Real Careers: Joanne Hawkins

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 off to Warrington, England to visit with Joanne Hawkins.

Joanne Hawkins is a Business Support Executive and an Executive VPA (Virtual Personal Assistant). Here’s a look at her world.

A Commuter’s Dream

I wake at 7:30 a.m. and need at least 45 minutes with black coffee is needed before anything is done. As I  typically work from  home, I can be flexible with this. On the days I work from home, my commute is simply upstairs to the office. On days when I meet with clients, and depending on who I am seeing, I drive to meet them and this normally takes no longer than 30-60 minutes.

Who or what is on your playlist/podcast when you do commute? I usually have the radio on, but sometimes like to listen to an audio book. My favourites at the moment are The Secret and The Power.

At the Office

Morning Routines: The only routine I have is to check emails, usually on my phone when having my morning coffee.  Monday and Tuesday, my office-based days, are the only typical days; they consist of emails, social media posts and facilitation of client requirements.

Primary Responsibilities: We work with 16 clients at the moment, and I am the centre of the business so I ensure that all Associates are happy with the clients they have and the work they have been given. I work very closely with a number of clients and manage day to day functions such as diaries, meetings and travel, etc.

How long is your work day? My days can vary from eight to 15 hours, depending on client requirements; I will work as long as I need to. I have a tendency to over-service clients, and am available when they need me.

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch? Lunch when I’m in the office isn’t very good; I will usually leave it until the last minute or skip lunch completely. I’m more focused when on the road or with clients.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Switching off is very challenging. Networking has been a challenge for me but I am overcoming this by speaking to groups and boosting my profile.

Switching off is very challenging

What do you most enjoy about your career? The variety of work we do is fantastic and I have built the best relationships with clients over the years.  I have experienced things I would never otherwise have done.

On Saying “No”

After four and a half years at this, I am better at saying no, but it is still difficult. I don’t really have the time or desire any more to do work I don’t enjoy, and so work can be out-sourced as we do have the benefit of working with a number of Associate VAs. However, if I don’t think the client would benefit the business, then I will say no.  I would advise people to consider how the work would benefit them and, if not, say that you don’t think you are the right person to do this job. Saying no when you are an employee is more difficult, but building the right relationship in the beginning would make this easier.

Joanne’s World

Map of worldI was born in Manchester, England and now live in Warrington, England. At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? I like both but think I am more of a city girl.

I have two grandchildren and try to spend as much time with them as possible. We have a house in southern Spain and friends on the east coast of Spain, so we spend lots of time over there. I am also an avid Rugby League fan and watch as much as I can.

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Time in front of the TV is chill out time for me; it takes my mind off work and I enjoy some “no brainer” programs!

 A dream holiday or travel adventure? That’s relaxing at our house in Spain or with friends/family in the sun.

I was proud to be awarded North of England VA of the Year 2014

Education and Professional Development

Education: I am constantly reviewing professional development, not only for me but so we can assist clients.




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

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I have lots of phone apps that help me when out on the road or with clients. but I rely mainly on my Mac Mail.

 Confidence … comes from within

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I don’t put too much emphasis on work wear. Confidence for me has come from within and from recognising my good points overall.  I do, though, love a nice handbag and perfume which always make me feel better.

Heels or flats in the office?  Flats. For your commute? Also flats.

What might we find in your desk drawer? Lots of clutter, I’m afraid!

Travel or travel planning advice? Use resources that are available. There are plenty of freelance travel agents, and booking online isn’t always the best option.  Open up networks that are available to you.

Inspirational writer? Rhonda Byrne

Role models or mentors? I have two close friends I spend lots of time with. Both are very strong business women who have overcome adversity with physical and mental illness but continued with their passions. They are both a strong presence in both my work and personal lives.

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I was proud to be awarded North of England VA of the Year 2014, which came as a huge surprise to me but has benefited both my confidence and business presence.  I was also nominated for the Warrington Business Woman of the Year 2016 award and narrowly missed out on this. I believe that if you want to build on success you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I want to be the champion for VAs and the go to expert for VAs within the next few years.

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? In my PA career, it would be that I was there to do a job and not make friends; I only realised this after a long time.  In my VA career,  it would be to just be myself; my value and experience don’t need to be “sold”.

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Understand how s/he got to this position, expectations of  you, and how the executive sees your role as part of their goals and career progress.

Everything goes in my diary on my phone so I know what I’m doing all the time

Your most effective time management strategy? Everything goes in my diary on my phone so I know what I’m doing all the time. I don’t set appointments too close together, and allow myself time to review and reflect.

Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Let your boss know what is important to you (holidays/school plays) and try to be as accessible as you can. You will expect your boss to be accessible, and it works both ways.

I allow myself time to review and reflect

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Allow your assistant to be a part of the team, which includes challenging you and changing things that need changing. Your assistant will be a valuable asset to you and the business.

For those interested in promotion: Be honest, don’t pretend that you can do everything, and bring people in to help you if you need it.  Build a solid relationship with people who can help you progress.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. 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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