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 21 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales. Today, we’re off to South East London, England.
Amy Marsden is Executive Assistant to the CEO & Co-Founder at WorldRemit. Here’s a look at her world.
A scenic commute
I normally get up at around 6:00 – 6:30, with a quick check of work emails before making breakfast and commuting into work (I cannot leave the house without food!). I like to walk, so take the train followed by a nice 20 minute walk to the office which takes me through St. James’s park. I’m normally at my desk by 8:45 and commuting this way means I always have a mobile signal to answer calls.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I love listening to music during my commute (the whole time imagining that I’m in a music video!). The choice very much depends on my mood, mainly RnB or HipHop, but I’ve been listening to an Armenian artist recently called Bei Ru.
At the Office
Morning Routines: Having already checked my own emails on my commute, the first thing I do is go through my boss’ inbox to flag or reply to important items, before making a huge pot of tea to bring to my desk. I like to have a quick chat with the team for updates and checking progress before attacking my task list.
Primary Responsibilities: These include gate keeping and scheduling for a very busy CEO & Co-Founder, as well as assisting with licensing forms and applications, managing the admin. team, booking travel, and working closely with other departments to make sure things tick along.
A typical day varies massively, depending on the schedule of the people I look after. Normally, though, it consists of a mix of tasks, and a lot of ad hoc requests – always very fast paced.
On moving out of one’s comfort zone: I don’t just step; I leap into new things with all my energy
How long is your work day? I typically work from 9:00 to 6:30+ and, although I do try to take a full lunch break, it rarely happens! If lunch is cut short, I like to ensure I at least have a tea break in the afternoon, to re-charge.
If there is preparation for a board meeting or other important event, I am flexible with my working hours. We have offices overseas, which sometimes means I need to stay a little later to ensure a call happens, or a document gets signed, but I never feel that this imposes on my work-life balance. As an EA for WorldRemit, my primary function is to support the CEO and his objectives.
I try to embrace change, and never fear something new
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? We do have standing desks at WorldRemit, which is excellent, and our health and safety policies are very good. As a start-up FinTech firm, we have a lot of open and flexible working spaces in the office. A lot of the Tech guys sit on bean bags, or stand, or move around as they work.
What might be a typical lunch? It doesn’t always happen, but I try to make my lunch or at least pick a healthy option like a salad, soup or chicken and rice. However, if I’ve have a bad day I might be more inclined to pick up a Leon, or nip to Nandos/Wagamama with a friend. I tend to eat at my desk so I have visibility of the CEO’s office.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? During my commute, I check and respond to emails where I can. If my boss is travelling, then I do try to make an effort to adjust my hours slightly to suit their time zone.
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I am a member of our office Social Committee, although I rarely have time to attend the meetings! The group meets to arrange cool activities for staff; most recently we had a night of “Bogan Bingo” in the office. We’ve invited some beauty therapists to come in to provide massages and nail treatments, and we had prosecco and strawberries for Valentine’s Day. Outside the office environment, I try to attend PA/EA Networking events, and have previously been a member of the Global PA Association and FemTech Leaders group.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Ensuring that my boss stays on track and does not miss meetings/calls!
Saying “no” comes with practice, once you are settled in a position with a strong understanding of your boss’ priorities
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the variety of the role, and the responsibility/trust that we are given from day one to execute tasks flawlessly without error. Additionally, I love the social aspect of the role; I love dealing with people and, as an assistant, it’s essential to build relationships quickly.
On Saying “No”
I must admit that I have not always been as strict as I could be when saying “no”, but this is something which comes with practice and once you are settled in a position with a strong understanding of your boss’ own priorities. These days I am very comfortable saying “no”, because I know that it isn’t a refusal to do something; I always offer an alternative solution or another option, and try to help others where I can. My top tip is to be assertive and maintain a helpful/friendly outlook; if you have to push back, then it is with good reason.
I was born in Wigan in the North West of England, and now live in South East London. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I love the countryside and always need greenery around me, but at heart I am the eternal party girl and could not live more than 30 minutes away from a bustling city. I am very social and like variety, with the option of escape, which is why I often miss Manchester, where I attended university. I currently live in a suburb because I can easily commute to the action, but on weekends I enjoy my peace and quiet.
How long have you been an admin. professional? 10 years. What was your first role as an admin. professional? Whilst studying for a postgraduate degree in Law, I worked as a Legal Admin. Clerk. It was the first time I had ever worked in an office. Whilst I was a student, I worked for New Look and Pizza Hut – a far cry from a CEO’s office!
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Travel is a passion of mine, so I always need to have a holiday in the diary to look forward to. I have a few hobbies, which over the past few years have included learning Hebrew, choir, and studying for an interior design course. I try to get to the gym when I can, but as an assistant this is a tricky commitment! I do have a lazy side every now and again, and love nothing more than making a huge breakfast, brewing a cup of tea, and sitting down to read Vogue on a Saturday morning.
Increasingly, we will need to be familiar with data security practices and procedures and think in a security conscious manner
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I am obsessed with my bath at home, and always relax that way after a tough day. I’m also a huge fan of foreign cinema; mentally taking myself away for a few hours tends to work in another language! Friday nights I like to get out for dinner/drinks with friends and colleagues, too.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I never have a big enough budget for my ideal holiday or travel adventure! Being an interior design fan, I like to stay in quirky boutique hotels or apartments. I visit Tel Aviv often and it seems to have the perfect mix of history, culture, sun, partying and delicious food for me. Having said that, Japan is the next place on my “to-do” list, but I couldn’t resist the fantasy of a beautiful huge Italian villa in the sun with some freshly made pasta for a week or two!
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
What are your preferred forms of social media? For professional purposes, it’s LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook and Instagram are strictly for family and friends.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? Skype, Slack, Trello, CityMapper, OneDrive, etc.
