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, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Manchester, England to visit with Jane Brazzill.
An early start for the commute to Manchester
I’m up at 5:50 a.m. The first job is to let my dogs Elli andMurphy out for a little run around the garden. Meanwhile the kettle goes on, I have a quick shower and get dressed (clothes are already laid out the night out before), give a gentle nudge/shout at my other half/chauffeur Paul to get up before going back to make the coffees (Paul’s to wake him up, and mine to go for the journey to work). Then we’re out of the house around 6:30 a.m.
Door to door, my journey is around 90 minutes – a lift to the station, then a 55 minute train, followed by (depending on the weather) a 15 minute walk or a five minute bus ride on the free shuttle bus.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist? There’s not a day that can’t be improved by listening to a bit of George Benson, Bruce Springsteen or Take That. Or if I know it’s going to be a busy/tough day, I take a leaf out of Victoria Darragh’s book and listen to Amerie – Gotta Work – you can handle anything after listening to it.
Morning Routines: During my commute I always check my emails to see if anything urgent (diary changes, travel plans, etc.) has come in overnight. As soon as I arrive at the office, I get my working papers and files out of my cupboard as we have a clear desk policy in our firm. Then a cup of coffee (the only caffeinated one of the day – after that it’s decaf, fruit tea or water). If you see me coming back from Costa around midday, you know I’m having a bad day.
Primary Responsibilities: I support two partners and two directors in the Human Resources Services (HRS) team in the Tax department. My primary duties are diary management, travel booking and expenses. I also assist our Marketing team with the administration side of my team’s seminars, monthly email publications and industry dinners, etc. … and generally being a fount of all knowledge to the wider HRS team.
On arrival my routine is to set my daily voicemail, get a coffee and have my breakfast (usually yogurt or fruit), review yesterday’s to do list – and take great delight in crossing off a couple of items I’d forgotten I’d completed the day before. I write up a fresh to do list, review bosses’ emails, both inboxes (to see if there’s anything I can deal with for them) and their sent items (occasionally they can mention me in an email to a client: “Jane, please liaise with ***’s PA to set up this meeting” and forget to cc me). Then I work through my to do list and inbox. After that is anyone’s guess as each day varies.
How long is your work day? My core hours are 8:30 to 5:00 and, 99% of the time, I stick to that. Other secretaries in the team have a work pattern of 8:00 to 4:30 or 9:00 to 5:30, so I am available to assist their people before they arrive and they can help with mine after 5:00 if necessary. I usually arrive (subject to train reliability) at around 8:15 and leave at 5:00 or soon after to catch my train.
What might be a typical lunch? If I’m organised, sandwiches and yogurt from home or last night’s leftovers. If I’m not and am having a busy day, we have a local company, “An Apple a Day”, that comes into the office every day with a selection of sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, soups plus a free piece of fruit with every purchase. This is generally at my desk, but I’ve made myself a #PAPromise to get out each lunchtime, when possible, for a mind-clearing walk – even if it’s only 15 minutes. Once a week, I’ll take time out of the office to catch up with a friend over a Pad Thai at a nearby noodle bar.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I check my emails on my work iPhone. Sometimes, when I leave at 5:00 p.m., one of my bosses may be working on a presentation or piece of work that is needed for early the next day. They know they can send it to me during the evening to arrange printing and binding, and then I pick it up as I arrive at the office in the morning or it’s waiting for them at whichever office they’re travelling to that day. If it is a particularly busy period at work and there are deadlines that can’t be missed, then yes of course I’ll work at home to meet these. That’s part and parcel of a PA’s role to be flexible and to support your boss. However, you need to make sure you have time to relax, too. All work and no play makes Jane very grumpy.
All work and no play makes an assistant very grumpy
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Daily, it is simply fitting it all in – meeting the demands of four busy individuals and anything else the day throws at me. Career-wise – it was many years ago – my then-boss took me with them to a new company. I got a substantial pay rise and other financial perks, so I felt I owed them my loyalty. However, they treated me with utter disrespect. I don’t know where I found the inner strength, as I certainly didn’t have the confidence I have now, but one day I just walked out never to return. With hindsight (and a mortgage to pay), I should have looked for my next role and then handed in my notice. But I don’t regret, it as I got my self-respect back.
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love being the go to person who, if she doesn’t know the answer, knows someone who does. I’m pretty sure I’m plagiarisng or paraphrasing when I say this but, “Problems aren’t problems, they’re just an opportunity to find a solution”.
On Saying “No”
Probably not enough! If I can’t, or genuinely don’t have the time to help someone there and then, I offer either to come back to them later or give them an alternative solution.
You’re not just a secretary – you’re not just anything; you’re a crucial and integral part of the team
I was born in Wigan, Lancashire, UK and then moved to North Manchester at the age of seven. In the last 37 years I’ve moved several times, but never more than 10 miles from central Manchester until this summer. I now live 40 miles away – but commute to Manchester every day.
I am definitely a city gal. However, I do love our regular family holidays to the oasis of calm that is Anglesey (an island off North Wales, for your international readers). My partner Paul and I rent a cottage on the northeast coast of the island and spend our days walking with the dogs along the beach, or relaxing in front of a log fire with a glass or two of Merlot.
