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, Canada, England, the Netherlands, Scotland, South Africa and the USA, and now make our way to Liverpool, England to visit with Dalya Bernstein.
A Running Start
Most mornings I get up at about 6:45 or 7:00 a.m and, if weather permits, go for a two or three mile (3.2 – approximately five km) run. This gives me time to clear my head and feel more energised, and ready for the day ahead. If I don’t feel like running, I will take our rather large dog for a walk, or rather he takes me! My fiancé and I also have two pilgrim geese so we tend to share the animal related tasks in the morning: feeding, watering and making sure they are ready for their day!
I am very lucky as I now work very close to home. In fact, my office is literally wherever my laptop is. I can take the 10 minute cycle or the five minute drive to the office. I have spent the past five years driving an hour to and from work, so this is a real luxury for me.
I am sometimes required to work from our Bolton office or visit various properties that we manage and quite frequently travel to London to work as my CEO spends much of his week there.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? If I am driving, I love to listen to The Carpenters (Karen Carpenter is my all-time favourite singer), Eva Cassidy and Take That! If I have the radio on, I listen to a local station, Radio City 96.7.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I have my first drink of the day when I arrive at work, sometimes a protein shake if I have been exercising, or a home-made smoothie but I also like to have my fix of coffee in the morning. I first check my CEO’s diary for the day and ensure he has everything he needs. In terms of emails, I manage five in boxes with three of them being extremely busy. I first have a quick scan through, establish my priorities and deal with those first. I then go back through the emails a little more meticulously and respond accordingly.
Primary Responsibilities: I manage my CEO’s diary, both business and personal. He is an extremely busy man which means there is always a project for me to be getting on with, aside from the usual day to day tasks.
I manage a large property portfolio which includes two large student halls of residence, so that is keeping me very busy at the moment as students are currently booking in for the next academic year. There is a huge amount of work involved in just this one aspect of the role but luckily I have a team of people to assist, whom I also manage.
My CEO is also founder of http://www.mend.org.uk , Muslim Engagement And Development, a not for profit organisation working towards enhancing the active engagement of British Muslim communities, particularly in the fields of Politics and the Media. I assist him with various projects and his very hectic schedule. I also manage his Chauffeur and, in turn, his diary.
There are no typical days, unless there is a particular project I am working on which takes a few days to finish. I like the variety involved in my role. I am NEVER bored!
How long is your work day? My working hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. but, as I said before, my office is wherever my laptop is!
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? I generally eat at my desk whilst I’m working. I like my salads, sushi or a wrap of some sort. If I am in London with my CEO we can often be found in Nando’s! I am also partial to a Pret as they are generally on every corner in London!
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I am always “on duty”. My phone stays on and I am contactable pretty much until I go to bed, when it goes on to silent mode. I do work from home after hours as this is the nature of my role.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I would say the general volume of work and the necessity to dynamically change my priority list. This can sometimes be frustrating as I have to drop something which is important, to do something slightly more important. There are just not enough hours in the day sometimes!
Priorities: Make lists and tick off tasks upon completion
What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety of the role and the opportunity to work for such an inspirational individual. I have learned so much from my CEO and working for him really has enhanced my career and allowed me to reach certain goals. I enjoy the fast paced environment I work in and the responsibilities with which I am entrusted.
On Saying “No”
If by “people” you are referring to my CEO, he has never given me a task which is unacceptable or something I feel I need to say no to. He respects my opinion so if I feel something is unrealistic or I can perhaps offer an idea, I will happily express my opinion or offer a more realistic option. I feel if you are going to work closely with someone, you should be able to express your opinion with confidence. It is important for that person to know your personality and value your opinion.
I was born in Southport, Merseyside and lived in Formby for the first 26 years of my life. I now live about 20 minutes from Liverpool City Centre. I always thought I would be a city girl but I’m actually more of a farmer’s wife type of girl (chuckles)! I like the peace and quiet of the countryside.
I like to keep fit and go to my spin classes. I am also a professional singer, and have been for the past 15 years. So, I am out most Saturday nights, singing in clubs and private parties. I am also happy just sitting in the garden on a nice evening after a busy day.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? Anything by The Carpenters and practically any song on the radio. I am always singing!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Singing is actually a great release for me. Although it is also work, it is something I really don’t have to think about too much; it’s really enjoyable and allows me that time to switch off from my day job.
I also like to have a nice glass of wine on a Friday night and perhaps meet up with some friends and have a good catch up over dinner.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? A couple of years ago we went on a yachting holiday and learned how to sail. I was looking forward to it but didn’t quite realise how much I would enjoy it. It was fantastic and I would definitely do that again as a mixture of a holiday and a travel adventure. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year for charity, so that really was a travel adventure! I would therefore like to go to the Maldives, it looks so peaceful and relaxing!
