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The Journey of an Executive Assistant

Posted on 15/09/2016 by Helen Corke

Providing C-Suite executive support on an international scale, Katie Binfield sits down with our Managing Director and Founder, Helen Corke, to share some insights into her success over the course of her career.

How did you decide that the career of an Executive Assistant was the right path for you?

I’m naturally an organiser and a problem solver, which are key attributes for any successful EA.  I am passionate about working alongside influential leaders and organising their extremely busy lives, having a close insight and input into that world and the successes that are created along the way.  My personal experience working with senior executives and leaders has been extremely rewarding, both professionally and personally.

Degree completion is not something you have ticked off your list as yet.  Has this ever been an issue throughout your career?

When I completed high school I wasn’t 100% sure what path I wanted to take in my career.  As a result, I decided to move into the corporate world and see where that took me.  I started out in reception roles, then when I decided to move to London that is where my big break happened and I secured a PA role at Barclays Bank.  This was an instrumental learning curve for me and one that kicked off my career in the financial services industry.  From there I transitioned into senior EA roles, until my last position where I was managing an Asia Pacific CEO office and was involved in the business on a deeper level, working on various projects and strategic matters.  Before this it wasn’t an issue for me not having a degree, however it was at the point in my last role where it felt like the right time to complete further education.

I feel you can never be over-educated and it is important to keep growing and developing as a person, no matter what age or stage you are at in your life.  There is a lot of value as an EA in completing a well-rounded business degree, which may lead to gaining more exposure in your role and will allow you to provide even more value and input into the organisation and person that you work for.

What did you enjoy the most about your last role supporting the Asia Pacific CEO?

I thoroughly enjoyed supporting a CEO at a regional level, which offered so much diversity and scope. Particularly gaining a daily insight into how an organisation operates from such an influential level, creating strategies and driving individuals in the local country businesses beneath that region to achieve targets.  Whilst I mentioned further education is important for growth, the experience that you gain on the job working alongside a regional CEO and their team is priceless.

In addition, it was a turning point in my career having a manager who wanted to push me outside of my comfort zone, seeing and believing that I had more to offer beyond the support I was already delivering.  Having a manager that believes in you, supports you and promotes you, really transforms your development.  It should come down to one thing; a strong chemistry and working relationship.  You are essentially a partnership and should both have each other’s backs and visions in mind, and that is what we had.

What tips would you give on work-life balance?

Managing your work-life balance is about maintaining an open line of communication with your manager.  You need to build rapport, trust and respect. You need to ensure you stand up and highlight your boundaries if something is making you uncomfortable.  My last few roles have been senior support roles, which come with the responsibility that you are realistically on call 24/7.  How you manage that time between working from home and being in the office is the key to work-life balance, which has a different meaning to each individual.

What are your top tips for a great working relationship with your boss?

  1. Remember that your boss is human, just like you
  2. Be yourself
  3. Speak up, be open and be honest

What are the top qualities of a good EA?

  1. Interpersonal skills
  2. Problem solving autonomously
  3. Confidentiality

What makes a great boss?

  1. When they believe in you, supporting and promoting your career development plan along the way
  2. When they have complete respect for you, trusting your judgement and advice
  3. When they show their gratitude

As the EA to the CEO, what factors are particularly important to be successful in such a role?

  1. Ensuring you stay in “sync” and communicate with your CEO.  It is so important that you are on the same page and “wavelength” to be able to excel at this level, and if your CEO travels frequently without you that makes it even more difficult to maintain this.  Strong communication is key, and managing this makes a significant difference.
  2. Being confident, visible and mindful. You are the “right hand” to the CEO.  People are constantly watching you, watching how you react to situations and watching the decisions you make, even if you think they aren’t. You need to maintain confidence, decisiveness and professionalism. 
  3. Being a “gatekeeper” in the right way.  There seems to be a stigma that as an EA to a senior executive you need to be closed and abrupt when guarding a CEO’s diary.  However there is a way to uphold your guard for the CEO in a welcoming and approachable way, and this will feed back to how people build and maintain their respect for you.

Do you think there are any differences between male and female bosses?

I don’t feel gender makes any difference.  What it comes back to is the importance of a strong partnership, you need to find a role where you have that understanding and chemistry.  You could be the “best” EA in the market and your manager could be the “best” boss, however if you don’t have that chemistry then it isn’t going to work to the optimal level that it should.

Have you ever had a mentor/role model figure in your career?

I have been lucky enough to come across two particularly special people in my career so far.  Firstly, a colleague I worked with back in 2011.  She became a mentor figure and crossing paths with her was a significant turning point my career.  She was an experienced EA, and also an amazing person who I learnt a lot from in those years when I was developing in my career.  She took me under her wing and provided me with a lot of guidance and direction which shaped the EA that I am today.

Secondly, my most recent boss.  He really believed in me, pushed me outside of my comfort zone and transformed me from a senior EA into a more confident individual, really opening up my range of what I could offer as a professional.

I am very grateful that I came across both influencers in my career to date.  It is so important to keep an open and optimistic mind, as you never know what is coming your way.  Positive energy attracts positive people and positive situations into your life!

What advice would you give your eighteen year old self?

  1. Aim high
  2. Remember what the mind believes, the mind can achieve!
  3. Be open minded