Career development for Assistants: 5 common problems and how to solve them

Career development for Assistants: 5 common problems and how to solve them

Recently, the OpenMeet team had the pleasure of participating in the annual Practically Perfect PA Assist Conference 2017, where we ran a few workshops on career development for assistants: 5 common problems and how to solve them. This is the second of three blogs that we are producing based on all the great information and feedback we got from our workshop participants. Read the first one, on what to look for in an event supplier, and watch out for the third and final blog, on how to ensure organisations value PA work!

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Using networks to get stuff done

Using networks to get stuff done

Just last week I was reminded how brilliant PAs are at using networks to get stuff done. I’m lucky to be a member of a direct messaging group on Twitter made up of some very awesome and proactive assistants. I was on the website the other day and noticed that I had a load of new messages flashing away. When I took a quick peek I saw that one of the PAs had messaged the others to ask if they knew any courier services that could deliver to Germany over the weekend. It was a bit of a tricky and really urgent request. Within the space of an hour the assistant had the contact details for a courier service and had resolved the issue. I can only imagine how impressed her boss was! It showed me how powerful assistants can be when they tap into their networks. We don’t have the answers to everything (although often our organisations think that we do!) but with the help of other assistants we can basically rule the world! So how do we ensure our networks are there to help us get stuff done? Here are a few tips:

Top tips: Using Networks to get stuff done

Get to know your network

Assistants have access to many networks that can help with various aspects of the role. It is important to get to know the people within the networks. If you can all put a face to a name it really helps. If you can get out and about, attend networking events and get to know other assistants this really helps. If you are more of a social network kinda assistants ensure you like, share and comment on other assistant’s posts. Simply getting to know your contacts will make it easier for you to help each other out.

Give and take – networks need to get stuff from you 

This is really important. If someone in your network asks for help and you can help – do! If you have a great supplier that you can share with your network or any advice, training suggestions or something that you have implemented that works sharing this knowledge don’t hold back from sharing the information. Your network might not need that contact now, but it might come in handy another time. Giving back is the number one rule to networking!

Don’t beat around the bush – get stuff done quickly

We are a busy bunch and I think most assistants would prefer a straightforward conversation. If you need help, ask for it up front. This is one of the reasons we network in the first place! We get asked questions a billion times a day from colleagues so we are pretty used to sharing our knowledge and helping other people out. Don’t be shy! Your network will have the answers and if they don’t, they probably know someone who does!

Don’t rule people out – they have networks too! 

Assistants deal with all manner of issues so actually our knowledge is pretty widespread and our networks can be really big. So don’t rule people out because you don’t think they will be able to help – you never know and it is always worth asking the question. It is also well worth being a little creative with your networks. Try to network with people who might be able to help in certain areas. For example, I always found the post room staff to be incredibly helpful when I needed details for a new supplier – they see parcels, packages and couriers bringing new products in and out of the office all day long. They knew all kinds of stuff!

Assistants are naturally good networks, you might not think it, but we are! The nature of our role means we come in contact with lots of different people, companies and suppliers and we generally are pretty helpful types! So next time you need something remember using networks to get stuff done will help no end.

How to make a bad first impression better

How to make a bad first impression better

Last year I wrote a blog about how assistants should always try to make a really great first impression. You never know who you will end up working with, or for, so it is important that you take the time to make that first contact memorable for all the right reasons. Saying that, everyone has their off days and you can’t be ‘on’ 24/7. We’ve all made bad first impressions. But it is important, especially in business, to be able to make a bad first impression better! Here are a few tips:

Opinions are pretty fluid

People change their mind all the time. Try not to worry too much if you messed up the first time you met someone just try to be a little more like your amazing self the next time you meet them…. And a few more times after that. According to a Harvard study, it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person’s negative opinion of you. So if you really do need this person to think well of you be on tip top form every chance you get in their company. 

Fess up

If you did something really bad when you first met someone then honesty is probably the best policy. Take the person aside, hold your hands up and tell them that you weren’t having the best day and that actually you are pretty ace once they get to know you. Honesty goes a long way so don’t avoid the person for the rest of your professional life. Have a quick conversation, nip it in the bud, fess up.

