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 making a return visit to London, England.
Coffee, News and a Bit of “Me” Time
My alarm is always set for 6:00 a.m. and I always have a coffee to start the day whilst watching the news and checking social media to see what’s been going on.
My door to door commute is around an hour and a half – which comes as a shock to a lot of my friends who live in Central London, but I quite enjoy the “me” time that I get!
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I like to use my commuting time in a couple of ways. I sometimes catch up on TV programmes that I have missed, such as Eastenders or The Great British Bake Off. I love getting podcast recommendations; Serial was one and I loved the first series. I haven’t started the second one yet. I also subscribe to Vogue and Vanity Fair, so I have plenty of reading material for my train journey. Those magazines are my favourites because both of them cover the things I am most interested in … fashion, current affairs, events and advertising. I also use this time to start planning my day and, of course, check emails!
At the Office
Morning Routines: The first thing I do when I get to the office is have my coffee and breakfast and catch up on emails. I check my email and my Director’s to see what is coming up that day, what has changed, and what I will need to do to ensure the day runs smoothly.
Primary Responsibilities: My primary responsibilities involve diary management for my Director; he is the MD of our company. I’m involved in minute taking, event planning, office management and supporting the Marketing and Communications team.
A typical day includes a meeting with my Director; we go through the diary for that week and we also look three weeks out in a little less detail. We focus mainly on the current week and discuss his priorities and how the week will go. I will hand him all his papers, tickets and directions, etc., in order that he has all of them for that week.
I then attend various meetings with my Director to take the minutes; these vary from management meetings to shareholder meetings. It requires me to be on the ball and I need to have done my reading beforehand so I fully understand the discussions. I also attend meetings with our Marketing and Communications team as I work closely with them, supporting them in advertising campaigns, PR and social media. I also get briefed from colleagues on events that need to happen. So, in between meetings, I am usually researching venues, restaurants and what’s new and exciting in event planning. That´s a relatively smooth day; of course there are always obstacles thrown in, which I enjoy because I like a challenge and it keeps me on my toes!
How long is your work day? I am in the office for 9:00 a.m. and I finish at 5:30. I am usually out on time; however, I do check emails out of hours!
What might be a typical lunch? I do try and take a lunch break when I can; on most days I have lunch at my desk. When it’s sunny in London, you have to make the most of it, though – and so if the weather is nice, I will try and escape for an hour. A typical lunch for me is something healthy and filling. I found an amazing little place opposite our office called The Detox Kitchen; they do super healthy salads which keep me going for the whole afternoon.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I do check my emails and voicemails out of office hours, just to keep myself ahead of everything …
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? The biggest challenge is managing expectations and saying no to people. I will always go above and beyond to help out where I can but, if I know it just won´t be physically possible or time will not allow, I would rather limit expectations or say no and do what I can rather than say yes and not be able to do a great job.
On saying no: I have learnt over the years that you have to prioritise
What do you most enjoy about your career? The responsibility, trust and exposure. I enjoy being on the front line and being across so much of what is happening in the company. My opinions and ideas are always valued, and that keeps me motivated and passionate about my job.
On Saying “No”
I used to hate saying no to people because it made me feel like I wasn’t able to cope, but I have learnt over the years that you have to prioritise. Rather than saying no, you can manage someone’s expectations. For example: “I won’t be able to get it done by the end of today but I can get it to you by lunchtime tomorrow” or, “I don’t have time to do the whole project, but I can pull together x and y if someone else could do z” .
Come up with a solution… and pitch it to your executive in a manner that explains how it will also help them
I was born in Greater London and I still live there now. At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? I am definitely a bit of both … I love working in the city and having so much to do there; there is always something going on. But I love getting out at the end of the day and spending my evenings and weekends in a quieter area. The best thing about where I live is that I can drive 20 minutes one way and almost be in Central London, or I can drive 20 minutes the other way and I am out in the countryside. I love that.
