Being a personal or executive assistant is a career in itself, with the right drive and ambition you can carve out a highly rewarding working life as an invaluable support resource. But what if you don’t find it enough for you? How do you make the jump from your current role into perhaps a completely different industry?
Personal and Executive Assistants have a unique advantage over many other office roles. If you are competent, keen and have a good relationship with your boss or bosses you can gain exposure to myriad aspects of business and gain insight into projects some seemly senior colleagues may never gain access to.
We also possess a unique set of skills, many of which are transferable into lots of different disciplines.
Just think about it; during the course of a week you will wear many hats – you’ll use your negotiation skills to book that “impossible to get” table at a new restaurant or get time in a notoriously impossible diary, you’ll use your presentation skills to hone a keynote slide deck into a slick show for the quarterly shareholder briefing, you’ll consult HR on a team member issue, you’ll brain storm ideas for a team building session next month, you’ll collate the months sales P&L accounts for the division and you’ll do all of this whilst managing constant “need it now” requests, diary management and your normal daily demands, not forgetting to maintain a professional gate keeping and friendly welcome to your managers office.. Oh yes PAs are no doubt equipped with a much broader skill set than most people (and maybe you) would give you credit for.
For me, my career took a natural path from purely EA work to Events and Project Management a career and industry which I love. My various support roles had always had an element of events management to them, all be it on a smaller scale, but for me it stood out as something I loved. For me the unusual combination of strong practical procedural, project management and operational skills required alongside the creative side was an irresistible combination.
My first true events project was for an internal communications conference and summer party for 200 people. Another division in the business held the parties annually as a staff thank you so I asked our commercial director if we could do something similar. To my surprise, she agreed. I was delighted until she gave me a date for the event in just three and a half weeks’ time!! It was fly by the seat of your pants stuff, but I did it. I single handedly delivered a half day conference, complete with presentations and strategic business plans followed by an evening dinner dance at London Zoo with entertainment, private zoo tours, entertainment and getting everyone home safely at the end of the evening.
I got such a buzz seeing my hard work come to life and the benefit and enjoyment of the attendees.
I realised this was the job for me, I put my hat in the ring for more and more events projects at my company and as my abilities and knowledge grew so did my reputation within the business and I became the go to person for special events and projects within the UK division.
Now I’m not going to lie juggling extra projects whilst still working as PA for a director was a challenge, I put in extra hours and sometimes went into the office on weekends, but looking back it was well worth the late nights and missed lunch breaks and eventually an events role within the division was created for me. Alongside this hands on experience I also went back to college at weekends to obtain an events qualification so I could feel confident in the legal and compliance sides of the industry.
In my time in my first event manager’s role I went from doing small internal parties to leading UK wide celebration events and external briefings with industry partners to audiences in excess of 1,200.
Ten years later and I have taken another gamble and started to work for myself as a consultant. I now work with brands, organisations and individuals to help create event strategies, design event concepts and event delivery. I absolutely know that I wouldn’t be as good at what I do now if it wasn’t for my roots as a PA.
If you want to make the leap and change your career, here are my top five tips:
- Have a think about the elements of your job you enjoy most – what are they and is there a bandwidth for career progression? Eg. HR, Project Management, Accounts, Training or Events.
- Be a sponge. Use the access you have to your business as an opportunity to learn and ask questions, lots of questions, join LinkedIn groups about your chosen field, read and if you are able to take on additional training.
- Get a mentor. It doesn’t have to be in the field you want to join, although obviously that helps, but a mentor who is successful in their own right can offer you a totally new perspective and be invaluable when you’re ready to make the leap.
- Be proactive. Throw your hat in the ring for projects that interest you and/or will get you exposure to the right people
- Be brave! Above all, be brave believe in your abilities and if you really want something go for it!
Guest writer: Zoe Blackmore, Event Specialist.
You can connect with Zoe on LinkedIn