Real Careers: Helen Kelley

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, and now make our way to Hampshire, England to visit with Helen.

Helen Kelley is an Admin. Assistant. Here’s a look at her world.

Family Time 

I wake at 6:30 a.m. and get myself ready, spending a little time with my son. I leave the house at 7:40 and am at my desk for 7:50 a.m. I’m very lucky that my commute is only 10 minutes by car. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I tend to have Radio 1 on in the car as it’s such a short journey. If I do put a CD in or plug in my iPhone, it’s normally Adele, Taylor Swift, Foo Fighters or someone else. I have such a varied taste in music.

At the Office

Morning Routines: As soon as I get to my desk I log in and get myself and my line manager some water. I also make myself some porridge, which I have whilst checking my emails and diary, and the diaries of the three people for whom I provide PA support.

Primary Responsibilities: I provide PA support to three “Heads of”, so this involves diary management and maintenance, arranging meetings and organising travel (including accommodation and visas) when needed. I organise steering boards and team meetings, including agendas and action taking. I also provide general admin. support to the Business Development team.  As a visit coordinator, I organise visits for overseas clients or potential customers to our office, Heathrow Tower or our Ops room at Swanwick. And much, much more.

My days vary greatly, depending on who is in the office and what they have going on. I could be helping host a customer visit one minute, or organising a complicated travel itinerary and then ordering business cards the next. I am trusted to plan and manage my own day, which is great. I like to keep on top of any important tasks and, if the day gets busy, I have a re-think on what can be moved to the next day. I like to have a rough idea of what I will be doing the following day before I leave the office.

How long is your work day? My working day is 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. I stay late if anything is urgent and I couldn’t handle it during the day, or I will log on later in the evening. I like to make sure I leave at 4:00 as I have a three and a half year old, and I like to pick him up from nursery and spend time with him before he goes to bed.

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? I am currently studying for an Executive Assistant Diploma through distance learning with Lewis Secretarial and Computer College. So, I spend my lunch breaks at my desk working on my course. If the day is quite busy, I will work through lunch to ensure I can leave on time.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Only very rarely do I need to work from home. I am very lucky that my work life is quite balanced at the moment.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Supporting three different people in three different teams can be challenging at times – as can organising visits for overseas visitors. There is always a lot to factor in, including numerous last minute requests.

I love being involved in projects

What do you most enjoy about your career? I love being able to get involved in so many different types of work, as well as organising other people and being involved in projects.

On Saying “No”

I don’t like to say “No” to anyone. I will make a joke if someone has recently asked me to do a lot of work that they could have done themselves, but I will always end up helping and doing what they’ve asked. I’m just too much of a people pleaser.

Helen’s World

Map of worldI was born in Norwich but moved around a bit in my early years, as my father was in the RAF. We were based in Cyprus for a few years, but I was too young to remember much of it. I spent most of my school life in Greater London, Uxbridge and Hillingdon but now live in Whiteley, Hampshire where we moved last May. We’ve followed my parents, who moved down over eight years ago, and it is such a lovely place to live!

At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? Country mouse, no question. I do like to visit the city but I prefer the more relaxed, peaceful and friendly way of life in Hampshire. Outside the office, I spend time with my husband and son. Family time is precious to me, so we try and fit in lots of fun family activities on the weekend. In the evenings when the little man is asleep, we watch TV and I catch up on my social media as I don’t get a chance to look at it much during the day.  As well, I spend some evenings studying.

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I chill out on the sofa, we go to the cinema (when we get a babysitter), and meals out are my treats.

 A dream holiday or travel adventure? Orlando, Florida is one of my favourite places. We’re hoping to go back next year which will be my son’s first time and I can not wait to see his face. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and am dying to go back and see the improved HP World!

Education and Professional Development

Education: I started work full time after my A Levels; university just wasn’t something I wanted to do. I’m proud to say I’ve worked really hard moving from retail to lower admin. roles and up to assistant roles. I’ve always been lucky and kind of fallen into my now chosen career, working for some great companies who have offered me training and career progression.

