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 Wooburn Green in Buckinghamshire to visit with Sarah Howson.
A Morning Person
I am 100% an early morning person and generally I am up early. Most mornings the alarm goes off around 6:45 a.m. I have my morning routine fine-tuned – with a 20 month old toddler, I have to be organised. I tend to get everything ready to go the night before so I can walk out the door swiftly.
I have a 10 minute drive to work. I am very lucky; my husband is hands on with our little boy and tends to do the “morning shift” so I can get up and set off to work early. I drive my car and listen to three or four songs. I used to have a longer commute and would have a chance to sing my heart out for at least 45 minutes, so – believe it or not took – getting used to a short commute took some getting used to.
Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast? I listen to such a variety of music – it could be Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, LMFAO, Eminem, Whitney, George, Soul II Soul, Mary J Blige, R Kelly, Disclosure, Adele, Calvin Harris, Chase & Status – anything goes, but it has to be loud! Give me a karaoke microphone and I am off. *I can’t actually sing, though, which is slightly embarrassing.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I do have a little routine I tend to stick to – emails are generally checked as soon as I wake up, in case anything comes up overnight. The agency I work for has international clients and I tend to be the first one in the office. So, if anything urgent comes in overnight, I’m well equipped to get cracking on what needs to be done. The kettle is on as soon as I open up the office. Both of my previous bosses were often in the office at 6:30 a.m. so I am used to starting early. I then run through my emails, filing the ones I can. I am a ZERO inbox type of person; everything has to be actioned and filed away so I can keep on top of where I am. Next, it’s a review of my to do list and off I go.
I am a ZERO inbox type of person; everything has to be actioned and filed away
What might be a typical lunch? I am really lucky. The company I work for provides a fridge full of food, ranging from super healthy to very naughty, so there is always something exciting to eat. I’ve watched colleagues whip up a Mexican feast, boiled egg and soldiers, amazing toasted sandwiches, and jacket potatoes. Our kitchen microwave does things I never knew existed. We have a large fruit bowl full of fruit, too, which helps when you need something to get you through.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I do tend to keep an eye on emails if I am out of the office. I work four days a week in my current role, and this has been a really difficult adjustment. There wasn’t enough time in the week when I did five days! Managing my time is really important, and I think I get the balance right. If I can keep some plates spinning whilst I am out of the office with a quick email here and there, then I will do so. I do it for all the right reasons though, because I want to, not because I have to.
Managing my time is really important, and I think I get the balance right
What do you most enjoy about your career? After university, I started my career in a small start-up company with one of the best bosses I have ever worked for (name check: Mr. Paul Greenfield). I then spent seven years in a very corporate global PLC with 17,000 employees, in the oil and gas industry. As you can imagine, I had a very steep learning curve but enjoyed my role and worked with two fantastic CEOs. Now, after my maternity leave, I am working in a small creative digital agency and know I will be there for a very long time. Working in a small environment and making a big difference suits me perfectly. The experience I’ve gained along the way is drawn upon almost every day.
I was born in England but spent the majority of my childhood (age three to 13) in Pompano Beach, Florida. We returned when I was 13 and since then I’ve been a Marlow, Buckinghamshire girl. I now live in a cute little village, Wooburn Green in Buckinghamshire, 30 minutes by train into London and 30 minutes by car to Heathrow.
How do you like to spend your time away from the office? Now I have my little boy, I love spending time with him on my day off. We have annual passes to a local farm and I’m a National Trust member. We love going for long walks. I have a taste for good food and cocktails. I can never resist a cold crisp glass of Marlborough or Sancerre. My husband is a golf Professional; although I have had a few lessons, I have a feeling it won’t be long before I take up golf again. I can see family golf trips being on the cards, for sure.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I’ve been lucky enough to visit some amazing places, both personally and through work trips. My top three holiday destinations would be Barbados (reggae, rum, beaches and sunshine), Italy (the food is divine and the wine speaks for itself) and Vietnam (the culture and the lovely people are amazing). California, Florida (of course) and Australia have a place in my heart, too.
Describe any impacts social media has had on the role you hold within your organisation. Without a doubt, I have been blown away with how powerful social media is. With regards to Bucks PA Network, I would not be where I am today with it. It was a learning curve for me, but I am slowly getting the hang of it!
Working in a small environment and making a big difference suits me perfectly
Style and Substance
Name a go-to piece or two from your wardrobe to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace. I live in black, which is okay as, after having my colours done, I learned I am a “winter” person. Dresses are my favourite items to wear because you can add a pop of color with a scarf or jewelry. My bright red lipstick is a MUST, though; it means I am ready to start the day.
On moving outside your comfort zone: Believe in yourself and, most importantly, breathe
Inspirational reads? The first networking event I went to was Lindsay Taylor’s A to Z book launch. I have also had the pleasure of Lindsay giving me advice and guidance with Bucks PA Network. She is such an inspiring professional and is so interesting to talk to. Over a glass of wine or two, we literally talked for hours non-stop!
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Finishing my CIPD qualification was certainly a huge accomplishment for me. Studying for the CIPD qualification, two nights weekly for two years after I’d “finished” studying, was a huge commitment. It’s such an interesting course, though, and I am so glad I did it. I love learning, so being able to apply everything I’d learnt in the classroom is really satisfying.
Setting up Buckinghamshire PA Network is also something I am very proud of. I was very lucky to have a very well behaved baby – after wanting to find a networking group to keep in touch with all things business, I couldn’t find one in Buckinghamshire. Manchester, London, Oxford and Berkshire all had one, but there was nothing in Buckinghamshire. I remember my first tweet about setting one up and the encouragement I had from everyone, particularly Lindsay Taylor and Matthew Want. The rest, as they say, is history.
What skill(s) development or enhancement have you targeted for the next year? As I am moving more and more into event project management, I would certainly like to develop my budgeting skills. I am working with a fantastic Event Director who is very good at coaching. Accountancy and numbers have never been my strong point, so it is time to start learning again.
What steps do you take when you recognise that you need to move beyond your comfort zone? Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Believe in yourself and, most importantly, breathe!
Stepping outside of my comfort zone is tough. Doing the welcome speech and introductions at every Bucks PA event I’ve organised has been a real challenge for me. I don’t know why; I’m perfectly capable of doing it. I just tend to get really nervous. My boss Paul attended my first event to show support. His words of advice ring in my ear whenever I need to calm down. He said, “Everyone in the room is there for a reason, because they want to be. They are on your team, they want you to succeed, they are grateful for what you have done. Talk to them and see them as supporters.”
Approach a job interview as a puzzle, and remember it’s a two-way conversation
Give us one or two of your best strategies for job interviews. Think of it as a puzzle that needs to be put together from all angles, and remember that it is a two-way conversation. Have plenty of questions to ask about how you’d be working in real life. I firmly believe you need to be happy at work and love your role.
On social media: It was a learning curve for me … but blown away with its power
Advice for a new parent returning to the workplace? You can 100% be the person you were before you had a baby! It’s daunting, it’s nerve-wracking, but you can do it. I found having a “project” to focus on whilst I was off kept me on my toes and kept my confidence up. Search out your local PA networking group and attend a session – or, better yet, offer to help organise an event.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Sarah mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.
- Buckinghamshire PA Network (Bucks PA Network) – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
- Taylor, Lindsay – A to Z Pearls of Wisdom for Executive PAs