A day in my shoes

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A day in my shoes:

EA to 4 Directors at a global advertising agency.

It’s a common misconception that the responsibilities of an EA don’t extend far beyond diary management and typing up memos.

Those days are long gone. These days if you ask any successful CEO or leader how they get things done while battling dozens of daily commitments, thousands of emails, and constant requests for their time and most will tell you they couldn’t do it without their PA or Executive Assistant (EA).

These days the work of an EA or PA is varied: a recent survey of more than 1,700 PAs and secretaries found that 16% said their boss regularly takes their recommendation on important business decisions, while 17% said they often deputise for their boss in meetings.

It isn’t uncommon for PAs and EAs to be given responsibility for sizeable budgets and significant company occasions, such as client events, major office moves, or getting big projects off the ground.

Are you interested in getting into a career as a PA or an EA but are not sure what the role actually entails? In the latest of our regularly series of posts — A day in my shoes — we interviewed one of our top EAs in the media industry to give you some insight.

Talk me through your average day

Currently, I am looking after four Directors who cover the UK and Europe. As is, I imagine, the same for most EAs, what I love about this job is that there are no two days ever the same! The mixture of personalities means that the role is always different and that I have had to learn to adapt my style and manage expectations daily.

At the moment, I am very busy working on several projects and organising events. I thrive in such a fast-paced environment and the days always fly by. Aside from this, I act as the gatekeeper for the Directors. This involves knowing their clients and being able to prioritise accordingly. I manage their manic diaries and organise their frequent travel. The challenge in managing multiple people effectively is the division of your time. Communication and the ability to push back is paramount.

How do you work under pressure? 

This is a great question! When it comes up in an interview I always try to inject a bit of humour at this point and show that I don’t take myself too seriously.

Most of my jobs have been highly pressurised and actually I’ve found that I work well working to tight deadlines because I set out a schedule and at least I know what has to be done each day! I tend to find that a chocolate bar and a nice glass of red wine helps to unwind at the end of a stressful day.

What have you learnt in this role?

EAs and PAs can work across multiple industries and the skills are often transferable. The main skills required are strong organisational skills and the ability to pre-empt your boss’s needs. Communication skills are also a must as you are often dealing with people at all levels. My role tends to be very busy and therefore the ability to prioritise is crucial in getting things done. The ability to forge genuine relationships is also very useful. Good working relationships may allow you to progress more quickly and will help you to establish a better internal network, which in turn means that you can do your job more effectively. Get to know your stakeholders!

The role of an EA is all about the synergy you have with the person you are supporting. Being equipped to deal with change is also a must as things move quickly and often on short notice. However, my number 1 tip is to ensure that you become invaluable. To do this, you need to pre-empt your Directors needs and use your initiative to make their working life more efficient.

What are your favourite elements of your job?

I really enjoy events. The lead up can often be stressful as there is a lot of things to do but there is a real satisfaction in seeing something that you have organised and put together yourself come to fruition that you have organised.

What elements of the role do you find most challenging?

That’s a tough question! Sometimes just the sheer volume of work can be daunting. But I find that working through methodically and calmly, and prioritising the most important tasks first gets it done (or an 8 pm finish!).

What motivates you at work?

I like to have a variety of tasks that allow me to use my varied skill set.  For example, I like to be creative but also I am quite detailed driven so can happily work away on a PowerPoint presentation or an excel report. I take pride in knowing that I am contributing to a team and that my work makes a difference, which is the main reason I love being a PA – I know I am supporting the people who make companywide decisions. It’s really important that I have fun at work and I’m lucky enough to be part of a company that is inclusive and has a fantastic social offering which really helped when getting to know internal stakeholders (and making friends!)

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Hard work will get you noticed but don’t expect constant praise. The devil is in the detail – ensure that you give 100 percent to everything you do.

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