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, and now make our way to Mississauga, Ontario to visit with Katherine Vaillancourt.
An Early Commuter
I’m typically up between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. and out the door by 6:00 am to catch transit.
My commute is approximately an hour in the morning and between 60-90 minutes in the afternoon. I take public transit from Mississauga to downtown Toronto, and love not having the deal with the hassles of traffic on the morning and afternoon commutes.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I love soundtracks to movies and the 90s!
At the Office
Morning Routines: Typically before I arrive, I grab a muffin or bagel in the “Path” and the first thing I do is check email and voicemail. Following that, I review my boss’ calendar, our team calendar and my calendar to make sure that if there are any materials that are required for meetings I have them prepared and ready to go. I also review the up and coming week just to make sure that there are no conflicts.
Primary Responsibilities: Calendar and e-mail management, analysis, and more. There is really not a typical day. The only thing that’s typical in my day is that there will be two Starbucks coffee runs – one at around 9:30 am and the other at around 2:30 pm. As an EA, I believe we are “trained” to expect the unexpected. Things may come up, urgent requests may arise, and you deal with the unexpected as it arises.
How long is your work day? Although my official hours are from 8:00 to 4:00, most days will see me reviewing emails and such on my way into and from the office. It also depends on whether there are any meetings that require my assistance outside these hours. Our team does have the “7 to 7 rule”, which asks that team members not send emails between 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 am. There are, of course, exceptions – but the idea is to encourage a positive work-life balance and that you should not be expected to check your work emails outside this time frame.
Our team has the “7 to 7” rule
What might be a typical lunch? Typically, I will grab a quick bite from one of the many food courts in the Path. I try to leave my desk for a few minutes just to reset, and this is usually done by going downstairs to grab food.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The most challenging aspect would probably be when things come up when you least expect it. At the end of the day, you pull through and get it done. I thrive on accomplishing the tasks at hand and if life throws you a curveball, get ready to catch it with your glove – and make that catch!
If life throws you a curveball, get ready to catch it!
What do you most enjoy about your career? I really do love being an EA. Many people think a role as an Executive Assistant is just a job. But in retrospect, I enjoy making a difference and helping people out. There is a great satisfaction in knowing that you have made that person’s day a bit better just by being there to support them. I look at it this way: if my VP or CEO is successful, it means that I am successful in doing my job.
On Saying “No”
It’s not really saying no but, more so, how can we help? It may just be that the person needs help in finding the right person to help with his/her issue. Having those conversations is important in not only finding a solution, but it builds the relationship you have with that individual.
Have conversations that not only find solutions, but build relationships
Away from the office, I enjoy going out for coffee, playing board and card games, and travelling with my husband and friends.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I watch movies at home, and go for manis and pedis with the girls every couple of weeks.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I do have the travel bug, and Italy is my next big destination. I would also love to go to Japan and Australia.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I completed my Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto with a degree in Historical & Cultural Geography, Political Science and GIS (Geographic Information Systems). This has helped me with understanding data analysis and marketing.
I also took some online accounting courses, which has been great in enabling me to support VPs in the finance sector. I am a huge supporter of professional development, as I believe it helps us grow as individuals and enables us to become more efficient in the workplace.
If my VP or CEO is successful, it means that I am successful in doing my job
Peer and Professional Associations: I am an active member with the Association of Administrative Assistants (AAA). I currently hold the role of Director-Treasurer and serve on the National Board. The Association is a wonderful organisation for those who are EAs, AAs, PAs and Office Managers. The networking and speakers’ series provided by the branches are key in continuing our development as assistants. The AAA has helped me continue to grow as an individual and network with colleagues from around the country. It has also enriched relationships with my peers.
The AAA has helped me continue to grow as an individual and network with colleagues from around the country
Preferred form(s) of social media? Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An app that can coordinate all the different calendars I manage, on a mobile platform – one that can do the same thing as Outlook on a laptop and/or desktop
Awards and Recognition
I was the recipient of the Association of Administrative Assistants (AAA) Honour Roll award last year. This award was established by the National Board in 1980 to record the names of members who, in the opinion of their fellow members, merit recognition for achievement and contribution, distinguished service in and to the Association and the community.
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Chapstick and lip gloss
Heels or flats in the office? Flats! Lots of running around to do! For your commute? Flats/runners; walking outside, you need a good tread to avoid slipping! Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Anything sparkly!
Preferred scent: My favourite perfume is J’Adore by Christian Dior.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Lots of Post-its – I do love Post-its! You’ll also find a hairbrush, Hello Kitty Band-Aids, a multi-converter USB charger, highlighters, lint remover and a wired mouse.
Travel or travel planning advice? For business, the best advice would be to have a formal contact with the agency that your company uses for travel bookings. By having a go-to person, you know who you are talking to and your agent can be very helpful when you are stuck with a situation, or if there are any urgent requests that may come up.
In terms of personal travel, I also use my personal travel agent, who is always there to assist me. I have been going to her for about eight years now and moved with her from one agency to another because she is the best at what she does!
Inspirational reads? Personally, it has always been Night by Elie Wiesel. This book has been inspirational and an eye-opening experience. My favourite quote from the book is, “…I believe it important to emphasize how strongly I feel that books, just like people, have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both.”
Role models or mentors? My first mentor was a lady named Marilyn. She was a senior Administrative Assistant and taught me the ropes. She showed me that it is not all technical but also personal. By building relationships and combining that with the technical knowledge, you can achieve far more. She really was a lovely lady and, without her, I probably would have done something else with my career.
On skills: It is not all technical; it is also personal
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. While working at Heritage Mississauga, coordination of the 200th Anniversary events for the City was one of my proudest moments. This week-long event was a significant accomplishment and, through the events hosted, we were able to strengthen relationships between the First Nations and the city politicians.
My second proudest moment would be while working for another company; I was able to develop an assistants’ network for all the assistants in the organisation. This brought forth camaraderie and support for one another, meeting monthly to keep up to date on what was going on in each area, and relationship building.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? From a career perspective, I would love to support another C-Level executive within the next five years. On a personal level, I would love to continue volunteering for the National Board at the Association of Administrative Assistants (AAS).
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? You have to do what you love. I not only enjoy being an EA; I love it. I thrive on not knowing what will happen the next day, but also know that I am making a difference in someone’s life. Also, you can’t stop learning; by continuing to learn, you not only advance yourself but it gives you a bit of an edge on what’s up and coming!
You have to do what you love
Your most effective time management strategy? Lists – Make sure you list all the things you need to do and categorise them as A (most important), B (somewhat important) or C (for later). By looking at a list, you will know what you need to get done, when and its importance.
Have an honest conversation; ask your executive what s/he is looking for
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Have an honest conversation. Ask your executive what s/he is looking for in an assistant. This is something I ask during interviews, because it also shows me what an executive is looking for and will also enable me to see if this is someone I can work for and look up to.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Keep open communication. I have been very lucky with the executives with whom I’ve worked. By being able to communicate with one another, you gain a perspective of expectations, what is required and what you both want to accomplish. By having continued open conversations, your relationship builds into a partnership.
For those interested in promotion: Continue to learn, and join the Association as it will provide you with professional development seminars, job opportunities and an overall network of peers who know where you come from, and what you do – and they can be a great sounding board, should you need it, to help you resolve issues.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Katherine 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.