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, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Germany to visit with Diana.
A Friendly Start
I usually have a hard time getting up in the morning. However, having an early riser husband and a dog, who usually gives me a good morning kiss the moment I awake, makes it more pleasant to get up and to prepare for work. I usually have a smoothie for breakfast – mostly in the car on my way to work.
I travel to work by car, and the commute takes about 30 minutes. What musicans are on your commuting playlist? I have a very mixed playlist, but U2, Coldplay and Fleetwood Mac are always included.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I usually arrive at the office at around 8:30 a.m. I am not a typical coffee drinker; I simply get a fresh bottle of water out of the fridge, grab a glass and that’s it. When my laptop is ready to operate, the first thing I do is check my two bosses’ diaries. What is on the agenda for the day? Any last minute changes? I continue screening emails for my boss. In order to save time, I always read my own emails before I go to work, so I am up to date with my inbox before I step into the office. That’s pretty much all that you can call a routine for me.
Primary Responsibilities: I am responsible for the office management for two out of three Board Members. I manage email accounts and diaries, book travel, do the expenses and plan various meetings and events. The more interesting part for sure is my participation in several projects, such as our company move last year, the branding of the new office building, a fresh culture approach resulting from the move, and much more.
I recently created a worldwide phone loop for our company, and it is now playing in all our subsidiaries. I found the band, went to the recording studio and created a unique song. Every time I am on hold and listen to this song, it makes me very proud. Internal communications are another major responsibility. I prepare messages for the worldwide staff on behalf of the Board, work on Corporate Strategies and update our intranet with various information updates and success stories throughout the Group. I work closely together with my counterparts in the international subsidiaries – from Chicago to Singapore!
A typical work day? Once I’ve logged in and gone through my daily routine things, I work on my “to do” list. I have a typical hold-file where I keep my open projects. I also set myself a working space in my Outlook system that basically blocks my time for several tasks such as uploading a new story to the intranet, planning a meeting or simply working on new ideas.
The day also consists of some meetings. I have many on m my own, but also accompany my bosses for various other meetings or conferences. Other than that. the day is filled with email and heavy calendar management and of course my project work. I am currently working on a few company events as well as strategic projects.
How long is your work day? I have flexible working hours, but mostly work between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Once in a while I work from home when my bosses are travelling. What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? Honestly speaking, I hardly have a lunch. I eat fruits during the day, drink a smoothie, or even forget eating. Once a week, I have a fixed lunch with my favourite office buddy and that is it. I have tried to change this, and leave my desk for lunch time to simply breathe some fresh air or think about other stuff, but this has been not very successful so far. One thing I do for sure is eat dinner with my husband, and that is much more important to me.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? As with every other C-level (C-Suite) Executive Assistant, you are constantly “on the job” which means screening emails before and after work hours. It is one of the last things I do before I go to bed and for sure one of the first things I check every morning. In our fast moving working environment, it is part of the job to remain informed about ongoing projects and be accessible 24/7. I have never had problems with this requirement and luckily my bosses do not expect me to be constantly online. However, I have a much better feeling when I know what’s going on and so I am basically glued to my smartphone.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? It’s definitely taking care of two C-level Board Members while at the same time running the Internal Communications of our company. It’s sometimes not easy to balance them.
Simply saying no is too ordinary; when you need to do so, refer the person to someone else who may be able to help
What do you most enjoy about your career? I have been very fortunate to have worked with many inspiring bosses throughout my career. These managers assigned me to various projects from the first moment on and never treated me “only as their secretary”. It was not always easy to jump onto these projects, but I managed all of them because I received trust and motivation from my managers. I also enjoy the fact that I am currently working in an international environment. I speak with colleagues from all over the world and we have one common goal: the success of our business.
On Saying “No”
When I was younger, I found it much tougher to say “no”, but nowadays I feel more confident in doing so. Since I am working for two bosses plus running my own little department, I have every reason to say “no” for any additional task I might get asked to take on. However, simply saying “no” is too ordinary, so I try to give a recommendation; my refusal consists of referring the person to someone else who might be able to help instead of me. This makes the “no” less harsh.
I was born and raised in Germany. After a few stops in various other cities in Germany, I now live with my husband and our little dog in the outskirts of Berlin. I am definitely a country person, but like to have a city nearby. We live in the suburbs, just next to the woodland, but at the same time have access to the metro which brings me to the heart of Berlin in 30 minutes.
I am a family person and like to spend time with my loved ones as much as I can. My husband shares my passion for travelling, so we use every opportunity to hop on a plane and travel to a nice place. With our dog, we also enjoy being on the boat exploring the waters around Berlin. I find it also extremely important to do voluntary service. In our case, that is supporting animal welfare. We have been very fortunate in our lives and try to give back as much as we can. We therefore actively support a local pet sanctuary in Berlin, and an animal shelter in Romania. I grew up with pets and have a strong connection to animals, so I feel responsible for them.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? The Pina Colada Song. I simply love the vibe and the story behind it.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I appreciate quality time with my family, enjoying a nice dinner or going to the movies. I also pamper myself with some shopping, meeting my friends or a warm bath after a hard working day.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? The US is my dream country so, every time I fly abroad, it is like coming home. Fortunately, I have seen already many places in the US given the fact that I used to live there many years ago.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I attended the Academy of Business Management and Foreign Trade Languages and received a Diploma in International Administration and Management. I am also a Foreign Language Business Specialist. This education provided me all the basics for my job.
