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Becoming a practically perfect PA

"They say that you often find love when you're least looking for it"

Michelle Lowe, Senior PA in the UK

and that was certainly the case when Michelle Lowe found herself working as a personal assistant. Now PA to the Managing Director of Tate, a leading provider of PA jobs in London, Michelle told us how she fell into her profession and what tips she’d give to anyone planning (or not) to do the same.

What do you do in an average day?

An average day actually involves quite a lot, so you might have to bear with me! My main tasks include:

  • Diary management for the Managing Director
  • Inbox management
  • Producing documents, reports and presentations
  • Preparing correspondence on behalf of the MD
  • Carrying out research for the MD
  • Organising all UK travel and accommodation and coordinating travel itineraries
  • Minute-taking for all Senior Team meetings
  • Project management
  • Helping to organise events such as the annual Company Awards Dinner, reward and recognition functions and external events such as the PA Show
  • Processing all expenses
  • Recording and monitoring holiday, sickness and absence records.

What skills do you need to be a PA?

You need to be organised, efficient, flexible, self-motivated, proactive and a good communicator. At the same time, you need to be professional and have the ability to show discretion, as you often deal with highly confidential information and liaise with senior executives within the organisation. You also need to be IT literate, particularly with Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Did you take any specific courses at the start of your career?

My background is in HR, so I took the Certificate in Personnel Practice. My role as HR Assistant also encompassed the role of PA and I decided to pursue this career route rather than stay in HR. Some of the HR courses I attended (Saville and Holdsworth Ability and Personality Training, Employment Law courses, etc.) have actually been useful in my role as a PA.

How do you keep yourself updated on the latest trends in your sector?

I’m fortunate in working for an office recruitment company, which gives me access to regular REC reports and discussions in Senior Team meetings highlighting trends, useful LinkedIn articles, etc. I also subscribe to a number of online magazines such as PA Life and Practically Perfect PA.

What are the most and least interesting parts of your job?

I enjoy organising the Annual Awards Dinner, an event for about 160 employees. I also like to utilise my skills in PowerPoint to compile presentations. The monthly expenses are probably the most tedious task I have to undertake. But someone’s got to do it!

When do you say yes and when do you say no?

When I’m given a task, I don’t think it’s a matter of saying no – unless I think someone else is better suited to achieving it. I look at my workload and prioritise where necessary, depending on the urgency of the task. It’s then important to set realistic deadlines and communicate these to everyone involved.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career as a PA?

I think the best route to becoming a PA is to start in an administrative role, or temp to gain the right experience. This will give you the opportunity to learn the key skills involved.

There are also a number of formal PA qualifications available now, so I would recommend studying one of these either through your current company or through open learning.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt during your career?

Work in a career that you enjoy. Your working day is such a major part of your life that you need to like what you do. I was fortunate enough to find a career that I enjoy, even though it wasn’t in my original plan.

Tate is a specialist recruiter of PA jobs in the UK. For expert career advice and access to the best office jobs, register on our website and like our Facebook group.