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, the Netherlands, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland to visit with Jacqui Quigley.
Social Media, Email, and Off to the City Centre
My alarm goes off at 6:20 a.m. I check my emails and social media before rising for a shower and makeup. I couldn’t leave the house without even a light layer; I’m not the kind of person to do my makeup during my commute.
I drive to the train for 7:15 or 7:30, and my journey is about 30/40 minutes by train, followed by a 10 minute walk once I get to the City centre. My office is in a great part of town and so my walk up the canal in the morning is gorgeous, especially in the summer.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I’m a radio girl in the morning, I like to hear the news and weather – I know, so grown up of me!
At the Office
Morning Routines: Since joining LinkedIn five months ago, I have a slightly different routine. I rarely have breakfast at home anymore; I tend to wait until I get to the office. Getting to my desk, I fire up my dual screens and check my emails, action anything urgent and reply to calendar invites. Then I venture up for breakfast.
I usually check updates to emails and reply to any other social media posts on the train, so I have all that sorted before I get to the office.
Primary Responsibilities: As we all know, our responsibilities as PAs are all so different and mine change on a daily basis. I look after the diaries of three Directors, two of whom are based in our London office, and organise numerous business trips and travel arrangements as well as events and internal and external meetings.
While there really is no such thing as a typical day, my morning routine is usually the same – check emails, action and respond to invites, etc. The majority of my role is reactionary, so I’m generally following up on emails from the prior day or ensuring rooms are booked for all my meetings, etc.
As 40% of my role involves my colleagues in the US or Australia, I would have a good few emails in the morning given the time zone difference, but it also gives me plenty of time to action them before they get back online in the evening.
We recently migrated from Outlook to Gmail, so that added a different dimension to my role as I could assist the teams around me with set up and additional queries.
How long is your work day? I’m usually in work for 8:00 or 8:30 and finish at about 5:30, depending on the business needs. I could stay later but I have my work emails on my phone and can action those on my commute home.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? Since I am fortunate enough to have lunch provided for me by LinkedIn, there are lots of variations and options – anything from salads and sandwiches to a hot lunch. I tend to go for a big lunch that helps me get through the 3:00 o’clock slump, and opt for lighter dinner options in the evening.
Also, as a treat every Wednesday, we have either a Thai or Indian option for lunch – it’s very hard to resist.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I rarely work from home as I find I’m much more productive while in the office, where I have my contacts at hand and any resources I may need. I am a devil for checking my emails, though, even if I don’t action.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Being an experienced PA, challenges are always the most exciting aspect of my day. I enjoy solving problems and helping people. The Gmail migration definitely gave me those challenges: learning the new package, ensuring my Directors’ calendars and emails were working correctly, and that we were all on the same page with calendar scheduling, etc.
Moving from the very corporate background of PwC to LinkedIn was certainly a challenge for me, and I still feel I am adjusting to my new culture and environment.
Landing the job: it’s about the experience, the person and the right fit for the role
What do you most enjoy about your career? Some of the best aspects of my role are the event coordination and communications/PR (public relations); this is definitely something I would like to work toward. I really enjoy meeting new people and the variation of this aspect is always exciting and fast paced.
On Saying “No”
This is always an interesting question for me as some PAs really hate saying no for fear of the consequences, but I feel saying “no” for me has made me more assertive and confident in my abilities. Having read Jennifer Corcoran’s profile, I noticed she mentioned tips for saying no and I would wholly agree with her; some people find it easier to not use the word “No”.
The approach I would normally take consists of – “I’m currently working on… I don’t mind taking this but I won’t get to it until the end of the week” or, “As you know, my priority lies with… so I cannot guarantee my full attention”.
Alternatively, I would just be upfront and honest and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the capacity for this”.
I was born in the countryside of a small county called Monaghan in Republic of Ireland; it’s located near the border of Northern Ireland. I now live in Dublin and have done so for 14 years except for a jaunt in Wolverhampton in the UK for my university.
I’m definitely a city girl even though I grew up in the country; it was always too quiet for me. I love being so close to the city and the hive of activity. Having said that, it’s nice to get home for a visit every so often, for that little bit of greenery.
