We’d like to introduce you to one of our BBO PA Network Board Committee Members – the lovely Karen Harris!  Karen is an active member of the committee and is GREAT at making everyone feel at ease. She currently works as an Executive Assistant at Tech Data Limited and is a career Executive Assistant through and though. She shows true passion for the role of an EA, believes in professional development and has plenty of advice to offer to those who are just starting out in their career.

Grab a cup of something nice or a well needed glass of water (keep hydrated!) and take 5 minutes to read more about Karen below.

Tell us about your current role?

I currently work as EA to the VP UKI (MD) and HR Director UKI CEO and manage two EA’s at Tech Data Limited

Where do you live?

Newbury, Berkshire

Describe yourself in 5 words?

Approachable, sociable, loyal, calm, patient

Favourite Bucks/Berks/Oxon restaurant/hotel/venue and why?

Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saison – a really special venue in every way staff, food, space, rooms – I would likely have never been there if I hadn’t attended the BBO PA Network launch event there.

Tell us about your first BBO PA Network experience? Can you remember your first event?

It was at the Bottle & Glass Inn, was a rainy cold evening and felt like I was driving into the middle of nowhere!   I was a bit nervous but when I arrived Sarah greeted me with a big hug which straight away made me feel comfortable.  I didn’t know what to expect but I straight away easily got talking to people, one of which has become a friend and one of the network committee Samina!  I remember the two owners of the venue were every engaging and Nick Reed-Robbins and his movie scene story boards: Why? When? How? Obstacles? The checklist really resonated with me and I use that thought process a lot now.

What do you think makes a great Assistant?

Someone who is inquisitive, wants to get involved in as much as they can, wants to learn and develop, loyal to the company and the team they work in and can be flexible in approach and willing to get stuck in even if its not “in their job spec”.  Approachable and easy to connect with is essential as I think communication and networking is one of the best attributes of a good EA.

How important is networking to you? Do you enjoy it?

Extremely important the more people you know the easier your role and the more interesting your life becomes, and yes I love it!

What would you say to someone who has never been to a networking event before?

Don’t be afraid to mingle, you will likely connect to some people more than others but that’s ok everyone has a different personality. Be brave. You will learn lots and make new friends and business acquaintances as well as getting to view some beautiful event locations and try out some lush food! I love that you can be as flexible as you want in your attendance you don’t have to go to everything, just chose which is right for you. There are no negatives to joining the network!

What has been one of the challenges you have faced with Covid-19 and how have you dealt with the challenge?

Keeping motivated at home and managing a team remotely.  I have managed to cope well with this due to the support of my management team and staff around the company.  My team have been on furlough for 4 months so it’s been challenging juggling workload and working in a more reactive way instead of being proactive to get the job done. It has been all to easy to become encompassed in the ‘new world’ day to day challenges and working as an individual instead of a team.

What one piece of advice would you give to an Assistant just starting out on their career journey?  #TipsForAssistants 

Learn as much as you can about the company you are working at, communicate with your direct reports and line management as much as you can – don’t rely on email it can get misread or missed!  Pick up the phone, video zoom, walk over to their office, get to know people personally, it has a much better impact and you can build good relationships.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you don’t know everything but neither does everyone else, asking a question is a positive not a negative.

Be open to new challenges whatever they are and ensure your personal brand is on point, don’t underestimate how much people notice how you speak to people and how you approach things.

Never say “no it’s not my job” as you never know what that piece of work may lead to and what kudos you may get for doing something outside of your standard remit.

Being an EA/PA usually means your job role is never standard it can, and should be, fluid and flexible.

Why are you passionate about the Assistant / Business Support profession?

It’s a very satisfying career for someone who has this particular mindset, seeing something from outset to fruition and being able to help people and the business get stuff done is an amazing feeling.

What has been your greatest achievement to date in your career? What are you most proud of?

At Randstad I managed a team of 36 Administrative staff across the UK and although it was challenging I recruited a lot of amazing Junior staff into the business, developed them up and can see that now the majority of them are in senior admin/EA or even higher up roles in their career.  Although they have done that themselves, I feel very privileged that I gave them their first opportunity and was able to identify that initial spark in them.  The team overall was awesome, we had the quiet doers, the ideas people and the strong and vocal managers but as a whole the team were very highly thought of across the business which made me feel very proud.

What charities do you support? Any upcoming fundraisers you would like to make your Assistant community aware of?

Swings & Smiles in Thatcham – nothing currently but when there is, I will be happy to let everyone know as we always need equipment, toys and treats for the children which are all paid for by the funding.

What are you currently reading? Would you recommend it and why?

I don’t read much but recently read Becoming by Michelle Obama, which is brilliant, just about to start Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner.

How do you ‘switch off’ from the role? What advice would you give to someone who struggles?

Try to stick to a regular finish time and not work in the evenings, leave the work phone in your bag and don’t have your work emails on any personal devices – you’ll be tempted to look – no one will think any less of you if you aren’t working or checking email at 10pm and if they do well you may be in the wrong job!

Best ‘work’ Christmas Party or Summer Party you have attended and what made it so special?

Xmas Party which was ‘Fire & Ice’ themed – lots to watch all evening with fire eaters, ice sculptures etc… the whole place was themed and had a real wow factor.  No 3 course sit down boring meal – sharing platters and late evening themed snacks so much better set up than a meal and disco!

Best corporate gift you have ever sent or received? 

Fortnum and Masons food + wine hamper – all the things I would never have bought myself!

Your ‘pet hate’ when it comes to being an Assistant? 

When you’re left out of the loop and your managers/directors forget to include you or don’t communicate – it’s so annoying!