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Carys Stacey is Executive Assistant to the Finance Director And Legal Director, Moët Hennessy Europe. Here’s a look at her world.
A variable commute
A typical day starts with my alarm going off at 6:30 a.m. … and then again at 6:45 a.m. The first one wakes me up and the second one gets me out of bed. I start the day by checking the news and my social media accounts, then head into the living room and check my work mobile for anything important that has come in overnight. Then it’s into the shower and off to work.
I use public transport to get to work so, depending on that, the duration of my commute varies. It starts with either a 10-minute walk or a three-minute bus ride from my house to the station, then two trains bringing me into London Victoria. My office is only a five-minute walk from the station, so my journey can vary from only 25 minutes to over an hour! Most days you can judge how long it will take – if the weather is bad, there will likely be delays with the trains. Leaves on the track are my all-time favourite reason given for delays in Autumn. Sometimes there are rail strikes, and on other days the weather is so nice outside that I want to take the time to appreciate a stroll to the station before getting stuck in at the office.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I’m a big fan of true crime and horror is my favourite genre, so I have a couple of podcasts I really love: All Killa No Filla, S’laughter: True Crime Podcast and My Favourite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. Sometimes I’ll listen to a playlist of songs I put together for my wedding reception. I’ve got everything from Alice Cooper to Justin Timberlake, Gloria Estefan and Lady Gaga, Adele and RuPaul – it’s a really eclectic mix but it reminds me of happy times and puts my mood right up there.
At the Office
Primary Responsibilities: I support the Finance and Legal Directors to help them achieve their objectives. This includes agenda management, inbox supervision and helping out with projects. I also provide ad hoc support to the Managing Director when he is in London (his EA is based in Paris), and I help oversee the office management – it’s a meaty role!
Morning Routines: First things first; open the blinds, change the water in the coffee machines and put water on my bosses’ desks.
I don’t think there is such thing as a typical day; no two are ever the same. You can have your whole day planned but then one thing changes and the whole day needs reshuffling. You can’t help this; you just have to roll with it and make it work! I start by firing up my computer, checking my emails for anything urgent, checking my bosses’ agendas for what they have planned in the day and making sure they have the required documents for any meetings. The I delve into their inboxes to see if there’s anything I need to action from there. Once that’s done, it’s back to my inbox and to-do list.
How long is your work day? My working hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but I’m flexible with this. If one of my bosses has a meeting starting at 8:30 and needs assistance, I’ll be there to help. Alternatively, if something that needs dealing with urgently lands in my inbox at 5:15 p.m., I’ll stay to make sure everything is sorted before I head home.
What might be a typical lunch? Our office is open plan and so we have a “no food at desks” policy, meaning we have to leave our stations to eat. I think this is a great initiative! I try to eat healthily but also mindfully. I’ll take the time to prepare my lunch to make it look as appealing as possible; my Instagram is full of plates I’ve prepared that I’m particularly proud of. Sometimes, though … I admit I’ll grab a burger from Shake Shack or burrito from Tortilla. You have to treat yourself sometimes, haha!
Do you sometimes/often work past a traditional close of business, during your commute or from home during your “off” hours? I think that, worldwide, you would struggle to find an assistant who does stick rigidly to their designated working hours. I check my work mobile before I set off for the office, but I do this so that I can prepare myself for the day ahead. I’m guilty of sneaking a peak at my phone after work and at the weekends, but I will fire up the laptop to do actual work only if it is business critical.
Ask for help when you need it, and get involved!
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I’d say the most challenging aspect of my role is the non-stop requests and managing people’s expectations.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the variety and the trust people put in me and my abilities. I might not be the most senior person in the room or have the final say on decisions, but that doesn’t mean I do not play a part in the discussions and have the opportunity to put forward my opinions.
On Saying “No”
Elton John sang that “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”. Sorry, Elton, I disagree. I think “no” is a word assistants struggle with much more than “sorry”. I’ve been an assistant for a few years now and when I first started I never said no. To anyone. To any request. What a nightmare! “No” is a complete sentence and I’ve come to realise that actually saying no will get you a lot further than saying yes and piling the pressure on yourself.
Saying no will get you a lot further than saying yes and piling the pressure on yourself
My tip would be to be honest but diplomatic. It’s nice to be able to provide a solution to people asking for your help, but it’s not your responsibility to constantly be a problem solver – especially if the people asking you are not your direct manager. If your boss asks you to do something, always manage their expectations and if what they’re asking of you is unrealistic, tell them – politely, of course!
