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 and the USA, and now make our way to Wales to visit with Catrin Morgan.
A Gorgeous Cardiff Commute
The alarm goes off at 6:30, and I snooze at least twice before getting up and jumping straight in the shower. No time or inclination to eat at this hour; extra sleep trumps make-up and breakfast for me!
I live just outside of the City Centre, so it’s ordinarily a ten minute bus ride, but a 30 minute walk in fair weather! We are very lucky in Cardiff to have a huge green space surrounding the Cardiff Castle, which happens to be my route to work; it’s gorgeous. If I’m on the bus and I haven’t had time before leaving the house, then I’ll be checking my Twitter and LinkedIn, too.
At the Office
Morning Routines: I imagine my initial actions at the beginning of the day to be the same as any other assistant’s – check voicemail, check for urgent emails, check calendars, check my to-do list. I have given up tea in the last couple of months, so it’s plenty of water first thing to sharpen the brain.
Primary Responsibilities: If you read my job description, it would say that I am here to provide an effective and efficient admin. service to my Exec via the usual tasks: diary management, email management, ownership of Committee meetings, etc. But I view it as more than that. I have a responsibility to keep my Exec safe by being proactive, forward looking, and informed about what’s going on in and around the business. I also have a responsibility to support my other Assistant colleagues in the business, and work together as a team to improve efficiency. If you’re lucky enough to have an internal network of PAs, you need to harness each other’s strengths and plug the gaps on each other’s weaknesses.
What might be a typical lunch break? Lunch for me is, rightly or wrongly, short and sharp. As we are located right in the city centre I have any number of small supermarkets and food outlets on my doorstep. I tend to just nip out for 10-30 minutes max and bring something back to my office to eat. I never bring a pre-made lunch with me as I am one of those people who doesn’t know what I feel like eating until I’m hungry.
How long is your work day? My core hours are 35 a week, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. I usually arrive anywhere between 8:30 and 9:00, and leave some time between 5:00 p.m. It all depends on what’s going on and how much cover we have across the PA team.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I never work from home outside my office hours; in my organisation PAs are not provided with laptops or smart phones for the purposes of being “on-call’. I am, instead, very flexible with my arrival and departure times and will come in on the weekend if requested. If I think of things in the evening that I need to do or remember for the next day, I will send myself emails as reminders.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? In terms of day to day, I would say the fluidity of calendars is not so much challenging as frustrating. Just when you have everything in shape, you get an email or a call and everything has to be thrown back up in the air again. It is part and parcel of the role, though, so we need to be resilient and go with the flow.
Support fellow assistants in your office: harness strengths and plug gaps on each other’s weaknesses
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the support and sense of community you get from being a PA among others. Some years ago, for a short time I dipped my toe out of the admin. profession and I found it to be a very lonely and isolated place. Unless you’ve been or are a PA/EA, you will never understand the comradeship that comes with it.
On Saying “No”
Saying “no” is a really tricky one. But actually, I think it’s more about how you deliver the message. I am always more than happy to help but the trick is to ask questions – what other people deem to be urgent may not be a priority on your list. For example, do you have to say no? Or can you say “not now”, instead?
I was born in Cardiff, Wales and still live and work here. I love to travel and have been to many places, but have never uprooted for any significant length of time. Would love to move to Canada, though!
I am a city girl, most definitely. I enjoy visiting the country for peaceful breaks, but have become very used to the 24/7 lifestyle.
I love to travel, even if it’s just short city breaks. If I have any spare cash, it goes on seeing the world. Otherwise, I love to read and am addicted to box sets/Netflix – anything that removes me from reality for a short time as it really helps me to switch off and unwind.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? I have momentarily become obsessed with Ellie Goulding, a Welsh artist no less. Unfortunately, since I’ve been without car, my exposure to music has diminished. But I’m always finding new stuff on Spotify and creating a playlist for something – at the moment, for a colleague’s hen do!
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Sit down to an evening of decent wine, cheese and music with my partner. I am not one for facials or massages – too much of an invasion of my personal space.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I would love to explore Canada, see some of the East coast of the US, visit Sri Lanka and also South America – would love to see the little Welsh tea rooms in Patagonia!
Education and Professional Development
Education: I love to learn, now more than I ever have. As I’ve developed in my career, I recognise that with knowledge comes a sense of security. When you know something, I mean really know it, you can feel confident in what you’re saying and in how you’re carrying out your role. That’s based more around the technical side of things. But learning and developing, meeting new people and sharing ideas and best practice really grows your personal confidence, too. I feel like I’m developing all of the time. Without setting challenges for myself, life would just be boring.
When you know something, I mean really know it, you can feel confident in what you’re saying and how you carry out your role
Peer and Professional Associations: As well as being the Founder of Cardiff PA Network, I am also a member of Bristol PA Network and have attended a joint event held by Bristol, Plymouth and Exeter PA Networks. There are now over 20 regional networks in the UK, which is fantastic and a testament to how passionately Assistants feel about their profession.
Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter before anything. I don’t have a Facebook account and do not like Facebook for business use. I also love LinkedIn and Instagram.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? A tracking device for my boss, perhaps …
Awards and Recognition
I won PA-Assist’s Wales PA of the Year in 2014, which was a lovely thing to achieve. I think awards are a great opportunity for committed and successful PAs to shine and get some rare recognition. For me personally, it really helped me to grow in confidence.
I love the support and sense of community you get from being a PA among others
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Pencil skirt, blouse, mid-height heels. I tend to be a bit black and white in my dress sense; you’ll rarely see me in big, bold colours.
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? I always carry Vaseline lip balm and face powder.
Heels or flats in the office? Heels. For your commute? Flats. Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I love Dune shoes.
Preferred scent: At the moment it’s Ellie Saab, but I change it all the time.
What might we find in your desk drawer? A bunch of random stationery, business cards, lots of keys, some personal items like deodorant and a nail file, a mini sewing kit and cufflinks! I am often asked by some of my male colleagues for spare cufflinks/ties/belts …
Travel or travel planning advice? I guess my advice would be to do your research! Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting when you book something (read the small print!), to avoid disappointment at the other end.
Network like crazy; meeting new people and sharing ideas and best practices grows your personal confidence
Role models or mentors? In my first PA role, I worked in a support office of two as the junior PA, beneath a wonderful lady called Frances who was a true professional. She mentored a team of around 11 PAs, myself included, and she was extremely supportive. I still use some of the tips and tricks she taught us.
In most recent times, it would be remiss of me not to mention two ladies who have really been an inspiration and support to me: Catherine Thomas, Founder of the NHS Wales PA Network and Debs Eden, Founder of the Bristol PA Network (also featured in Real Careers). I owe a lot of thanks to both of them.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I’d have to say the Cardiff PA Network which I launched in May 2015. I have held two events so far and Member numbers are growing all the time. The inspiration for me doing this really came from my experience of being a member of the Bristol PA Network, which has just celebrated its first birthday.
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I definitely do, but I might keep them to myself for now …
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Take charge of your own learning and development, and don’t just limit yourself to courses or subjects that are relevant only for PAs.
Keep your executive safe by being proactive, forward looking, and informed
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Communicate with your Assistant! If you’ve got time to answer only one email, make sure it’s the one from your Assistant that’s marked “urgent”.
Don’t limit your focus: include courses beyond those relevant primarily to PAs
For those interested in promotion: Keep learning; there is so much information out there and you need to absorb as much of it as you can to keep yourself relevant and in the know. Also, network like crazy; you never know who you might meet.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Catrin 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.