Unlock the Power of Learning as an Assistant

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For many Personal and Executive Assistants, there is not a clear-cut training and development plan for them at work.  We do not neatly fit into a predetermined career pathway, with marker points of universally recognised qualifications.  I fear that most L&D teams might not know where to start if you asked them for training to further develop your career. Kudus to the L&D teams who do already support the development of PA/EAs but, unfortunately, because of our wonderfully unique roles, we often get forgotten about and left behind when businesses create talent pipelines with development programmes.

It is for this reason that as a PA/EA if you want to develop then you must actively choose to do so.  Be the CEO, the Chairperson and Managing Director of your own career and learning and choose to make it happen. You will need to do the leg work and find the articles, blogs, podcasts, webinars, books, courses, exhibitions and networking events that are going to inspire you, challenge your thinking and give you those light bulb moments to become the star PA / EA / Business Partner that you know you can be.

If you are not sure where to start your learning journey, then I suggest you ask yourself what role do you want to be in 3-5 year’s time? What industry do you see yourself in? What new responsibilities would you like? What does your future role look like?  It could be that you are in the same role, but you want to be more confident and be operating at a higher level.  Having an idea of what you want your career to look like in the future will help shape a career plan and focus your learning to achieve these objectives.

There are two main areas where you may want to focus your learning and development…

Hard skills: This covers some of the fundamentals of our role and could include improving minute taking, mastering excel, being the wizards of Outlook or Gmail. I like to think of this as being “brilliant at the basics”.  We need to be gurus in the existing and future tech that we use because we are the first person that our Executive will call when something doesn’t work. It’s important to keep your IT skills up to scratch,  saying “I am not techie” will not get you very far in today’s competitive job market.

Soft Skills: This is where you will likely learn the most about yourself and become really inspired. We work with, and have direct access to, the most important, and often most challenging, people in our organisation, so it is important that we develop our soft skills.  This will include communicating effectively, understanding leadership, knowing our own strengths and weakness, how to influence, understanding where confidence comes from, considering different approaches to take, learning the importance of your personal brand, understanding different personality types and how to manage them.  When we have a greater understanding of our soft skills, we can better develop our emotional intelligence – a trait we need in abundance to be successful in our role.

The Investment

To truly focus on self-development, you will need to commit your time and you may also need to invest some money too. In an ideal world, your employer would financially support all of your professional learning, they will after all benefit from the new, improved you. However, depending on the business climate and the budgets of your organisation this may not be possible. So, you may need to suck it up and pull out your own debit card. It takes a bit of a mindset switch to do this, especially if your employers has previously supported all your training,  but you need to think of this as a financial investment that you are making in you.  Treat your career like a your very own start up business; you may need to invest a little to reap the rewards later down the line.

Why invest in your own development?

  1. Increased self-confidence:  You will become more confident in your role and ability once you start putting the new skills and approaches into practice. With positive results, your confidence will flourish.  In addition, investing in yourself demonstrates that you see your development and career as a priority. Others may see you taking control of your career as being an inspirational learning lead.  
  2. Increased motivation: By adopting a learning mindset, you may find a new source of motivation.  You will be raring to put your new found knowledge into practice and as you learn more you will discover that you have a clear path in areas of improvement and development that you can challenge yourself to achieve.  
  3. Networking: Many learning opportunities for PA/EAs take place in groups with others just like you, so you will get the opportunity to network with other inspiring support professionals.
  4. Resilience: Love of learning is recognised as a key component in resilience.  By fostering a love of learning you will master new skills, topics and knowledge.  Consequently, you will have a knowledge bank stored up and available to support you through set-backs or negative feedback. 
  5. Credibility: Once you have become an expert in a particular area, you will enjoy more credibility with colleagues who will be confident that  you can handle situations which previously may not have been left to you. 

There is not a ‘good’ or a ‘right’ time to start to focus on your professional development. It needs to be ALL the time.  The world is constantly changing with new advancements in technology, emerging thought-leadership and new workplace initiatives.  You don’t need to constantly be signed up to an intensive course, but consider swotting up little and often to further your learning and career.

Written by Ann-Marie Brennand, Personal Assistant at PRS for Music and Ambassador at The Assistant Room.