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!

We wanted to explore what career development in the PA role looks like.

So we asked our attendees what they thought about their career paths, skills development, performance reviews, and any other developmental aspects of their jobs. They then discussed solutions to the 5 most common problems that were raised.

Here’s what they said:

PAs do not have a clear career path

Solution: Create a broad career plan for yourself. This is worth doing regardless of your role or industry, but particularly valuable in a role as variable as that of a PA.

  • Frequently assess where you are in your role compared to your career plan. Don’t be afraid to make changes, as long as you feel you are still moving forward.
  • Consult other PAs, your manager(s), and your organisation’s HR for advice in progressing your career development.
  • Look out for and take advantage of networking events and skills development wherever possible.
  • Consider going into related fields that will use many of the skills you already have, such as Project Management, or a role within your organisation that you have learned about through your PA work.
  • The PA learning curve can be very steep, and the role can be demanding. Recognise your efforts and abilities, and blow your own trumpet!

There is no specific PA skills development

Solution: Always plan your next few steps. Seek career development wherever you can.

  • Research the roles that could possibly become available to you, and how they could fit into a career plan. Think about what skills you would need to fill any gaps you may have.
  • Explore whether your organisation has a mentoring programme or a buddy system of some kind, that could give you exposure to different roles while you are a PA. Would it be possible for you to spend time with all areas of the business, in order to better understand the opportunities within different departments?
  • Ask your manager for any training suggestions they may have, and request training opportunities. Try saying that you want to develop your skills and presenting your manager with clear options to choose from, rather than leaving them with a vague idea of what you want.

PAs are often isolated in their roles, so the responsibility is on the individual to be continually motivated

Solution: If there isn’t a PA network in your organisation, create one!

  • You can also join external networks for more advice and to increase your connections within the industry. Participate in forums and events.
  • If possible, it’s worth trying to train managers to use assistants more effectively and efficiently – this allows everyone to work more productively.
  • Make sure that managers are aware of what PAs can do and are responsible for, in order to increase the chances of recognition for your efforts. Above all, make sure you point out your contributions!

PAs do not take advantage of Annual reviews

Solution: PAs should make full use of annual reviews, as well as more informal ones. They’re an opportunity to redefine your role to be what you want it to be.

  • Encourage more regular check-ins; this can help prevent annual reviews being as intimidating, as well as creating more opportunities to discuss career development.
  • Speak to someone at your organisation, such as HR, about providing more free content for training and career development purposes.
  • See also if internal and external PA networks have evening seminars and other networking opportunities available.

Organisations may not be aware of the benefits of developing assistants

Solution: PAs can sell the benefits of developing assistants to their organisations!

  • Think about how much money a company could save by training current employees, rather than hiring new people for tasks. For instance, PAs could sign up for courses that would allow them to give internal training on software such as PowerPoint.
  • It’s also important to explore what HR has to offer, as it’s possible that there may be career development opportunities already available.
  • Don’t forget that many PAs have a wide skill set even before extra training – it’s worth exploring where else this could be used.

Of course, it is important to remember that every situation will be different, and some of these points may be more or less relevant to different PA roles. The key thing we think you should take away from this discussion is the importance of PAs to communicate with their organisations, put themselves out there, and make their voices heard.

For more information on OpenMeet technology, please contact us here, or visit our blog to read more tips and advice about how to improve audience engagement at your meetings and events. Career development for Assistants: 5 common problems and how to solve them.

A review of the Assist Conference 2017

Last Friday we held our third Assist Conference at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in London. I can’t quite believe I’m saying our third conference as we have been on quite the journey since our first conference. Back in 2015 we had just over 50 assistants attend and this year we sold out (for the second year in a row) with 125 attendees! Looking out at all of the different faces, some familiar and others completely new, I felt pretty chuffed that so many wanted to spend the day with us.

A review of the Assist Conference 2017

The theme of this year’s conference was The Assistant Toolkit. During the sessions we looked at how we could enhance the unique skills and qualities each assistant needs to further their role and career. The role of the assistant continues to change at a rapid pace and I wanted to make sure that each attendee identified the skills that they already have and others that they can develop to cope with this very demanding role!