How do I spend my time away from the office? Hmm – should I admit that I completed part of this interview while “networking” with a Manchester PA Network (MPAN) friend in a bar in Manchester? Oops, already did. I usually attend some form of networking event at least one day a week and spend another evening or two catching up with friends. Weekends go far too quickly, so I try to make the most of them by spending time with my siblings and their families, and of course my other half Paul and our two dogs, Elli and Murphy.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? It’s got to be Mr. Brightside by The Killers. It’s impossible not to join in singing and dancing when it’s playing. It also brings back great memories of the MPAN (Manchester PA Network) 50 Shades of Christmas event two years ago – I have photos, but don’t want to embarrass anyone!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? There’s one thing that’s guaranteed to improve my mood, and that’s spending time with my Prosecco posse – @MissyGJ74 @faireyclarey, @CharlieLucie, and @Harvikins – all amazing PAs whom I met through MPAN.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I think it would have to be Australia – perhaps an extended holiday of three months to visit family and friends in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, and then explore more of the country.
Don’t let anyone undermine you or make you feel less worthy
I am a member of MPAN (Manchester PA Network), a not for profit organisation founded over four years ago. Throughout my time in the network, I’ve made some wonderful friends, visited new venues, raised money for The Christie charity, and built a support network across the Northwest of England and beyond.
I recently attended my first EUMA (European Management Assistants) training event and have just applied for membership.
I’m also eagerly anticipating the launch of EPAA (Executive and Personal Assistants Association) in 2016.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook for friends and family, and Twitter for PA friends, PA networking and keeping up to date with the Manchester social scene. LinkedIn for PA discussion groups and general business use. I do have Instagram & Pinterest accounts, but don’t use them very often.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Like many others, a tracking device for the boss (there’s a good reason I call him the Scarlet Pimpernel).
Problems aren’t problems, they’re just an opportunity to find a solution
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Mascara – never seen without it even if just going to the shops
Heels or flats? Trainers all the way – comfort over style, and I’m still trying to break my 12-minute record from office to train station. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I’m a simple girl at heart – not really a brand person.
Preferred scent: Hugo Boss – I switch between Pour Femme, Jour and Nuit, depending on my mood.
What might we find in your desk drawer? If your readers have a look at Exceptional EA’s recent Twitter hashtag #DebsDrawers, you’ll see my entry. Random items include novelty cat slippers, baby shower decorations and a bottle of Rioja – all unrelated to each other. I didn’t have room to include my drawer full of decorations from the aforementioned Spring themed chocolate decorating PA event.
Inspirational reads? It’s only since joining MPAN that I’ve recognised the value of a peer support network, and both Heels of Steel by Vanessa Vallelly (@WATC_girl) and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (@sherylsandberg) are perfect examples of how such a network is vital in both my work and personal life.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. First, we relaunched our client PA events 18 months ago with a chocolate making evening. A combination of chocolate, wine and handsome chocolatiers still has people talking about it now. The two PA events that followed, organised by my colleagues, have also received fantastic feedback and we hope to continue to build on that reputation.
Next, my recent award – more on that below.
Awards and Recognition
Yes. I’ve received two recognition awards at work for networking and for going above and beyond.
Also, just this week I won the Network Ambassador award at the inaugural MPAN (Manchester PA Network) awards. The award was in recognition of my support of the network over the last four and a half years – “Having been described as a ‘social media guru’, Jane regularly tweets about the Manchester PA Network and is both a dedicated PA and ambassador for the PA Network.”
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I’ve been in my current role for eight years and can’t see myself wanting to move on any time soon. However, I believe that a secondment to another Line of Service or Office would be beneficial in my professional development, and I have this set as a long term objective.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? You’re not just a secretary – you’re not just anything. You’re a crucial and integral part of the team, the glue that holds them together. Don’t let anyone undermine you or make you feel less worthy.
Writing to do items as them come to you allows you to stay focused on the task at hand
Your most effective time management strategy? If you’re like me and you’re constantly got a voice in your head telling you the million OTHER things that you have to do, keep a pad of paper on your desk and write down each of these to-do items as they come to you. Emptying them out of your head allows you to stay focused on the task at hand, and you won’t worry that you’re forgetting something important.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? I’ve not been in this position myself, but I can say that my current firm provides great support for new parents. My line manager has recently launched a UK Secretarial Parenting Network on our intranet with lots of useful tips, hints and advice.
I love being the go to person who, if she doesn’t know the answer, knows someone who does
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Get to know your assistant as a person, and not just as an employee – once you find some common ground or interest, your working relationship will run much smoother.
For those interested in promotion: Find a mentor; I wish I had had one in my earlier career.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Jane 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.
- Manchester PA Network – web, Twitter (@Mcr_PA_Network ), Facebook and LinkedIn
- EPAA (Executive and Personal Assistants Association) – Victoria Darragh: web and Twitter (@EPAA_UK)
- EUMA (European Management Assistants) and EUMA UK
- Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In – print and Twitter
- Vanessa Vallelly: Heels of Steel: Surviving and Thriving in the Corporate World; We Are the City (WATC) – web and Twitter (@:WATC_girl)