How to gain the right skill-set to advance in your career as a personal assistant
1 February 2021
Writing this piece has made me realise that I have been working in admin for 7 years now – time really does fly! While I don’t claim to know everything (see my first point), there are some things that I’ve picked up in this time that have really helped me to progress my career from an admin assistant in a chartered surveyors office, to a PA at one of the most prestigious Universities in the world. Read on to find out…
1. Commit to continuous learning...
And no, I don’t mean you need to constantly be participating in an apprenticeship scheme or jumping from one qualification to another! The information we pick up within our day to day lives is equally, if not more, valuable. For example, volunteering for tasks you wouldn’t normally be expected to do doesn’t just show commitment and enthusiasm - it also provides a great opportunity for learning more about your industry and picking up new skills.
On the same note, just because you’ve been using programmes like Word and Outlook on an almost a daily basis for the past however many years, doesn’t mean you know all there is to know! There’s always some fantastic feature or other that lurks on the edge of obscurity which could make your job a whole lot easier. In my case, a myriad of keyboard shortcuts have really sped up my typing, which adds up to a lot of time saved throughout the day! Even if it’s just to remind you of the things you once knew how to do then promptly forgot, I find it’s worth taking quick refresher training sessions using resources like LinkedIn Learning on a semi regular basis.
Finally, if there’s any free training available through your job, take it! Here at the University we’re fortunate enough to be offered a wide range of courses via CoSy. Pre-pandemic I attended a DigiKnow session on formatting documents for readability and accessibility. Did I know how to format documents prior to this? Of course I did, but I still learned a lot about how to present information to make it clear for all users, including those with dyslexia or sight problems.
2. Don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome…
I’m sure by now we’re all aware of Imposter Syndrome, the constant nagging feeling that we’ve somehow tricked the people around us into believing we’re better than we are. Multiple studies have suggested that younger people (aged 18-34) are most likely to experience this, with women tending to experience it more than men. It can sometimes be difficult to accept praise for our work, especially in a world where we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, but if you’re consistently receiving good feedback from your colleagues you shouldn’t brush it off!
It's cliché, but believing in yourself and your abilities is vital. If you keep seeing fantastic jobs advertised in your field but feel they’re too far above your grade/experience for you to apply, don’t be immediately deterred. Double check the ‘Essential Criteria’ on the job description. Do you tick more than half of those boxes? Do you feel that you could learn the other necessary skills quickly, or that they’re comparable to something you’re doing already? Great! Apply anyway. Your career isn’t going to just develop without a nudge every so often, and even if you don’t end up getting the job, you’ll still have had the valuable experience of putting together a great application. Practice makes perfect, after all!
3. Make like Bear Grylls – Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
When it comes to organisation and learning techniques, try everything. Our ability to easily focus fluctuates throughout time (particularly with the added stresses of a global pandemic!), so something that worked for you at the start of your career may not still work for you a year or so down the line. I’ve colour co-ordinated my diaries since school, but that’s the only technique I’ve stuck to!
I know Amy Jones has mentioned this in previous blog posts, but the Pomodoro technique is fantastic for breaking tasks down into small, manageable chunks. Since working from home this has been my go to method for keeping on top of things, as I sometimes struggle to stay focused when I’m in a space where I have so many other responsibilities (like remembering I need to water my poor plants right in the middle of my work day!) A helpful timer for the Pomodoro method can be found here, if you struggle to keep track of time.
As well as being a great sounding board (and sometimes a vital link to your sanity), your colleagues can also be a fantastic learning resource! Keeping up to date with them not only helps with team building but it also gives you the chance to compare work management techniques. Does someone on your team consistently put together great gantt charts on Excel? Do you envy anyone’s diary or to-do list organisation? Ask about them - a lot of the time, people are keen to share the things that work best for them and their tip may be the thing that helps you to get on top of that one task you’ve been struggling with!
4. Don’t neglect to make time for yourself, too…
Working hard is important, yes, but so is taking a break. In our incredibly work focused culture, I feel as though I’m constantly seeing posts on social media about people’s ‘side hustles’ – but you can’t perform well in your work if you’re neglecting yourself by never switching off! Let’s be real here, there’s very few people who consistently have time to do absolutely everything they’re ‘supposed to’ (work, get 8 hours of sleep every night, regular exercise, socialising, eating a healthy diet, hobbies, household chores - the list goes on). Very often it’s things like sleep and making time for yourself that get pushed to the back of the queue in favour of everything else - but it’s important to ensure you have boundaries set that allow you to take proper time off. I appreciate that sometimes, working outside of your usual hours is unavoidable, but try not to make a habit of it. Your free time allows you to recover and reflect on things, giving you a vital opportunity to subconsciously process any challenges you may have faced that week, and go back to work fully refreshed and ready to face the day! So enjoy your evenings and weekends without checking your emails and allow yourself to switch off from the things you need to do at work. You’ll probably find your performance improves!
5. And finally, don’t underestimate what a good attitude can achieve!
Okay, I’m not saying that being friendly is immediately going to make you fantastic at your job, but it can certainly make things easier! Working with other people is unavoidable after all, so maintaining good relationships is vital. I was once told that being nice to people straight off the bat makes it quite hard for them to be rude or difficult with you. While this logic isn’t infallible, it’s still good to practice kindness and patience, while remembering that everyone is facing their own challenges. Being a pleasant person to work with never hurt anyone’s career – it may even turn out that by building a good reputation within your company or industry, you become more notable to potential future employers!
I hope the above tips have helped you and I wish you all the best in 2021 and beyond!