London's Top PA: Liz Norden

For Liz, the flexibilty of being a Temp PA is a huge work perk that can't be found in a full-time role

1. Liz NordenHow did you start your PA career? 

I really fell into this career. At 18, after a bit of sixth form and about a month of beauty college (I quickly figured out I liked being on the receiving end of treatments, not the giving end!) I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be or do, I just knew I didn’t want to go to university, and I did want to earn some money! So I started working as a receptionist at a small law firm, but after 2 years was ready to move onwards and upwards. I moved to a big corporate reception team at a big investment bank where I stayed 2/3 years. My next role came about when I was temping for a few days at a boutique brokers - they liked me and asked me to stay on permanently. This was a combination of reception and admin assistant work and gave me my first real taste of PA work. After 3/4 years working here and abroad as a PA for a talent agency, my ambition was to work as a “PA on a dealing room floor in Canary Wharf”! I had my first interview for my dream job and got it! That’s where I spent 6 years working at first as a PA to two and a team, and then as a 1:1 as my boss become more and more senior. 

I’ve loved every job and made some of my life long best friends at each company - some of whom I’m sure I annoy with my constant lists and holiday itineraries and organising! But as I try to explain to them: “I didn’t choose the PA life, the PA life chose me”!

2. What made you choose to temp as a PA?

A combination of reasons - I have worked ‘in the city’ in full time employment since I left sixth form college 15 years ago, and for personal reasons, I felt I needed a break from work. My lovely boss who I worked with for 6 years was retiring so I thought it’d be a good time for me to take my well-deserved break. After my ‘gap year’ I wanted to get back to work but didn’t want the commitment and pressure of a full-time job, so temping is the perfect solution for me! 

3. How did you find your first temping job?

I had a very quick turn around with my first temping role with Bain and Gray - I had a phone interview on the Tuesday afternoon and started the job the following morning, so luckily, I didn’t have any time to start worrying! I was a bit apprehensive as it was my first time back at work after a year off - would I remember what to do?! But thankfully I did, and worked with such a fantastic team that really restored my confidence in my ability to work well as a PA!

4. What were your initial thoughts about temping, especially in comparison to a full-time role?

I was happy to learn that temping now has pension and holiday pay benefits, but of course you will miss out on other benefits that a full-time job may offer e.g., gym memberships, private healthcare. But for me the positive absolutely outweighs any negatives, and that is flexibility! I can pick and choose what area, company, salary band, role duration I prefer and take a break when needed. 

5. What’s the best thing about temping?

As mentioned, flexibility is the best thing about temping for me. Temping would also be great for someone starting off in their PA career, or looking for a new direction, as you can try all different job sectors e.g., banking, media, law, healthcare etc and see what you would prefer for a full-time role. 

6. What would you consider your biggest achievement as a PA?

I think my greatest achievement isn’t one particular moment but receiving continuous thanks and praise from all different people for what I believe is ‘just doing my job’! A simple thank you/well done makes a huge difference! 

7. What advice would you give someone considering temping but worried to take that first step?

Be confident and have a smile ready, you’ll meet a lot of new people, and will no doubt need to ask a lot of questions along the way - so don’t be shy! Remember you’re representing not just yourself but the agency too, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to have positive feedback!  

8. What three attributes do you think make a good PA?

Be calm: there will be stressful and time sensitive requests - running around like a headless chicken won’t help anyone! 

Have a “yes” attitude: no matter how trivial or complex, have a positive attitude to requests. 

Be prepared: think of all eventualities and try and have a plan for every outcome, check all details no matter how small, and try and be one step ahead of your boss - so when they ask ‘can you do this’, it’s already been done! 

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

Lists! I couldn’t function without a list! (It’s so satisfying to cross items off once completed!) I’ll have a note book or diary, that has a page for every day and before I leave at the end of each day anything that hasn’t been completed gets transferred to tomorrow’s list, to make sure nothing gets missed. It’s a great way to be prepared and know what you have on tomorrow/next week too. 

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

I go on a lot of holidays, which is the beauty of temp work! I’m currently enjoying some winter sun in Florida, after my last temp role. 

I go to the gym, swimming, eating out with friends, and spend time with my friends and their children. In my previous full time job, I was involved a lot with organising teams to volunteer our time at local homeless shelters and children’s charities. It’s something I really enjoyed doing with work, and have continued doing personally. And lastly - ‘playing the dating game’ - which is almost as hard a job as being a PA!