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.
Naomi White is Executive Assistant to her organisation’s CEO. Here’s a look at her world.
Running or cycling to start the day
Depending on what I have planned for the day, I wake up around 6:30 if I am going for a run, or around 7:15 if I am cycling. I put on the radio and have a big glass of water to rehydrate, and then shower and get ready to leave.
I try and cycle as much as I can – it takes around half an hour, but is dependent on traffic. If I have plans after work, I take the Tube as it saves carrying around all my cycling gear to any social or work events!
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? One of my pet hates (and fears) is people who cycle and listen to music. You need to keep your eyes on the road, especially in London! If I am taking the Tube, I put on some relaxing music to counteract the hubbub of people around me – I particularly enjoy Dustin O’Halloran, who has produced a lot of music for film soundtracks.
At the Office
Morning Routines: As soon as I arrive at the office, I change into my work clothes (if cycling) and make myself a big bowl of porridge. I check my emails, get any menial tasks done and out of the way, and make a “To Do” list – then I’m ready to begin!
Primary Responsibilities: First and foremost is taking care of my director; if he has anything urgent that needs to be dealt with, this would become a priority.
How long is your work day? My work day officially begins at 9:00 a.m. and finishes at 5:30 p.m. I like to get in earlier to make sure things are all in order before I begin the day properly. When we have a lot of work on, I will stay later to ensure everything is complete before I leave.
I head up all charity work that takes place within my company
Given health risks associated with views that sitting is the new smoking, have you or your employer adopted any steps to support good health? I totally agree with this! It’s important to get up and moving. My director is very relaxed about people taking breaks if they need to – which encourages people to have a quick walk around the block whilst grabbing a coffee or taking a call.
We’re a very active company. We have been (and will continue to be in the future) involved in charity days in the past that are sports-related, which gets us up and out of the office.
What might be a typical lunch? I’ve realised half my paycheck seems to go to Pret – so I’ve started bringing in my own lunches. It’s a little more effort, but it’s much healthier to bring in homemade food! I usually eat at my desk and then steal away some time to run errands or have a quick look around the shops. I’m spoilt for choice, as Oxford Street is only seconds away.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours? Yes, especially when there is a big project or deadline. I will always endeavor to answer work calls outside of my usual hours – you never know when it’s an emergency!
Are you involved in any employee groups/teams independent of your role? I head up all charity work that takes place within my company. I am responsible for selecting schemes and activities and suggesting them to staff. Most recently, we visited a school with the charity Access Aspiration, participating in mock interviews with sixth formers. It was great to see the students chat about their goals and achievements!
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the variety, which is partly why I decided I wanted to be an EA. You are faced with different scenarios all the time – no two weeks are the same, and you get to try your hand at so many things.
On Saying “No”
I don’t say “no” often enough, as I do like to please people. Sometimes it is important to, though, if you are feeling overwhelmed with work. I do find a simple and firm “No, I’m sorry, I’m really busy right now – if I have time later I will let you know” seems to suffice in these types of situations.
I have always lived in the UK, apart from a brief spell when I worked in India as a teacher. I was born in Essex and now live in North London.
At heart, are you a city mouse or a country mouse? I am mostly definitely a city mouse! As much as I love a getaway, I miss the busy-ness of London.
How long have you been an admin. professional? Two and a half years. Your first role in this career? I started my admin. career as an Administrative Assistant at an investment consultancy. There, my role was multi-faceted; I was a PA, a Business Development Assistant and Accounts Assistant all combined into one. It was a tough role in which to begin, but a great starting platform as it really pushed me.
On seeking a promotion: I’d always recommend seeking out additional training if possible
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? I am trying to improve my fitness at the moment, so I am attempting to make sure I fit in a few runs every week. I have also recently joined a canoe club, so I’ve been out and about on the canals in London, which gives me a bit of a different way to explore the city. I visit home quite often, too, seeing friends and family.
How do you decompress or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I like to go out and try new places and restaurants. My boyfriend and I attempt to try new places as often as possible.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I’m an active person, so something in a gorgeously sunny destination with lots of things to do! I love exploring new places that are off the tourist track – it’s always fantastic to find somewhere that is recommended by the locals. I feel like you’re totally immersed in the culture that way.
I am a member of The PA Club and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry PA Club. I also use networks like PA Insiders to stay on top of recommendations and to network.
