Real Careers: Declan Halton-Woodward

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 back to London, England.

Declan Halton-Woodward is Executive Assistant to the Global Managing Director at The AS&K Group. Here’s a look at his world.

An international focus

I wake up around 7:00 a.m. and the first thing I do is check my emails. We have several offices in the United States, so emails often come in through the night. The light of the screen also helps me to wake up. After this, and before doing anything else, coffee is required; I find it hard to even talk to anyone before coffee in the morning.

I take the train to work, and my door-to-door my commute is about 35 minutes. I’m lucky to live close to a station and our office is located within a five minutes’ walk to the station. On the train, I check several news websites including the BBC, Sky News, The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Independent. Depending on what sort of news day it is, I don’t get through all of them. I think that, no matter how busy you are, it is vitally important to know what is going on in the world.

At the Office

Morning Routines: As soon as I get into the office, before even starting up my computer, I make another coffee. While drinking my coffee, I check any emails I didn’t deem urgent when I woke up and any new ones which have have come in. I also check through my boss’ various inboxes. I work across his entire business portfolio and this includes several companies – and therefore, lots of inboxes! I take note of any things I need to discuss with him when he gets in the office, I take action on his emails where needed, and mark any emails he doesn’t really need to see as “read”. I then check my LinkedIn profile, as I am becoming increasing more active on social media, and feel it is very important to our roles.

What are some of your primary responsibilities? This is a tough question to answer; it is very hard to define. I suppose my primary responsibilities are to ensure my boss is exactly where he needs to be, with exactly the things he needs, and knows the people he is meant to be meeting and their roles. One of my other responsibilities is to deal with the little things, so my boss is free to think and make the decisions about the big things. I’m also responsible for ensuring the smooth running of his office at all times and being on call for any things that inevitably come up!

I don’t think I have a typical day. The only thing that doesn’t change in my day, or at least is cancelled only very rarely, is that whenever my boss is in the country (increasingly less and less), we have a 30 minute sit down as soon as he gets into the office. We go through the upcoming day and week, we talk through any meetings he has had, and if the direction or priorities of his office or his companies has changed. I find these meetings important not only to our relationship, but also to ensuring that I can do my job as effectively as possible.

How long is your work day? I suppose, by that, you mean “office” day. I’m usually in the office at around 9:00 and try to leave by around 6:00, but this depends on workload. I do find it hard to “switch off”, so I regularly fire up my laptop and work when I get home. I will always end up logging on at least once on the weekends. Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Answered up. What is “off” hours?! Haha.

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch? A typical lunch is M&S; our office is conveniently located right next door. I always having a working lunch at my desk, but will try to check in on my personal emails and LinkedIn account while eating.


Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Managing a rapidly changing diary in a rapidly changing environment

No matter how busy you are, it is vitally important to know what is going on in the world

What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety. One day I could be drafting emails and booking meetings, the next I could be organising an office move or helping out at a medical event abroad.

On Saying “No”

I try not to, but you do have to sometimes. Assertiveness is often needed and solutions even more so. Instead of just saying “no”, offer an alternative.

Declan’s World

Map of worldI was born in London, though my family are Irish. I also live and work in London. Having grown up mostly in the country, I can definitely say I am a city guy at heart. I love the hustle and bustle of living in an international city.

How do you like to spend your time outside the office? I have a large friendship group who are my support system, so most of my free time is spent with them.

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Wine is a major food group for me. Opening a bottle is very therapeutic!

On saying “no”: Assertiveness is often needed and solutions even more so

What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I’m particularly fond of Meghan Trainor at the moment. It’s feel good music!

A dream holiday or travel adventure? Seeing all the wonders of the world.


Education and Professional Development

Education: I would say that, more and more, experience is valued above education. So, I’m lucky that I have had the opportunities to work on a variety of different projects, with different people in different industries. This has without a doubt helped in my career.

Attending training courses and industry events helps with career progression and confidence

Peer and Professional Associations: I am a member of the PA Life Club and The PA Club at the London Chamber of Commerce. I would say these organisations are great for networking and finding new suppliers, etc. I would recommend them.




Preferred form(s) of social media? I’m becoming very fond of Instagram for my personal social media. Our company has also just started a Twitter account, which I am managing.

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? A truly smart AI app.

Awards and Recognition

I was nominated and was a finalist for an award at The London PA Awards. Both my current and my previous employer nominated me.

Style and Substance

I wear a suit, even though our company doesn’t have a strict dress code. I think it is crucial that you always look smart. After all, your job is to represent your boss.

What might we find in your desk drawer? Reports, folders, and a vast array of stationery

Plan your flights, meetings, transfers and hotels one day of the trip at a time

Travel or travel planning advice? A good travel management company is key to business travel. They are able to truly be your partner. I tend to take it one step at a time for complex trips, so plan your flights, meetings, transfers and hotels one day of the trip at a time, otherwise it’s easy for things to get missed. I also always update an itinerary I give to my boss as I go, rather than once everything is booked. The trip is easier to visualise that way.

Role models or mentors? I think I have always looked up to my mother, and ask her advice on most things. She has been successful in her career, so I value her input in mine.

Network, and show your worth

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud.  I was nominated for four awards at the London PA Awards this year, and was a finalist in the Star of the Future category. To be picked as one of the top four entrants at these prestigious awards was certainly my career highlight so far.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would just quite like to continue the way I am going, constantly building my skills set and working towards doing better every day.


Lessons Learned

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal?  Find out their priorities, in every sense. Ask about the priorities of their business, their role, and which staff members, clients and projects should take priority, etc. I would also recommend talking about what sort of things they expect you to make decisions on, and what you should come to them with.

Learn your executive’s priorities

Your most effective time management strategy? Prioritising and setting realistic timings

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant:  Think of your assistant as an extension of you. Allow him or her the ability to work on their own and show you what they can do. Delegate to them as much as possible. Trust your assistant entirely. Allow them to teach you what they can do, as much you teach them.

Use your initiative to save the company money and put in more effective processes

For those interested in promotion: Network, and show your worth. Use your initiative to save the company money and put in more effective processes. Try to go on some training courses and to different industry events, as they really help with your career progression and also your confidence.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Declan 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.

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