Education and Professional Development
Education: I studied music at college and therefore carried out most of my administration skills after I left college at night school, including ECDL, ECDL Advanced in Excel and an ILM (Institute of Leadership & Management) certificate in First Line Management. I then went on to complete my Diploma in Personal Assistance. I try to carry out as much CPD (Continuing Professional Development) as time permits but I would like to try to schedule in more of this going forward, as I absolutely believe this is key to personal development and career progression.
Re-entering the workplace? EAs and PAs readily help one another; join networks and seek out a mentor
Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of the Institute of Leadership & Management and the Association of Celebrity Assistants. The latter can be immensely helpful in terms of assisting with the more unusual requests.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I am a Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn addict. You can follow me at @DalyaPA.
Awards and Recognition
In 2013 I was first runner up in the Executive PA Magazine PA of the Year awards. In 2014 I won the Pitman Training Super Achievers PA of the Year Award and I have just been shortlisted for the We Are The City Rising Star Award in the PA category. Voting closes on 31st July. You can vote for me here (http://www.wearethecity.com/rising-stars-in-personal-exec-assistants-shortlist-2015/)!
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lip balm and face powder.
Heels or flats in the office? Heels if there are meetings to attend. If not, then flats. For your commute? Flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? If I like them and they look nice, I will buy them regardless of the brand. I would of course like to have a whole shoe wardrobe full of Jimmy Choo and Louboutin.
Preferred scent: I love Si by Armani, Daisy by Marc Jacobs and Chance by Chanel.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Pens, Post-it notes, glasses that I never wear, lip balm, a sachet of porridge, a bag of milled lindseed and odd bits of stationery. Looks like it’s time for a clear out!
Travel or travel planning advice? Try and get as much notice as possible with regard to travel plans. If you are regularly organising travel abroad, have a good reliable agent whom you can consult regularly and you know you can rely on for those last minute changes and all important prompt responses. This is particularly handy when it comes to weekends and also holiday periods such as Christmas/New Year.
If you are regularly planning rail travel, have the app downloaded on your phone, so that you can quickly check train times and make bookings whilst you are on the go.
Let your boss know you want to better yourself, and follow that up with action
Inspirational reads? I must admit, I really don’t read enough and it’s more to do with not having the time. It’s a poor excuse, I know, and I do want to rectify that. I basically read emails!
I did, however, read Heels of Steel by Vanessa Vallely not so long ago, and found it very interesting and inspiring.
Role models or mentors? My CEO, for sure. He is a true entrepreneur and an extremely intelligent individual. As I mentioned previously, I have learned an awful lot from him. Also my PA network as a whole, sharing ideas and attending CPD events, industry news and also being there to assist me if I have a question regarding something I have not come across before.
I find most people around me are my role models, my parents and of course my fiancé (aka my rock).
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Actually getting through the interview stages to getting the role I am in now is something I am really proud of. It was a difficult time for me, having been made redundant during the credit crunch and not having substantial PA experience at the time. That was almost six years ago and so much has happened in that time. Another of my accomplishments is winning my awards, which I will come to later.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I hope to be as successful as possible in my current role and assist my CEO in achieving his goals. I would also like to try and promote this career as much as I can, particularly to school leavers. Just how I do that, I am not quite sure yet. I am quite keen on public speaking and would like to do more of it, so perhaps that is the way forward. We shall see!
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? In the early stages of my career, I had no idea of the power of networking. I would advise any PA to get out there and network as much as possible. I remember travelling to London and walking into my first big networking event on my own back in 2010, being quite nervous and ending up having the most fantastic day! To this day, I still keep in touch with the PAs I met at that event.
Network as much as possible, even (particularly) if it makes you nervous
What advice might you offer a new mother returning to the workplace? It is very hard for me to comment on that having not been in that situation myself. I would say, though, if lacking in confidence, build a network by joining groups on social media. PAs are always willing to help each other. I would also find a mentor and PAs would also be happy to recommend someone in a similar role.
Your most effective time management strategy? Prioritise as much as possible. Use hand written lists or your task bar in Outlook. Write your lists either the night before or each morning. When tasks are done, tick them off for satisfaction purposes! If you have a big project, diarise blocked time for yourself and if you can, switch your phone off for an hour or so to allow you to concentrate on it and use that time to the best of your ability. Break down large tasks into milestones to satisfy the basic human desire to make progress.
Executives: Ask your assistant to attend meetings with you
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Get to know each other. By that, I mean ask the assistant to attend meetings with the executive so that s/he can see what you do, how you work, how important the work is to you, and ascertain goals. Ask for and respect the assistant’s opinion. Value the work s/he does and show appreciation. Allow the assistant to progress in his/her career by encouraging attendance at CPD events and networking, even if it means time out of the office; it will benefit you in the long run.
Let go and trust the Assistant. Allow him/her to ASSIST.
For those interested in promotion: Speak with your boss and let him/her know you want to better yourself. Attend CPD events or gain a qualification. Make sure you go for a role with potential for career progression. Embrace extra projects that may not be typical PA tasks. If you can do a job and save the company the need to employ an additional person, then that in my eyes gives rise to promotion/growth.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Dalya referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.