London's Top PA: Claire Cousins

Claire tells us the best ways to get into PA life

How did you get your career started as a PA? 

Like many PAs, I started working on reception and in front of house roles. I think this is a great way into any company as you’re at the centre of everything and it’s a fantastic way to be spotted. You very quickly get to know colleagues, clients and logistics which help you get tasks done quickly and efficiently when you become a PA.

What was your experience of finding your first PA role? 

My first PA role was a mixed role so I combined PA duties with managing the front of house. Gradually, as the company grew, I spent more time concentrating on the PA side of things like my Directors’ workloads and their diaries. Neither of them had had a PA before so it was a great learning curve for all of us. They didn’t have specific expectations so we had to communicate constantly to ensure we helped each other and worked well together.

What has been your most challenging PA role to date and why? 

One boss was extremely challenging and unrealistic but an important PA trait is discretion so it’s probably best to leave that one there!

How does it differ from previous jobs? 

I’ve had lots of different roles in the past so being a PA differs simply by being office based as that was new to me. Being a PA is a very varied job and I love how much you can learn about so many things. I’ve ended up at amazing events and organising things from a boss’ company strategy to their honeymoon!

Who has been your most inspirational boss and why? 

I’ve had lots of great bosses but I think the one in my new company is particularly inspirational. The company has grown globally in a really short time and he works so hard but remains friendly and self-sufficient. He hasn’t let success go to his head.

Biggest achievement as a PA? 

Sometimes I’m asked to do something that can seem very unachievable so just surpassing expectations and bossing situations is a satisfying achievement for me. Coming up with new ideas that make a business run more smoothly and seeing them put into practise and working is also a great feeling.

Biggest hurdle you have had to overcome as a PA? 

Dealing with some very unpredictable characters and being told something is unachievable when it simply has to be can be tough.

My tip in those situations is to - stand your ground and stay strong but be friendly to build a great rapport with clients, it’ll always turn in your favour at times you least expect.

Do you feel valued as a PA? Do you think PAs get enough recognition? 

I‘ve find every PA role to be so different. Personal Assistant is quite a vague term and the role can be performed at very different levels so I think it’s hard to determine the value and recognition received. Some PA duties are quite straightforward, getting coffees and some admin but other roles, the level of expectation about what you do is much higher; you’re involved in their professional and private lives. I’ve found that whatever your tasks are, big or small, the recognition and appreciation definitely depends on who you’re working for. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum and have learnt that when you go for your interview, it’s so important to interview them as much as they do you. The working relationship you have with your boss is key to your appreciation, success and overall work/life happiness.

What advice would you give to candidates finding their first job in a support role in London? 

Finding temp work is a great way to learn about many different industries, especially if you’re working front of house. I did this for a few years ad hoc, around my main job which wasn’t 9-5, and this taught me about where I wanted to be. Temping is also an easy way to get into a company and then transfer internally.

What three attributes do you think make a good PA? 

Organisation, patience and proactivity.

What makes your day easier/ what or who couldn’t you live without? 

Outsourcing travel agents and concierge services.

What are you most proud of? 

Landing my most recent EA role. I hadn’t had as much experience as the other candidates but the company could see my enthusiasm and recognised my varied experience and transferable skills and made an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I found other recruiters couldn’t see past the level of experience I had and were putting me forward for much more junior roles.

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

Definitely start on reception if you can’t get a direct PA role.

Speak to other PAs, attend networking events and be open to new technology & services making work like much more time efficient. Be proactive and help wherever you can and you’ll soon be noticed.

When you’re not being one of London’s top PAs, what do you enjoy doing? 

Going on holidays! I like to travel as much as possible and I’m always getting the best flight deals. I’ve recently been to Vienna where I booked flights for 0.02p per person and Philippines for £200 return.

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