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 Essex, England to visit with Sherri Eckworth.
Sherri Eckworth is Senior Executive Assistant at TMW Unlimited. Here’s a look at her world.
A Healthy Start
I’m up at 6:30 a.m. and leave for the office at 7:30, and a cup of tea at some stage during that hour is essential. Breakfast is normally sugar free granola with frozen blueberries, which I’ll eat when I get into the office.
I commute for 90 minutes. I get a lift to the station and then take a train and tube into the office. I’m currently raising money on behalf of a friend’s charity, so am getting off one or two stops earlier as it’s a weight challenge! Who or what is on your commuting playlist? My current playlist includes some untitled Indian music that a friend put together for me, some Ed Sheeran and George Ezra – Sing by Ed Sheeran is a great song to power walk to!
At the Office
Morning Routines: The first thing I do is log on and check my email, then scan the Joint CEOs’ email, pick up voicemails and look at the diaries for the day ahead. I’ll have already checked my own emails on the train and be planning how to respond. I also make sure getting a coffee is high on the checklist!
Primary Responsibilities: I look after the Joint CEOs and Managing Partner, and assist the Group Chairman. Diary management is a primary responsibility but I also assist the wider Board and Agency and am known as a point of contact for pretty much anyone who needs help. I manage TMW Academy, which is our in-house school of learning, and am part of the Internal Comms team.
My days do vary . Today, as an example, I’ve been putting performance appraisals in the diary, managing the admin. behind getting all staff to attend a 20 minute workshop in the next month, booking a two day external workshop, arranging some travel and doing some HR admin. for training courses we’re running. A typical day involves a lot of admin., juggling and double checking!
What might be a typical lunch? Now this is a toughie, since it’s not easy being sugar free as there’s hidden sugar in everything! Having said that, Soho is full of amazing places to have lunch and in the summer it’s also lovely to find a bit of green space to sit and eat. In the office we’ve got a café and roof terrace, so that’s a real bonus!
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I have a flexible working agreement in place, so I’m off every other Friday. I always check emails on those days so I don’t come back to any surprises, and I check emails on my commute.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? I think keeping my head above the admin. and requests that fly in every minute is quite challenging. I see the Agency staff as my clients, so try to assist with any enquiry in the best way I can. Working for the people I do, there’s never a quiet moment and no two days are the same! Most challenging is making everyone feel like they’re top of my list and fitting in time for other important stuff, like viewing venues or arranging coaching for myself.
In any new role, get to know everyone before attempting to change the way things happen
What do you most enjoy about your career? The fact that it’s so varied. It’s a cliché for sure, but no two days are ever the same and that’s why I love it so much. In my career to date, I’ve had the opportunity to work across many different industries and I’ve met some amazing people and made some wonderful friends.
I value the power of networking
On Saying “No”
With a bigger workload recently, I do sometimes have to say no. Firstly I’ll always listen to what I’m being asked for and then try to find another way of helping – that might be putting the person in contact with someone else or, if not time critical, offering to help another time. Occasionally I have to suggest politely that they try to do it themselves – always tactfully, though, and appreciating their workloads.
At heart, are you a city gal or small community person? Definitely half and half! I love the vibrancy of the city but equally love the warm feeling of community – there’s no reason you can’t have both!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I buy great skin products and give myself a soothing facial, and might treat myself to a bottle of Pinot Noir (Lime Rock is my current favourite), or have a meal out with friends.
Away from the office, I blog on my recently created website, with a focus on anything creative (I write short stories and make “stuff’), and I have a passion for food. I’m currently embarking on “Indian Saturdays” and am enjoying learning how to make delicious curries from scratch using amazing ingredients.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? Volunteering in a school in a third world country would be on my list, and I’d also love to visit the Lochs in Scotland – we have so much beauty within the UK that most of us don’t ever get to see because we’re too busy planning trips away! I’ve recently discovered the tranquility of Norfolk out of season, and Cornwall will always be a firm favourite.
Education and Professional Development
Education: A good education got me off to a great start. In most jobs I’ve had, I’ve been offered training and support to do the role to the best of my ability – and if it’s not been in place, I’ve asked! My current employer, TMW Unlimited, has offered training and coaching around the development of my role as it’s become bigger – and this has been a huge support. Most secretarial roles now ask for a minimum of a degree, which I feel could put some like myself at a disadvantage when moving on later in your career. Qualifications are essential, of course, but experience is invaluable.
