I was in my early 20’s when I landed my first full time one on one PA role, prior to that I had been working as an account manager. Although the two jobs had very similar elements I must say transitioning from an account manager into a PA role was a difficult process. Ten years later I wish I could sit my younger self down and offer her some much needed advice! Obviously I would tell her to avoid the ridiculously drastic haircut that took place in 2009 and maybe make some better financial choices (you will always have to pay back your credit cards)… but I would also spend some time giving her a few tips about the PA role and what to expect… Here is the advice I would give myself when I first became an assistant.

1. Mind reading takes practice

It really does! From the moment you started working as a PA you were expected to know where everything was, how your boss liked to work and how to organise her diary. That was on top of working in an industry you had never even heard of before let alone had any experience in! Instead of asking questions and having regular meetings with your manager you just bumbled along in the hope that you would pick it up eventually. Luckily you are a very quick learner but it would have been much easier if you had just asked a few more questions. Mind reading really does come with time and experience. Once you have that skill down you will fly as an assistant. Until then ask lots of questions, be inquisitive and get as much information as you can.

2. The skills you developed as an administrator are the foundation you need to be a successful assistant

The not so great stuff you were given in your first few jobs during and after university are going to give you the much needed skills in your PA role. All of the hours spent juggling multiple priorities and multiple personalities (often found in the one person) are going to hold you in good stead when it comes to being an assistant.

3. Take your training seriously

Go on every training course offered to you and take your career development seriously. Eventually you will come to realise the more you know and learn the more opportunities are going to come your way.

4. If you make a mistake you are not going to get fired

You don’t often make mistakes but when you do there is little point fretting so much. Hold your hands up, admit you’ve made a mistake, fix it and move on. Sleepless nights and panicking are not going to take back the fact that you sent your boss to the wrong hotel… and trust me they aren’t going to fire you. They might even laugh about it!

5. Stand up for yourself

You know that you are being treated unfairly and are justifiably angry. Well sometimes you shouldn’t let things pass because you don’t want to cause a fuss. Sometimes you should stand up for yourself. Just because you are an assistant doesn’t mean that people can take advantage! It is hard but totally worthwhile and you will gain respect for it.

6. Think long and hard about your next career move

So what is it that you like about your job? Ah, you like the creative stuff  – marketing, events and writing? So why would you take a role which does not detail those tasks in the job spec… Oh it’s more money and you are going to be EA to a more senior director you say? Right, that makes sense but maybe take a little longer mulling over that job spec, it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.

7. You have every right to voice your opinion

The same as the right you have to stand up for yourself you also have the right to voice your own opinion. Sometimes you don’t have an opinion, that is fine, shut up and learn something! But, when you can contribute to a meeting or a group discussion you should! You might say something that no one else has thought of and then who knows what might happen!

8. Be prepared

When you don’t come prepared to meetings or group projects you are going to be asked questions you don’t know the answer too. When you forget to do something you’ll be asked about it. So do the work you need to do prior to any meetings. It really does make life a lot easier! Oh and write everything down, your brain is like a sieve at times!

9. Don’t miss out on the fun

You know sometimes you should go for that after work drink, you should get to know your colleagues – they are nice people. Don’t keep yourself to yourself all the time because you think the role requires that approach. It doesn’t! You can keep your boss’s confidence but still go out and have fun with your colleagues. Sometimes your head will hurt the next day. Take some aspirin.

10. You are never going to enjoy the ‘boring’ stuff

Photocopying, scanning, writing correspondence on behalf of your boss and all of the other ‘boring’ jobs are part of the role. They are not going away so focus on the good stuff – get really really good at the things you love. In the end you’ll be asked to do the fun stuff much more often. Shout from the roof tops about the stuff you are good at. Then shout a bit louder or at least until they pay attention.

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2 comments

  • Stacy Price March 13, 2014   Reply →

    Great tips for someone starting out in the PA world Nicky – my 18 year old self would have loved that advice. I agree anyone wanting to move up the career ladder should really take their time and work out what it is they love doing and are best at – I, like you, took some roles for the higher paid salary and because ‘it looked good on my cv’ but looking back they were not right for me!

  • Owen Billcliffe April 22, 2014   Reply →

    Excellent tips there – and in fact a lot are applicable to all kinds of assistants. I’m an event photographer and a TV camera operator and these qualities in a camera assistant all make for a highly employable person! (found this page while Googling for tips for assistants)

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