Follow up with an email

The saying goers ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ and in this case you might find it easier to email your way into a better relationship. I can have bad days where I am socially awkward, I think most of us can, but I can be incredibly gregarious over email. Follow up any bad first impression with a lovely email expressing your joy in meeting that person and you might just save the day.

Accept that not everyone is going to like you

Losers! No, seriously, not everyone is going to realise how great you are. Sometimes you have to accept their opinion and move on. They may change their mind once they realise you know everything there is to know about the running of your office, but until then deal with them on a basic level.

The keywords to help you land your next PA role

If you are anything like me, the new year brings a lot of soul searching and a nostalgic look back at the 12 months past. I have spent many a January reading self help books, joining gyms, going on diets and making resolutions that are generally forgotten around the middle of the month. Don’t even get me started on the many ‘dry’ January’s I’ve started only to be scuppered by a large glass of Rioja. With a new year comes a new you and I know that a lot of readers will be looking to find a new job in 2017.

Looking through the varies jobs boards for assistants there are plenty of opportunities out there. But where to start? Well, as we all know the first step on the long and winding road to a new role is to dust off your CV and update it with all the stuff you’ve been up to over the last few years.

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Getting buy in from the boss

 

 “Succeeding in business is all about making connections.  Business is all about personal contact. No matter how heavy your workload is… Everyone can and should be a Networker.” Richard Branson

Generation Y makes about 50% of the current workforce.  Millennials belong to a Show and Tell Culture.  This is a culture which embraces tooting your own horn and showcasing your productivity.  I grew up in a different age where working hard and being humble were par for the course for the PA.  There was less sharing of information, silos in place and limited collaboration.

The modern PA must embrace the current culture in order to remain connected, current and relevant.  It is imperative to be proactive about self-promotion in order to showcase your skills, achievements and personal brand.  The role has changed and so must we.

Have the confidence to take the lead, be proactive and have a conversation with your boss.

My top tips before you request Buy-In are:

  1. Adopt your bosses preferred communication style i.e. The language of leadership. The main thing about getting buy in for anything is to speak the language of your boss and company and highlight the ROI (Return on Investment).  Highlight WIFM (what’s in it for me) and help them to see that you will gain skills and knowledge that will be essential for future growth.
  2. Illustrate the benefits of networking with peers and the exchange of best practice. Time out of the office can improve creative thinking and problem solving, it also provides an opportunity to meet new people that can help with resources and connections.    External networking will broaden the playing fields.
  3. Be mindful of your end goal – you need to tie in your request for L&D to your current position and how it will prepare you and your boss for the future. Will you share your learning with other Assistants thus increasing the ROI?  Will the request tie in with one of your appraisal goals?
  4. Be prepared to negotiate if necessary. If your executive is adamant that they can’t contribute 100% of the funding or timing, then outline that you are willing to pay for X if they pay for Y.   Likewise, if they give you a half day, you will take the other half as annual leave.  It is about give and take until you prove the benefits.  If you request to attend a Training Day and they say that time away from the office is the main issue, then you need to make the conference seem as undisruptive as possible.  You need to reinforce that your work is under control and manage expectations.

Managers ultimately want to hear about bottom lines and how you how you successfully planned and smoothly executed your teams’ success in achieving annual targets.  Like everything in business, it’s about negotiation for both funds and time.

Getting buy-in IS ACHIEVABLE and I managed to successfully get the following approved:

  • Business Cards
  • Internal & External Training
  • Magazine Subscriptions
  • Membership to Networking Clubs & Associations
  • Support for an Internal PA Network
  • Support for External PA Awards
  • Revised Job Description
  • Salary Increase

Business Cards:

I was the first PA within my last company of 30+ Assistants to request Business Cards.

