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, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Altrincham, Cheshire to visit with Amanda Barlow.
Amanda Barlow is Senior Executive Assistant to ExCo at PZ Cussons International. Here’s a look at her world.
Early to Rise
My alarm goes off daily at 5:15 a.m., which enables me to be in the gym for 6:00 a.m. I do around an hour of exercise before getting ready and heading to the office, which is around 15 minutes away. I find the gym clears my mind and it’s a good time to plan my day ahead.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I flick from Radio 2 or Classic FM on my journey to the office.
At the Office
Morning Routines: Firstly I log in and have a quick scan of emails before making my morning black coffee; I can’t get started until I have that cup in my hand.
Primary Responsibilities: I am the Senior EA to the Executive Committee at PZ Cussons. I am responsible for looking after the CEO, the CFO and the Global HR Director. I also oversee the International EA team, all based in our Head Office. There isn’t really a typical day in the office, which is one of the reasons I love my job so much. Every day is totally different and almost every day brings a new challenge.
How long is your work day? Our working hours are 8:30 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. but, as an EA, those working hours don’t really apply. I am in early or stay late as and when required. As an EA, I don’t think you can expect to have your coat on and be out of the door on time every night. I have an iPhone, so am always contactable. With the amount of travel my executives do, it’s important that they know they can contact me whenever they need.
As an EA, you can not expect to have your coat on and be out the door on time every night
What might be a typical lunch? It’s very rare that I get away from my desk at lunch time. If I do have time, then I will go and sit in the restaurant or go for a walk just to clear my head. I find that the days I don’t get away from my desk are the longest.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I do work at home when it’s required, but not during my commute. I can be seen replying to emails though on the treadmill before I head into the office.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I think the most challenging aspect of my career would be running the Manchester PA Network alongside having a demanding full-time job. So far I am managing it, but sometimes there are days when I just don’t know where to start.
Travel can also be a challenge. It takes so much coordination, as our offices are global. We have so many people to liaise with to ensure arrangements are put in place, and most of our offices are in countries where a visa is required … filling out a visa form can be a challenge in itself.
Working with a new executive? Initiate conversations on how they like to work; don’t wait for them to tell you
What do you most enjoy about your career? There is so much I enjoy that I honestly feel so lucky to have this job. I love travelling with my role. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to travel to Nigeria with our ExCo. It was a wonderful experience, a little daunting but an experience I will never forget.
I was born in St. Mary’s hospital in Manchester, and I now live in Altrincham, Cheshire. I used to think I was a city gal. However, when I got the job taking me out of the city, I realised I much preferred the out of city life. Now, I feel like a fish out of water when I go into Manchester.
How do you like to spend your time outside the office? I am currently planning my wedding and my honeymoon, so that takes up a fair bit of time. The gym is my biggest hobby, but I also like days doing absolutely nothing or visiting friends.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? If it’s been a really tough day or week, then it would be a nice glass of red wine or dinner out.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I love visiting cities, but I also like lying in the sunshine – so a mix of the two would be ideal, and of course nice food and wine.
You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want
Education and Professional Development
Education: I had some PA coaching in my first PA role when I was much younger and it really helped me. Most of all, though, I would say experience has taught me what I know.
Peer and Professional Associations: I am non-executive Director for EPAA, the Executive & Personal Assistants Association. Other than that, I don’t belong to any associations.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter and Facebook, although LinkedIn has been great for my career
Awards and Recognition
I won the Endless LLP North West PA of the Year in 2012, and was nominated for the award by my bosses at the time.
I find that the days I don’t get away from my desk are the longest
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? My Ted Baker black dress
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? My Mac lipstick, and Mac bronzer
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. For your commute? Flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Currently, my Louboutins; however, they might become second place when I can wear my Manolo Blahnik wedding shoes after the wedding.
Preferred scent: Coco Chanel Eau Premiere or Chanel Number Five
What might we find in your desk drawer? My glasses, lots of vitamins, tissues, my diary and a whole pile of pens
Travel or travel planning advice? My advice would be to check visa requirements before booking any travel, as entry requirements can change overnight. I never book a trip without checking that I have time to apply for a visa.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Setting up the Manchester PA Network has to be one of the proudest moments of my PA career. When we launched it in 2011, we were unsure as to how successful it would be. Safe to say, going from 50 to 500 members means it’s pretty successful. I am also very proud to have won the Endless North West PA of the Year back in 2012. It was great to be recognised for all my hard work.
Setting up the Manchester PA Network has to be one of the proudest moments of my PA career
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? To continue growing the Manchester PA Network and encouraging more PAs and EAs to look for networking opportunities outside their roles – and show them the benefits
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? When I went into my first admin. role, I had never worked in an office before; so I would say listen and learn, and be confident – but not overly confident.
Listen and learn, and be confident – but not overly confident
Your most effective time management strategy? I like to make a to-do-list and tick off when things are done. I know it’s simple, but it really helps me and I sometimes take time out from my desk to go and compile the list. When organising large events, I find an event planner helps me.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? How do they take their tea or coffee? It’s always important to get it right. How do they like to work with an assistant? Weekly meetings? Monthly? What are their expectations? … and initiate these kind of conversations yourself; don’t wait for them to tell you.
Advice for new executives on how to best capitalise on having an assistant, and working together: What is your expectation of your assistant? Set these expectations out to your assistant early on, so that you both know and understand what is expected.
For those interested in promotion: Take time to work out and plan what it is you want. You can’t achieve anything if you don’t know what outcome you want. How long will it take to achieve this, how can you achieve this, who can help you achieve this?
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Amanda 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.