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, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Turkey, the USA and Wales. Today, we make our way back to London, England to visit with Giulietta Driver.
A Gentle Start
I have a daylight alarm clock (best thing ever!) which helps me wake up gently. I listen to the World Service for a bit before showering and leaving. Usually I cycle, which only takes 30 minutes door to door; otherwise, I’m on the bus. If I’m commuting on the bus, I do my makeup there; if on my bike, I do it in the loo at work. All the glamour…
At the Office
Morning Routines: I come in, log on to my computer and, while it’s waking up, I grab my breakfast. Usually my emails have loaded by the time I’ve finished.
Primary Responsibilities: Where do I start!?! I am PA to the CEO, Board Administrator, HR Administrator and Office Manager here, so I do everything from diary management, taking minutes, recruitment, managing our HR systems and attempting to keep the office tidy.
First thing, I check my inbox, my CEO’s inbox and our general ‘info@’ inbox. I’ll deal with anything that will take me a couple of minutes and add anything bigger to my list. After that, it’s an attempt to get through my to-do list without worrying about being distracted too much.
How long is your work day? I work 9:00 to 5:00 and take 30-45 minutes for lunch. I don’t really ever have to work late.
What might be a typical lunch? Chicken salad sandwiches, crisps and fruit. I make a point of eating away from my desk as I hate the mess and need the screen break. We have a staff room here. I also find it a good time to read some industry magazines and catch up on trends.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? No, I prefer to be in the office. I can’t do my job properly from home. Obviously, I respond to any texts from my CEO out of hours.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Constant interruptions! But they’re part of the fun of it, and d you learn to deal with them.
I love my career, but I get annoyed by the perception that being a PA/admin is not a serious career, or is beneath someone with a degree. I don’t know many jobs where you’d have to juggle the conflicting demands of a number of people and have very little control over your work.
An annoyance: the perception that being a PA/admin is not a serious career, or is beneath someone with a degree
What do you most enjoy about your career? That I get to meet some incredible people and learn so much from them. I love organising everything, and the fact that no day is ever the same.
On Saying “No”
I’m terrible at it! Sometimes I’ll say, “‘I’m a little bit busy right now” to anyone who isn’t a Director, but it’s so hard!
Never make assumptions about how tech savvy your executive is
At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? City, definitely! I grew up in a small town but love the variety of living in a city.
Outside the office, I run a Brownie Unit (yes, I’m a Brown Owl!) and am Training Adviser for Girlguiding London South West, so much of my spare time is taken up with this. Other than that, I try to see friends at least once a week. I also enjoy sewing and am slowly building up a collection of skirts I’ve made myself.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A candlelit bath with a nice cold glass of wine and something silly on my iPad. I love a good bath.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? A city break. I recently went to New York, which was heaven for me. I love discovering culture, food and shopping. Particularly shopping. I like a beach holiday, but am happier with something more balanced.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I have a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Management. Whilst not obviously linked to my role, it gave me a really solid grounding in administration and finance. It’s really helped with things like Board administration, as I actually understand the finance terminology.
Everyone makes mistakes, so don’t be afraid to own up to them
Peer and Professional Associations: I’m a member of the Institute of Administrative Management. I like the kudos and recognition of a set of standards that this gives. I’m a big fan of their CPD recording system, as it’s helped me focus on undertaking training.
I’m also a member of PACE, which is a mailing group for charity PAs in the UK. It’s a great place to ask questions and share systems and practices. It’s saved me hours of research. I always ask PACE for accommodation recommendations if my CEO is travelling to an unfamiliar city. I prefer word-of-mouth.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter for most things and Pinterest for ideas. I’ve even got an Office Management board on there.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An accurate, cheap handwriting recognition software for my minutes! Whilst I can prepare minute on a laptop, I find I spend more time worrying about flow and style when I type, and often miss the detail. I’ve reverted back to a notebook and pencil!
