Exceptional EA is pleased to feature Real Careers, in which EAs, Management Assistants, PAs and other administrators from around the globe generously share a bit of their lives and the benefit of their experience. We began with virtual trips to South Africa and Seattle, and now shift to the UK for a visit with Jennifer Corcoran.
Breakfast and London Bridge
I get up around 7:00 a.m., shower and have some porridge and my morning cuppa before I head off.
My commute is usually an hour door to door. My husband drives me to the station and my journey then consists of a 25 minute train journey followed by a 25 minute walk. I especially love the walking time as it helps me to wake up and start planning my day.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I try to drink water on arrival and top up for the day – check voicemail and then get to anything urgent or pressing. I do love my coffee but I save this for lunch time when I make a trip to Starbucks (I’m addicted to their Soya Lattes).
I tend to work around my bosses’ and teams’ schedules – one week could be full on for travel, the next for expenses and general administration, or there could be ad hoc duties like fee processing to co-ordinate. I’m currently working on an Annual Golf Event which is keeping me busy.
Primary Responsibilities: General Office and Facilities Management for two teams. I also serve as PA to both the London and Global Heads of Ship Finance.
How long is your work day? I am quite fortunate as my core set hours are 9.:30 – 5:00. I injured my back a few years ago and my company now accommodates a later start so that I can avoid the morning rush and get a seat, which I’m very grateful for.
I always make sure I take an hour away from my desk as I need that time to recharge. I usually spend it with my nose in a book.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Yes, I tend to catch up via BlackBerry on emails first thing and on the train which allows me to hit the ground running on arrival. I try to switch off after 6:00 p.m. Having said that, I’ve still been known to be arranging a last minute trip amendment at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I was at a PA training session earlier this year and the trainer came out with a great line, saying, “A good PA has the ability to throw up a to-do list in the air and catch it in a different order” – this pretty much sums up every day and my career to date.
Discuss your aspirations with your executive
What do you most enjoy about your career? I like the autonomy and being my own boss. We don’t usually see ourselves as Managers, but we are always managing our own time and that of our boss. A bit of a cliché, but I also enjoy the variety.
On Saying “No”
It can be hard to say no in our role as we are helpful facilitators by nature, but sometimes it is necessary to push back and redefine our boundaries and be more assertive. My main tip is to say no without actually using the word “no”. For example, “Let me see if I can find someone more suitable to help you with that.”
I try to under commit and over deliver by setting realistic deadlines: “Yes, I can do that and I will have it done for you by the end of tomorrow.” One final tip is to say you need to check your calendar – this will buy you a minute or two to respond accordingly.
I was born in Dublin, Ireland. I have been living in London for almost 13 years, and prior to that spent a year in Australia on a working visa. In my younger days I spent two summers working in the US and Holland and have also spent time in Belgium as part of my Arts degree.
I’m definitely a city girl but I do like to retreat to the suburbs after my working day. I like to spend time with my husband and friends. I also enjoy networking, eating out, travelling and trying to do as much Aqua Aerobics and Pilates as possible to keep my back in check. I am a TV/cinema fanatic and have recently been alternating between Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Game of Thrones.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? We are in the middle of a heat wave in London, so Lovely Day by Bill Withers seems a good choice.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I try to book in a massage or facial, so a real body MOT day (a note from Shelagh for readers outside the UK: MOT inspections are required of cars every few years to ensure that cars have been suitably maintained).
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I am definitely a summer girl at heart and love anywhere warm and exotic. My dream destination was Thailand, which I managed to visit on my honeymoon last year. I’m keen to visit Vancouver, as my little brother has recently moved and is loving life there.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I think that the best PA/EA needs to keep learning and growing in order to stay connected, relevant and up to date. I am lucky to work for a company which has a great in-house L&D (learning and development) programme. This month, I will have completed an Introduction to Project Management and an Outlook Masterclass – so a great mix of hard and soft skills.
Invest in your development
Irrespective of whether your company provides training, I have always sought it out and self-funded my degree and a lot of training during my career. I look at it as an investment in myself and my future.
Present a business case; if you don’t ask, you don’t get
Peer and Professional Associations: I belong to several PA and women’s associations and they have really helped me to establish a sense of personal identity. I have definitely found my supporters and a network I can rely on. I have recently been elected to a board position of PRO for the EUMA (European Management Assistants) UK PA Network. It is a not-for-profit association run by volunteers across 26 countries, so it has a great sense of community for me. Being a PA can be an isolated role, so I think making these connections is invaluable and a great way of sharing best practice tips and challenges.
Preferred forms of social media? I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, WordPress and Pinterest, but must say that LinkedIn is probably my favorite. Twitter is a close second as I love the speed of engagement with brand ambassadors and influencers.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I am not sure what my dream app would be but at the moment I really enjoy ones like SeatGuru, Camscanner and Urbanspoon as they certainly make my life/role a bit easier.
Awards and Recognition
2015 has been a great year for me. My boss has supported me in various applications and I was shortlisted as a finalist for Pitman Training SuperAchiever PA of the Year and I recently won the networking category at The London PA Awards. My company has backed up the support by publicizing these achievements in our quarterly internal magazine.
I am also very excited to have won a scholarship award via Executive Secretary magazine to attend “Be The Ultimate Assistant” training hosted by Bonnie Low-Kramen this coming November in London.
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Lipstick and lip liner – I’m never without it!
