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, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to British Columbia, Canada to visit with Jill Goertzen.
A Running Start
I usually wake up around 5:30 a.m., get ready and head to work to be at my desk by 7:30 a.m. About two to three days a week, I would run with a colleague in the morning, which means I would get up around 4:50 a.m., go for a run, and be at my desk by 7:30 a.m. to start my day. Morning rituals definitely include a coffee and breakfast at my desk before I even start checking my email.
My commute is about 45 minutes long. I take transit (bus/SkyTrain).
At the Office
Morning Routines: Coffee and breakfast are always first. Then I check any voicemail I may have, then email. I go through my email first and respond to emails that require only a quick response right away. Any emails that require a longer response, I mark as unread and return to later depending on urgency. Next I check my bosses’ email for anything that I may need to action. After checking email, I look at my calendar for the day and any leftover “to do” items from the day before and prioritise what I need to start working on.
Primary Responsibilities: I have two main bosses but support a team of five in total. I manage/book travel for all five and schedule and manage meetings/calendars for my two bosses. I am also responsible for collating and distributing Board material for several boards. I assist with any requests for proposals/tenders we submit, and am also responsible for submitting expense reports for eight people on a monthly basis.
There are some regular tasks that take place (monthly expense reports, quarterly or bi-annual board materials) and then there are some tasks that are common but not always the same – such as booking meetings/travel for my team. My team travels a lot, but often to different locations and the requirements are always different. I would say each day at the office looks a little different but there are many of the same tasks, etc., that I do throughout the week/month/year.
How long is your work day? Typically, I arrive at the office around 7:30 and leave around 4:00.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? I typically bring my lunch with me to work (leftovers, usually). If I do go out to eat, it’s usually somewhere quick like Tim Hortons or a sandwich shop nearby.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I check my emails on the way in to work (I take transit, so it’s easy for me to do this) but I typically don’t respond to anything unless it’s urgent. Checking my emails before getting into the office helps me understand what I may need to address immediately. I check emails in the evening, but again, only respond/action if absolutely necessary; otherwise I leave it until the next work day. Periodically, I am required to do some work outside office hours, but it’s rare for me.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Change. In my job, I need to constantly be flexible because things change all the time, whether it’s travel arrangements or meeting requirements. I’ve sometimes spent many hours on a specific project only to be told we are not submitting that project any longer, and all those hours of work are (more or less) considered wasted! However, that’s part of the job and I have to realise that and be okay with it!
Interested in promotion? Contribute to team meetings by asking strategic questions; identify projects to which you can contribute
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy the variety. Each day is different. I really enjoy the people I work with, too – the executives and the other admin staff.
On Saying “No”
I rarely say “no” to people, as I do like to help. However, if the request is coming from someone other than my boss, I always ask what the priority is. I ask when they need the information, so that I can let them know if I can accommodate their request given any other tasks I currently have on the go. If I feel that the request being made of me would be better handled by someone else, I will direct that person to speak to the most appropriate person in the office rather than taking on a task that I don’t necessarily need to do. If I have time, I may just help them out.
I was born in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada and now live in Delta, BC, Canada. This is near Vancouver, BC. I am definitely a small community person. We just moved from Vancouver to Ladner, which is a community of about 50,000 people. Ladner is known for its small town feel and we love it already!
How do you like to spend your time outside the office? With friends, whether that’s out for dinner, having a drink in the back yard or playing games. I also love reading (I’m part of a book club and have a membership at three libraries!). We also love to get outside to the beach or for a hike.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A glass of wine and a good book. On the special occasions, a massage at a spa!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I would love to visit New Zealand. We’ve never been. I’d also love to go back to Ireland. We went for five days in summer 2014 and that definitely wasn’t long enough. It’s so beautiful – we love the countryside.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have always put a lot of value on education. I think we should always be learning. The education I’ve received through IAAP and at work has definitely supported my career development. I’ve learned a lot of technological skills which I am able to use to help my team with computer issues, etc. I’ve also learned soft skills which help me with communicating well with colleagues in the office.
Being part of a professional association can help you become more confident in public speaking
Peer and Professional Associations: IAAP. Being a part of this professional association has helped me with being more bold in public speaking. I used to be very nervous speaking in front of others, and being involved in IAAP and especially in a leadership capacity has really helped me become more confident in front of people.
