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 West Suffolk to visit with Katie Driver.
Breakfast is Key
I rise at 7:10 a.m. and am at work for 8:30 a.m. I MUST have breakfast. I find it one of the most important things to kick start my day, and cannot work well otherwise. I like to make sure things are in order at home and that I have made my lunch packed full of healthy snacks, with one or two naughty treats for that all important sugar rush towards the end of a busy day.
I drive to work, a short 10 minutes. I can often work between sites which are about 30 minutes away from each other, so my car is essential.
There’s such a variety here, and that’s what keeps the days so active and enjoyable
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? Although I have only a short 10 minute drive, BBC radio 2 and Chris Evans helps the journey. I’ve reached the age where I am too old for Nick Grimshaw and BBC Radio 1!
At the Office
Morning Routines: I hot desk, so logging into the phone is the first thing I do. I then settle at my desk, log on to my computer, and have a quick scan of emails which have come in over night/over the weekend. Once the CEx and Directors are in, we all have a coffee. It’s imperative to all have a small chat when working so closely with people, and we also pick up on each other’s workloads.
Primary Responsibilities: The list goes on! Contact and diary management, as well as briefing notes and research, are primary responsibilities.
There’s no such thing as a typical day. There’s such a variety here, and that’s what keeps the days so active and enjoyable. Alongside the usual EA responsibilities such as complex and detailed diary management (and last minute changes), venue bookings and everyday correspondence, my place of work have been fantastic in helping to shape the role of the Executive Assistant and puts a lot of emphasis into the development and importance of the position.
I have started to work hand in hand with departments within the authority to take on the responsibility of briefings on major and sensitive projects for the Chief Executive, creating large and incredibly detailed briefing notes for local MPs and engaging in correspondence with other partner organisations about local issues. I also work on presentations, speeches and speaking notes for specific occasions and events for the Leader and Chief Executive.
The days vary, as does the percentage of time I spend working between the Chief Executive and Leader. Within my role, detail is absolutely key. Always being one step ahead and going the extra mile has worked wonders for me. A key part of my role is research and keeping up to date with local and central Government change. Making sure I am briefed is just as important as making sure my Chief Executive and Leader are well informed.
How long is your work day? I usually work 8:30 to 5:30 p.m. and try to fit in an hour’s lunch if possible. With Local Government, a lot of the meetings take place after normal office hours and so it is usual for me to stay late. I enjoy attending these meetings as it increases my working knowledge, which is imperative to me fulfilling my role.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? It’s unusual for me to be away from the desk. Dependent on cover, and the other core PA’s availability, more often than not I will eat and work. I like a tasty sandwich and fruit, etc. but if I am peckish or want to, I can pop to the lovely café we have downstairs for a monster baked potato!
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I have access to a work laptop and remote access to my files and emails. I like to make sure I have at least a quick look, as keeping on top of the work is essential for pre-empting situations and using my initiative.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Juggling the variety of work, going from one service to another and prioritising the importance of meetings, projects and schedules. I can go into a Monday with a specific plan of what I need to do, but it changes almost as soon as I sit at my desk. The skill here is noting it all down, and “to do” lists are essential. I am a fountain of information and my notes are my reference.
Research: A key part of the role
What do you most enjoy about your career? I enjoy being part of the team. As an EA, I am involved in projects; I am briefed and have a working knowledge. At West Suffolk, I feel that my employer is completely invested in my role. I have been in my role for only a few weeks and already I feel valued and that I am making a difference to my CEx, Leader and colleagues. Often, taking the lead and responsibility are necessary for meetings or briefings. I am trusted to go forward and action items.
Knowledge I have built as an EA allowed me to have confidence to speak out, take the lead and assert myself independently
On Saying “No”
In the EA vocabulary, this is a difficult word! It is very rarely that I say no, and I can’t think of a specific occurrence. Part of my role is to assist, and I like to follow through with this. I have found that the key here is managing my clients’ expectations in terms of when I can complete their requests.
I was born and raised in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, and still reside there. At heart, are you a city gal or small community person (city mouse/country mouse)? A country bumpkin through and through. I love the idea of working in the big city, though; it’s definitely something I would like to do.
