Katie Smith once aspired to be Wonder Woman – and it looks like that is exactly what she has become in her role as EA extraordinaire to the three head honchos at SEEK Employment. She talks to Career FAQs about the life of a busy executive assistant and what it takes to do the job.
I’m executive assistant (EA) to the two joint CEOs and the managing director.
An EA is the personal assistant to someone who’s on the executive management team of the organisation or who perhaps sits on the board.
Lots of diary management, making sure there is no conflict in the guys’ diaries, booking travel, organising meetings, organising Board reports, setting up a calendar of events, screening phone calls, helping the guys with any personal things they need me to do, getting their lunches if they haven’t had time to get out of their meetings, sorting through the mail … the list goes on and on.
I also get to do fun things like organising our Christmas party, which is something people really enjoy.
It is quite challenging, but I’ve worked for one boss too and there are pros and cons to both. The depth of work and the depth of the relationship you can build is probably limited when there’s three of them. When you have one boss there’s a lot more work you can do for that one person, but when there’s three of them there’s a lot more variety, which I really like. You get to see a lot more of what’s happening in the business and you get to work across a lot of different exciting projects. I like being kept busy!
They’re pretty good, but I’m quite efficient when I’m here and I’ve had the benefit of being in the role for four years. I work nine to six, but I make sure that in the time that I’m here I’m really efficient and not chatting unnecessarily or moving away from my desk, because I prefer to get it all done in those hours rather than work later.
I was an executive assistant for the national sales director at Foster’s. And before that I was an EA in the UK for two years. I worked for a company called Diageo, which is also in the alcohol industry. They own Guinness, Baileys, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, Johnnie Walker and labels like that.
None, really, that are related to this. I started studying marketing at university, but I didn’t finish the course. I was working in hospitality around ten years ago and I decided that I didn’t like the hours, so I looked through my local paper (because there was no SEEK then!). I found a job as a receptionist in a mining company, which turned out to be a mining company that Joseph Gutnick owned.
FYI: Joseph Gutnick is the President and CEO of Legend International Holdings (OTCBB: LGDI), a mining company focused on phosphate exploration in the north east of Australia.
I worked as a receptionist there for a year, and then I got promoted to be Joseph’s assistant PA – he had a PA and I was her assistant, and then when she left I became the PA. So I got into it that way instead of having any qualifications. But I think the industry has changed now and there are a lot of courses which people can do to get started.
There are obviously practical skills that you need to have – you need to be very organised and good at prioritising time and deadlines, especially when you work for three people like I do – to juggle and figure out what needs to be done first. I think the most important thing, though, is to have a really good attitude. You need to be positive and approachable, and you need to do everything with a smile, because there’s no point in having the other skills if you’re being a bit of a bumblebum about it. Nobody likes to be working with someone who’s huffing and puffing when they’re given things to do.
I think that EAs also need to be assertive, because you’re telling a lot of people ‘No’ when they call up and want to have meetings with the boss. You have to be assertive, but in a nice way.
You also have to be proactive and take a lot of initiative, and anticipate problems before they happen. There’s no point just sitting there and not looking ahead – you need to be proactive and look ahead in their diaries and see if there are any conflicts, and anticipate things that they need to prepare for meetings – you can’t leave that until the last minute.
The longer I do this the more I realise that it’s a very personal relationship between PAs and their bosses, so unless you have a very good rapport and similar values and working methods as them, I think it would be quite difficult. I’d be reluctant to just go for a job off SEEK without going through a number of interviews with the person you’d be working for, because it’s so intense. Not many people would work that closely with a person all day, every day. I think it would definitely help if you got the job through word of mouth and you knew that the boss was someone you could work well with.
I had five interviews – I got interviewed by the HR person twice, then I had to get interviewed by each of my three bosses, and I had psychometric testing as well.
It was a little bit daunting, but it was fine because there’s obviously an element of abstract reasoning, so you can’t really prepare for it – you just go in there and do your best. With the personality test, that’s just a matter of being totally honest. At SEEK they’re very conscious of matching up the different personality types and that’s why we have such a fantastic culture here – you can’t fake it because you don’t know exactly what they’re looking for. You just have to be honest and hope that that’s the sort of person they’re looking for for that particular role.
When I was in kindergarten I wanted to be Wonder Woman! I think it was the groovy outfit.