Away from the office, I really enjoy “me” time and socialising in equal measures – so any free time I have, I try to organise events with my friends, a spa day, out for dinner or just to the cinema. If I’m alone, I love watching old movies, reading or listing to music. I have also been known to take the odd trip to Ikea for a dabble at some DIY (Do it yourself) and painting – the walls, that is, not art!
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I sing all the time, to every song I know – I’m not saying I have a good singing voice, but that has never stopped me. I recently went to see Ed Sheerin in concert. He is amazingly talented and such an entertainer, so I’m still singing along to his album.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I have to admit that nothing feels better than a hot shower and slippers after a long day or cold wet walk home. An early night with a good book is always nice after a stressful day. Alternatively, in the summer I love meeting my friends for dinner al fresco with a glass of wine. We haven’t had much of a chance to do that this year with our lovely temperamental Irish weather!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? My dream holiday would definitely be a safari trip in Africa or travel to Hong Kong. I know; they are both so different, but so appealing to me for various reasons. I love the idea of setting off trekking to find the wild life on safari, but also the cosmopolitan girl in me would love the hustle and bustle of busy Hong Kong. Its skyscrapers and neon lights would be so exciting.
Education and Professional Development
Education: Having completed my degree in Media and Communications many moons ago, it’s rarely asked about anymore but I do think it helped me get my first job – especially during the Celtic Tiger. When things were good, it was necessary to have a degree to get the job you wanted. Now, I think things have changed a lot. It’s more about the experience, the person and the right fit for the role. Of course qualifications help you, but they aren’t the be all and end all – if that was the case, why are so many people taking time out to do internships and unpaid work experience?
Networking increases your opportunities, assists in meeting people and improving confidence
Peer and Professional Associations: Yes, I am an executive board member of the APAI (Association of Professional Administrators in Ireland). The APAI is a not for profit organisation set up in Ireland in 2014 to assist and guide those in the Administration profession. My role in the organisation is Membership Officer. As the association develops we will need more members, and my role is to ensure we get to all those who require our help and advice throughout their careers.
If I may, I would like to take this opportunity to say hi to my APAI team members, and a massive well done on all we have achieved so far
Our roles were voted upon only in January this year, so to that point we were all mucking in and making sure we came up with a great concept and idea for the first association of its kind in Ireland.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Silly question, guys – of course LinkedIn but, in all seriousness, LinkedIn is such a fantastic platform for a number of reasons. You can connect with people all over the world, publish your own piece – whether it’s opinion or learnings – as well as following daily news feeds from your groups or via Pulse, especially if you follow some of the influencers.
Second for me is Twitter; it’s a swift and instantaneous mode of communication and can be really good fun depending on your followers.
Career Accomplishments, Including Awards and Recognition
Well, I have had a pretty spectacular 2014/2015. In May 2014, I won PA-Assist PA of the Year All Ireland, which was followed closely by a nomination as a SecsintheCity finalist for Social Media PA of the Year. This year, I have been nominated and shortlisted for the WearetheCity Rising Star Awards.
The Rising Star Award is an amazing award, as it will focus on the UK’s and Ireland’s female talent pipeline below management level and will celebrate 50 female individual contributors who represent the leaders and role models of tomorrow. Being the only Irish PA shortlisted, I think this is such a great honour and I’m flying the flag for Irish PAs; wish me luck.
In my prior role, I was nominated for an Above and Beyond award for Business Development and since joining LinkedIn I have received a Bravo award for Team work. That arose from assisting my colleagues with the Gmail migration.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? In LinkedIn, we have a business casual “uniform” so most days consist of jeans and flats but, if there was an event or occasion, the heels and blazer would definitely make an appearance.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? A powder, black eye liner and lip gloss
Preferred scent: I absolutely love Karl Lagerfeld perfume – I think it has been discontinued, so I always try to pick one up as I’m passing through the airport.
What might we find in your desk drawer? I’m the stereotypical PA, with my top drawer full of pens, Tipp-Ex, envelopes and note pads. Now, my bottom drawer is a different story; there you can find my emergency makeup bag, tights, deodorant and safety pins. A girl never knows when a safety pin could come in handy.
Inspirational reads? I love reading but tend to steer away from books about work. I do love autobiographical books and a few months ago read the biography (Fairy Tale Interrupted: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Loss) by RoseMarie Terenzio who was PA to John F Kennedy, Jr. Her story was so inspiring and really heart wrenching. I would highly recommend it.
