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 Stockholm to visit with Sofie Koark.
An Informed and Musical Start to the Day
I usually start my day around 6:00 a.m. watching the news on TV and having a quick breakfast. I check all my inboxes, messages and social media for anything urgent that needs a replay or action.
It takes me about 30 minutes door to door to get to work. I usually leave my car to rest and take the subway. To survive the subway journey and arrive at work in a good mood, it’s a must to block out everything with music. That means that I am mentally not really present, and I often jump on the wrong subway, miss the important announcements and miss my exit. It’s worth it, though, because music is one of my biggest passions.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I listen to Spotify (a great Swedish invention) every day and have tons of playlists, since my taste in music is very broad. I listen to music from the old days until today. Good music is simply good music, I think. Music from the eighties, seventies, Latin and cheesy love songs are my favourite playlists.
At the Office
Morning Routines: Arriving at the office and enjoying my first cup of coffee, I check emails and the management team’s calendars to see that everything is under control or if anything needs to be prepared. I check my task list to see what I need to do today. I scan the biggest daily newspapers, media alerts, newsletters and industry news. If I find anything that I know would interest my CEO, I email him an update. After that, I get going on whatever is most important for the day.
On a typical day, I am usually at my desk working or in meetings. Even though I have planned my day, you always need to be flexible and reprioritise depending on what ad-hoc things come up during the day. I usually plan my time around my CEO’s agenda so that I am available when he is out of meetings. I choose to do tasks that need more concentration when he is in meetings or travelling. I use OneNote a lot in my daily work.
Primary Responsibilities: I am a part of the Group management team at Academic Work, a Swedish staffing and recruitment company operating in Scandinavia, Germany and Switzerland and specialising in finding jobs and building career for young professionals.
My main function is to help the Founder/CEO and management succeed, by supporting them in a way that makes them more effectively perform their jobs. This means enabling them to spend more time and focus on the activities that bring the most business value to the company. This increases the possibility of reaching our company goals as well as their own professional goals.
Enable management to spend time & focus on activities that bring the most business value to the company
Support can be in areas such as preparation and research, reports, coordinating, administration, communication and planning. I am responsible for the most important meetings, events, conferences and travel as well as following up with minutes and actions.
I manage the administration for the team, which means handling documents, forecasts, costs, invoices, expenses, and administrative routines to ensure structure and control.
I assist the CEO/team in communication, meaning when/how/what to communicate. I write and translate texts, post updates on the intranet and social media, deal with media requests, and assist with manuscripts, presentations and speeches as well as acting as a gate-keeper.
I am also a member of our CSR steering group and responsible for Academic Work’s CSR projects in Zambia, in cooperation with a local partner, where we build schools according to the self-help principle and provide education for more than 10,000 children.
My motto: Solve the problem
How long is your work day? I am usually at the office from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and then leave to go to the gym or social activities.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? During wintertime I stay in the office or close by (I’m not a fan of cold or rainy weather); otherwise I schedule lunches on the town with friends/colleagues.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? If something needs to be done, I work from home later in the evening. Usually I’m quite efficient and don’t need to put in a lot of extra hours. I am always checking and responding to emails, calls and messages, but it’s more of a lifestyle for me so I don’t really regard it as working. Also, if you want to be regarded as one of the executives, you need to put in the same effort and be available.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I think keeping up with the fast pace and deeply understanding the business, organisation, processes, systems, KPIs (key performance indicators) and company culture from the inside and out is always a challenge. If you are not at the same information level as your executives, you will not be able to be a business partner. Being curious and genuinely interested helps. I read everything that passes me by, participate in meetings, and ask when I don’t understand. You need to be at a certain level and earn trust to own your mandate to act and make decisions on behalf of the CEO/management.
If you are not at the same information level as your executives, you will not be able to be a business partner
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy being in the middle of action and learning about how to run a large international corporation where people thrive. I enjoy the teamwork, understanding the background to decisions, future strategies, and being involved in all aspects of the organisation. You get to be very educated in business, on life, and about people. I enjoy working at a company where we help young academics to a job. That makes me feel good. I also think it is fun that my career didn’t turned out the way I planned.
