Last week I was asked to speak to a group of assistants in Sweden about personal branding. I was interviewed by the lovely Elena Aylott from EMEA East about my blog and social media in general. I thought I would share the Q&A session with you:
Tell us shortly about your professional background?
I did Media Studies at university and when I finished I tried to look for a job in media but didn’t quite succeed so I ended up working as an administrator for Deloitte in London from there I have worked my way through a number of positions and now I am an executive assistant for the COO of Torus Insurance, which is an Insurance company in London. I’ve only been in this role for a month so I’m learning lots at the moment and also getting involved in marketing so it is exciting.
Why did you decide to write a blog?
Well I’ve always loved writing. From an early age I wrote lots of stories because I wasn’t very good at drawing or painting. At university I wrote film reviews and when I started working I carried on writing for various websites and film review sites. I had a few jobs where I would write content for marketing material and I think doing this meant I could use some of my creative skills at work. In November 2010 I got a new job but unfortunately the role wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was very basic PA work without much scope for doing anything else such as events or marketing or anything that would let me be a bit creative. I really missed using my creative side so I thought I would start writing film reviews again but then I realised as much as enjoyed doing that it wouldn’t help me with my career so I started writing a blog on being a PA instead and it has really flourished from there.
What inspires you to write?
In one way or another I’ve been an assistant for 10 years and I do feel that I have a lot to write about! I’ve also worked in a variety of industries and have met lots of interesting people and been asked to do lots of interesting tasks! I take inspiration from that really – I’ve not been in the profession so long that I can do the job standing on my head and I’m not so new to it that I’m still learning or doing the basic administrative side of the role. I think a lot of assistants are in the same position and appreciate the blog because I approach it with that honesty. The other inspiration is that at the time I started writing the blog I didn’t think there were that many helpful articles for assistants that were actually written by assistants still working in the profession. I’ve now discovered there are some great sources out there for us. But I do wonder how many of us actually take the time to develop our skills because we don’t think we are worth the cost to the employer. That inspires me to write this free blog!
You are active in social media; does it help you in your professional life?
Yes yes yes! I would encourage all assistants to actively use social media. As I said earlier personal assistants tend to fall into the job and then don’t see the benefit of training or improving their skills. Social media I think really helps assistants to realise that there is a worthwhile debate going on and we should be discussing with each other how best to do our job. It isn’t easy and knowing that other people are experiencing the same thing is comforting! Ideally everyone should have a LinkedIn account as a first step; it is great for keeping in contact with past colleagues and potentially new opportunities. I also think the groups are fantastic and really helpful.
What does it give you personally?
I love Twitter, I’m a bit obsessed with it to be honest! I think it is brilliant as it creates a real community feel. I found with the Olympics in London this year looking at Twitter when the opening ceremony was on or whenever the UK won a medal just added to the experience. I do have two separate accounts one for Practically Perfect PA and one for myself. I think it is good to keep personal and business social media very separate.
Executive Assistant is a job that involves confidentiality. Can blogging and being active in social media harm your career?
I think that is a very good question. I’ve actually written a few blogs on how to work with confidential documents and not being the office gossip. For me I think blogging and social media can only enhance your career. I think of it along the same lines as networking and attending conferences. I do think it is part of the same thing – you know getting yourself out there and meeting like-minded people. There seems to be a worry attached to social media that isn’t there with networking, possibly because it isn’t face to face and the temptation to tell all is higher.
When I started the blog I told my manager I was going to do it and he was supportive. I’ve always made sure I don’t use anyone’s names and don’t write about colleagues in a negative way. The blog is there to support other assistants so I don’t shy away from discussing problems that we may have at work but I don’t discuss anything that may reflect badly or breach confidentiality in any way. I also made sure that it is quite obviously me that is writing the blog rather than being anonymous so that adds to the honesty of the blog.
I think it works the other way as well which is worth thinking about. When I was looking for a new job recently someone that was interviewing me read the blog and picked up on something I had written on dealing with difficult people. I had said I find it hard to work for people who are self-important and the interview asked me specifically how I dealt with that situation and what I could have done differently. It was a bit unnerving but it did make me realise that what I put on my blog can really be read by anyone and I do need to stick to my original decision not to write negatively about my work.
How do you choose your subjects for blogging?
Before I started the blog I did subscribe to a few assistant magazines but really didn’t find the majority of the articles helpful. They would either be relating to office work in general or very focussed on event management and venues so from the outset I knew I wanted to write about the day to day issues and subjects we face and also provide support on actual tasks that we do for example email and diary management or putting together travel itineraries.
The one important thing about blogging is that you do have to be very disciplined so for me this meant having a schedule in place. I have the subject of my blog and the date of publication for the rest of this year. I will deviate from the schedule if anything comes up that is topical or newsworthy but generally I do stick to my schedule. The schedule did take a few weeks to put together but I did have a good idea beforehand about what I wanted to write about. Now whenever anything happens in the office that I think will make a good blog I will write it down on my 2013 schedule.
Some subjects I find easier to write than others but I think this reflects on the job itself – some tasks I like more than others!
If somebody wants to start blogging but is a bit hesitant what advice can you give them?
Firstly I would say that the more you write the better you get, it is like any other skill and really does take practice. I would say my writing has really improved from when I first started so I wouldn’t be worried if it takes you a while to finish your first blog. With practice you will find your writing style and this comes with time.
Think about ways you can practice writing at work. For me I helped edit other’s blogs which gave me lots of exposure to blogging. I also wrote reports on training courses tat had taken place and any content I could add to a newsletter I would. All of this is good practice and will give you confidence in your writing abilities.
You should read lots of other blogs on topics you find enjoyable. I soon realised that if they could do it so could I and it just takes dedication to get a blog up and running and making sure you are adding content as often as possible.
Another route into blogging is by starting with something like twitter. If you can put your thoughts down in a coherent 140 word sentence a few times a day it is like a small blog really.
Lastly another option is to write a guest blog. My friend who is also a PA wanted to write something so I asked her to do a guest blog for me on what she experienced in the first few weeks of her new job. It took her a while to complete it but the finished article was brilliant and got lots of good feedback which really boosted her confidence.