Currently reading: Sue France’s The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook

Peer and Professional Associations: I have recently joined the South Hampshire PA Network and will be helping founder Helen Rees and other members.



Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook and Twitter

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? One that would enable you to see your Outlook calendar, and that of your boss, when on the go

Awards and Recognition

I have received internal recognition from a previous employer.

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I love to be comfortable and always wear trousers. I don’t really have a go-to outfit … but now feel like I need one.

What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? My lip gloss, and powder to keep my shiny nose at bay!

Heels or flats in the office?  Flats or a very low heel, both in the office and for my commute. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Converse and Irregular Choice

Preferred scent: Alien by Thierry Mugler or Lady Million by Paco Rabanne

What might we find in your desk drawer? Every kind of stationery you could ever need, along with snacks, cereal and a box of birthday cards

Travel or travel planning advice? Being organised is key. Keep all travel details in the person’s diary with a copy of their itinerary, so s/he doesn’t have to go searching for it. Make sure you provide all necessary information, including pick up or drop off locations, overseas and domestic contacts. I like to make a little pack or include all details in their diaries.

Inspirational reads? I am currently reading Sue France’s The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook as part of my EA Diploma, and have to say she’s amazing and her book has been a godsend.

Role models or mentors?  I would say that, until the last eight months, I didn’t have a mentor or role model. Now, I would definitely say I have two: Nicky Christmas from Practically Perfect PA, whose blog I found by chance and have followed religiously since. Thanks to Nicky, I have now built up a fantastic PA network, which for some reason I just didn’t think to do before. My other role model is Jennifer Corcoran; I’m basically stalking her on social media right now. She’s great and a real believer in #PAPower. She’s been a great support to me, too and is a current finalist for the Pitman Training PA of the year. Go vote for her!

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I’m proud that I’ve been able to work for some really interesting companies whilst deciding what it is I wanted to do for a career.

I have now built up a fantastic PA network

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years?  I will have my Executive Assistant Diploma completed in the next year or so. My aim is to be a PA or EA to a member of staff at the Director/Exec level.

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Be proud of being an administrator/assistant. I’m guilty of being one of those who use to say, “‘I’m just an administrator”. I’ve learnt how valuable and needed we are.

Be proud of being an administrator

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Find out how your new executive likes to work, what s/he expects from you, and what you expect as well. Finding out as much as you can about them in the early stages is key; are they early risers or do they prefer to come in later? Family life is important,too, finding out if they have children and so on will help you plan for those possible school plays, dinner meetings and so on.

Your most effective time management strategy? Being super organised. Use Outlook rules, establish plastic folders labeled for each person you look after, and have an in tray for people to use instead of just dumping materials on your desk. A tidy desk is always a winner with me; I just can’t work effectively in a mess!

Time management: Use Outlook rules

Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? The first day is the hardest; you will feel such a mix of emotions. Remember why you are going back to work, that your little one is fine and loving playing with new friends she or he is making at nursery or being with Nana and Grandpa. Organisation at home is so important; getting everyone’s bags and outfits ready in the evening will save you so much time in the morning. Batch cook meals and freeze them so that you have something quick to cook if you’re in a rush.  Remember that you are doing amazingly well, and no one is perfect!!

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Listen to and take advice from your assistant. Talk to your her/him and make sure you have regular catch ups so that you both stay on the same page. Also, use and trust your assistant. If s/he has time and is interested, give your assistant that extra bit of work to do or that project.

Attend training courses and conferences and then show your boss how beneficial they are

For those interested in promotion: Go for it! If you like the look of a promotion but you’re not sure, remember that the worst that could happen is that you don’t get the job. If that happens, then you can get some great feedback for next time. With regard to growth, ask to go on those training courses and conferences and then show your boss how beneficial they are.


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