I have a humanistic/cultural educational background with my sights set on working with museums, art or cultural heritage, but I have in fact spent most of my life working with sales, service, people and business, which I enjoy. I basically ended up where I am today by saying yes to fun and challenging opportunities that came my way.
On Saying “No”
I don’t say no to a lot in life, and I find that it has brought me adventures and opportunities both in my personal life and in my career. I say no at work when I don’t feel that my time is used wisely and won’t benefit my CEO. I don’t have a problem saying no when necessary; you just have to explain the reasons so that people understand.
If you want to be regarded as one of the executives, you need to put in the same effort and be available
I’m 100% a city girl. I like having fun, hanging out with friends and family, working out with my PT, dancing, reading, travelling, attending exhibitions and concerts. I have more interests than I have time for.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? On Fridays after work, you usually find me at a bar laughing with friends, getting to know new people and drinking champagne. It is the best way for me to relax after a busy week. If any of you Exceptional EAs around the globe find yourself in Stockholm, contact me on LinkedIn and we’ll meet up!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Anywhere I haven’t been before!
Education and Professional Development
Education: Well, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and a Master’s degree in Museum studies so I’m not exactly using that expertise in my work, although it sometimes give me another perspective. But I find that having a university degree in anything gives you a certain competence in collaboration, structuring projects, critical thinking and a scientific mindset that helps you tackle all kinds of things.
As an adopter of life-long learning, I seek any training which I think will help me forward. I also read a lot, listen to lectures and network.
EUMA Sweden… is very progressive and helps you to benchmark yourself
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of the EUMA Sweden board and am responsible for the Stockholm Region, with around 130 members. We organise events for our members every month, and I lead the team. Meeting colleagues from other organisations is so interesting, as is hearing about challenges and development. It helps to benchmark yourself. EUMA is very progressive with many activities, seminars and trainings and I enjoy the international conferences.
Regard your executive as both you partner and your client, striving to make him/her 100% satisfied
Preferred form(s) of social media? I mainly use LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. LinkedIn is a must professionally, and Twitter is my go-to media for being updated on what’s going on in the world. I think it is important to be tech savvy and keep up with new technologies, online services and apps in our profession, and trying them out for yourself to understand how they could be used business-wise.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I’d like a mobile app where I easily could see and manage all outlook calendars for the team. Maybe there is one. Let me know.
I read everything that passes me by, participate in meetings, and ask when I don’t understand
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Chanel compact powder and Laura Mercier lip glacé
Heels or flats? Flats, both in the office and for my commute. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Bottega Veneta and Tod’s
Preferred scent: Hermès and Byredo, a Swedish perfume brand
What might we find in your desk drawer? Pen and paper. And chewing gum!
Travel or travel planning advice? Book as early as possible for the best prices. Note your own email and mobile number when booking for others, so that you get all the info about check-in, delays and cancelled flights. Then, you are in control and can act quickly.
Inspirational reads? “Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg
Understand that you are working in sales, no matter what you do
Role models or mentors? Working closely with successful entrepreneurs for more than 10 years has changed and inspired me in so many ways. I have learned to be more creative, move faster, be solutions-oriented and never give up on your goals. I observe and learn a lot from my current CEO, who founded the company.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. At my old job as Executive Assistant at a large retail company, I had the idea of getting the license for the Hello Kitty brand (trendy at the time) and designing Hello Kitty watches. I pitched it to my CEO and ended up being the Product Manager for the brand (I said yes), along with my role as EA, with sales in own retail chains and export in 12 countries – which brought in big profits. I learned a lot.
In my current job, I am very proud of the fact that we are now hiring Executive Assistants to our Managing Directors and Branch Managers, which shows that I have proven the value of the role to the company.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am very much in the present. I’m driven by fun and personal development, and I can see myself doing different things in life. Right now this is what I want to excel at. I am very excited about our future plans for Academic Work and happy to be a part of the journey forward and contributing in the best way I can.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Having the right attitude, being curious and flexible will help you succeed and gain the skills that you are lacking in the beginning, so don’t worry about it.