I have also read Heels of Steel by Vanessa Vallely – she also came to speak at an annual PA conference in Dublin run by ZoomIn – and if you haven’t heard Vanessa speak, please make some time to do it. She is interesting, truly motivational and so funny!
Role models or mentors? Having been a PA for more than 10 years, many amazing people have crossed my path during my journey – and not all are necessarily within the world of administration, but have been strong role models throughout my career. I had some amazing colleagues and bosses in PwC who were supportive of my growth and development, always pushing me to do better and achieve more; they still remain great friends.
I have always been a keen networker but, since attending the ZoomIn Exec Assistant, PA and Admin Forum in 2012, Fiona Kelly has been a force of nature supporting me and unknowingly mentoring me through some of my successes. She is an incredible role model; she and her sister Aisling set up the Admin forum to bring administrators in Ireland together during a time when the industry was barely recognised. Now the numbers are growing every year, and I was honoured to be part of the amazing speaker line up this year.
At Forum this year, I came across a truly inspiring woman, Claire Burge. Claire was also a speaker at the conference; she has set up a business with the aim to make the work place a more productive and collaborative place and conducts her daily business without the use of emails. Since meeting Claire, I have become an advocate for her work and through working with her I have gained some valuable knowledge and advice for improving my daily work ethic.
Having read Vanessa Vallelly’s book Heels of Steel, I gave myself a serious kick to persevere through the tough times and to be the best I can be.
Be upfront, honest and clear – but most of all, be confident in your abilities
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? LinkedIn is a big advocate for career transformation so, bearing this in mind, I’d definitely like to take a break from my role as PA and try out different areas of the business. I’m always keen to learn new things and take on bigger projects that challenge me and keep me motivated. I’m lucky my role gives me lots of exposure to many business areas, so it will be interesting to see where I end up.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Ask questions, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and most definitely be yourself. As a PA starting out, it was all very new and terrifying – especially in the big corporate world. Having that someone to direct your questions to is very important; find someone you connect with and build a rapport.
I think that, if I had networked earlier in my career, I might be in a very different place now. Networking increases your opportunities, assists with meeting new people and improves your confidence.
Ask questions, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and be yourself
Your most effective time management strategy? As I mentioned above, I am most productive first thing in the morning – find your time. I do try to get my emails actioned during this time and then keep on top of them throughout the day, ensuring I have no more than 10 unactioned emails in my inbox at any given time. It is less overwhelming.
Colour code lists according to priority or urgency
I keep lists, and lists for lists, but it works for me. Nothing has ever slipped off the radar once my list is involved. Occasionally, I would colour code the lists depending on priority or urgency – red for important, blue for today, and black for items to be dealt with over the coming days (within a week). If it’s something long term, for example a month from now, a highlighter gets involved. The highlighter works well as the list gets longer or complete; I can review back, and the colour catches my attention.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Have that first important meeting, and get to know your assistant. Your relationship, regardless of the role, is based on trust, honesty and sincerity. Your assistant is going to have your back at all costs, so treat her/him well. Flesh out the role, and discuss how you both work and the tasks that are most important for your assistant to prioritise, i.e., how long you would like your meetings to run, what times you start and finish, if you have lunch or work through lunch.
An exceptional PA can be more than just an assistant; s/he can be a person of influence
Your assistant knows how to do her job, so leave the rest to her. As I was told once by a former boss, “You are more than ‘just’ a PA to me, you are the influencer behind it all”.
For those interested in promotion: If you plan to stay in your role but want to develop the role further, this is how I progressed in my role at PwC: I would suggest sitting down with your boss and discussing where you would like your role to go, what new tasks you would like to take on and how it could help the business. S/he might also suggest an area of development.
Be upfront, honest and clear but, most of all, be confident in your abilities.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Jacqui 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.
- APAI – Association of Professional Administrators in Ireland – and, naturally, on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/theapai
- Claire Burge
- Heels of Steel: Surviving & Thriving In The Corporate World – Vallely, Vanessa
- WATC Rising Stars – Personal & Exec Assistants
- ZoomIn Exec Assistant, PA and Admin Forum