Interns

I’ve yet to work somewhere where people are actually pleased to get an intern. But it’s not the intern’s fault that the markets just crashed so you don’t have time to talk to them. So what can you do with them to make sure they have a useful experience? It’s really important to give your intern a useful and productive internship. These are the next round of people that will be entering the workforce.

1.  Give your team as much notice as possible.

I know this is easier said than done, but you need to get people engaged with the idea as early as possible. As a PA, you can’t have an intern sitting with you all day for two weeks – they need to interact with as many people as possible to get the best overview of the company.
Although I think we all know that they would probably learn more from you than most of the other people in the company!

2.  Give them a project.

I worked somewhere once where the analysts looked at stocks all day to decide which ones they wanted to invest in. I suggested that one of the analysts give the intern 5 stocks and asks them to research which one they felt would give the best returns over a set period. I gave this to the technology analyst as he was looking at more well-known companies like Apple and Google – ones that the intern will have heard of.
A good intern will then use that project as a basis for which questions they ask and what research reports they look at throughout their time with you.

If you don’t work in the financial sector, there are still plenty of things they can do. You can give them a similar project that is more to do with your company. Perhaps you could invent an event for them to plan. Or you could ask them to come up with a social media strategy for you.

The main thing is that you give them something to do that will actually help them decide if they want to do that as a career when they finish uni. A bonus will be that it helps you, the company!
It’s important that you give them something to do which makes them think. If you have a summer intern who is still at high school, this is possibly a way of learning that they haven’t had much experience of.

Giving them filing and shredding, whilst fine as a one-off, is not what their internship should mainly consist of.

3. Give them a schedule.

Put some effort into scheduling some specific things for them to do. If you have a daily/weekly team meeting, make sure that’s on their schedule. You could ask them to contribute somehow (even if it’s just to give everyone an overview of what they are studying).
Carve out some time with people so that they can sit with your intern and explain what their role is.
Giving your intern a formal schedule shows them that you care they are there and want them to get something out of their time with you.

4. Involve them

Let them attend your (non confidential) meetings. Take them along to a client meeting if you can, and then ask them some questions when you have finished. Introduce them to everyone in the team so that everyone knows who the intern is.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like a spare part. When I did a work experience placement, for a lot of my time I was stuck up in an office by myself sorting out a bunch of old files. It was soul destroying. What did I learn? That all offices should be paperless!!

5. Review them

This is really important and probably something which is done the least. At the end of the placement, someone senior should sit with your intern and go through what they have learned and answer any questions. They should offer constructive feedback to the intern so that they know how they have done. Give them some pointers on what to work on and generally give them some career advice.
One senior executive I worked with gave our intern his business card and offered some follow up meetings throughout the rest of his studies. He was basically offering to be this guy’s mentor. It was the most wonderful gesture, and a couple of years later he started working with us full time!

So, if you are an intern, the one piece of advice I can offer you is to meet as many people as possible and leave them with a good impression of you. This can ultimately be worth more than your education in terms of career opportunities in the future. I’ve seen the proof with my very eyes.

 

Have you had a recent internship? What did you get out of it?
Have you recently had an intern? What did you give them to do?

Is “PA” a career choice?

Making reference to a secretarial colleague of mine, I once heard someone say in a meeting “I asked her if she wanted a career or to carry on being a secretary”.
To be clear, it was nothing more than a mis-worded phrase, and after I commented that being a PA is a career, we all had a good laugh about it.

But it made me think. There are people out there, in all kinds of roles, who think that a PA role is somehow temporary. That they must be doing that job whilst they search for a “proper career”.

There are plenty of people who move from a secretarial career into something else. I’ve seen people move into HR, I’ve seen PAs become financial analysts. But what if it’s secretarial work that you are passionate about?