How have these networks or associations helped you? They have helped me meet other like-minded individuals in similar positions. You can share tips and tricks from the industry, and just generally have a chat about your role. That way, you know you’re not the only one managing the problems you face!
What are the primary means of communication for members of your network(s)/professional associations? Mostly email; I receive newsletters and other updates from associations and clubs I am part of. I stay in touch with other members of these organisations through the means of email or LinkedIn, but also sometimes on personal social networks.
The Digital Age, and Evolution of the Assistant’s Role
What are your preferred forms of social media? On a personal basis, I use Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family.
We are beginning to push a more driven focus on PR for my current organisation, and this is something I am heading up. I believe social media in this sense should focus on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Do you maintain, monitor and/or publish to a website as part of your professional responsibilities? I currently post to our company website’s News page. This can range from articles I have put together about new staff, to new acquisitions we have made.
I also instruct, along with input from my director, our branding and design agency on how we wish to present our website and how it will function and look.
Do you publish to, and/or monitor social media as part of your professional responsibilities? I mentioned previously about our new target to focus on PR. From mid-summer onward, I will have chief responsibility for maintaining our social media outlets and posting to them.
What apps do you make use of in your professional life? I use Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger (but not Facebook, as I feel it can sometimes be incredibly distracting!), Google Maps, Apple Podcasts and Duolingo (I’m currently improving my French).
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? An app that records you and could instantly pick up any important tasks you need to do and make an organised list of them all. It would filter out anything you have already done, or anything that’s not of significance!
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Social media has meant expanding the scope of my role to cover aspects of PR. It has allowed me to push my understanding of PR as a whole, and apply for a CIPR course to broaden my knowledge.
HR requests are digital and approved via email
Have you used technology to digitize processes or materials in your workplace? We aim to be a paperless office, which of course is near on impossible. However, everything is available via our Cloud system so there is little need to print things off and you can instead share them in folders or via email.
Any HR requests are digital and are approved via email, so this eliminates the need to print things out.
We recently switched to showing company presentations and documents on iPads for meetings. Of course, this meant initially incurring a large expense, but it’s a great investment in terms of environmental awareness (less paper!) and also instant accessibility – everything is in one place!
Do you have an employer-provided smartphone? Yes; each employee has an iPhone for business use. Tell us about both the positive and adverse impacts that 24:7 availability via smartphones, etc. may have had on your quality of life. I think it is mainly positive that I am available 24/7. If there is ever an emergency, you can be instantly contacted. Conversely, it does mean that you are too readily reached, and sometimes you need to learn when to switch off from your emails and take a break. You have to teach yourself to have balance.
Are the meetings you coordinate or attend primarily digital, or paper-based? Meeting materials are generally in digital format to save on paper – so any materials can be added to the iPads we have, or be viewed on laptops.
More important meetings can often see participants using both iPads and bound hard copies of materials, so that the attendees have something physical to take away afterwards. For staff meetings, we all bring in our laptops and anything that needs to be shown in a larger format can be projected onto a TV screen.
Does your organisation make use of a portal for any of its bodies/committees? No. What about an intranet/SharePoint or other web portals? No.
What do you think about the impact of Digital Assistants/AI (Artificial Intelligence)? I find that these are not always accurate and have not affected my career nor workplace. They cannot act as effectively as having a real human do the work for you!
Travel or travel planning recommendations? Try and get all the details in advance. Have a schedule ready, and bookmark things like check-in times in your calendar so that you are reminded of when you need to do so, so that nothing is missed! Having a file or folder for each trip ensures every document is in the same place and helps avoid any confusion.
If you can get everything booked in advance, it gives you additional time to plan and saves your boss (or you) a huge amount of money. We don’t currently use a travel management company, so I use sites like Kayak or Skyscanner where you can tailor your searches to your budget and requirements.
Personally, I sign up to a lot of deal sites and despite the barrage of emails that you have to trawl through; you can find some amazing discounts. I mention these to friends and colleagues – especially if someone has a particular place in mind that I’ve seen a deal for earlier in the day, it’s always good to help others out!
What apps or programs do you and/or your principal/executive find useful for travelling and for tracking expenses? The Trainline is extremely useful, as a large number of stations now accept the e-tickets, which saves anyone losing the paper copies! Apps for each one of the airlines are great, as they allow you to have a copy of your boarding pass on your mobile, giving an layer of backup rather than having only a printed boarding pass.
