Do you like being busy, scheduling appointments and managing diaries? Then a career as a Personal Assistant could be for you. It’s fast-paced and requires a lot of organisational skills.
Charlotte Hooson-Sykes is an Executive Assistant, based within the Condensed Matter Physics Group at Manchester University. She talks to Jobulo about her role and shares some advice for those wanting a similar career.
Tell Us About Your Career Background?
After leaving school at 15, I went on to do an apprenticeship and gain my Level II and part Level II NVQ in Business Administration. I hadn’t wanted to continue in full time education, I wanted to get out there and work, so I did. After my second placement redundancy, I decided enough was enough and in order to gain more experience, I started temping – often for longer term contracts and became known as a bit of a ‘fixer’. I’d be sent to clients when something had gone wrong or when they needed someone to come in quickly and effectively get on with it. One such placement led me to the University of Manchester, where I subsequently applied for a role and here I’ve been ever since.
Tell Us About Your Key Responsibilities?
They vary day to day, but effectively it’s keeping everything running smoothly within my department. This can mean diary management and meeting arrangements for the senior Professors, through to conference organisation and equipment ordering. I spend the first hour or so working through emails, checking the diaries for the week ahead and trying to pre-empt requirements where possible. Then it’s a case of going through my to do list, which can vary greatly, one of the reasons I love working here. There’s never a dull day.
Do You Need a Degree to Work within your Role in the University?
No. That’s what everyone believes and they don’t apply for that reason, which is a shame because experience can count for more in some roles than a degree. I’ve worked for academic staff of varying levels and in varying areas – from old age psychiatry to computer science. I’m not sure, to be honest, what degree would have suited me to work in any of those roles. Instead I’ve worked my way up, gaining experience in a variety of areas, which has held me in good stead. I hope one day to study for a degree, but in something completely unrelated to the area I work in.
What’s the Most Rewarding Part of the Job?
A variety of things. Seeing a piece of research from beginning to end is immensely satisfying, especially when it’s something important. I’ve worked on projects looking at community care for the elderly through to software that helps in the study of preventable disease. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve worked with students on a variety of levels, the scientists of the future and the doctors or nurses, seeing them through to graduation. The satisfaction you feel in knowing that you’re doing a little bit of good can’t be beaten.
What’s the Hardest Part of the Job?
There are always down sides and sometimes there can be frustrations – last minute changes of plan, travel delays, all these things can add up. Sometimes the out of hours working can be hard – dealing with a phone call about a cancelled flight in Helsinki at 11pm when you’re in your pyjamas can seem like an invasion of our time, but on the upside you’ll often get a flexibility that isn’t present in a lot of other roles. When you work with someone very closely you have to give yourself time to get to know each other. Eventually the hope is that you’ll become a seamless partnership and you’ll know what they want or need before they do, but getting there can be a bumpy ride.
Can You Share Your Career Advice For Candidates Wanting to Work in a Similar Job?
Try to gain as much experience as you can in as many areas as you can. The role of the Executive Assistant/Personal Assistant is changing all the time and it’s now much more varied. No longer are you just booking appointments, taking minutes and typing letters. You’re often looking at full diary management for those you work for, website management, staff management and budgeting. If you want to work in the academic field, then any experience in research administration you can gain will be hugely useful, particularly in costing and submitting grant applications, or managing projects.
What Do You Think is the Most Important Thing to Include on a CV?
The biggest tips I can give CV wise are be clear and concise – long wordy CVs are difficult to get through and can make matching criteria to talents difficult. Also match your skill set to the job you are applying for. If you have a varied background, you’ll easily be able to find those that match the requirements of the role. Tailor CVs and applications to the role itself, you’ll save your prospective employer a lot of effort and in the process you’ll have made the effort to prove to them that you are ideal for the role.