I say: GREAT!! Being a PA, or secretary, or team assistant is hard. It requires a special set of skills, just like any other role. Not everyone can be a manager, in the same way that not everyone can be a PA.
The tasks that are carried out by PAs are just as important as tasks carried out by other members of the team.
You wouldn’t want clients greeted by someone rude and unkept. You wouldn’t want your emails written by someone who had no idea what the company does. You wouldn’t want your meetings arranged by someone who couldn’t figure out time zones.

If you think about all of the people who make up your team and imagine that they are all cogs in a big machine, your Secretary will be about 16 different cogs, with influence over every single area.

It takes a certain kind of person to juggle 25 different tasks, all completely unrelated to each other, whilst still knowing that you need to leave 10 minutes early for your meeting across town because it’s just started raining and there will be no cabs.

A PA develops their career over the years. I’ve noticed that there definitely isn’t a correlation between the seniority of the executive and the ability of their PA. If anything, it can be harder the more junior the team you are looking after. Why? Because if you are looking to schedule a meeting for the CEO, everyone will clear their diaries to accommodate. If you look after a junior team, you are the one who is clearing all the diaries!

If you are a senior executive, you probably don’t realise how much you rely on your PA. They take care of a lot of your emails, they read all the contracts for you, they set up meetings before you know you need them. They could probably stand in for you for a short while if necessary.

So is a PA a career choice? 100% yes and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, suggest that they spend just a week in your seat and see how they manage.

I’m in the middle of a secretarial career. I have moved from Team Assistant, to Senior Secretary, to Executive Assistant, to Office Manager. These weren’t all necessarily upwards moving roles. Some of them were sideways, and a lot of the tasks overlap. But my secretarial roles have completely been my career and will continue to be so. I’m a career EA/PA/OM and darn proud of it too.

The Appraisal

Today I received my appraisal to “review and sign”.
It was not a task I was looking forward to: putting my name to a document that had clearly been drafted by an incompetent dinosaur who couldn’t ‘manage’ a piss up in a brewery.

Not only had one of my “notable achievements” been the successful typing up of a report (wow, thanks!), but I had also managed to competently organise the keys in the key cupboard.

Now, if that was all I’d done, fair enough. Or even if I’d made a complete pigs ear of everything else. But that’s the problem when you work for a dinosaur. They don’t notice things that they can’t do themselves. They can’t understand how it’s saved someone several hours a week, or hundreds of pounds.

For example. The code I wrote to format the useless expenses spreadsheets I get sent. Or the whole review of our contracts and suppliers to make sure we were getting the best deals.

Why didn’t I mention this in my appraisal meeting? Well I did. But this hideous document had already been written. And it was hard enough for me explaining how to put a watermark onto a word document. Let alone trying to explain what code is. 

So what should you do in this scenario? I personally did nothing. I was confident enough in my own abilities to know that keeping quiet would save me a lot of hassle. Arguing with a Dinosaur is pointless. After realising they are in the wrong, they will ultimately just pull rank on you and you’ll have to agree with them anyway. So I saved myself about half an hour of pain, and used that time to start looking for another job.

But if you are at the start of your career, an episode like that can really throw you. It will make you start to question your ability. My advice would be to suck it up, and then when you are away from the office, personally evaluate what has been said. Be critical. Could you have submitted that report any quicker? Should you have suggested a better way of doing something when you knew a better way? You don’t have to discuss it with anyone, but really think about it. If you think that perhaps you could have done better, start doing better! Think about where you are in your career. Is organising a key cupboard really an achievement? If it is, then great.
Finally, think about if you care about your appraisal. 9 times out of 10 you really should. If you think your boss’s criticism has been fair, go and ask him what you need to do in order to get a better one next time. A good boss will be able to give you reasonable pointers on how to improve. Take them on board and do them so that he notices that you are heeding to advice and genuinely want to do better. A bad boss will just tell you to work harder or “do better”. If he says this, you are likely to get the same old story next time around. A boss like this probably gives bad appraisals with no improvement advice so that he doesn’t have to pay you a bonus. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it never gets better. My advice here would be to start looking for a better boss.

What is your boss like with appraisals? Does he or she offer constructive advice? Do they just fob you off? What is the most helpful advice you have ever been given about an appraisal?

