Real Careers: Melanie Stevens

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 Devon, England to visit with Melanie Stevens.

Melanie Stevens
is Executive Assistant to the CEO at Devon Air Ambulance Trust. Here’s a look at her world.

A Running and Motivational Start to the Day

A typical day for me begins with a fairly early alarm, around 6:00 – 6:30, so I can feed my three dogs and then go for a run. A morning run really wakes me up; who needs caffeine!

My commute is around 30 minutes by car through city traffic which can be frustratingly slow.  However I use this time to listen to something motivational, like Paul Lowe’s Inspirations CD.  I love self-development and I’m a big fan of Paul Lowe, Paul Scheele, Paul McKenna (must be a “Paul” thing!) and a tool called “The Sedona Method” which I use to keep my focus and remove any negativity I might be feeling. Additionally, I’m also a huge music lover so very often I’ll have Muse blasting out of my car!  One extreme to the other!

At the Office

Morning Routines: Like most EAs, checking Outlook is a priority. I check my diary the night before so there are no surprises, and then check it again first thing in the morning along with my boss’ diary and our Receptionist, who I line manage. I also keep an eye on the diaries for our senior leaders and directors so I know where everyone is; being in the know is an absolute must for an EA and I like to ensure I’m up to speed with what is happening across the board.

I use “ToDoIst” to prioritise my tasks so this also gets a check first thing. I find ToDoIst particularly effective as it can be used it within Outlook (it adds a window so you can view your tasks within the Mail screen), and there is also an app for iPhone and iPad so I can check my tasks the night before.

Time management: use follow-up flags and keep a clear inbox

Primary Responsibilities: My role is varied; I’m EA to the CEO, I support our senior leadership team and board of trustees, I’m the training coordinator, I manage the Trust’s HR administration and I line manage our receptionist. This is what I particularly love about the role; it’s so varied. Although I have my routine in terms of my hours, I thrive on the fact that each day can be totally different.

Today I am setting up some interviews for which I’m a panel member, compiling our staff survey results which I will be presenting to our staff, arranging some long service awards, finalizing xmas party arrangements, setting up a meeting with a potential new trustee, updating our induction process and arranging temp cover for a staff member going on maternity leave. I’m also booking flights and a sleeper train for myself and my boss Helena for a trip we are making to London next month.

Career Satisfaction

What do you most enjoy about your career? Working for a charity is very fulfilling; going to work every day knowing you are doing something to help the greater good and improve the quality of life for your community is extremely rewarding.  Hearing from the patients we airlift really brings home what we do. Our charity raises the funds to keep the operation running, and the operation saves lives. Motivation therefore isn’t hard to find!

Find a mentor, someone you look up to; ask how they got to where they are

On Saying “No”

I don’t find it difficult to say no; I know how much I can fit into my day. I thrive on being busy and under pressure, however I am also realistic enough to know that saying yes to something you can’t complete in time isn’t helpful. If I need an extension of deadline, I’ll ask – or delegate!

Ask your mentor about training they’ve  attended, and how they managed to push themselves outside their comfort zone

Melanie’s World

Map of worldI was born in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, in the heart of England. However, I’ve spent the past 14 years living by the sea in Devon, a more rural part of the country with beautiful coastline, moorland, farmland and forests. I happen to live in a city, so I get the best of everything, all on my doorstep! I have the city centre, beaches, forests and moorland all within 10 miles of my home. I love living near the city as I enjoy having people around me, but it’s nice to be able to occasionally escape to somewhere more peaceful.

Outside the office I enjoy running and walking with my dogs in the many picturesque areas of Devon, picnics on a sunny day, good food and good company! I also love music, so festivals and gigs feature regularly in my calendar. I love to travel, particularly around the UK and Europe in my campervan!

What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? If I’m listening to music in my van, it’s often the likes of Muse, Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters or the Black Keys. However, I have an eclectic collection of dance, ska, dub, rock, heavy metal, reggae … pretty much anything!

 A dream holiday or travel adventure? My dream holiday would be to go east.  I’ve covered much of Europe, Africa and the Caribbean but I’ve never ventured as far as India or Thailand and I’d love to – they’re on my list!

Professional Development

Peer and Professional Associations: I belong to a networking group, the Exeter PA Network.  We meet monthly at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast, we have a guest speaker at each meeting and regular evening events as well. We have attended various events including a cocktail making class, a pamper night at a local hotel, and next on the list is pistol shooting!

Awards and Recognition

I was recently nominated by a colleague for Charity Staff Member of the Year for the national Association of Air Ambulances Awards. Although I didn’t get through, it was lovely to be recognised – particularly as it came from one of my peers.


Travel or travel planning advice? I use Flybe to book cheap flights, and usually I use Trainline for train tickets, however I often look at “Ticketysplit” as they can provide cheaper trains if you don’t mind changing within your journey.

Inspirational reads? When it comes to reading, I love self-development. Books on my shelf include The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. A career accomplishment I’m particularly proud of is ranking sixth on Eventopedia’s ‘”The PA Club Top 250 Social Media Power List”.  I am very active on social media and it is pleasing when this is recognised.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? My plans for the future very much involve the Devon Air Ambulance Trust; I joined the Trust six year ago and I’ve loved every minute. I have expanded my role from PA and Receptionist to EA to the CEO, and my plan is to continue to progress the role and become more actively involved in the running of the business, keeping a close eye on the Trust’s business strategies and vision.

Lessons Learned 

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Early in my career I chose jobs based on job title, salary and duties. I never took into consideration the industry; I’ve worked in law, accountancy, recruitment and the NHS and I never felt passion for what I did. I made career decisions using my head, not my heart. Finally, I listened to my heart when I chose the Devon Air Ambulance Trust. I was offered a position at the Devon & Cornwall Police Headquarters at the same time, and my head was telling me to choose that position, but in my heart I intuitively knew I wanted to work for a charity.  I trusted this instinct, and six years later I realise it was the best decision I could have made.

I trusted this instinct, and six years later I realise it was the best decision I could have made

Your most effective time management strategy? My most effective time management strategy is to use follow-up flags and keep a clear inbox. I have hundreds, possibly thousands of tasks in Outlook and ToDoIst, but I don’t look at them until my reminder pops up. I flag items and then move them out of my Inbox, otherwise my eye will be drawn to things I don’t need to think about yet! The brain can only manage between five and nine pieces of information at any one time, so why overload it?

Spend time with successful people, and find out how to become like them

For those interested in promotion: Advice I would offer to an assistant who is interested in career growth would be to find a mentor. Someone you look up to; your boss, a colleague. It doesn’t have to be someone within your own organisation. Ask them how they got to where they are. What training have they attended, how have they managed to push themselves outside their comfort zone? Spend time with successful people, and find out how to become like them!


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