It’s the end of a long and rainy day in London and Kelly Gethin and I have finally managed to sit down and have the conversation you are about to read after almost a year of planning.
I initially reached out to Kelly in 2017 while she was living and working in Bedfordshire as she was preparing to take the move down to London. Neither of us expected that from an initial phone call in 2017 where we chatted about the area she was moving to in the city, where her new job would be based and her passion for being a PA, would lead into a friendship that is very special to me.
We are back with the PA Diaries and our first instalment for 2018 could not be better…
TAR: So Kelly Gethin, let’s go back to the beginning of your career..
KG: Ok great! Well I started off at college and then decided to jump into doing an apprenticeship in business admin in an office close to where I lived at the time in Bedford. It took me about a year or two to fully complete the apprenticeship I was on and then after that, I spent some time working in different departments at the same company, learning about different areas to see where I thought I would enjoy working the most. I wasn’t really too sure what I would be interested in the most. You can come out of school and really have no idea what you want to do which can be pretty scary!
When I was working across different departments, I started to notice a lot of EAs within the office. From an outsider looking in, it looked important, valuable, rewarding and they all looked smart, professional and glamorous. It was then really, that I looked into becoming a PA and started working as a Legal PA at Williams Lea/TAG Worldwide which is a company owned by DHL. I had such an amazing boss, she is still one of my closest friends and she really supported me in what I wanted to do with my career. I made the decision that I wanted to fully qualify as a Personal Assistant and I didn’t want to feel as though I was just the admin in comparison to the other PA’s at the company so I asked their advice on courses to pursue but they all had got to where they were through experience and had no formal qualifications. I did a bit of research and luckily, the company paid for me to take an ILM course. It was great to have their support on something that I was really passionate about and it has become one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my career to date!
TAR: So for those who would like to pursue a career as a PA, would you say that looking into different training courses is the best way to get a head start in really understanding what it takes to make this role successful?
KG: Definitely. Doing that course meant that I gained all of the core skills that I needed to be a PA at the very beginning of my career and that I could hit the ground running. Many people have to learn these things along the way and it therefore takes a lot longer to be confident in doing things such as minute taking or communicating properly with the Executives you look after. If you are at a younger age, like I was when I first started as a PA, you can feel as though you’re at a disadvantage because you are so young and you’re working with people who have a lot more experience than you so to be able to have something like a qualification behind you, it can make you believe in yourself a lot more.
TAR: So at the time when we first met, you were in the transition period between Williams Lea/TAG Worldwide and making the move down to London to become the only UK EA at Victoria’s Secret. I remember you saying how intense the interview process was – you had numerous interviews before you found out you were successful in securing the role.
KG: Two months of interviews, four interviews in total. It was intense! I decided to hand my notice in at the beginning of the interview period and take some time to pursue a career change. It’s not every day a Victoria’s Secret EA position becomes available so I wanted to dedicate everything I had to it as well as having a break for myself and enjoy life a little bit more.
TAR: So what would your advice be during such an intense interview process?
KG: Well fashion is a very competitive industry to be involved with so four interviews seemed very normal due to the type of brand Victoria’s Secret is, everyone wants that job! It’s obviously going to be a lot different to the interview process for a corporate role. When it comes to a long time frame for the interview process, you definitely have to take a different approach and stay motivated. I actually purchased a book on how to interview and cope with different interview stages which would be a big recommendation of mine to anyone. Patience is also important, if something is worth fighting for then you will stick it out and if you do become disinterested you have to try and understand if this really is the opportunity for you. If something as big as this comes along and is a once in a lifetime opportunity, be patient, be yourself and remember that they wouldn’t be calling you back if they didn’t think you were capable of doing the job.
TAR: So the transition from TAG to Victoria’s Secret must have been extremely exciting but also quite daunting at the time. How did going from Williams Lea/TAG Worldwide to Victoria Secret differ?
*Kelly transitioned into a role at Victoria’s Secret as the only UK based support function. All the other company PAs and EAs were based in Ohio and New York. Working at Victoria’s Secret she supported the four UK based Directors and was Office Manager for a team of thirty employees*
KG: It was obvious at the start as to how fast paced everything was going to be and it definitely didn’t slow down the entire time I was there. Fashion is on a different level to anything else and just does not stop especially as Victoria’s Secret is a global brand and operates 24/7. I looked after two women and two men so striking a balance between them all was very important and I had to really adapt my way of working to suit each Director.