How to lose employees and demotivate everyone

It was brought to my attention recently that one of the senior staff members at my company decided on a new tactic on how to motivate staff.

Did he take some work from someone to free up their time to catch up? No.
Did he offer an afternoon off to thank someone for staying late several times that week? No.

He decided that it would be in the company’s best interests to tell this person that they were thinking of delaying the hire of a second analyst because they felt that this person could just work harder. He asked, having seen this person browsing the internet a couple of times, whether they stayed late simply because they did personal activities during the day!

This employee therefore decided that since her extra efforts and staying late (sometimes until 8 or 9pm) were making it look like she was dossing about during the day, she started leaving at 5.30pm on the dot. When her boss was travelling, she wasn’t available to answer his emails. She stopped going over and above, and ultimately started looking for another job.

A couple of weeks before this, the same staff member had gone to the effort of printing out my entire internet browsing history and presented it to me like a cat presents a dead bird to its owner. He seemed proud that he’d just killed about 16 trees.

The conversation went a little like this:

Him: I know you do a lot of research for other team members but your internet history is way larger than anyone else’s.
Me: if you know I do a lot of research for other team members, why are you asking me about it?
Him: because I want to know if any of these websites were browsed for personal use.
Me: of course some are. I’m here from 8am to 6pm, and I have a lunch break. At what times were all those sites accessed?
Him: I don’t have  that information
Me: so they could all have been accessed over my lunch breaks?
Him: were they?
Me: I don’t have that information
Him: why did you visit the John Lewis website so often on this date?
Me: I had to order all the glasses and cutlery for the office
Him: ok so why have so many hotels come up on your history?
Me: you mean when I was asked to research hotels for our offsite?
Him: ok well what about Sainsbury’s?
Me: you asked me to look at how much it would cost to have our tea and coffee delivered. Is there anything there that I’ve accessed which is in breach of our company policies?
Him: I’ve not looked through it thoroughly yet
Me: ok well how about you do that and then come back to me if you have any questions. I will be happy to answer anything.

About two hours later he went over to the shredder with that wad of paper (including everyone else’s by the looks of it!) and it was never spoken of again!

Way to go to make it look like you spy on everyone! I’m keeping an eye out for when the security cameras get installed.

Proper excuses for being late to work

Need a real excuse? Try one of these! I’m not going to say whether they were real or not, but what I will say is that at least one of them is, and they have all been used with positive results!

1. The police were doing door-to-door enquiries down my street. There have been a spate of burglaries where people’s garden sheds have been broken in to. I had to answer a load of questions.

If you’re going to use this excuse, make sure the reason for the door-to-door enquiries isn’t really serious, like a murder. That would be on the news and therefore searchable. Best stick with the burglaries or some cats going missing.

2. I had to take my other half to A & E in the night. He had a fit in the night and fell off the bed, whacking his head on the bedside table. I thought he was concussed. When I spoke to the NHS helpline, they recommended that I took him in immediately.

For this you will have to send a message or two throughout the night. Perhaps just before you go to bed, and then set your alarm about an hour early. If you had to leave the house at 11pm and didn’t get home until 5.30am, can you really be expected to function at work? Hey presto you’ve just bagged yourself a day working from home and a nice lay in.

3. I bought some new running insoles and they caused bad blisters, which burst while I was still running. Now they’re continuously weeping so I can’t put shoes on.
With this one, you might have to put some plasters or dressings on for a few days once you go back. A bit of a hobble wouldn’t go amiss either. Also worth remembering that you will most likely have to work from home with this one so you won’t get out of doing any work. But at least you can stay in your pyjamas all day and order a pizza.

4. I have an appointment with the skin clinic.

For this I had an initial consultation, three full appointments, and then a follow up appointment.
Not quite a day off or being late, but five early home times, which are always welcomed. Also, this shouldn’t draw any questions because what boss is weird enough to ask about a skin condition?