Originally I’m from West Yorkshire but now I live in London. At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? Tough one! I grew up surrounded by fields, and now I’m surrounded by buildings. I’d have to go I’m a suburbs girl. I like the open space and greenery the countryside offers, but I like the fact you can do almost anything at any time in London.
How long have you been an admin. professional? I started my career as a PA in 2010. What was your first such role? I worked in a boutique recruitment agency as the Directors’ PA.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Chilling out with my husband, with some good food and a box set. How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I love a good bath with a Lush bath bomb. They smell so good and make such pretty patterns in the water! Just watching them dissolve is part of the relaxation process.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I just came back from a quick break away in Faro, Portugal. It was dreamy! It’s not a million miles away from London so you’re not crammed on a plane for too long, and the weather was beautiful – sunshine with a light breeze – and the food was phenomenal. The next adventure will be hopefully to visit some friends in South America, but let’s watch this space …
An assistant knows what information to reveal and when to be scarce with detail; can AI judge that?
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have a degree in Modern Languages with French from Swansea University, which comes in really handy for me as I work in a French company. I really loved my years at university and they taught me a lot outside of a foreign language. I know a lot of assistant who have not been to university and, realistically, it has not impacted their careers. I think that being an assistant is more a frame of mind; you can’t learn the skills you need through doing coursework and sitting exams.
Last year, I took a course from The Global PA Association in conjunction with Birkbeck University. The course was, “The Role of the Executive Personal Assistant”. The aim of the Certificate of Higher Education in Management for Personal Assistants (CertHE ManPAs) is to “plug the gap created by the transformation of office working practices over the past decade”1.
It was really interesting to do a course which was focused purely on content relevant to my role.
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of several PA-focused associations, including EPAA (Executive and Personal Assistants Association) and Network PA SW1. More are listed at the base of this interview.
How have these networks or associations helped you? Networking has opened the door to meet so many new and fascinating people and visit places I never ordinarily would have done. I also recently signed up to the CPD (Continued Professional Development) scheme offered by EPAA. I think it’s really important to show the desire for continued growth, not only for your own benefit, but it shows your employer you take your career seriously.
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I’m not responsible for publishing. However, I monitor social media for mention of our company and brands. It’s great to see all the positive experiences and mentions, but I keep an eye for anything that needs to be reported to our legal team, too. This isn’t one of the duties noted in my job description, but I’m fiercely proud of our brands and do not like to see anything that could potentially tarnish their reputation.
What are your preferred forms of social media? I use Twitter and Instagram.
I’m fiercely proud of our brands
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? Our IT department has recently helped us migrate from using Lotus Notes to Office 365. The amount of time and effort they put into it was phenomenal, and now all employees have a wealth of digital technology open to them that has helped streamline processes no end. It’s great to have access to an Excel document that is shared with all the other assistants in Europe and have the ability to update it at the same time, and that is just the start of its ability. Documents can be shared in SharePoint, and Skype for Business has made communication so quick and easy!
We have also implemented Papercut on our printers to help reduce our carbon footprint. Printing is now automatically set to black and white and employees are prompted to enter a code at the printer before they access their printing. I think this is great as before people could print willy nilly; now they have to think before they print!
Digital technology has helped streamline processes
Our expenses process has also been digitized. We use the Concur Expenses app. Instead of dreading the end of each month, finding all the little paper receipts you’ve collected over the month and remembering what they were for, employees can now take a picture with their smartphones and log the expense immediately! SUCH a timesaver!
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. may have had on your quality of life. The positive: my bosses are able to contact me at any time if there is an emergency, and it allows me to check for anything important I need to action before I get to the office. The negative: my bosses are able to contact me at any time … for something that might not necessarily be an emergency.
It’s a fine line to tread. I read an article on the BBC website about smartphone addiction and the results are scary! Being given a smartphone for work means you are available 24:7, so it can be hard to switch off.
I’m lucky that I have two great bosses who respect work/life balance and do not expect me to be at their beck and call all the time. They might send me an email at the weekend, but they do not expect me to do anything with it until Monday.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? I arrange digital and face to face meetings, and the rule is the same for both. Digital copies of any documentation will be provided ahead of the meeting, but paper copies will not be provided unless they are specifically requested.
Does your organisation make use of an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? We have both. SharePoint is relatively new for us but all departments use it.
