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Personal Assistants - advice please!

(28 Posts)
velvetfern Sun 11-Feb-18 15:45:04


I'm about to start a new job as Personal Assistant to the head of a fairly large organisation. Having never worked in a role like this before, I'd be really grateful for any tips/advice from the wise ladies of MN! At the moment, the things I'm most nervous about are planning and organising business lunches, keeping my boss organised, and making sure I'm able to do all the many things I'm needed to do on time.

So, what are your top tips for a new PA? How do you keep yourself (and someone else) super organised? What kinds of things should you know to never, ever do?

Thanks in advance for your help - I want to make a good impression and am so nervous about messing this up grin

bilbodog Sun 11-Feb-18 16:08:21

Use your diary to keep notes and reminders for you and boss. Keep on top of filing and develop a system so its easy to find things. I always find tea and coffee served regularly helps keep the wheels oiled!

daisychain01 Sun 11-Feb-18 16:48:42

If you're new to the organisation use the first 3-4 weeks to ask as many naive questions as you can. Once time goes by, they will forget you are new and expect everything to just happen, but in the first few weeks you have the ideal excuse, because you're new.

Can you buddy up with any other PAs or administrators to show you the ropes and get the hang of processes eg for booking hospitality etc?

Are you having induction training? Make a list of questions to take in with you so you can quickly fill the gaps in your knowledge. Write up process notes, plus always get people's names and extn numbers so you can ring if you have queries or need help.

Think about your pre=existing skills and which specific strengths you plan to use in your role.

Sleepingbunnies Sun 11-Feb-18 16:50:35

I’m a PA in a massive organisation to a head of department.

Lists lists and more lists... always be prepared for absolutely everything to go wrong and for you to have to fix it grin

chickenlegscarla Sun 11-Feb-18 22:30:24

What did you do before?

It really depends on who you are working for and what their expectations are.

1 to 1 roles are best IMO. You can be proactive, thinking ahead, anticipate things before they happen. I like to have my bosses emails (incoming and outgoing) copied to me so I can see what is happening without him telling me because you will be a very lucky lady if you have a boss who remember to tell you things (if anything). Brush up on your Word, PowerPoint and Excel skills.

Depends on the job but the hardest thing I find is that I find is having to push back on people. There are very few admin staff so you end up having to fend off everyone's shitty admin tasks. I work for two directors plus do bits for another one and their teams. My workload is off the bloody scale....

Expect that no one knows what you do (expect to type a few letters and make the tea confused) and thinks that every task only takes you a couple of minutes and you'll be okay.

velvetfern Mon 12-Feb-18 10:54:45

Thanks for the replies so far, there are some really useful suggestions here.

Yes to lists and writing everything down! I’ll also ask about getting access to my boss’s emails - that’s a good shout.

daisychain No, unfortunately there isn’t time to give me a proper induction. I’ve tried to think of as many questions as possible, but it’s all so new to me I don’t know where to start! What should I be asking on my first day?

chickenlegscarla this is my first proper job, before this I was a student & I also worked various part time jobs in retail/front of house roles.

sleepingbunnies having to be the one to fix everything when it goes wrong is another terrifying prospect! Any tips there?

Thanks again for the responses!

Polarbearflavour Mon 12-Feb-18 14:19:56

I used to be a PA/EA.

Manage your boss - you are the one keeping him or her on the straight and narrow, you will probably have a different relationship to them than the rest of their team and will be able to be more direct with them.

Think of your job as making life easier for your boss. Can you get them a cup of tea or lunch? Block out their calendar to give them some catch up time? I started doing HR tasks and authorising expenses etc for the team - with my bosses permission of course!

Have a 10 minute catch up scheduled in the diary every day.

Block out the calendar so that people have to come to you to book in meetings rather than sending invites when your boss is busy.

Ask if you aren’t sure!

Get to know other assistants and network. If you help them they should help you when you need help! It also makes work much nicer if you have PA buddies.