5. I was walking through Paddington Station when I spotted a blind person having difficulties. I offered my help and ended up going with them to the ticket office and then made sure they got on the right train to their destination.

Who would be mad at someone who was late because they were helping someone in need?

What excuses have you come up with for being late to work? Any you thought were really good but ended up backfiring? We would love to hear them all!

Warning signs at an interview

We’ve all had that one crap job that we have hated. Sometimes, with hindsight, all the warning signs were right there at the interview. But how do you know what they are until it’s too late?

I’ll share mine, in the hope that you all will share yours and we can help someone in the process.

1. You get interviewed by the entire team.
This shows a complete lack of leadership within the company, with no single person able to stand up and take charge.
In the future it will be impossible to get anything done without meetings, discussions, and several signatures. It will make your job a nightmare and your line of authority will be forever changing.
I used to work in an office of just 10 people. There was one line of authority that was 4 people deep!! How does that work when it comes to reviews and objective setting? I can tell you from personal experience – BADLY!

2. The interview goes on for ages.
This shows a total lack of respect for the fact that you might have somewhere else to be. Perhaps mainly applicable at a lunchtime or early morning interview, these guys should know that you have a current job to get to. Keeping you there for over an hour shows ignorance and bad manners since they know full well that your current loyalties lie with your current employer.
Imagine my frustration at having this happen 9 times for me to get my job! It was played up and up, and I finally got to meet the God-like CEO, who ultimately turned out to be the office dinosaur! 100% not worth it.

3. They don’t ask you anything remotely interesting.
They ask the bog standard questions, and just run through your cv and ask you why you left. They’ve clearly not read your cv before the interview and you are wondering why they picked you to come in over anyone else. Were you the only applicant??
These people are generally dull, boring and will probably sit in their office all day and barely speak to you.
I once got asked in an interview: if I could do one thing, money no object, to change the world, what would it be? This person turned out to be the best boss I’ve ever had. Perhaps you could try asking that question at your next interview!

4. They interview you one by one.
Interviewing in multiples shows teamwork and good manners (when it comes to your time). Interviewing you one by one by one suggests that they are all a little too big for their boots. It shows an element of arrogance that they all think they deserve your time to themselves. Even if it’s just to ask the same dull questions as everyone else.
These people have no concept of scalability, and you are likely to find that your new role consists of a lot of rework and doing the same things a slightly different way for each person. 

It’s really important to remember that interviews are as much about the company finding out about you as you finding out about the company. Don’t be afraid to ask to go in for another interview if you’ve not been able to make your mind up. I’ve done this before and the interview felt completely different. Instead of being interrogated, I was calling the shots and I ended up turning the company’s job offer down as I didn’t feel that they were the right fit for me.

When your boss can’t be bothered

What do you do when your boss doesn’t seem to give a toss about the running of your company?

I was in a position once where my boss (the owner of the company) seemed to not care one iota about keeping meetings or signing off expenses, or doing any of the daily functions required to run a business.

So what can you do?

I can tell you, it’s super hard to give a rat’s ass about your job when even the owner can’t be bothered.

Like the time I had to cancel some poor chap’s interview for the eighth time. I felt like telling him not to bother coming back at all because its such an awful company.

Or the time I actually had to ask someone to leave our office after they had turned up for a meeting and the boss couldn’t be bothered to speak to her. I even think she heard him tell me “I’m important enough – they’ll come back when I tell them”.
They didn’t.

Then there’s the time I’d set up a conference call with our lawyers to discuss some payments we owed them. I was on the call when he walked in and told me that we would have to reschedule it because he had to get home before the nanny could leave. The result? They charged us a shedload of interest on the whole amount. Did I care? No.

The best thing to do when your boss doesn’t care is to run a mile. Pack your desk up and get the hell out of there. That company will fold. Either because it’s a lost cause or because your boss is turning it to crap.
You will eventually stop getting clients and / or business and the company will wither and die. Go and find yourself a company that actually wants to be in business.
Get out while you can!

Have you been in this position before? What did you do? Are you still there?