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? No; I use my own mobile but do not publish it in my email signature.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital (relying on portals and/or PDFs of meeting materials), or paper-based? Being a FinTech company, It’s a solid mixture of both. Sometimes paper is appropriate for board meetings; most of the time, electronic documents and minutes work well.
Peer and Professional Associations: Institute of Leadership and Management, University of Manchester Alumni Association, FemTech leaders What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional association(s)? Emails, LinkedIn
Digital Innovation and Disruption
Let’s talk about the pace of change in the admin. world in general. Change is certainly fast and furious in the admin. world. Technology is constantly changing, new features are added to existing programs, and we are expected to not only keep up, but also use technology in innovative ways. I try to embrace change, and never fear something new. The best way to learn is to learn by doing, and as such I tackle new software head on.
I do feel that, in a lot of organisations, formal training is lacking and within the admin. world this can easily result in older candidates/staff members feeling left behind without support. Millennials are normally happy to work by trial and error without instruction, whereas more traditional secretaries are not comfortable with this way of working.
Our ability to adapt and interact with others cannot be mirrored by technology
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources for voice/other searches, task reminders, etc., and meeting-scheduling bots that can correspond with actual assistants? Although there is a place for AI, I don’t feel that this type of technology is a threat to the PA/EA role. What we offer is a lot more than automated diary management and search facilities. Our ability to adapt and interact with others cannot be mirrored by technology.
What do you think of IOT (Internet of Things) devices used for smart lighting, security and air conditioning, etc.? It would certainly make my life easier!
Your experience and thoughts on cyber security/data security practices? Increasingly, employees will need to be familiar with data security practices and procedures, and think in a security conscious manner, particularly where cybersecurity is concerned.
Travel or travel planning recommendations? Research is key; look at options and carefully check the facilities/reviews and standards of a hotel or chauffeur services, etc.
Booking flexible travel is always a good idea, too, in case plans change at the last minute.
Style and Substance
What are your go-to wardrobe pieces to ensure confidence for a particularly significant workplace meeting or event? My office is very informal (full of tech staff in t-shirts and jeans!). Coming from a corporate and professional environment, I don’t compromise on my own standards too much; I still have to greet high-level visitors and attend meetings, and as such tend to stick to dresses and jackets/cardigans. French Connection, Calvin Klein and Karen Millen normally cover most of my most responsible looking ensembles.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Business cards, various obscure teas, and lots of makeup.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? I was shortlisted for PA of the Year at the London PA Awards, and am the winner of SecsintheCity PA of the Year 2016 award.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Last year I was awarded the SecsintheCity PA of the Year title, which was a huge accomplishment for me. After nearly a decade of providing high-level support, I felt that this was solid recognition of my hard work and ambition to reach the top of my field.
The other career accomplishment is slightly personal, and it was my physical move from the North West of England to London to improve my career prospects. This was a huge gamble on all levels. It paid off, but it meant abandoning the security of a varied and responsible role in which I had worked for three years. It meant moving out of my comfort zone into a more challenging environment, and pitching myself against more experienced and knowledgeable candidates in the job market. I was determined to move out of the public sector to gain valuable experience in the private sector, and have never looked back.
Development plans for the next year: Continuing to grow into being a leader as opposed to simply “a manager”
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I would say that I surprise everyone, including myself, at regularly stepping out of my comfort zone – I don’t just step, I leap into new things with all my energy and figure the rest out later. For those familiar with Myers Briggs tests, this is very much an ENFP characteristic I hold. Although I am a planner in my work, I like to trust my gut feeling in most tasks (professional and private) and, if something feels right, I am happy to tackle the unfamiliar.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? Being fairly new to my role at WorldRemit, my aim is to spend more time developing my knowledge of the company and industry, as well as continuing to grow into being a leader as opposed to simply “a manager”. I have recently started supporting the Co-Founder with company secretarial tasks, so improving my understanding in that capacity is also a priority.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Who knows what the future might hold! I’m very happy to be working to support a CEO, but am consistently hungry for growth and increased responsibility. I have said for the past 12 months that I wanted to launch my own blog/website, but this is proving very difficult time-wise.
Amy’s role models: never afraid of a risk or of stepping out of their comfort zone
Who has been your career/professional role model or mentor, and why? It is difficult to list a professional role model or mentor. However, I am very lucky that in my family I am surrounded by very down to earth and hardworking women. My mother and father worked hard whilst raising my three siblings and me. My mother, in particular, studied for a degree in later life and has recently been recognised for her life-changing influence, through an NHS program, on a young mother’s life.
I also watched my grandmother balance a successful career whilst managing property redevelopments and real estate projects. These are the types of role models I hold in high esteem, they have never been afraid of a risk or stepping out of their comfort zone.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Be honest with yourself and the interviewer in your responses; don’t pretend to be something you are not. You can never be happy in a role that isn’t right for you. Preparation is key; find out everything you possibly can about your potential boss and the company before you attend an interview. Not only is this impressive on a professional level, it will help you figure out whether you have any questions or queries.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? That it’s okay to admit you don’t know the answers; most assistants spend a lot of their time working out how to do things without any help.
Demonstrate where you can add value before you ask for the recognition formally
Your most effective time management strategy? Immediately action the little things and get them out of the way. Diarise time for important projects and stick with it.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Here are three:
- How your boss structures his/her day, and their personal preferences
- What you can do to improve their working life
- Establishing personal boundaries
For those interested in promotion: Seek out all the free resources you have within the PA/EA community: magazines, forums, Twitter, etc. Start picking up extra work, get involved in projects, or act as proactively as possible, before putting together a business case for taking on more work or increased responsibility. Demonstrate where you can add value before you ask for the recognition formally.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Amy mentioned 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.