I explained to my boss that I had attended a conference without any and had to write my name and details on scraps of paper which did not feel or look very professional.  My boss totally got it, but I had to further explain to HR for the final approval.  Once it was understood that I needed them in order to fully execute my role and be an effective brand ambassador it was signed off.  Moral of the story – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Internal & External Training:

The first external conference that I ever attended was Square Meal Venues and Events. On the day I reverted to ‘show and tell’ and picked up the annual catalogue of restaurants for both of my bosses which greatly impressed them.  Square Meal is a free conference, which I attended during lunch time, over time I was able to extend the hours as they could see the benefit.  This eventually enabled me to then request paid internal and external training.

Magazine Subscriptions:

In the past when I asked for subscriptions to magazines to be paid by the company I made a point of bringing in the magazine and showing the value that it gave to me.  The main benefit was that I became aware of venues, technology and training which could help us all in my daily role.

Membership to Networking Clubs & Associations:

I’m originally from Dublin so in order to get up to speed as a PA in London I started networking via The PA Club.  I figured if my colleagues were members of other associations for their profession that I had an equal right to pursue it.

I explained that I would be networking in my own personal time in the evenings and how I could add value to the role.   If I was ever impressed by a particular restaurant or hotel I would send them the link or bring them in the hard copy brochure to examine.  Over time I managed to add several hotels to our Globally Approved Travel Program, which enabled all global staff to benefit from discounted rates and also obtained supplier discounts for our intranet company benefits portal.  My connections also enabled me to secure last minute table bookings – the value of which was priceless.

Internal PA Network:

When I saw the need for a PA network within my company I submitted a full business proposal to both my boss and the Head of HR – I described the benefits and ultimately the ROI by introducing a culture of sharing best practice and tips.  I highlighted what was in it for everyone and the bottom line and it was approved by both.

Support for External PA Awards:

At the start of 2015 I set myself the personal challenge of entering several PA of the Year Awards.  I figured that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. At the very least it would be a fantastic way to network with peers and widen my circle.  It was also an optimum way of educating and showing my friends and colleagues that I took my role and profession seriously.  Perhaps some of your clients or competitors PAs attend training or enter PA awards? If so highlight this and what is going on in your industry.

Revised Job Description:

A lot of managers and indeed HR are not fully aware of our entire role so I took it upon myself to revise my job spec which was generic and very minimal.  The best way for me to do this was to do an internal time management course.  At the end of the course we had to keep a 2-day log of all the work we did.  It proved to be highly beneficial as our job can be hard to quantify at times as we are spinning many plates, but this gave me a concrete example of everything done over 2 days.  I forwarded it to my boss as a ‘show and tell’ of my job spec and also of the benefit of attending the internal training.  It then enabled me to broach the subject of editing my job spec.

Salary Increase:

Most companies will actually want an up to date and accurate job spec and this can be used as a valuable appraisal document for measuring progression/performance and edited accordingly.  Just because something has always been a certain way does not mean that it has to remain so.   We need to have a job spec based on our actual remit and duties versus an inherited job spec full of clichés.  Over the course of the year I collated a ‘show and tell’ file of all of the internal / external training I had attended and any work related achievement.  When it came to appraisal time I then had a working file to draw on.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”.  Nelson Mandela

People buy people, make sure that your boss and company are buying you.

What is your experience? Do you have any other top tips to impart?

The Assist Conference 2017

Do you need to convince your boss to pay for training and to attend the Assist Conference?  Don’t worry, we have done all the hard work for you and produced a business case document. Places are still available for the conference. To find out more information and to book your spot head on over to the Assist Conference website.

This blog has been written by Jennifer Corcoran, Virtual Assistant and Stylist. You can find more details about Jennifer on her website www.jennifercorcoran.me

Photo©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy® www.theheadshotguy.co.uk 07768 401009

Want to work for a startup? What you need to know

With the end of the year hurtling towards us, many of you will be thinking about next year and potentially looking for a new job. Many of you will want to try something different and that may well be in the form of a new and exciting organisation – or startup, as trendy people like to call new businesses these days! There are many pros and cons when it comes to working for any new organisation, particularly when you are part of the initial setup. Working for a startup can be a real challenge, but for assistants it can also bring lots of rewards. Do you want to work for a start up? This is what you need to know!

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