Get to know the company and what they do. Can you attend training courses and go to big meetings to take notes? Get yourself involved and invited to away days etc.

Good luck!

DailyMailDontStealMyThread Mon 12-Feb-18 20:45:43

I started my first PA/EA position 7 years ago and like you I walked in to it without knowing what to expect.

You will become the Bosses gate keeper, eyes and ears to the business along side being the person to sort the stationery, plumbing problems, the person that when others say “I don’t know/I’m not sure” then the answer is “let’s tell Velvet, she knows everything”

Befriend the Accountant, they will know who you have accounts with for hotels, catering, flights, venues, plumbing, cleaners etc

Befriend reception team, they will know the above PLUS contact details

Always take a pad and pen with you when meeting with your boss - never throw a list away, you can revert back to it over time especially if you add contact details and resolutions to it.

Don’t be scared to ask questions in the beginning

Good luck.

DailyMailDontStealMyThread Mon 12-Feb-18 20:56:27

Also, don’t sign up for anything without your boss agreeing first. No 2 year water cooler agreement with maintenance, no new coffee machine even if it’s cheaper - stick to the rules whilst you learn the ropes and before you know it it will all be second nature.

Backingvocals Mon 12-Feb-18 21:01:55

Learn to push. I have a PA and he has really learned to be as pushy as I would be. If I need something organised and the first answer is no or that can’t be done he will push and escalate until it gets done the way it should be. Congrats on the job btw.

velvetfern Wed 14-Feb-18 16:36:16

Ah yes, I’ll have to get good at being really assertive...

Thanks again all. Hopefully a lot of these are things I’ll learn on the job.

B1rdonawire Thu 15-Feb-18 09:06:56

If your boss has loads of meetings (and if you ask whether she/he would like this) consider getting a "day pack" together and on their desk by the end of the previous day. I worked for a CEO who swore by these - they had:
- schedule for day and any travel arrangements
- in divided sections, background and briefing papers for each meeting, in the order they were happening

A good question to ask early on is "can you give me a list of people you always want to make time to meet, so I can make sure your time is prioritised?" Likewise keep a running list of top priority project names (and their deadlines) so you can be prepared when those projects get urgent.

I guess another one is asking how they like to manage their inbox - do it themselves and flag things for you to follow up, or get you to screen for them?

Keep a death grip on the diary, and practice "Let me just see when X could look at that, I'll come back to you" as a first response to everyone asking for X's time grin If you are PA to the most senior person in the company, life is much easier because everyone else's schedule has to fit round theirs!

RatherBeRiding Thu 15-Feb-18 11:11:47

Keep EVERYTHING. And know where to find it. The number of times my boss asks for a phone number, email address, obscure piece of paper that miraculously I didn't throw out but squirreled away somewhere just in case......

I NEVER delete emails - I am constantly surprised at how useful an email from 3 years ago can be.

Make yourself some distribution lists. Make sure your filing systems (paper and digital) are super organised and will make sense to anyone who might have to be drafted in at short notice because you've gone off sick. Such a pain coming back after sick/holiday to find someone else hasn't done things properly because they couldn't find something.

Try to get a feel as quickly as possible of how the boss likes things done, what things he expects you to do/know without being told, what things you must NEVER do without his say-so.

Try to keep one step ahead of him!

chatwoo Thu 15-Feb-18 11:19:54

Make sure you get on side with the other support teams: facilities, finance, procurement, other PAs... Your paths will naturally cross anyway, but keep them onside, help them with anything relating to your bosses (think: chasing up approvals, finance sign offs etc) and they should provide you with support in return and help with any sticky situations! Not everyone will get in, but most should.

SandAndSea Thu 15-Feb-18 11:20:34

If you're planning a meeting, remember to check that everyone will be able to access it (think stairs, print size etc) and also check dietary requirements.

chatwoo Thu 15-Feb-18 11:21:34

--Not everyone will get in, but most should.--
Not every one will be onside or get on with you, but these connections are worth their weight!

chatwoo Thu 15-Feb-18 11:28:01

To do lists. I use outlook, so fully the flags reminders on emails and also use the to do list. I really like being able to see the flagged items + to do list in the same view.