I enjoy running, and find this is my thinking time. Family and friends are a HUGE part of my life; I socialise and make time for others. I would be lost without them and their support.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? A nice naughty treat, like chocolate or a great big pizza and a good film in my pjs! I love to make time for myself just to unwind (and be a bit lazy on a Friday night after a hectic week)!
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I am actually off on a travelling adventure this summer to Toronto, Seattle, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia … I’ll be on a cruise up the Alaskan Passage. It’s my first time outside Europe and I love an adventure with my friends. I can’t wait for lots of laughs and to witness some amazing views. Don’t get me wrong, though; I also like to lie on a beach for a week!
Education and Professional Development
I struggled through school with math and other subjects, and I worked incredibly hard to achieve the grades I did. However, I found drama a great release for my creative and personable side. I felt good at something. Finding the Pitman’s Executive PA course post-university gave me the first stepping stone I needed into the career I wanted. It also allowed me that feeling of being good at something again. I find personality to be a huge part of fulfilling my role, allowing my drama and EA experience to go hand in hand.
I have just joined EPAA. I have to say, I used to struggle with the career choice I made. I used to underplay what I do in comparison to my friends’ careers. However, EPAA has taught me to shout it from the rooftops. I just feel like it was the boost I needed and was searching so hard for. EPAA has allowed me to be excited.
I am also part of the Global PA Association, for which I have written a few blog posts. I love to write about what I do. Seeing it written down gives me that confidence that I often lose when talking about my career.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I love a spreadsheet!
Awards and Recognition
I haven’t received any yet, but am hoping that I will one day. Victoria Darragh is an absolute inspiration for this, as I have met so many amazing people in the EA/PA world through Twitter – and I have gained inspiration from this.
Victoria Darragh is an absolute inspiration
Style and Substance
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? A concealer stick and blusher! And if I can have one more, please … mascara!
Heels or flats in the office and for your commute? Flats (but very pretty ones) Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Russell & Bromley
Preferred scent: Dior and Miss Dior – every day
What might we find in your desk drawer? Apples and Post It notes
Travel or travel planning advice? Plan well ahead, and with detail. Check details again near departure date, in case of changes. Be aware of alternative travel arrangements and always be ready for that last minute change! Time is critical here too, making sure you have enough of it to deal with any last minute changes.
Inspirational reads? The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers. It’s a children’s book which I found incredibly thought provoking. Every adult should read it.
Role models or mentors? My dad. He really is my hero. He has worked hard throughout his life to not only get the education he wanted, but he has also provided a great life for our family. He is also a full time carer for my mother who is disabled – and still he found time to support me throughout my education and career. He is an ambassador for what I do. He taught me about hard work and being kind, two values which I carry with me always throughout my personal and professional life.
Katie’s role model: her dad, who taught her values she carries in her personal and professional lives
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Last year I attended the “Local Authority Challenge for the East of England and East Midlands 2015”. This was a simulation exercise and for a day I was acting as a Director for a fictional Council. We dealt with challenges such as the media, ongoing customer issues, shared service projects and producing a manifesto. The working knowledge I have built as an EA over the years allowed me to have confidence to speak out, take the lead and assert myself independently, a skill which I wasn’t aware I had without support from others. I felt really proud to have been invested in enough to attend alongside Heads of Services, and actually wrote a blog post about this for the Global PA Association.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I would like to continue to work my way up through Local Government as an EA, and perhaps branch out into Central Government. Corporate policy really interests me, as does project management. I would love to learn more and become more involved in this.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Be PROUD; confidence in what you do is such a boost.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Being adaptable works both ways, and acclimatisation is key. You are part of a team.
I feel that my employer is completely invested in my role
Your most effective time management strategy? For me it’s my ‘bring forward file’. It allows me to focus on the now and come back to the later.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? I am not a mother myself so I am not sure I can advise! However, I would offer a well earned pat on the back and the comforting words of “take it slow”.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Use us to our full potential! For me, it’s about taking time to discuss where you both want to be and what you both want from the role.
For those interested in promotion: Grab every opportunity, network as much as you can, and speak to your employer. Opportunities are there;they just need to be found.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Katie referenced may be interested in checking the following links.