However, I constantly use every opportunity to educate myself by attending various conferences, trainings and seminars – mainly through my EUMA (European Management Association) organisation. The network offers great training opportunities with high-class instructors. It’s a major benefit to my career.
Take every opportunity to educate yourself
Peer and Professional Associations: I have been an active EUMA Member since 2006. Starting out in the regional group of Stuttgart, I moved to Berlin where I took over the lead of what was, at that time, a small group. I put a lot of energy in to forming and growing the Berlin group, which was a great success in the end. I held the function of Regional Head for three years before it was time for me to leave the Chair role.
Since then, I have continued as an active member, attending many EUMA trainings and conferences throughout Europe and supporting the current National Board and the new Regional Head, Berlin on different topics.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I have to confess that I am addicted to Facebook, but I have only a bunch of friends there, as I am aware of the downside this technology may bring. Professionally, I focus on LinkedIn.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I would love to use an app where the barking of my dog would be translated into human words. I have always wanted to know what Phoebe keeps trying to tell me.
It is your inner confidence that makes you successful
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I never needed a suit or a dress to feel confident in my workplace. It is more the inner confidence you transport that makes you successful. And this may happen in jeans and a blazer, as well.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Mascara, hand cream, lip balm and of course a scent to refresh during the day
Heels or flats in the office? Both, although I prefer flats and therefore have many types of ballerinas.
Preferred scent: I have several perfumes. The way I dress in the morning gives me the right feeling for the scent I will wear that day.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Mostly office supplies, but also a set of shoe shine equipment. You always have to be prepared. My new boss laughed the first time he saw me cleaning my shoes.
Travel or travel planning advice? Try to focus on a specific airline or airline alliance and get that company’s loyalty card. I travel once in a while for work, but even more for pleasure. With a membership card, I gain many frequent traveller miles which lead to free flights or upgrades once in a while. A nice goodie!
Inspirational reads? “The Future of Management” by Gary Hamel. I read this book while working for my previous employer, Sony, and it helped the whole company to master a huge culture change. I picked up many great thoughts through this book and can highly recommend it.
Be flexible and open to new responsibilities; take every opportunity that may arise
Role models or mentors? I actually have two: one professional and one personal role model.
Let’s start with Laura. I see my role model in women from my profession whom I’ve personally met. Laura Schwartz is one of them. Laura is not only a very inspiring person; she has proven that you have to be open to new roles and responsibilities in order to grow. Be flexible in your job and take every opportunity that may arise. This will bring you sooner or later to your next career level. In her case, she started as a volunteer at the White House and later worked as Director of Events during the Clinton Administration. Laura is nowadays a successful speaker, author and, to me, a true role model. I greatly admire her professionalism as well as her down to earth personality.
The other one is Jane Goodall, an animal welfare activist and UN messenger of peace. She truly lives for animal rights and I greatly support that she campaigns against animals in zoos, and the use of animals in medical research.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Last year, I got to spend two weeks in our subsidiary in Chicago plus an additional day visit in the Toronto office. This was a wonderful time for me, meeting my Canadian and US colleagues in person and working together on a few initiatives regarding employee engagement. This trip was not only a reward for my work, but also an important step for me in seeing the benefits of a company-wide network, which I try to intensify more frequently in my daily work.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? The interesting fact about being an Assistant is that a new exciting opportunity may come sooner than you think. You might get a new boss, your current boss may changes roles within the company, or some new structures can generate new projects. When I started my career, I never thought that I would land in the field of Communications, but luckily I was promoted into this role by my managers and can now have an impact on my organisation in a different way. Therefore, I do not have any specific goals for the next five years other than simply being ready for any challenge that may arise. It might promote you automatically to your next career stage.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Get a mentor. As a young assistant, I probably should have reached out earlier to find a mentor. So this would be my advice for new assistants.
Reach out, and find a mentor
Your most effective time management strategy? I usually finish little things first. The quicker I cross out tasks from my to do list, the more time I have for the important projects.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Loyalty, trust and transparency are extremely important for assistants in their working relationship with a boss. It would be hard for me to work with a boss who did not trust me. I always commit myself 100% to my manager and expect the same in return – just like a good marriage!
Seeking promotion? Talk with your boss. Bring ideas and demonstrate how you, your boss and the organisation will benefit.
For those interested in promotion: Speak frequently with your boss about your wish to grow. Bring ideas, and show how important a new project or function would be for you. Also demonstrate the benefits for your boss and the organisation, as it will help your manager to understand your path. I have always stated clearly what I want to expect from my job and never had the feeling that I was not supported enough.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Diana 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.