A review of the Assist Conference 2017

As with all of the Assist Events we wanted to make things a little different. We had our unusual badges and gifts and a group of speakers that knew the audience inside and out with many of them working as Assistants currently or at some point in their career.

The speakers presented on different topics, but we made sure they touched on our key themes:

  1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses: Your tool kit is packed full of unique skills and competencies. During Assist we will help you identify your strengths and areas for improvement.
  2. Adding value within your organisation: How does your tool kit support your Executive and your organisation? We will show you the areas that you can add value.
  3. What is in the tool kit of the future: We will look at the fundamental skills assistants will require in the next five years.
  4. Sharing best practice for assistants: Through best practice assistants can learn, grow and add new skills to their tool kits. We will share best practice throughout the day.

A review of the Assist Conference 2017

The keynote speakers – Heather, Mark, Rebecca and Jenny went down an absolute storm with brilliant sessions on NLP, LinkedIn, entrepreneurship and building confidence. We also had the wonderful Simone White speaking about her incredible journey setting up the internal network at BlackRock. She really is an inspiration and I know many of the attendees found her session invaluable.
During our refreshment breaks, we held a number of networking roundtables, which were a great place for the attendees to have a more informal chat with each other while enjoying a break from the conference.
A review of the Assist Conference 2017
The afternoon was dedicated to our workshops which were designed to give attendees some new skills and brush up on some existing ones. We had workshops dedicated to event management, presentation design and document management. We also had sessions following up on our PA Big Questions workshops from last summer… More on that to follow next month!
Along with our workshops we held a number of panel sessions focusing on discretion, working environments and career development. I was really looking forward to picking the brains of our group of assistants and the different topics got everyone talking.
A review of the Assist Conference 2017
As the day drew to a close I noticed that everyone was happily chatting away with each other. Everyone had moved around the room and were comfortable asking our speakers and panellists questions. The atmosphere was relaxed and I felt that everyone was having fun while learning some very practical tips that they could take back to their offices.
A review of the Assist Conference 2017

I absolutely loved chairing the conference again this year (and the first year not doing it pregnant certainly helped!) It is such a huge privilege to have so many wonderful assistants take the time to come along to our events. I personally will never take that for granted and I hope those that came along enjoyed the day and felt it was worth their time (which is so very precious).

So far the feedback has been positive and I already have ideas and plans in place for Assist 2018. We already have the dates in the diary – 8th and 9th February 2018. That’s right, we are going to extend next year’s conference over two days. We will have loads more information later this year. As the saying goes… watch this space!

A review of the Assist Conference 2017

Thanks again to the wonderful speakers and panellists. You all did a fab job. I have to give a massive thank you to William from Gallus Events for keeping the wheels rolling throughout the day. And, last but not least to the attendees for coming along, getting involved and making the day so very special.

Sharing some feedback

Sharing some feedback

Over the years I’ve had some wonderful feedback from readers that I tuck away and come back to when I need a little confidence boost but I never share the messages with other readers. Well, today is a new day, folks. This week I received a wonderful email from an assistant and reader of Practically Perfect PA who attended the Assist Conference last year. The email brought me to tears (which, I must admit is not difficult these days – a five month old baby and raging hormones will do that to you!) and I really wanted to share the powerful message with all of the readers.

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Win a free place at the Assist Conference 2017

We have a very special giveaway for Practically Perfect PA readers this month.

We are offering one lucky reader the chance to attend the Assist Conference for free. Yes, that is right – a whole day of fantastic training specifically for assistants – completely for free! The conference is taking place on Friday 24th February in London. More information on the programme and the speakers can be found on the Assist Conference website.

To enter the competition please complete the contact form below. Remember to add your contact details so that we can get in touch with the winners. We will announce the winners on the 9th February.

Assist Conference 2017

During the conference, we will be discussing all of the important tools that assistants need to succeed in the role – now and in the next 5 years. Taking place on the 24th February in London for only £300+VAT. If you would like to book your place on the conference, check out the programme or the speakers, please do make your way over to the website.

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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

How can assistants add value in the workplace?

Firstly, happy New Year! Last year was a mixed bag wasn’t it?! I hope you all had a lovely break and are looking forward to the year ahead. As usual, we have a packed schedule for 2017, starting with the Assist Conference in February.

