When I left Swansea University in 1985, I had a shiny new English Literature degree and very little practical experience in the working world.
At 17 I was a Saturday girl in F. W. Woolworths on the make-up counter and still remember the excitement of Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets. You could even buy broken biscuits by the pound. Good times!
But it became clear that, at 21, I had to get some practical skills and fast – before testing my parents’ patience to the limit.
So I studied and graduated with the Royal School of Arts Diploma for Personal Assistants. The syllabus included not only typing and shorthand, but also law, economics, marketing and management.
This was shortly before the business world switched on its collective PCs and life was never the same again.
I honestly believe that it was the skills I gained as a PA which eventually allowed me to get an entry level marketing job and work my way up.
It’s not much different today for graduates and school leavers. Jobs are in short supply and employers understandably want employees who can ‘hit the ground running’.
And it’s even tougher for mums returning to the workplace.
When I left my last job, I was Practice Director and Head of Marketing for a large Welsh law firm. Walking back into that role after almost 10 years would be a huge challenge!
Part-time jobs are in short supply, particularly those with hours that fit around school times.
But one solution may be to do as I did all those years ago and train as a personal assistant.
Today more and more employers recognise the need to attract and retain well-qualified staff and many allow home-working on non-critical days to create a more flexible working schedule.
Lots of office tasks can also be carried out remotely – for example, diary management, organising meetings and preparation of documents.
In fact, virtual assistants are also becoming more popular and I know of some fellow bloggers who employ them to handle their social media work.
These are careers that offer great flexibility and would complement other home-working jobs.
So what exactly does a personal assistant (PA) do?
In my days as a PA to the chairman of a construction company, I found this included anything from buying the wife a gift, picking up dry-cleaning and ensuring the right sandwich was ready to eat at midday precisely.
Things have changed a little today (although if you watched “The Devil Wears Prada” you might take a different view).
PAs work closely with senior managerial or directorial staff to provide administrative support, usually on a one-to-one basis.
It’s your job to help them make the best use of their time by dealing with secretarial and administrative tasks.
- creating and maintaining office systems such as data management and filing
- handling travel arrangements
- presentations preparation (research, document preparation, photocopying, meeting arrangements)
- screening phone calls, enquiries and requests
- meeting and greeting visitors
- organising and maintaining diaries and making appointments
- dealing with incoming email and post
- producing documents, briefing papers, reports and presentations
- organising and attending meetings and ensuring the manager is well prepared for meetings
- liaising with clients, suppliers and other staff.
Starting salaries are between £17,000 and £25,000 but in central London these can range from £22,000 to £30,000 rising to £50,000 in Executive PA positions, depending on the level of experience and the type of business.
You can find some excellent PA courses in London or you could try contacting your local authority for a list of colleges which might offer something similar if you live elsewhere in the UK.
Make no mistake – a PA position can be very influential indeed and I think it’s an excellent stepping stone to a higher managerial role in time.
And there’s nothing like being a PA for learning the valuable people skills you need to succeed – no matter what the job!