. I know it’s more than one ideal holiday, but life is too short to not take advantage of it!
I list by priority what I need to get done and identify not only how much time I am to spend on it, but to also the time of day I am going to do it
Education and Professional Development
Education: After graduation, I felt there was something else that I could learn. I was happy to enroll again at University of Toronto and Ryerson to attend continuing education classes to earn my CCAP designation. I completed the seven required courses in two and a half years, while working full time. Having the Association designation as well as the volunteer participation on the Executive team made my curriculum vitae more attractive when I applied for new employment opportunities. It helped me bring questions to the table during interviews, with successful results.
Continuing to attend seminars, workshops, guest speaker series, webinars and more assists me in keeping current.
I believe that everyone can be a leader in their own way
How has your membership in AAP (Association of Administrative Professionals) helped you? The AAP has assisted in increasing my network opportunities with regard to friendships, sharing ideas, learning and continuously growing within my profession, and with connections with potential speakers.
I have earned my Canadian Certified Administrative Professional designation (CCAP) through AAP.
In my opinion, networking in and around the Association is a constant reward both personally and professionally. We learn from each other. Regardless of what industry we are employed in, administrative practices are similar across the board. Sharing these best practices with one another increases our awareness of what tools are being used, what works, and what needs to be improved. Sharing is caring!
Tell us about your assorted leadership roles within AAP. I’ve actively participated in the Toronto Chapter since 1994, and continue to believe that giving back to the community is important. I’ve held positions (or Acting positions) in Program, Membership, Secretary, Vice President, Treasurer and President roles. I’ve also served as National Vice President, but put national participation on hold as my family began to expand.
How has your role as President of the Toronto Branch impacted you? The positive impact this leadership role has on my career is that of confidence.
As a representative of the Branch, you educate others on who we are, what we stand for and why it is a benefit for anyone in our profession to join such an organization. Chairing meetings also provides practice and the more you speak to a group, the more the confidence level increases.
I believe that everyone can be a leader in their own way. We all have something unique to share and when it all comes together, it can make for a great team.
AAP’s Toronto Charter Branch (TCB) holds a guest speaker series program throughout the season
What are the primary means of communication for AAP members? Email is our primary means of communication. We do, however, hold a guest speaker series program throughout the season. All members and guests are invited to a confirmed monthly venue for an evening of learning, coffee and conversation.
Inspirational reads? Honestly, there are a lot of great administrative writers in our arena today. I like to read online newsletters and those authors who publish great inspirational quotes and stories that most times I can relate to. However, the book that I like is Spontaneous Combustion – Setting Your Life on Fire by Laurel Vespi. It’s not just about a career, but about everyday life. It speaks to setting goals and being patient, but not waiting around for something to happen. We have to “start setting our lives on fire”. I keep telling my kids, I just “do it”.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? Soft skills, in my opinion, are very important in our society. Hard skills can be learned. As a voice of the Toronto Charter Branch, I find it rewarding that I can stand up and speak to our members to ensure that our meetings move forward. As a longstanding member of the Association, it also gives me joy to share what I have learned about its history.
My role model is my older sister Silvia … She is always professional in all that she does and continues to learn
Role models or mentors? My role model is my older sister Silvia. She resides in Germany and taught me how to represent myself in my earlier years of my career. She is always professional in all that she does and continues to learn what is necessary to keep current within any position she may hold within an organization. Silvia is a positive influence in my life and career and I am very honoured to be her little sister.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? The Association’s National Board provides branches with annual opportunities to nominate branch members for a place on the honour roll. Inductees’ names are placed in the National archival book. Criteria include commitment and dedication as a volunteer, contributions within the community and other contributions as a member. I’m privileged to have been placed on the honour roll twice. I have also received the Image Award from the National Board.
Tell us about a career accomplishment or two of which you’re particularly proud. I am proud to share with you two career accomplishments. The first was when I was working in Switzerland for an American-based company. I answered two phones, one in English and one in German. The head office was located in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. I had the pleasure of organizing the first ever Directors’ meeting in Europe, including scheduling plans for both the Directors and for their significant others. I made arrangements for meetings, meals, hotels, transportation and all other incidentals.
Sitting in the front seat while my boss was being driving by his chauffeur, I ran off the menus so as not to duplicate any meals for any one group. Visiting and communicating with all venues / companies for this event was exciting yet exhausting at the same time. I was honoured to receive a wonderful thank you letter from the President back in Pennsylvania when the participants all returned home.
Another career accomplishment was when I participated on the “move team” for our building. I was the lead for the Investment Division move for the WSIB (formerly the Workers’ Compensation Board). This involved setting floor plans for all our administrative staff, directors and trade floor advisors, meeting vendors for all investment-related equipment, and ensuring our UPS (unlimited power supply) dedicated room was supplied. I needed to ensure that everything was in place prior to moving offices from one building to the other. I’m very happy to have been part of it!