Today I am writing about one of the key themes for this year’s conference – using your tool kits to add value within your organisation. I used to struggle with this during my career as an assistant. Sure, I worked on projects that contributed to the success of the organisation but I had many skills that were not used because nobody knew I had them and I didn’t proactively promote them. It took a while, and a thoroughly excellent boss, for me to gain the confidence to promote my skills, to go into meetings and say ‘actually, I can do that’. The first time I was given a project outside of my usual role was nerve racking, but I did a good job (I saved my organisation a lot of money) and from there I had more confidence in my toolkit, my colleagues did and my Executive did. Which meant I got a lot more interesting work and was able to add value in different areas. The moral of the story is that assistants have a huge amount of skills and can add value in a number of areas within the workplace, we just need to have the confidence to promote ourselves.

During the conference, we will have a session on confidence in the workplace, but let’s look at areas assistants can add value. This article from Eat Your Career, suggests 6 ways to add value and I think it is a great place to start for assistants. The 6 areas are:

1.    Save money
2.    Make money
3.    Improve efficiency of a process or procedure
4.    Improve quality of a product or service
5.    Fix an existing problem
6.    Prevent a future problem

Saving money and making money.

Assistant’s work with suppliers on a regular basis and can easily research and suggest new suppliers which might save the organisation money. Every year it is well worth reviewing all of the suppliers that you use and renegotiating your contracts. You will inevitably save your organisation a little money and potentially you could save them a lot.

Making money for your organisation is a little trickier. Well.. Actually, maybe not. You save your Executive a lot of time. Time that they spend building relationships with existing clients and making new clients. So effectively, you do make your organisation money. A LOT OF MONEY. Not many of your colleagues can say that!

If, however, you would like to make money for your organisation in a more traditional way think about networking. There are lots of opportunities for assistants to network either through industry events or through specific assistant events. While attending these events it is always worthwhile thinking about how your organisation can benefit other’s. What can you sell at these events. This is how your Executive thinks while attending networking events and you should act the same.

Improving efficiency of a process or procedure.

Again, this is an area that Assistants can ace. We are heavily involved in the day to day process and procedures within our organisations. If there is an area that you think can be improved then it is well worth speaking to your Executive about making some changes. Sometimes, it is worthwhile just making the change – if you can – and tell your Executive after. That my friend, is proactivity!

Improving the quality of a product or service.

To improve the quality of a product or service firstly you need, you have a good understanding of what your organisation does. Business acumen is so very vital for assistants, but many of us probably do not know all of the ins and outs of our organisation. What are the top products, who are the clients, what services does your business offer them? Once you have a greater understanding of what your business does you will have the knowledge to participate in conversations about the business and make suggestions. You have regular contact with your Executive and you have access to reports and documents so you are in a good position to add value in this area.

Fixing an existing problem, preventing a future one.

Assistants are natural problem solvers, most of us will have this skill in our toolkit. We are really well placed in the organisation to see problems and prevent future ones from occurring. Just think, how often we are called upon to sort out the problem with the photocopier? Our colleagues come to us with all manner of issues, so why not take the time to solve these issues so that they don’t happen again. This really can add value to the organisation and aid productivity.

Assistants add value everyday.

Often without really knowing it. We are hugely valuable to our organisations. We have so many skills that can be put to good use. During the Assistant Conference, we will explore these skills in greater detail and help you unlock your potential. Places for the conference are still available so do check out the website for more information… Here are a few more details below.

Assist Conference 2017

During the conference, we will be discussing all of the important tools that assistants need to succeed in the role – now and in the next 5 years. Taking place on the 24th February in London for only £300+VAT. If you would like to book your place on the conference, check out the programme or the speakers, please do make your way over to the website.

How can assistants add value in the workplace?

All work and some play: the rise of the ‘Bleisure’ travellers

When you’re one half of a couple, frequent business travel can take its toll on your relationship.

Often you find yourself miles away from family on special occasions, missing birthdays, parties and anniversaries. There’s also something particularly poignant about sitting down to a table set for one in an unfamiliar restaurant amid the sound of strange accents and clinking glasses.

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