I'm not a PA any more but was a secretary / PA / EA for 23 years, and now do project support - so still administration related to an extent.

MrsRoyCropper Thu 15-Feb-18 11:37:20

Congratulations on the new role! Im a PA to a number of senior managers, and each of them have different needs. So my advice is to book some time in with your boss and ask them exactly what support they want, what the absolute priorities are, and what you can pick up when you have capacity. So with mine, some want me to review/flag/action where possible all their emails, but they book their own travel. Others manage their own inbox but want me to book meetings, send agenda’s, book meeting rooms etc. You both need to agree what your role looks like. Put in quick daily catch ups to review priorities, and longer weekly catch ups to reflect on how you’re doing and flag any issues. Write everything down and file every email into sub folders for future ref. And don’t be afraid to pushback when necessary!

Twinkie1 Thu 15-Feb-18 11:51:08

Be nice to everyone from the lady in the canteen to the receptionists, the post man, chauffeuring company right up to your bosses boss. People will be willing to help you and support you if you need it. I've worked in major investment banks where you knew the PA's who got above their station because of who they worked for and were hated by everyone and no one would help them out.

Write every job you have to do down on one of those dreadful orange to do pads so you never forget anything. If you don't get s job done on Monday, transfer to the Tuesday page and do on but make sure you highlight things that are time sensitive.

Never ever be afraid to ask questions no matter how stupid. I told someone once that the car had to go to Casa Ramires meaning the home of one of my bosses house (surname Ramires) and the poor temp spent the day trying to figure out where the hotel/restaurant I meant was.

Use message books that keeps a copy of what you write in them and make sure you write every single call in them.

Request access to your bosses email and his/her diary on outlook so you can deal with things for him/her, book in meetings etc.

Keep a copy of his passport details as well as any visas/she he has as well as making sure you update electronic c contact information regularly. Having info to hand can be a lifesaver sometimes.

Keep a few cereal bars in your desk. Missing lunch or eating it at 4pm was the norm so having something to keep blood sugar levels up is good.

Twinkie1 Thu 15-Feb-18 11:55:18

File emails electronically rather than deleting is another one and print out your bosses diary page and attach all agendas and meeting notes for the day.

I'd often google participants and put some notes together if meeting was new deal etc just so he/she had bit of back ground info.

He'll be used to doing things as per previous PA but if you think you can do it better/differently then don't be afraid to say so. They'll often just go along with stuff not thinking how it can be changed as they're thinking of their role rather than yours,

PJsAndProsecco Thu 15-Feb-18 11:56:08

Lists! I'm PA to a Head of School at a University and the key to keeping him organised, is keeping myself organised. Knowing exactly what he is doing each day, and keeping a list for myself of what I need to do daily, keeps me on top of everything. Basically be one step ahead of your boss in knowing what's happening, when.
Also prioritise well - if an email or request comes in from higher up in the Faculty, I deal with it right away so I know it's covered. Other emails and tasks can be done later.

MacavityTheDentistsCat Thu 15-Feb-18 12:12:42

If your boss does a lot of international travel involving visa requirements, arrange for her/him to get a second passport. Makes life much easier.

velvetfern Thu 15-Feb-18 17:52:42

Love the day pack idea. These suggestions are making me feel much more confident & prepared!

crackerjacket Thu 15-Feb-18 17:55:38

Learn how tell people to fuck, in a very nice way
Learn everything you can about your boss
You need to be discrete

Be nice to everyone from the lady in the canteen to the receptionists, the post man, chauffeuring company right up to your bosses boss. People will be willing to help you and support you if you need it


This. You are above no-one, don't act like you are.

crackerjacket Thu 15-Feb-18 17:56:22

Learn how tell people to fuck, in a very nice way


fuck off, of course

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