Company staff use Expensify to track their expenses, which is all done through a simple mobile app, and saves collecting paper copies of everything. You can also link this up to other accounts, such as Uber, which makes the process of adding travel expenses very streamlined.
On 24/7 availability: You have to teach yourself to have balance
Style and Substance
Name a go-to piece or two from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I don’t dress in a particularly corporate manner, but I always like to ensure I am smart and tidy. I have some lovely dresses from Finery London that are simple and easy to wear. Either those or my favourite mid-calf A-line pink skirt that looks great with some heels and a nice blouse.
What might we find in your desk drawer? You’ll find quite a few tools to fix odd bits. You’ll see loose chair screws, plus an endless supply of stationery that will probably meet all your pen/pencil/highlighter needs for months …
Inspirational reads? Chimamanda Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is an incredibly inspiring text. Despite deciding I was a feminist before reading Adichie’s work, it only further encouraged me that we need to continue to push for equality, in both the workplace and in general society.
Learning quickly after making the jump from Administrative Assistant to Executive Assistant
Role models or mentors? I would say my director. We have weekly catch ups, and he is not shy to point out where I’m going wrong or call me up on anything. He will also, however, say, “Well done” where appropriate. I know that I can go to him with any problems – whether they are work-related or personal.
Have you received any awards or recognition as an admin. professional? I have not received any awards outside the workplace, but have been awarded recognition within the company for my contributions.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. First and foremost, getting this job! I made a big jump from being an Administrative Assistant to becoming an Executive Assistant, and it was a tough learning curve. There were so many things I have to learn so quickly, and I know that I am not yet done learning (nor will I ever be).
I am proud of the different systems I have implemented. These have reflected either cost-cutting measures that have benefited the company, or processes that are now much more compliant; I find they are now tracked better. It’s incredible to see a company growing and shaping itself whilst you are a part of it, especially with procedures that you have put into place.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? I speak to whomever is my superior. I will explain my situation, and ask if we can put a plan in place that will allow me to move onto the next stage.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? I am eagerly anticipating the start of my PR course in August. It is only an introduction, but will help me start building the skills I need to maintain our company’s social media networks.
My goal for the year is to become well-versed in the basics of PR and social media for smaller companies, and then translate that onto my organisation, along with the help of our PR agency.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? Other than expanding my knowledge as an EA – something that I think is continuously developed as you meet new situations almost every day – I would like to expand my knowledge in the Operations side of the business, where I am already heavily involved.
As an EA, you are involved heavily with how a company operates, and assist your director in the general running of the business. I think that having such a strong involvement in this side of things would aid me in moving to a management position, transferring my wealth of skills as an assistant to an Operations Manager/Director-type role.
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Don’t be nervous! Treat it like a general chat about yourself and your achievements, and you will instantly feel more relaxed. Make sure you are prepared. Fumbling about for answers just makes you look like you are not interested nor engaged in the interview, or even interested in the job you are applying for!
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? There are so many different opportunities out there! Don’t be afraid to try and go for something for which you may not have all the background – sometimes the interviewer will be looking to enhance the skills you already have and give you the training you’ll need to carry out the role.
Your most effective time management strategy? Planning. Having a “To Do” list is incredibly helpful. It seems like the simplest thing but, if I start with one in the morning, it enables me to list all the tasks I need to do in the day.
Outlook reminders are a lifesaver. Separate your day into different sections, and your PC will tell you when it is time to look at a different task.
What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Sit down with your new executive and chat to them about how they like to operate. Ask if they have any particular preferences; this way you can get things right from the start and avoid any awkward moments. For example, they might like organising things themselves in addition to you adding things to their calendar – or they might like you to do it all. Get it right from the start, and you’ll be on a winning streak.
Treat an interview like a general chat about yourself and your achievements, and you will instantly feel more relaxed
For those interested in promotion: I’d definitely always recommend speaking to your line manager – they’re there to help you. Let them know what you want to achieve and that you’d like to progress. Together you can work on a plan or goals to let you reach that target. I’d always recommend seeking out additional training if possible – make sure you can justify why you need to go on the course then present it to your manager. It always helps to be prepared and have the right reasoning in these situations.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Naomi mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- London Chamber of Commerce; Industry PA Club – @londonchamber
- PA Insiders – @pa_insiders
- The PA Club – @thepaclub
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.