Training and coaching around the development of my role as it’s become bigger has been a huge support
Peer and Professional Associations: Although not a member of any particular association, I value the power of networking. I’m a member of many groups on LinkedIn and also use Twitter to engage with others. I value attending events and, through winning PA of the Year, have increased my network of valuable contacts.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Facebook for personal, LinkedIn for professional use, and Twitter for a mixture of both. I also blog regularly on tumblr and my website, sherri.life.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? A diary tool that organises a meeting for 250+ people in less than 5 minutes … and books the room, catering and special requirements, deals with enquiries about the booking and makes necessary amends … if only!
Awards and Recognition
The HR department here in TMW Unlimited nominated me for SecsintheCity PA of the Year 2013 and I’m proud to say I went on to win it!
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? A white shirt, and dark skinny jeans with a fab pair of boots – our dress code is very relaxed and if I walked in dressed in a suit, most people would think I was going to an interview!
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? Face powder and perfume – great for touching up during the day, and it’s always nice to smell great!
Heels or flats? Flats, for the office and commute Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Jimmy Choo
Preferred scent: Elle by Emporio Armani – it’s my signature scent
What might we find in your desk drawer? Herbal tea sachets, staple extractor (essential!), napkins, note book, hand cream, sewing kit, various stationery items and other random stuff!
Travel or travel planning advice? Get as much information and detail as you can before you start. Often time can be wasted on queries such as “Which airport do they prefer?”, ‘”Do they need to stay near the airport or the venue?”, and “Will they need a car or will they be able to get taxis there?” Ensure that passport details are up to date and that you have preferences set – e.g., front facing window seat with table on a train – it’s all in the detail!
Travel planning: Get as much information and detail as you can before starting
Inspirational reads? It’s hard to pick just one as I’m an avid reader – my love of books makes running TMW’s book club my dream job! Reading books you wouldn’t pick for yourself is incredibly challenging but also inspiring. My favourite recent read is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – a fantasy book, which is very far from my preferred genre. Reading in this way leads to a great deal of engagement and understanding with people you might not normally interact with.
Role models or mentors? I think each of my immediate line managers in my roles to date. I’ve valued and respected their input, whilst hopefully making their lives easier. I’ve really learned from them – they’re all very different, too!
I love inspiring others and demonstrating the value of PAs in the workplace
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. During my career, two of my much respected bosses have taken me with them when they’ve moved on and I’m really proud of that. I’m also really proud to have won SecsintheCity PA of the Year in 2013 and to have been shortlisted for Executive PA Magazine’s PA of the Year in 2014.
Being on the front cover of PA Life Magazine in June 2014 is also pretty high up there – the two-page feature was a real career highlight, along with having a page spread in the careers section of the Daily Mirror. I love inspiring others and demonstrating the value of PAs in the workplace – when I managed a reception desk and one of our young ladies left to become a PA, she said she wanted to be just like me, and that was probably my proudest moment.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I’m really focused on being part of more projects and initiatives within TMW. I’d also like the opportunity to speak to others about the value of the PA within businesses and at some point, I’d like to consider retiring early! I’d also love to be a coach/mentor and really want to train to do that.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Listen – a lot! In any new role, get to know everyone before attempting to change the way things happen. Learn what people do around you – make time for others.
By compartmentalising my day and assigning projects a set amount of time, I am more likely to stick to a deadline and be successful
Your most effective time management strategy? Prepare, prepare, prepare and don’t be worried about double or triple checking. Organisational skills have to be top of my list and, by compartmentalising my day and assigning projects a set amount of time, I am more likely to stick to a deadline and be successful.
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Find out what support is available, look at flexible working options, spend a few days in the office before your actual start date if that’s possible, and accept help when it’s offered.
Experience is invaluable
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Find out how they like to work, and their preferences. Find out what you have in common, and shared likes and interests. Communicate how much your assistant is valued for what s/he does and the support offered. If s/he also supports others, don’t always expect to be number one and understand the need to prioritise.
For those interested in promotion: Speak to your line manager or HR department. Talk to others in the roles you’re interested in. Find out what’s out there and go for it. Apply for training and development where relevant.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Sherri 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.