Leadership roles in professional associations are rewarding and contribute to professional growth
I’ve made a lot of good connections professionally by being involved in this organisation. I have been involved with IAAP at a leadership level for four years now; each year being a different role (Membership Chair, Vice President, President and now Branch Advisor). Each role has been very different, but each role has been extremely rewarding and I feel like I’ve grown a lot in my profession and career by being involved in this association.
Preferred form(s) of social media?
Personal – Facebook and Instagram
Professional – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
Awards and Recognition
IAAP offers a Member of Excellence (MOE) award each year, based on how involved you’ve been with the association in that fiscal year. I have achieved my MOE for the last two years.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Either a suit with a brightly colored button-up shirt and heels, or a dress with a “pencil” skirt design to the knees, and heels.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lip gloss
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. For your commute? Flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Steve Madden
Preferred scent: Gap Pink
What might we find in your desk drawer? Pens, paper clips and Post-its!
Travel or travel planning advice? Try to book as far in advance as possible. Not only do you get more options, but it’s often cheaper this way. I’m fortunate enough to have a travel agency to work with at work, so they can do all the research for me and just send me options. If you don’t have a travel agency to work with, Kayak or Expedia are useful sites to browse all the options.
Visa requirements can change regularly within a given country, so always check requirements, even for return visits
Also, always check the visa requirements for the country to which you are travelling. Sometimes you will need to get a travel visa, and this can take up to seven to 10 business days. Always check the visa requirements before you travel even if you’ve travelled to that country before, since the visa requirements change regularly.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I planned and executed a ship naming ceremony which took place in Korea. There were a number of VIPs in attendance and over 100 attendees. I planned the event entirely from Canada and it went off flawlessly!
I’ve also completed my CAP-OM-TA designations through IAAP, the International Association of Administrative Professionals. The credentials are CAP (Certified Administrative Professional), OM (Organisational Management), and TA (Technology Applications). I studied for two+ months for the CAP-OM and wrote a two-day exam to achieve that credential. The TA took me about a year to achieve. I achieved this by studying material and submitting various assignments, all related to various technology applications. In order for me to maintain these designations, I need to re-certify every five years, which means I need to continually educate myself. I feel very proud to have these certifications!
Establish specific times of day to check and respond to email messages
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I feel I have accomplished a lot in the last five years. I’ve received my certifications and have become President of the Vancouver Chapter for IAAP, and am now the Branch Advisor for the IAAP BC/Yukon Branch. I have been very successful in my Executive Assistant role at TK and am constantly learning. I am the Word and PPT (PowerPoint) Super User in the office! I don’t have any specific goals for the next five years other than continuing to find ways to be more efficient and productive in the office!
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Always ask about the priority level of a specific request. Once you know how urgent something is, you can prioritise your tasks for the day / week and you don’t end up staying late working on a task that isn’t urgent at all.
Also, take specific times of the day to check email. Don’t constantly check messages throughout the day. This can be a huge time sucker. Set specific times throughout the day to check/respond to email. It’s often very helpful to at least acknowledge receipt of an email, and let the other party know that you will respond by X time or whatever works best given that situation.
Get to know others in the office. Having relationships with other staff can be invaluable.
Asking questions to assess priority levels of incoming requests helps you prioritise your tasks
Your most effective time management strategy? Before you leave the office for the day, print off your calendar / to-do list for the next day; review it. That way, when you arrive in the office the next day, you know what you need to get started on right away. As mentioned above, set aside a few times throughout the day to check/respond to email and make sure you work first on the tasks that are time sensitive. Acknowledging receipt of the message is helpful the recipient will know you got the message and will respond in due course.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Have an open door policy. Be willing to give your assistant work (don’t think you need to do the whole PPT presentation on your own, or that you need to schedule your own meetings). The assistants are there for a reason … be sure to use them! Give priority levels for tasks you’re giving your assistant so s/he knows what to work on first and what can wait. Any preferences you can give your assistant will help, as well; the assistant should write them down so s/he doesn’t need to ask again!
For those interested in promotion: Attending team meetings is very useful; you know what’s happening and what your colleagues are working on. Ask strategic questions and offer to help with whatever you may be able to help with. Any cross-training you can do is also helpful. If you’re interested in project work, make sure your boss and colleagues are aware of what you’re interested in and see if you can help out in your department or even in another department. Don’t be afraid to ask!
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Jill 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.