Digital Innovation and Disruption
What about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence) resources such as Siri and OK Google, and meeting-scheduling bots that can correspond with actual assistants? It is fascinating, brilliant and terrifying at the same time. I am not worried that assistants will ever be replaced by AI as there is the human touch required to be an effective assistant. A digital assistant cannot show empathy or loyalty to its user and a meeting scheduling bot, yes if you have a meeting clash it can see that and alert you to it, but it will not have the understanding to be able to reschedule in line with the boss’ priorities.
AI will never lend a sympathetic ear or fetch a cup of coffee or a slice of cake when it’s needed. Technology can tell you the printer is jammed and give instructions on how to rectify it, but physically pulling out that piece of paper without ripping it … I can’t see it.
An assistant knows what information to reveal and when to be scarce with detail; can AI judge that?
AI: fascinating, brilliant and terrifying at the same time
AI, Digital Assistants and the IOT: Their Impacts on this Career
What impact(s) do you think AI (artificial intelligence), Digital Assistants and IOT (the Internet of Things) will have on the admin. professional of 2020? There will always be new technology and innovations and I think it’s important to stay up to date with them. Smartphones were really introduced only around nine years ago, and now anywhere you go you see people glued to them!
I think it all depends on the sector in which you work and the people you support. What one boss wants from an assistant is not necessarily in line with what the assistant can digitally provide for them. There are so many bodies out there providing assistants with education and training that, even if it isn’t necessarily needed right now, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what technologies are available and could potentially be used commonly in the workplace.
You might have all the information you need for the trip, but it’s come in several formats and is saved in several places. An itinerary will give you all of the information in one place. Include the timings, confirmation numbers, seating plans and emergency contact details. These come in handy, too, if you ever need to look back at historic trips.
A checklist also seems so simple, but it really works! Your passport, your tickets, local currency, laptop, charger, adaptor for the country you’re going to, etc. Making the list of what you need when you book the trip when your head is clearer will mean you’re much less stressed when you do the final check before you set off.
Whether you have these two documents printed off or saved where you can access them digitally, just having them can give you the greatest piece of mind.
Style and Substance
What might we find in your desk drawer? Stationery. So, so much stationery. I LOVE Post-it Notes and bright coloured pens, but they have a habit of wandering off my desk if I leave them out.
Role models or mentors? There are so many people I look up to that it’s hard to think of just one.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Firstly, landing my role with MH (Moet Hennessy) Europe. It was a big step up from my previous role and a huge learning curve. I’m proud to work for an internationally recognisable organization (LVMH) and it has given me the chance to use my degree in Modern Languages with French.
Secondly, I won the Communications Award in 2016 for The London PA Awards. It’s fantastic to see people acknowledge the work that I do, and also to see the number of people working towards raising the profile of assistants.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I try and attend at least one training day a year. This year I attended the Today’s PA conference. I haven’t decided what I’ll attend next year; there are so many resources available to assistants, it’s hard to choose!
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Research. Look into the company you’re interviewing with, the people you will be supporting and the person interviewing you. Prepare some questions that show you’ve done this research.
An interview is a two-way street
Remember that an interview is a two-way street. They’re interviewing you to see how you would fit in the company, but you’re getting the opportunity to see if you would like to work there too.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Ask for help when you need it, and get involved!
Being an assistant is more a frame of mind
Your most effective time management strategy? Listing. Note everything that you have to do, no matter how big or small. When any unexpected requests pop up, you have a list of everything you’re working on and can immediately see what you have to do and can more accurately assess when you can fit it in. Oh, and those little niggly things won’t be forgotten.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? The most important one would be what are their new boss’ objectives. If you know what your boss is aiming to achieve, you can absolutely help more than just guessing. Secondly, ask their likes and dislikes – how they like things being done will allow you to prepare for them for a smooth day – and give you the vital knowledge that they will always take carrot cake over Victoria sponge.
The desire for continued growth is important not only for your own benefit, but also shows your employer you take your career seriously
For those interested in promotion: Be interested and get involved. Speak to the other assistants you work with or, if you don’t have any, then get out and network. If you’re looking to leave your current role, look on Linkedin at jobs you would be interested in, see what they’re asking for that you don’t have – and find a way to get it.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Carys mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- App: Concur Travel and Expenses – Apple and Android
- CPD (Continued Professional Development) program
- EPAA – Executive and Personal Assistants Association; website and Twitter
- Global PA Association: website
- LCCI PA CLub – website and Twitter
- London PA Awards
- Miss Jones – website and Twitter
- Network PA SW1 – Twitter
- PA Assist – website and Twitter
- The Assistant Room – website and Twitter
-  http://www.bbk.ac.uk/news/birkbeck-and-global-pa-network-champion-the-personal-assistant-profession
-  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37468560