Heels or flats in the office? Both – I operate from a stand-sit desk so, when I’m standing, I’m usually in trainers and for meetings I will stick on some heels. I slipped a disc two years ago, so try to alternate between sitting and standing as much as I can. For your commute? Flats – I am one of the many women in trainers crossing London Bridge.
Preferred scent: I love any Jo Malone perfume, especially their citrus based scents. Their grapefruit cologne always reminds me of summer holidays.
What might we find in your desk drawer? This is a very interesting question and funnily enough this topic has recently been posted in my LinkedIn Group, Collective Assistant Network. I think that most PAs’ desks are a veritable Aladdin’s cave with us being ready for any occasion. I personally have chargers, a kindle, shoes, tights, socks, medication, porridge, grooming products, perfume, plasters, batteries, umbrella, vitamins, business cards, hand cream, tissues, cutlery, my Five Folder System and my Starbucks refill cup – phew!
Do you have any advice on travel planning, be it business or personal travel? I always enjoy reading the travel blogs in Practically Perfect PA. I read a very useful one recently on visas and Nicky always writes from the viewpoint of a former Assistant, which is great.
As a member of EUMA, I also find the Facebook group a great help if I need to source a hotel / restaurant as the members are always happy to assist and recommend. It’s my own tried and trusted version of “TripAdvisor”.
Inspirational reads? I have read so many great books – I’ve recently read two which are veritable bibles for the discerning PA: Branding for Brits, by Jennifer Holloway (I promise you don’t need to be British), and Mobi-Jane: Self-Development and Innovation, by Cathy Harris.
Read, network and keep up to speed
Role models? I look up to a lot of amazing PAs and women all around the globe. To list a few: Lucy Brazier (Executive Secretary), Nicky Christmas (Practically Perfect PA), Victoria Darragh (Hays & EPAA), Cathy Harris (PAFSA), Bonnie Low-Kramen (BTUA), Vanessa Vallely (WATC; We Are The City) and Elizabeth Wakeling (EUMA UK). All of these women have inspired me by being active champions for the PA Profession and by empowering other women to develop and succeed.
Please briefly describe one or two career accomplishments of which you’re particularly proud. In 2015 I decided to challenge myself and go completely outside my comfort zone and enter some PA Awards. As an introvert it is something which I never thought I would do, but I wanted to firstly prove to myself that I was a worthy candidate – and to others including my managers and colleagues that I view my role as a valid and credible career choice. I believe that we deserve the same respect and recognition as any other profession.
I was shortlisted as a finalist for Pitman’s SuperAchiever PA of the Year and won the title of Networked PA at the London PA Awards. I’m currently a finalist for SecsintheCity’s Social Media PA of the Year and am very excited. As Assistants, we need to embrace social media in order to stay current, connected and relevant. I was also honoured to be a part of your global panel for your series of blogs on the influence of social media.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar in the next five years? In 2015 I was elected for a term as the National Public Relations Officer for EUMA UK. It felt fabulous to be voted in by my peers. I don’t currently work in the area of Public Relations in my day to day job, so this voluntary position is a great way of learning new skills and challenging myself to develop further. I’m hoping to continue to promote and champion the PA profession and to meet and exchange tips and best practice with as many EUMA members as I can across the 26 countries.
The future of EUMA is changing and we will have an exciting rebrand in 2016. I’m looking forward to working with my National Committee and the other PROs (Public Relations Officers) and building a fabulous new brand while retaining the integral core values of optimal learning, volunteering, networking and collaboration.
What insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Network, join PA associations, read PA blogs, books and magazines and do as much L&D as possible. By joining groups, continually training and reading publications, you will keep up to speed with what is happening in your profession and also make great connections on personal and professional levels.
What advice might you offer a new mother returning to the workplace? This is a tricky one as I don’t personally have any children – however, I did take off four months’ sick leave two years ago when I slipped a disc so I do know what it feels like to return after a break. I would say to phase yourself in gently and don’t be too hard on yourself to be up to speed immediately. If possible, you could ask for remote access in advance and try to catch up on emails and get up to speed at your own pace.
Your most effective time management strategy? Using the Five Folder System by Adam Fidler (Current, Boss, Pending, Bring Forward and Filing) and also turning off my email to focus on other tasks. I try to dip in and out of it only every hour or so as opposed to being reactive to every email that pings up.
For those interested in career promotion: I would advise them to speak up for themselves and have an open discussion with their manager about their goals and aspirations. Don’t be shy and sell yourself and your skills short. If you are interested in attending future training be prepared and present a solid business case as to why you should attend and the future benefits.
Try to find a mentor and coach and, if you can’t find this internally, go externally. I belong to a Careers Club independent to my company. If your company is not willing to pay for additional memberships/training, I say invest in yourself as you are worth it. Remember – if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: I think it’s good to sit down and go through the initial job spec together and flesh it out. Outline how you will work together, and preferred styles of communication.
… and now a note from Shelagh. Jennifer gave recognition to a number of her role models and resources on which she relies, but didn’t mention her own website, which you may find by clicking here.
… one more note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Kim 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.
- EUMA (European Management Assistants)
- EUMA UK / UK PA Network
- PAFSA (Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants)
- Lucy Brazier: Executive Secretary Magazine
- Nicky Christmas: Practically Perfect PA
- Jennifer Corcoran
- Victoria Darragh: EPAA (Executive & Personal Assistants Association)
- Bonnie Low-Kramen: BTUA (Be The Ultimate Assistant)
- Vanessa Vallely: WATC (We Are The City)
- Branding for Brits – Jennifer Holloway
- Mobi-Jane: Self-Development and Innovation – Cathy Harris