This month we speak with Victoria who is a senior EA at a large energy company. We asked Victoria some questions to find out what she enjoys the most about her role and how she got to where she is today.
Q1. What do you enjoy the most about being a PA?
I really enjoy having more of a strategic PA role and the feeling that I am really adding value to the company. By having a good understanding of the business and its priorities, it gives me the sense of being a valuable right-hand support to my boss. I also enjoy building good working relationships with all my boss, colleagues, peers and external stakeholders, which I feel is key to being an effective PA.
Q2. Tell us what it is like working in your current industry?
I’ve been working at a well-known French-owned energy company for over 10 years. It’s a very large organisation with a UK head office in London and sites all over the UK. There are around 13,000 employees with lots of layers in the organisational structure plus a head office in Paris. Despite its size, it does have a real family feel to it and a very friendly and professional culture. Management try to make everyone feel valued for the work that they do, employee safety is paramount and there is a “Trust, Transparency & Teamwork” attitude to all what we do.
Q3. What are the biggest challenges in your role?
Complex diary management - it’s fast paced and ever changing. My last boss did not live in London and had to split their time between the London and Scotland offices. Therefore, making the best use of my boss’s time was critical. There were times when I needed to push back on diary requests and handling these situations with tact and teamwork was important. Being flexible was key too, as often at a moment’s notice the whole diary would be turned on its head and all the meetings would need to be rearranged.
Q4. How did you become a PA?
Fresh out of University, following my French, German and Business degree, I managed to secure a junior PA role as PA to the CEO’s office. It was mainly supporting the EA to the CEO and gave me great exposure to working at C-Suite level at the top of a large organisation. The hours were long (we worked shifts between us and I worked the late shift 10am to 7pm). It was thanks to my French language skills that I secured this role, which I did for almost 3 years before moving on to a 1:1 PA role at the same company.
Q5.What advice would you give to someone looking to start their PA career?
My first piece of advice would be stick it out – even if your first PA role isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, stick with it, as opportunities will soon come up in the same company. As mentioned earlier I was working late shifts until 7pm for 3 years but it definitely paid off. After this role, I had a fantastic opportunity to work for the Director of the London 2012 Olympic Games Programme at the same company, as it was one of the key sponsors of the games. This was an incredible opportunity which I would have missed if I had jumped ship after a short while. Not only that, it can be much easier to secure a role internally, as you have a proven track record and already know who’s who and how things work. Longevity is a huge plus on your CV. At the end of the day, employers want to see commitment and have confidence that you will remain with the company before they invest in you.
My other piece of advice would be, get out of the role everything you can. By that I mean, put yourself forward to get involved in extra projects, activities, events etc. You can learn so much from working with others whom you may not normally work with and it can be a lot of fun getting out of the office for away days! Also, if your company offers any training programmes or courses, take advantage of all of these. It is at no cost to you, apart from your time and great to add to your CV. In my last role, I had the opportunity to complete a certificate in management accounting with CIMA, first aid and fire marshall training plus weekly French lessons.
Q6. What couldn’t you live without in your daily role?
My company mobile phone! I don’t live in London so this gives me so much flexibility to keep an eye on my emails whilst commuting to and from the office.
Q7. What is the best career advice you have ever been given?
Always try to understand the bigger picture. It’s so important as a PA to follow the developments of the company and understand what is going on. That way you can really support your boss and manage their diary efficiently if you understand what the priorities are. Often confidential matters are given cryptic project names, so if you’re not sure always ask your boss what these meetings are about that you’ve been asked to schedule and if you have built a good relationship with them, they will be happy to share with you what is going on. Having that context is so helpful when prioritising a high volume of meeting requests. My last boss would always share with me his personal objectives for the year following his annual appraisal with his boss, this was so helpful for me to know what the “hot topics” were and where he would need to focus his time.
Q8. What is your biggest professional achievement?
My biggest professional achievement was working as the EA to CEO on a maternity cover for 12 months. This was really challenging, as there were some huge milestones in the company during that year. It was tough at times, full on and long hours, but so rewarding and fantastic experience to have on my CV. After 10 years at the same company, I was proud that I had finally made it to the top, going from a junior PA to an EA at CEO level. Longevity at the same company definitely paid off for me!
Q9. When you are not at work, what do you enjoy doing?
I now have a 1 year old son, which takes up most of my time! However, I do still keep up my French language skills by attending a weekly class with other advanced learners which is a lot of fun. It’s nice to do something for yourself and I am a great believer that we never stop learning.
Q10. What is the hardest interview question you have ever been asked?
“Why do you want to work here?” It’s a tricky one to answer as you need to demonstrate that you have done your research so that you can give examples of what you understand about the company and make it sound exciting and interesting!