Sofie Koark is Executive Assistant to the Founder/CEO of her organisation. Here’s a look at her world.
At the office
Primary Responsibilities: I work at Academic Work, a Swedish staffing company group operating in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland and specialising in finding jobs and building careers for young professionals.
As assistants, we are often ambassadors for the company culture
My main function is to help the Founder/CEO and management members succeed by enabling them to spend more time and focus on leadership and the activities that bring the most business value to the company. I provide proactive service and my work involves projects, communication, research, administration, meetings and events, etc.
Inside the career
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Keeping up with the fast pace and maintaining a deep understanding all aspects of the company. If you are not at the same information level as the manager you support, you will not be able to be a business partner and be proactive in your service.
Helping entrepreneurs succeed is what I do. You must create your own opportunities in life.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy being in the middle of the action and learning how to run an international corporation where people thrive. I like the teamwork, understanding future strategies and the background behind decisions as well as being involved in all aspects of the organization. You get to be very educated in business and I enjoy working with entrepreneurs.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I am coaching our team of management assistants at work, developing best practices for the role and managing how we coordinate between countries and what we need to learn.
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.
We need to think more about how we brand ourselves, making our value visible and focusing on skills we need to develop in order to differentiate ourselves
Although I’ve also lived in other places, I was born and live in Stockholm.
How long have you been in this career? Since 2006, and it is interesting to see how the role as management assistant is constantly evolving. How did you learn about the opportunity that led to your current role? I had noticed this company and its impressive company culture, and I found out that the Founder/CEO did not have any support, so I reached out. Helping entrepreneurs succeed is what I do. You must create your own opportunities in life.
Recruitment is often competency-based. Which of the competencies you bring to the role are most relevant to success in your current position? My people skills (EQ) and being good at communication, especially in writing.
Having the right mindset and being ambitious will help you learn necessary skills along the way
Role models or mentors? Working closely with successful entrepreneurs has inspired me in so many ways. I have learned to be more creative, solutions-oriented and to never give up on your vision.
Education and professional development
I have a humanistic/cultural educational background and had my sights set on working with museums, art or cultural heritage, but I have spent most of my life working with sales, service, people and business. I basically ended up where I am today by saying yes to fun and challenging opportunities that came my way.
I find that having a university degree in anything gives you a competence in problem solving, collaboration, structure, critical thinking and a scientific mindset that helps you even if your education doesn’t match your profession.
You need to develop your digital competence and skills, and simultaneously grow your human skills
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of IMA – International Management Assistants – and I was a delegate for Sweden at the World Administrators’ Summit. I am also a jury member at the Executive Assistant Awards in Sweden.
Do you hold (or have you held) a leadership role within IMA? I am the Training Officer in IMA Sweden and a member of the board. I work on our training content and events, and on partnerships and social media in order to raise the visibility of our role and support our professional development. How have these leadership roles impacted you and your career? At IMA, we all work on a volunteer basis to give value to our members in the form of training, networking and career support. In these roles, you gain leadership and project management experience and you get to collaborate on various projects and connect with many assistants at various workplaces.
How has participation in IMA helped you? Networking opens doors for professional growth and helps you maximize your role, taking advantage of opportunities to grow. Also, I get to know ambitious people and make friends around the globe. Management assistants are very supportive and love to help you succeed in your role.
Networking opens doors for professional growth and helps you maximize your role, taking advantage of opportunities to grow
What are the primary means of communication for IMA members? We communicate digitally through social media, email, our blog and webpage, but we also meet regularly – regionally, nationally and internationally. Being active in many ways make us attractive; members can choose how to connect.
Describe any positive benefits your networking has had on your career, and/or for your employer. Generally, there isn’t any specific training for our role at workplaces, so our association solves that problem for the employers. Through our network, you can share best practices and benchmark with peers. A well-connected Assistant can be very valuable and useful for management and can be a great ambassador for the company. We all work in sales no matter what we do.
The digital age
What positive impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), digital assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2025? They will make our ways of working smarter and easier. AI will not replace the high-level Management Assistant role.
AI will replace some of our tasks, helping us become more efficient and giving us opportunity to focus more on complex problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, projects and leadership. AI is not born into a social context like we humans, which means that they are not “programmed” in the same way as us. They lack human experience, emotions to base decisions and behavior on. It’s not so easy to copy human behaviour, so they can’t really compete with us there. That’s our advantage and we need to use it.
Always ask for and be open to feedback to help you grow
Let’s talk about the impacts of smartphones and 24:7 availability. I think it is fantastic to always have a small computer with me. Knowing that I can access everything and work from anywhere at anytime means freedom for me. Smartphones, digital tools and social media still amaze me. It doesn’t stress me at all. There are positive and negative aspects to all technology, depending on how we use it, so we need to use it wisely.
It’s not unusual to read that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly impact employment prospects across a range of occupations. What forms of professional development would you recommend to assistants who want to ensure their roles remain relevant and rewarding in this digital age? You need to develop your digital competence and skills, and simultaneously grow your human skills. We need to think more about how we brand ourselves, making our value visible, and focus on skills we need to develop in order to differentiate ourselves. As assistants in close cooperation with teams, clients and co-workers, social skills and the ability to act based on complexity are crucial – and they are not easily copied by AI.
Joining a professional network and taking a leadership role within the network is also career development
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 what feels like fun, and where I can learn and grow. I can see myself doing different things in life. Right now I really enjoy what I do and I want to excel in that. A job that you enjoy brings joy to your life.
You’re talking to a counterpart embarking on a job search. Briefly outline the approach you’d recommend. Research interesting companies. There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there without any admin support. Sometimes you must help them come to the realisation that they will reach their goals much faster with an administrative business partner. It is worth the investment.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Having the right mindset and being ambitious will help you learn necessary skills along the way. Always ask for and be open to feedback to help you grow, and build great internal and external networks. Without good relationships, you will not be able to succeed.
Don’t limit yourself, and don’t let others mistake you for having a junior role in the company because of your title
What are a couple of suggestions you’d offer that new assistant on the block, in terms of how to build effective business relationships within the office? 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 and if you see yourself like that, others will too. Many of us are full members of our management teams.
You are a leader in a support role and if you see yourself like that, others will too
You have to earn your own mandate and I think you do that by being professional and trustworthy. Take the time to create good relationships around you and communicate in a clear and empathic manner. I also think it important to show appreciation, be positive and have fun together with the people you work with. As assistants, we are often ambassadors for the company culture.
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 to do more things. Done is better than perfect.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Ask questions that will give you an idea of their core values, how they deal with people and their personal goals. You want to work with someone with whom you have mutual respect, someone who can be a good team player and support your career. I see it as a partnership. You want to work with someone who is likeable.
Always ask for and be open to feedback to help you grow, and build great internal and external networks
For those interested in promotion: If you want something, speak up about it. People are generally supportive of helping you grow. Joining a professional network and taking a leadership role within the network is also career development. So, if you can’t go forward at work, your network can support your growth.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with the networks 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.
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 23 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates , the United States of America and Wales.