Today we are shining the spotlight on Louise Cunningham, who is currently the Senior EA to one of the most senior female Financial Services Partners at a top Accountancy Firm. Here she talks about how she has worked her way up the career ladder, and the motivational advice she would give anyone wanting to follow in her footsteps!
Can you briefly explain the journey of your career to date?
“I started off being lucky enough to be chosen to do work experience in a Barristers chambers which I extremely enjoyed. Following my experience, I built such good working relationships with the chambers that they invited me back to gain more experience whilst at college. This then led onto me becoming a Barristers Clerk. One day, someone said ‘you should become a Legal Secretary, they are like gold dust!’ Once I heard this that was it, I did some research and found myself a role as a Junior Secretary.
I have worked my way up the career ladder and have gained incredible knowledge that can only be gained through experience. I was then made a PA, then a Senior PA, and then onto a new role as a Senior Executive Assistant. Looking back at my career to date I am extremely proud of where I am today, and that is down to pure hard work and determination.”
“When I grew up, I wanted to be……………
An air hostess, I loved the fact that I could travel the world and always look the part!”
Describe your typical day
“The day never stops! It’s a busy role that is often across different time zones as my boss regularly travels overseas. Like most EAs, I have to be extremely organised not only for myself but my boss too. She relies on me for almost everything. I put every detail of her working day in her diary to cover any potential questions she might have about who she is meeting and ensure she is prepared for each meeting, which she could not operate without. I base myself in the office most days and I also have the flexibility to work from home. I always start by ensuring that everything is prepped, from her meetings to updates on diary changes, travel arrangements and everything in-between.
It doesn’t stop there, as I also manage the account team to ensure they are delivering their tasks on time. I also take control of organising events which my boss hosts from start to finish to the point where all she has to do is turn up!”
How did you get your job?
The one company I have always wanted to work for is Deloitte, one of the Big 4! I decided to call Strictly as I knew they would find me my perfect role. Upon doing that, they mentioned they had a role at Deloitte. That was it, I had my mind set… and here I am today! Never give up, if you want something then go for it!
What is your favourite thing about your job?
“My boss is extremely motivated and supportive. When I joined Deloitte, I was very focused and asked my boss exactly what she wanted and how she wanted it done. After that, everything just naturally flowed between us.
Now, I have developed a very strong working relationship with her, being her right-hand person. I am able to think as she does, enabling me to predict her reactions throughout the day so that I am always five steps ahead. I sometimes think that the people we support are unaware of how much work goes into even the smallest of things, but with my boss, I know she appreciates everything I do for her.”
And the least favourite?
“A key challenge I think all EAs face is the perception of who we are and what we stand for. Building relationships and making connections in business is extremely important, and I feel that some people can be hesitant in approaching us, given that we represent the people they work for.
In my case, that is the ultimate boss. People can be apprehensive but as soon as you reach out and show that you friendly and welcoming, they start to warm to you. I have built many relationships both in the business and with clients since joining Deloitte, and I can honestly say I am proud of what I have achieved in the short space of time I have been there.”
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
“Being awarded PA of the Year 2014!”
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in your field?
“If you are thinking of pursuing a career as an EA, you need to be confident! If not, then build your confidence. If you wanted to start from scratch and haven’t had any experience in an office before, think about starting in an entry level role where you can build your skills and learn as you go. A big part of being a great Assistant is being able to think on your feet and you also need to be able to develop habits too. If you can get used to organising the admin side of things, following procedures and taking direction, you will naturally adopt new skills as you go. Of course, there is a lot more to being an Assistant but those are the basics and a good way to get your foot in the door.
Gaining as much experience as possible is extremely important as you cannot simply walk into a senior EA role without having any knowledge of what the job entails. It is rare that people are hired as support for C-Suite level professionals without having multiple years of experience, so having credible businesses and jobs on your CV for a good amount of time is important. It’s also important to realise that the support industry provides you with a career ladder and if you are willing to work hard, you can build yourself an amazing life working with some fantastic people.
An EA role can be incredibly stressful at times, so a successful EA must be able to approach every situation with a smile, working logically through each problem to find a solution. By keeping calm and staying upbeat, you will be able to complete tasks to a higher standard. My expression is ‘be a swan’, you may be paddling hard below but never show it, keep calm and the rest will follow.
The best advice I was given once was about stepping stones. Work hard and those skills will be recognised and rewarded slowly but surely. Develop relationships and get tips from experienced Assistants on key tasks. Hone your emotional intelligence and practice your communication skills. Rome wasn’t built in a day, persistence and dedication is key!”
What do you do in your downtime?
“We have all got to have a life outside work and I am a massive believer in balance. Everyone needs a break, especially in a role as an EA, it can sometimes feel 24/7!
I love nothing more than going for long walks with my dog, gardening and spending time with my loved ones.”
“I can’t live without…………
My pug Paddy!”
Published by Strictly Recruitment
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