Awards and Recognition
Not yet, but I had an internal promotion to add HR and Office Management to my PA role.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and active; employers DO look at these things
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? A black pencil skirt, black heels (I have a gorgeous pair of Clarks that are pretty, retro and dead comfy), a fine knit cardie in a nice colour, good jewellery and lipstick!
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? I’m only allowed two!?! I LOVE makeup. I usually carry a basic kit with me in my handbag. If I had to pick two, I’d say lip balm and mascara. Bright eyes and moisturized lips go a long way.
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. I always feel more “finished”in a heel. For your commute? Flats. Sore feet aren’t cool, and I certainly can’t cycle in heels. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I wear Clarks, and dream of a wardrobe full of Chie Mihara.
Preferred scent: I’ve recently started wearing a perfume called Jazz Club by Maison Martin Margiela. It’s quite strong, which I love. I like a heavy scent.
What might we find in your desk drawer? A complete and utter mess. And a big can of Elnett hairspray.
Travel or travel planning advice? Check, check and check again that it’s right! As we’re a charity, I have to keep costs down as much as possible, so I tend to split fares if I can. It’s often incredible how much you save. I also always book directly with the train operator, as third party sites add on lots of fees.
Inspirational reads? Not necessarily career-related, but I always revisit Caitlin Moran when I need a bit of a feminist boost.
Role models or mentors? Rosie Hunter, who was Executive Director at Battersea Arts Centre when I was Finance & Admin. Assistant. I often joke that it was Rosie who is responsible for any ounce of efficiency I have in me! Rosie taught me to how to develop effective systems and told me to always play to my strengths. She always had faith in me, and that goes a long way.
Develop effective systems and play to your strengths
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I began my career as a Finance & Admin. Assistant in the arts, so I’m really proud of how I’ve managed to move across sectors and switch focus to being a PA.
I started as Executive PA at Homeless Link in August 2012. In June 2015, I was formally given HR and Office Management as part of my remit, largely because (I think) I’ve shown willingness to take on new tasks and learn new skills. I really embraced the adoption of Salesforce as our database, so now I run a Salesforce-based HR system and have been trained as a system administrator.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? It’s okay to get things wrong. Everyone makes mistakes, so don’t be afraid to own up to them! It took me a long time and a lot of stress to get there.
Also, discuss your executive’s level of tech-savvy. I’ve worked for people who struggle with a phone, yet others who do everything on their tablet. I’ve learned never to assume, and to always be patient when teaching them how to use a bit of tech!
Different CEOs have different needs; find out what level of support your executive wants from you
Your most effective time management strategy? Diarise, diarise, diarise. If you can schedule it, do. I also try and schedule big tasks for when my CEO is out at a meeting or away. I know that there will be minimal distractions.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Ask questions! A lot can change in nine to 12 months, so ask all the questions early on. Clarify the childcare/dependency leave policy with HR early on, so there’s no confusion. And relax, you’ll pack it.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Find out what level of support they want from you. I’ve worked for three CEOs in three different organisations, and each of them had different needs. Always start afresh with a new CEO!
Learning doesn’t have to be formal; I’ve learned a lot by chatting to other PAs over Twitter, and reading blogs and magazines
If you could offer a new executive advice on how to best capitalise on having an assistant, and working together, what would that be? Keep an open dialogue. Meet with your assistant regularly and don’t be afraid to ask for her/his advice. Experienced assistants have a lot of knowledge – wider than their actual remit, and it’s always useful to pick their brains.
Ask for that training you deserve
For those interested in promotion: Ask for that training you deserve. It took me a few years to appreciate that training is as important for me as it is for my colleagues.
Learning doesn’t have to be formal. I’ve learned a lot by chatting to other PAs over Twitter, and reading blogs and magazines.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and active. Employers DO look at these things (I know I have when recruiting), so it’s important to keep it fresh. I’m in a few groups as well, which has raised my profile.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Giulietta 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.
- IAM – Institute of Administrative Management