How do you like to spend your time outside the office? I am usually out with friends for dinner or drinks. I have friends all over the country, so I try and visit them as much as possible. I often spend weekends in Portsmouth, Bournemouth or Kent and it’s like a mini holiday with my friends there!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? My treat to myself is always a trip to my local beauty salon. I am now a regular there, and they do the best treatments. I often try a new treatment that I haven’t had before, but often get the personalised facial which is great for someone who lives a busy, city lifestyle.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? As I write this, I’m on holiday in Portugal and I’m certainly enjoying laying on the beach and eating the local seafood – so I guess I would be happy anywhere in the world with a nice sandy beach, good food, and of course a nice cold gin and tonic!
Education and Professional Development
How have education and professional development supported your career growth? This is an important question for me and something I feel strongly about. I am proud of where I am and what I have achieved in my career so far. I chose not to go to university, and I never did amazingly well in my exams at school. However, I worked really hard in all of my jobs and now have a lot to show for my dedication, hard work and perseverance. I don’t believe you have to go to university or get straight As in order to achieve what you want in life. As long as you have the right attitude and common sense, you can get to where you want to be!
On recording meetings: I need to have done my reading beforehand so I fully understand the discussions
Preferred form(s) of social media? I am definitely an Instagram fiend. If I ever have a spare 10 minutes, I will browse Instagram and I am guaranteed to see something that will inspire me or make me laugh.
Time management: Plan for those curve balls that you know you will inevitably get
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? It has to be smart: black cigarette pants and a nice top finished with a pair of heels. It’s practical, comfortable, smart and looks good!
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Eyebrow pencil and pink lipstick. I am rarely seen without my pink lipstick and I can’t believe there was ever a day that I didn’t fill my eyebrows in with pencil!
Heels or flats in the office? I’m usually found in flats unless it’s something very important. I’m quite tall, so prefer to be in flats when in the office. For your commute? Definitely flats! You can’t run up and down the Tube escalators in heels … trust me! Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I don’t own a pair, but I love Charlotte Olympia shoes. Maybe they should be on my treat wish list!
I put all my effort into my job and, in my eyes, it has paid off
Preferred scent: I own almost all of the Gucci perfumes so, the mood I am in determines which one I go for! They are my favourite perfume brand by far!
What might we find in your desk drawer? In my desk drawer you will find Berocca for those days where you just need a little help, Paracetamol, and highlighters of every colour. You will also find all of my notebooks full of minutes and notes. I always keep them just in case!
My mum has always been my professional role model
Role models or mentors? My mum has always been my professional role model. We are so similar in the way we work and in our work ethos. She’s a hard worker and has always gained so much respect from her colleagues and employers. I definitely learnt a lot from her, and feel I owe a lot of my success to what she taught me when I was going out into the world of work.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Getting to where I am now is my main accomplishment. I am really proud of the person I have become, and my work ethic. I put all my effort into my job and, in my eyes, it has paid off. I enjoy my job, and that is so important to me.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am working at the moment on taking my role from PA to EA, which is very fun and exciting. I am working closely with my Director to make this happen, and we are well on our way.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Keep doing what you’re doing, because it will work out and you will get there.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Ensure s/he can trust you and let them get to know you. Ask your executive about his/her life out of work. See what you have in common. It’s vital to have that personal connection so you can talk about things beyond what’s going on in the office.
Always know what is expected of you, and by when
Your most effective time management strategy? Forward plan. Always know what is expected of you, and by when. Set realistic time frames and plan for those curve balls that you know you will inevitably get.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? You’ve got this! Have catch ups with various colleagues to see what’s been going on while you’ve been off and it won’t be long before you’re up and running again!
You can manage expectations
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Trust them! Build that trust, hand stuff over, ask her/him to do things. That’s why your assistant is there. As a PA, it’s frustrating when you aren’t given that responsibility and you feel helpless.
For those interested in promotion: Do your research and find out what it is you want to achieve. Come up with a solution as to how you can achieve it, and pitch it to your executive in a manner that explains how it will also help them. Everyone wins!
… and now, a note from Shelagh. 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.