Chapter One

Advice for a first time Assistant

We have been training Assistants for a long time. Here you will find our top tips for new Assistants learning to thrive in the role.

Starting a new Assistant role can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. We have to form productive working relationships pretty quickly, build rapport, learn new systems and hit the ground running within a few weeks (if we are lucky!).

Many organisations that I worked in assumed I knew what I was doing from day one, which wasn’t the case.

But I was used to colleagues thinking that I was the fountain of all information so it came as no surprise that a new group of people would feel the same.

There are a lot of steps you can take when starting a new Assistant role. This guide is going to walk you through the process. We are going to start with advice that will help prepare yourself for the role. So that you thrive, not just survive!

Let’s have a look at what we are going to cover in chapter one:

Advice for a first time Assistant

Advice for a first time Assistant

I was in my early 20’s when I landed my first full time one on one PA role, before 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 complicated process.

Ten years later, I wish I could sit my younger self down and offer her some much-needed advice! 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.)

I would also spend some time giving her a few tips about the Assistant role and what to expect. Here is the advice I would give myself when I first became an Assistant.

Mind reading takes practice

It does!

From the moment you started working as an Assistant, 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 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.

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 is going to provide you with the much-needed skills in your 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.

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.

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!

Stand up for yourself

You know that you are being mistreated 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 worthwhile, and you will gain respect for it.

Think long and hard about your next career move

So what is it that you like about your job? Ah, you want 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.

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 express your own opinion. Sometimes you don’t have an idea, 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!

Be prepared

When you don’t come ready 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 before any meetings. It does make life a lot easier! Oh and write everything down.

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 friendly 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.

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 good at the things you love. In the end, you’ll be asked to do the fun stuff much more often. Shout from the rooftops about the things you are good at. Then shout a bit louder or at least until they pay attention.

5 things to do when starting a new Assistant role

Advice for a first time Assistant

One

Ask what Office Technology your Company uses before beginning the position and keep up to date and develop your knowledge of the latest office gadgets and technology.

The Internet is a great learning tool. Once you start in the role if you are using a new system for the first time, make sure you attend some training or have some time to research best practice online. If this system is fundamental to your role, you have to ask for the time to become a total whizz.

Two

Ask for help and keep asking. If your immediate colleagues don’t know the answer, seek out established Assistants in other areas of the company to ask for help. Keep a record of everything that you have requested. It might help other Assistants when they join the organisation.

Also, make sure that you look on the intranet for information, any reports or documents the organisation might have that are for new joiners and of course HR for anything relating to your career development.

Three

Meet your counterparts by scheduling a lunch, coffee, or after work get together. This will help in building a strong network you can use on an ongoing basis.

If it doesn’t happen automatically, make sure that someone in your team shows you around the office and introduces you to people.

If this doesn’t happen (and quite often it doesn’t), you will have to do this yourself.

Take a walk around the office and say ‘Hi, I’m the new Assistant working with … I wanted to introduce myself so that you know who is supporting … now’. Not easy, but it sets you off on the right foot as a proactive Assistants.

Four

Be pro-active about talking to your Manager. Have some clear goals in mind of what you’d like to achieve in your role.

Be assertive about what you need and what you can offer.

They are getting to know you and what you can do. Be diplomatic, you don’t want to tread on any toes, but you certainly can let your colleagues know that you are the expert in this area and you have mad skills!

Five

Don’t doubt your knowledge! Even if you are an experienced PA, sometimes a new role can be daunting. Give yourself time to understand the new processes – and remember no one can know everything by the end of the first day!

So, these five things to do when starting a new Assistant role will help you make a real splash in your new organisation.

Remember that you were hired because of the skills that you have, your fantastic personality and the qualities you bring to this new role.

They are lucky to have to you!

Starting a new Assistant role and what you need to know

Advice for a first time Assistant

My very good friend and fabulous Executive Assistant Stacy Price shares her thoughts on starting a new Assistant role and what you need to know.

We’ve all started a job and had the ‘I wish I had known sooner’ moment. I have had five jobs over the past 12 years and pride myself as being an experienced new joiner. But when I started a new role four months ago, my experience counted for nothing!

It seemed that being the ‘go to’ person meant I should be up to speed on company policies and procedures, office etiquette and in-house systems as soon as I started.

Within my first week, I was being asked and expected to assist the team with various admin tasks using systems that I had never used or had training on.

Although my colleagues had been there longer than me – years! – I was made to feel that I needed to know, even though they didn’t!

I had to adapt and do it quickly to keep up with the fast pace and never-ending questions. Have you ever been in a situation where you are worried to ask for help?

I decided that enough was enough, and I could not bury my head in the sand. I was new, and I had questions which needed to be answered.

Even though my team members didn’t know the processes, I searched out other PAs in the overall department and invited them to a ‘get to know each other’ lunch.

At last, the ice was broken, and I no longer felt I needed to search for the answers myself. I had peers that I could turn to.

I also felt far less competent due to the systems that the company used.

It had not occurred to me that a large organisation would be using anything other than Microsoft Outlook!

But as diary management can count for a large part of your role – and it was 80% of mine – you have to take matters into your own hands.

To get up to speed with this new system, I spent my evenings on Lotus Notes Help and the Internet researching the Do’s and Don’ts. While researching on the Internet, I found an ‘I Hate Lotus Notes’ Support Group, which I found amusing.

I was not alone!