Don’t limit yourself, and don’t let others mistake you for having a junior role in the company because of your title; you are a leader in a support role
Expect that your manager will have little time to support you. Be a do-er so that people can count on you. There are no limits to what you can do with this role; you decide. Don’t limit yourself, and don’t let others mistake you for having a junior role in the company because of your title. You are a leader in a support role. Lean in and steer towards what you enjoy doing and are good at. Learn as much as possible about the business and understand how the company makes money. Build a great internal and external network. Be a good ambassador. Understand that you are working in sales no matter what you do. And have a good sense of humor about it all!
You need to earn trust to own your mandate to act and make decisions
Your most effective time management strategy?
Don’t be a perfectionist or a control freak. Leave things when they are good enough, which will release time for more things. Send a first rough draft for approval to your executive and see if you are on the right track before putting in more work at something. Have a yearly planning calendar and recurring reminders so you don’t have to invent the wheel over and over again and missing recurring deadlines. Use Google translate first when you need to translate documents and then go over it manually correcting the mistakes. It saves a lot of time!
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? First of all, choose your manager wisely. Someone you feel proud to be working for and enjoy working with. Someone who is kind at heart and ambitious. Define your relationship and role with your executive and the team from the start and discuss how you will bring value. Agree on the fact that you are business partners, which means teamwork, free flowing communication and supporting each other in achieving mutual goals. Understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses and preferences.
Choose your manager wisely; define your relationship and role from the start, and discuss how you will bring value
Ask for and be open to feedback. Develop the things that would make you perform better, and the things your executive wishes you could help him/her with. Know your executive’s job description and understand his/her personal goals. Build trust by doing what you say you will do, and suggesting things you could be doing. Letting your executive know that things are handled makes him/her feel safe. Always act with integrity, keeping things to yourself.
Teach and coach your executive on how to include you and work together, especially if s/he has not worked with an EA before. When executives get used to great EA support, they usually never want work without it again. Make it your responsibility for having a successful working relationship.
Regard your executive as both you partner and your client, striving to make him/her 100% satisfied. Remember that service is not an action, it’s a feeling. Always ask if there is anything more you can do for them. 80% of your executive’s headaches come from 20% of the activities, so get rid of that bottom 20% and you will be perceived as a super support. “The value an EA delivers is in proportion to the burden they lessen for those that they support.” Try to take as high a percentage of their role as you can off their hands as you can. Give solutions not problems – answers not questions. “Solve the problem” is my motto.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Take the time to really get to know your EA. Let him/her in 100% in your life. Give free access to calendar, emails, task lists and meetings and encourage him/her to be proactive and act when appropriate. Have a default mode in your mind: “Can my EA help me with this?” Don’t spend your time on things your EA could be doing. Read the HBR article “The Case For Executive Assistants”, which really emphasises this.
Don’t undervalue your time; delegate more. A good EA will see where s/he can plug in and take things that you are not even aware of off your plate, but that only happens if you give your EA total access. Communicate much more than you think. Copy him/her on emails. We need all the details and the “why” behind the “what” to be able to fill in the blanks and execute things in the best way possible.
Form a partnership with your EA and invest in him/her long-term, helping her/him develop and grow. Encourage and push your EA to try new things and take on projects to be fulfilled in the role. Give regular feedback, and acknowledgment and praise in front of others. Choose someone with a high EQ; someone who is skilled in communication and dealing with people. Someone you are comfortable with and can have fun with. Acknowledge that “ordinary things done consistently bring extra ordinary result.” If things just seem to run smoothly, then you can be sure that there is a lot of work behind it – and problems solved that you never even had to be bothered with.
For those interested in promotion: Take responsibility all the way to execution for all things that you are involved in. Take pride in your work. Always ask for feedback to help you develop. Say yes to things, come up with new ideas, optimize things you see that are not working or invent new routines. Take on projects and things that can be measured.
Take responsibility for your own development and what you want to do next, and be proactive. If you are perceived as a do-er, a high-performer, a star with knowledge in many areas, you can take on other roles internally. You are close to decisions, new project ideas and future plans for the organization. You know when there will be openings and new roles coming up. If you feel that there is something you would love to do, then speak up.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Sofie 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.