Please introduce yourself; what’s your name and how long have you been an EA?
My name is Irene. I became an EA in the APS in 2015, changed paths temporarily in 2017 before returning to an EA role (accidentally) in May 2019. Before becoming an EA I held a lot of roles in hospitality including guest services for an international hotel company, supervising cafes and restaurants, running diplomatic-level events, and auditing accounts in a boutique hotel. I also ran my own small business for a short period.
What did your first day as an EA look like?
My first day as a first time EA, I turned up on day one and found out my new SES was off sick! I filled the day by completing some mandatory online training and getting to know the other EAs in the division. Thankfully my manager was back at work the next day to talk me through my new role.
On my return in 2019, or as I like to call it my “second first day,” I was asked to assist with a Branch where the SES officer had not had an EA for quite some time. I had to be very proactive in working with the Branch Head to set up new processes and refine procedures as well as learning about the work of the branch, setting up contacts and establishing relationships. It seems I’ve had so much fun working with the Branch Head and the teams that I’m still “filling in” 17 months later!
You have such an interesting and varied selection of previous work experiences. What motivated the career changes you have made, and in particular what brought you to the EA role?
I’ve always sought roles that were fast-paced and offered a variety of new things to learn. Hospitality was great because no two days were ever the same and there were so many aspects of cafes, restaurants, events and hotels that I could learn about. Each move was an opportunity to learn something new.
However, with a young family, I found the long and inflexible hours in hospitality were harder to manage. After running my own business in the early childhood education space, I discovered that having adult people to talk to was also an important element in all the roles I enjoyed the most.
It was actually a friend of mine who suggested I should give being an EA a go. Fortunately for me, he worked in a recruitment company and he had something lined up for me within a week when I finally agreed to give it a go. I’ve found that as an EA I’m always interacting with people, there’s plenty to learn, and no two days are ever the same. I do miss the amazing food in hospitality, though…….
What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of your position as an EA?
The people I get to work with are the highlights of my role! My colleagues are high performing, resilient, incredibly intelligent and – most importantly – they know how to find the fun, despite the stress. There are always curveballs and challenges but the team always find solutions – often under incredibly compressed timeframes.
I love that every day is an opportunity to learn from the people I work with. Knowing I get to work with them, and then being able to celebrate with them when the job is done is what keeps me coming back each day.
What do you consider to be the most difficult part of your day?
Dealing with people…
We work in a high pressure environment where people can get tired and stressed and their patience can wear thin. Sometimes, I encounter some challenging personalities or difficult moods because the people are incredibly passionate about their work and things don’t always go according to plan. I’ve found that interpersonal skills, resilience and situational awareness are important parts of being an effective EA. Recognising and understanding why someone is stressed, knowing how to deal with different individuals, trying not to take things personally and having a few tricks up your sleeve to diffuse tense situations really helps in getting people back to being productive.
Hint – I keep a stash of tea and chocolates near my desk and every coffee trip is an opportunity to connect with a colleague.
What skills do you possess that you believe are crucial to your EA role? Were any of these skills honed during your previous roles?
In many ways, being an EA is a lot like running a business but instead of focusing on quality service of food and beverage, my focus is now on providing quality business support for my SES and the teams in the Branch. I do this by supporting my SES and the teams to achieve their goals, understanding how the work filters up and supports the work and strategic vision of the Division, Group and Department. I have to be mindful of efficient and effective office procedures including general administration, managing staff numbers and expectations, budget, governance, deadlines and priorities.
While not aware of it at the time, my experiences in hospitality dealing with complicated personalities and customers prepared me to deal with the more challenging aspects of people management I have encountered as an EA. It is an invaluable skill when building and maintaining networks to ensure effective and timely results for the team.
Do you think that your particular history gives you any unique insights or abilities in your EA role?
I think each person’s history and experiences help them add their own “flavour” to their EA roles. The business management, coordination and people skills that I gained in previous roles are the skills that I have found to be most transferable and most relevant in the EA role.
What are 3 items you can’t work without?
Coffee, chocolates and a working computer!
Can you recommend a helpful book, program or podcast that you love?
I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to learning about dealing with people so I read a lot of books on the topic! I think the three I refer to the most and have picked up multiple times are:
- Personality Plus by Florence Littauer;
- Body Language in the Workplace by Allan & Barbara Pease; and
- The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White
All have some great tips on dealing with people in (and beyond) the workplace.