Career advice from the world’s super PAs

What happened when Caroline Garland, PA to Marie Claire’s editor in chief Trish Halpin, met with some of the world’s most powerful PAs to swap career advice...

What do the PAs of Bill Gates, Hilary Clinton, Nelson Mandela and I all have in common? We spent a whole day sharing career advice at London’s biggest PA convention – Executive Secretary LIVE.
 
I have to confess I was a little dubious about a PA convention, fearing it would be full of networking types that I had nothing in common with, bandying around dull career advice. But I was oh so wrong. Instead, I sat in a room full of really inspiring women sharing useful career advice on all aspects of my role, from every industry you can imagine. Hearing stories from Hilary Clinton’s assistant about how she handled the logistics when Hilary’s team had to land unexpectedly in Dubai due to a volcanic eruption and instantly organise 80 hotel rooms, taxis and security made the manic whirlwind of fashion week seem less stressful somehow. And believe me, that’s a military operation.
 
So here’s what I learned from spending the day with the world’s most powerful PAs:
 
1. ‘Build a strong network’

‘I cut my teeth in the political world, where a constituency of my own (boss, colleagues) elected me to my role. Any PA or assistant should think about who they are responsible for. Make a list not just of colleagues but include bosses, clients, family, the security guard, a friend, neighbour, and be accessible to an orbit of people worldwide, it will be a continually evolving group. If you spend enough time with them, find out who they are and what their needs are, it will make your time more impactful and responsive on a daily basis.’

Lauren Jiloty – Senior EA to Bill Gates, encompassing both Mr Gates’ roles at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Microsoft. Former EA to Hillary Rodham Clinton

 

2. ‘Get yourself a mentor’

‘Having a mentor is essential for learning the ropes. I started with one at Amazon then when I moved to Google and needed advice I went to the senior PAs and asked them to mentor me through various situations and tasks. Talking to other assistants helps so much, so make sure you prioritise finding one. And when the time comes, be a mentor to others.’

Ann Hiatt – EA to Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google, former EA to Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!) & Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon.com)

 

3. ‘Be true to yourself’

‘You have a voice, so use it wisely. Nobody can fake authenticity and people will challenge your authority all the time, but as long as you stay true to your integrity you will succeed. No one can define you, you can only define yourself. Nelson Mandela taught me that the way you approach a person determines how they treat you, and people responded well to the way he approached them. He changed my thinking to accept people for who they are. There’s no point in trying to change people, let people follow their own journey.’

Zelda La Grange – Nelson Mandela’s secretary, gatekeeper and constant companion for the best part of 20 years

 

4. ‘Connect with your peers’

‘Share advice with PAs from other companies, it’s great to have a network who can support you and you can’t always speak to colleagues. There are so many out there, you can start with Linkedin and grow from there. Info sharing with others doing the same job is invaluable – imagine being able to ask someone in Dubai or Paris where the best hotels or restaurants are and to get local advice. It’s much more valuable than a random online search.’

Anel Martin – PAFSA President, IYOTSA 2014 Task Team and South African PA of the Year 2011

 

5. ‘Speak to everybody’

‘As First Lady, Jackie Kennedy had a rule: if you were invited to a social function at the White House you were able to bring a guest, but after cocktails and the receiving line with the President, First Lady and other heads of state when you crossed that threshold to the dinning room, you would be sat at different tables for dinner. This was the First Lady’s way to entice conversation and encourage you to reach outside of your circle. Instead of making the rounds and speaking with the same people at every outing or event, challenge yourself to meet someone new. You never know when the next conversation will be the one to change your life, or that of someone else.’

Laura Schwartz was the The White House Director of Events for President Bill Clinton. For more advice from Laura, check out her book Eat, Drink and Succeed

 

6. ‘Constantly adapt’

‘Think about the things you should start doing, stop doing and continue to do along the way. I started doing a 5:15 report, 15 minutes at the end of each day to look at what I’ve done that day for my professional development. That’s where you can ask yourself, is there anything I need to change? You have to be credible, if people don’t believe the messenger, they won’t believe the message. This is the core of the EA, the more credible you are the more legit people see you.’

Lisa Olsen – Co-owner of Admin to Admin an online training programme for admin professionals

 
Looking for more career inspo? It’s not too late to book tickets for 2016’s incredible Marie Claire @ Work Live, in association with Next and Cointreau. A one-day event taking place at London’s BAFTA on 23 April 2016, featuring advice, tips and inspiration from some of the UK’s most high-profile business women and speakers.

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