So much of what we do is automatic, like riding a bike, so using my PA skillset helped me in those initial months. Being proactive and organised made it easier to cope in situations that could have developed into confusion and panic.

It was not the tasks at hand that were of concern, as I could do these with my eyes closed, but it was learning and understanding new systems and processes which were time-consuming when I had strict deadlines to adhere to. An Assistant should have excellent judgement and initiative when required; seeking out help from established Assistants in the company is an excellent example of this.

Assistants are increasingly assuming responsibilities that were once reserved for managerial staff. So the pressure to maintain these expectations while trying to learn and make an impression in a new environment is tough. I started to feel far less competent or have far fewer skills than I had thought.

I had moved from a role where I felt first-class and appreciated, and now I felt ordinary.

For me, this new role has been an excellent learning experience. After four months, I am now so knowledgeable about the organisation’s processes; I have created a new joiner guidance pack to share my knowledge.

This pack is now provided as training and orientation for all new staff into our team to ensure a seamless transition into their new role. I also created a questionnaire that I provide to all new joiners. As a result, there are fewer questions on how to complete a process and people are generally feeling more informed about the workings of the team.

So whether you are an Administrator, Executive Assistant or Personal Assistant here are some of my top tips straight from the ‘I wish I had known sooner’ mouth.

I hope this helps you when starting a new role!

Ask what Office Technology your Company uses before starting the role and keep up to date and develop your knowledge of the latest office gadgets and technology. The Internet is a great learning tool.

Ask for help and keep asking If your immediate colleagues don’t know the answer, seek out established PAs in other areas of the company.

Meet your counterparts by scheduling a lunch or after work get together. This will help in building a strong network you can use on an ongoing basis.

Be pro-active about talking to your Manager have some clear goals in mind of what you’d like to achieve in your role. Be assertive about what you need and what you can offer.

Don’t doubt your knowledge! Even if you are an experienced PA, sometimes a new role can be daunting. Give yourself time to understand the new processes – and remember no one can know everything by the end of the first day!

How can Assistants add value in the workplace?

Advice for a first time Assistant

One of the key requirements for Assistants is using your skills 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 an excellent job (I saved my organisation a lot of money). From there, I had more confidence in my toolkit, my colleagues did, and my Executive did. Which meant I got a lot more exciting work and was able to add value in different areas.

The moral of the story is that Assistants have a considerable amount of skills and can add value in several areas within the workplace; we just need to have the confidence to promote ourselves.

Let’s look at areas Assistants can add value.

This article from Eat Your Career, suggests six ways to add value, and I think it is a great place to start for assistants. The six areas are:

  1. Save money
  2. Make money
  3. Improve the efficiency of a process or procedure
  4. Improve the 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 regularly 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, maybe not. You save your Executive a lot of time.

The 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 to 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 the 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 company does, you will know to participate in conversations about the market and make suggestions.

You have regular contact with your Executive, and you have access to reports and documents, so you are in an excellent 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 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 every day.

Often without really knowing it.

We are hugely valuable to our organisations. We have so many skills that can be put to good use.

How to thrive, not just survive as an Assistant

Advice for a first time Assistant

Let’s face it, we all know that sometimes you can have the best day at work when you feel on top of the world and you are high-fiving your teammates and CEOs… and sometimes you want to throw your resignation at the first person you see in the office and run as fast as you can out of the building.

We all have ups and downs, but sometimes in any role you can feel that you are not quite getting the motivation that you once had, you are just not feeling it. You are surviving, get through the days and looking forward to the weekends.

You are not thriving, which is something that you need to be feeling at work.

Okay, we can’t all be Miss Motivated every day, but most days you should be excited about your role and what you have to accomplish.

So this is a blog post about how to thrive at work and how to make the most out of your role.

How to thrive, not just survive as an Assistant.

Surround yourself with motivated people

This shouldn’t be hard for an Assistant because we engage with all of the senior members of staff who should theoretically be the most motivated staff in the office!

These are the decision-makers and the leaders, and you can feed off of their energy and their motivation. In turn, spend less time with people who zap your time and your energy. If you have genuine friends at work, then this tends to increase your motivation too.

Spend time with the people you like in and outside of the office.

Be brave and challenge yourself

It can be so easy living inside your comfort zone, and it is lovely in there but challenging yourself and doing things that require courage will help you to grow both personally and professionally. Take on the projects that make you a little nervous, that challenge your skills and put you outside of your warm and happy place.

I always ask myself, ‘what is the worst that will happen?’

Usually, the answer is that I will be embarrassed and who cares about that apart from me? No one!

Be Proactive

It is something I write a lot about on Practically Perfect PA, and I always come back to it.

For Assistants, the ability to be proactive rather than reactive is such a strong skill, and it really will lead you to thrive in the role.

Why?

Because you are not just doing the work that people ask you to do, you are creating your role, working on your projects and adding value where you see it.

This is a much better position to be in as an Assistant and will lead to more opportunities.

Set objectives

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing something through and completing a goal that you have set yourself. It is an incredible feeling.

It can be easy for Assistants not to set objectives because we are so busy helping other people with their goals. But, to thrive in the role, you have to have your own set of goals and objectives for the month, quarter and year.

You need to know where you are going, what is expected of you and how you can grow in the role.

Click here to download our SMART Objectives Template.

Next Chapter:

Key Soft Skills for New Assistants
Chapter TWO