TAR: I can imagine this is when your emotional intelligence had to kick in…
KG: Definitely. My best advice going into a new role with different Executives would be to sit them down straight away and have an open and honest conversation about what their needs are and how they like things to be done. You are there to support them so offer them changes you think would be beneficial to how things are done striking a balance between being confident in what you know will work and not coming on too strong. Make sure you have regular one to one meetings with them as being an EA is about having a relationship of trust between you and your boss. Whoever you look after, you have to be able to juggle someone’s diary to make sure it works for them at all times.
*After leaving Victoria’s Secret, Kelly has recently made a move to become an EA at Amazon, looking after the Tax & VAT Directors for the brand*
TAR: So now that you have made your next move to Amazon, how has it been going from a small office with in a global company at Victoria’s Secret to one of the biggest companies in the world with a London based HQ which takes up an entire building?
KG: It’s completely different going from an office of 30 people to Amazon where you have thousands of people. It’s definitely a little overwhelming to begin with but there are so many opportunities to develop your skills and make new friends here. At Victoria’s Secret, the London office was relatively new so it would have taken me a little bit longer to climb up the ladder as I would have had to grow at the same pace the office did. In comparison, Amazon is huge so there are a few more opportunities to try new things out. I absolutely love being in such an exciting environment and every day is completely different but I still feel as though I have a lot of responsibility which I love.
TAR: So what’s an average day like in your new role?
KG: I feel that the main responsibilities in every EA role are relatively the same so my definite daily tasks include preparing the day ahead, managing diaries correctly, organising every aspect of meetings that go ahead from room booking, presentation planning, guest liaison. There are always a lot of conference calls here that go on too so organising diaries on a mass scale across different time zones is a big aspect of my day. I induct new starters, pull together important reports, every day is totally different. I am also in charge of moving the entire department from our current office to our new place in Shoreditch, nothing like being thrown in at the deep end!
*Kelly and I talk about how being a PA is also very much taking on an ambassadorial role for the boss and the people you support as well as the company you work for and represent*
KG: I think it’s really important for PAs to understand that you are more than just someone who does the diary or makes a cup of tea. To be able to now speak to my boss and tell them about networks like The Assistant Room and add value to things by drawing on experiences or working with people that I have met at networking events is amazing. The lunch time event that The Assistant Room did at the new Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch meant I could go to my boss and say, I can now get you a table whenever you need one because I have a direct contact there and I can recommend certain things on the menu for him to try. I can talk about how the venue has conference facilities and how to best utilise the space as I have had a personal tour of the venue so I definitely now see myself as an ambassador. My boss sees the value in this too and wants me to be as involved as possible with the business from a commercial aspect and by building contacts the ways that we do at Assistant Room events means I now have an incredible black book of contacts that I can use and pass on to my colleagues.
TAR: So for those who may not be that confident in networking or have much experience in doing so, what advice would you give them and how valuable do you see it is a skill for PAs.
KG: The first I ever went to a networking event it was with The Assistant Room, I had never networked before and I didn’t know how to or why it would benefit me as a PA. To be able to have the opportunities to go to events with you guys is always so much fun, no one gets left out and you always leave feeling as though you’ve made new friends. No one is ever left in the corner without someone to talk to which is so important.
TAR: And that attitude of support, encouragement and general welcoming to other PAs is so important. As an industry, we get labelled with a lot of negative ideas as the behaviour of some PA’s and EA’s at networking events is absolutely shameful with people going to places purely for the free champagne or even worse, for the food and packing as much as they can into their pockets or handbags..it’s absolutely shocking and is the reason why our events are so tightly controlled and organised the way they are!
KG: When it’s done well you can always tell. When I first moved to London I didn’t know anyone and from these events I now have so many friends, people who I know I can rely on as well as having the commercial contacts that I didn’t have before. There are no cliques, everyone just has a really amazing time and always has so much fun.
*We reminisce about events that we both fondly remember and I fill Kelly in on future Assistant Room events that we have coming up*
TAR: So if you were to look back at your career so far what would you say has been your biggest success?
KG: For me personally, moving to London and feeling confident enough that I can do the role of a EA in the city is a big thing. Getting the Victoria’s Secret job was an amazing experience but now, I would say that knowing where my career is going and where I want to be is so important which at the moment, is Amazon. I will definitely stay here for a while as they put a lot of focus on personal development which is very important to me and should be at the top of everyone’s priority list.
We chat a little bit more about our experience as EA’s and how much we have both changed since meeting each other a year ago before organising a date in the diary to go for some lunch and have a proper catch up outside of The Assistant Room.
Reading this interview over, what we can all learn from Kelly is to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and believe in yourself to achieve what you have at the top of your to do list. Not only is she an EA but she is an ambassador for her boss, something which we should all now be able to say we are or at least, we are working towards.
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