As I continue on my journey, my priorities change
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I reevaluate and think of the positive outcome. There are always things that can be done differently and I’m okay with that. I just like to do my due diligence first, so that I am not caught off guard when an issue may come up. I like having all the information first to ensure that all questions / solutions can be identified if and when necessary.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? This coming year, I wish to enhance my technology skill set as it is an ever changing environment and I am currently not where I wish to be.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I love to write. It would be an accomplishment to finish a book I started many years ago. As I am moving through another stage of my life and as my responsibilities change, this will be on my radar in the near future.
On AAP: Sharing best practices with one another increases our awareness
The Digital Age
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media or a website as part of your professional responsibilities? No. The national board and branch positions have these responsibilities. Sometimes I post to my own Facebook page.
What are your preferred forms of social media? Social media can either advance your career or hinder it. At this time, I don’t have a preferred form of social media.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? During our guest speaker series, all monthly program flyers are sent out to all members and potential members via PDF. There is no need for paper copies unless the guest speaker requests it.
I wish to enhance my technology skill set as it is an ever changing environment
What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? I would recommend that assistants keep open verbal communications within their work environment, and maintain a positive and team player attitude. Ensuring that your hard skill align with your office environment. Belonging to a community based organization or association outside the office also contributes to success and demonstrates your engagement.
What positive impact(s) do you think AI, Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? Information will be easily accessible to support immediate solutions. With differential charts perhaps identifying best value, improvements in decision making response times will be apparent.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? Travel was a big part of my earlier years. I worked to travel. I recommend that everyone make the time to travel. Sometimes we are so involved in our daily life and work routines that we forget to book the time off. Stay-cations and vacations are both warranted, as everyone needs to rejuvenate / refresh and come back and share their best unique ability with their colleagues. Productivity increases as well as the morale of those you share an office environment with.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. I would recommend doing your due diligence prior to applying for any employment opportunity. If you know more about the company, you may know more about where you would like to fit in. Find out what technology based environment they are working in, and whether they have a professional development plan for employees. Also investigate whether there is opportunity for advancement within that role, in another department, and if there is room to grow. Talk to an employee in that company to get a better feel of the culture.
Do your due diligence prior to applying for any employment opportunity
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. I totally believe in dressing for success. Perhaps I am old school, but I do believe that if you look good, you feel good walking in.
Always keep mindful of what is being said, and hold eye contact to demonstrate confidence.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? When I started, there always seemed to be so much to do and never enough time to do it in. I didn’t take lunch very often and was always at my desk. Even washroom breaks were few and far between. If I could go back, I would take the time to leave my desk and go eat lunch – and I would also remind myself that what is not done today, will get done tomorrow.
I’ve learned that some choices we make in life are not always the best ones. We can learn from our mistakes and do what makes us happy. Choices move us in different directions, not always in the direction we might have liked.
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? Always acknowledge your coworkers when you arrive and depart. Leave negative energy at the door. Ask for assistance when needed, and don’t assume anything. Productivity increases when everyone works together.
Your most effective time management strategy? My most effective time management strategy now is to list by priority what I need to get done and identify not only how much time I am to spend on it, but to also the time of day I am going to do it. Although some things get pushed due to circumstances beyond my control, I would still ensure that it gets completed in a timely fashion.
Leave negative energy at the door
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? We all deal with separation anxiety when that first day comes. Preparing yourself mentally helps in the transition period. Talk to your child a few weeks before about what fun they will have while you are at work, and the fun and the hugs you are looking forward to when you get home.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? I would recommend an assistant ask what works with regard to time for setting a weekly/daily update – make this a routine. In addition to understanding what a work day entails, ask about priorities with incoming calls; who can wait and who cannot be kept waiting.
Your boss will need quality time during the day to finish tasks. Ask what works for them – blocking off a time with no disturbances, if you should seek the boss out at the end of day, if s/he normally stays late. Is it imperative that the assistant also stay late when the boss does? This would vary, of course, depending on deadlines.
For those interested in promotion: There is always room for improvement/growth, although it also may depend on the company they you are employed with and its organizational chart. If there is no room for a promotion, then look into other opportunities. Sometimes a promotion can be a newly formed position, bringing forth skills that you are currently not utilizing. Demonstrating over and above skills or volunteering to be part of another department team project can illustrate your potential.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Erika mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- Toronto Charter Branch (TCB) of AAP – Association of Administrative Professionals (AAP)
- AAP – Association of Administrative Professionals
- Vespi, Laurel – Spontaneous Combustion: Setting Your Life on Fire
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