I had a fascinating conversation with a former work colleague recently who has had a varied career – she started out as a legal secretary, then moved to a personal assistant, then an executive assistant to the CEO of a listed company, to then owning her own small business providing EAs to executives in large corporations.


Her business started from a desire to see others succeed; and because she felt that secretaries often thought they should be designated as executive assistants when they were not really fulfilling that role. I asked her what she thought the difference was between a secretary and an executive assistant.


She said to put it simply, an executive assistant does all the things that a secretary does, but has much more responsibility with many, very senior level responsibilities. Some of which including research, personal contact with clients and suppliers, client database management, travel and conference planning, along with a host of other things she never imagined doing, such as organising a surprise birthday party for her boss’ husband.


She paused at this point and said that the fundamental thing an executive assistant must do is to understand why her boss does what he or she does. Understanding the person you are working for and what their goals are, both personally and professionally, as well as the values of the organisation, is of paramount importance for an executive assistant. That will give them a very clear understanding of what their responsibilities are to help the boss achieve those goals.


In a nutshell, the skills you need to move from being a secretary to an executive assistant include:


  • exceptional typing skills;
  • attention to detail;
  • perfect spelling, grammar, punctuation;
  • superior skills in most Office products;
  • time management and the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities at once;
  • confidentiality – not just discretion;
  • sound judgment;
  • problem solving skills;
  • the ability to stay calm under pressure; and
  • resilience


An executive assistant to a CEO, for example, is in effect representing that CEO, both within the workplace and outside. Appropriate dress standards, a confident manner, and a respectful persona are all necessary.


It is not an easy job, she said, but it is one that is incredibly rewarding. So think about your career – do you have what it takes to be an Executive Assistant?

How well do you know your client?

I ran into a candidate we had placed with a large firm a while ago and we stopped to have a coffee and a chat. It is always lovely to catch up with our candidates and find out what they have been up to. This young woman had been recently promoted and was very happy with her career choice. I asked what she thought was the one thing that made sure her promotion got through what sounded like quite a gruelling process, and she replied, without hesitation, ‘I made it my business to get to know the clients’ businesses’. This is something we at empire careers understand completely!client

More and more, professional service providers need to find ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. In order to advance your career, it is vital that you not only are technically excellent, but seen as a “trusted advisor” to your clients and have a deep understanding of your client’s business. In doing this, you will develop a good relationship and attract more work from that client as well as obtain referrals from that client to other potential clients.

Clients don’t just need a legal problem solved. They are coming to you as a professional person with knowledge of the law but they need a degree of commerciality as well as an understanding of their business and industry. Sometimes the pure legal solution is not the best solution. Here are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine how well you know your client in this very competitive market.

  1. What is the client’s business? This is not just as simple as saying, for example, logistics. Be as specific as you can. Is the client involved in this business at the local, state, national and international level?
  2. What are the major legal issues facing the client? In the case of the example of a logistics company, they may have workplace health and safety issues, commercial agreements, supply agreements and so on.
  3. What are the strategic issues facing this client? Is the client looking to expand or contract in the market, competing with other businesses? Are there some competitors on the market?
  4. What is the “legal spend” of the client? This is an important question to which you need to know the answer as it will determine how much legal work is outsourced to firms, including your own.
  5. How much work has the firm done for the client in the past? Analyse the legal spend and the nature of the work the firm has done for the client and where your expertise fits into that. Are there opportunities to cross‑sell or develop deeper relationships in a certain area? Does the client have a particular culture and does your firm fit that culture – for example, is it a young business hooked into social media or a more conservative traditional business?
  6. Does the client have a panel of legal advisors and who are your competitors? You are probably not the only player in the legal market doing work for this client. Find out who else is doing work for them. What are their strengths and weaknesses? If you are currently the only lawyer doing work for the client, then you may not be for long if you remain complacent.
  7. Do you know what the basis of the client’s decisions in choosing legal advisors is? If there is a panel, how do they decide where the work goes? Cost? Expertise? Relationship?
  8. What is your relationship with the principal decision maker? If you don’t have a relationship with the principal decision maker on legal spend, then you need to start making one.
  9. Who are the other people at the firm who have relationships, at all levels, in the client organisation? Who gets the work and in what areas? Can you be introduced? Can you introduce the client to others in the firm, in areas where the client does not use the firm?
  10. Can you articulate why the client should choose you/your firm over other competitors? This is perhaps the most important question and the most difficult to answer, but worth thinking about. It involves self reflection and honesty, and brand awareness.

“It’s hard to convince the client that you care about his or her business when it is evident that you do not know what’s going on in it.” – David Maister

How to tell if it’s time for a new job

If you’re no longer going into work with a smile on your face and a skip in your step and the thought of talking to your boss one more time makes you think about staying in bed, it might be time to look for a new job.

Understanding why you want to leave a job is important in terms of how to go about looking for a new one. Here are some of the signs it’s time to move on:changes ahead

  • You start being late to work every day – having trouble getting out of bed, unless there’s a medical reason, is a sign that there’s a certain lack of enthusiasm for going to work, and it might seriously be time to ask yourself why.
  • You don’t smile as much anymore – being miserable at work is not only no fun for you but it’s no fun for your work colleagues either. If you struggle to find enjoyment at work, even with your colleagues, then it’s not just a phase, it’s time for a new adventure.
  • You’re always critical – if you are constantly critical of management decisions or anything to do with work, then that is a big sign that you’re disengaged and unless you can find a way to re‑engage with your employer, it’s best you find that engagement elsewhere.
  • You find work boring – if you’re doing the same things over and over again, think about whether there is an opportunity to learn new skills or if you need to go elsewhere to do that. Oftentimes supervisors will take the “path of least resistance” and give you work because you’re a “safe pair of hands”. Try talking to your supervisor to get a different sort of work and if that doesn’t or can’t change then say farewell and head off somewhere else.
  • You actively dislike your work colleagues – if you have nothing in common with your work colleagues, including your supervisor, and you have started to dislike them as people, then it’s not about them, it’s about you. Don’t torture yourself with trying to like them or get them to like you – do yourself a favour and find enjoyment elsewhere.
  • Your values don’t align – this sounds incredibly deep but in fact it’s not. A good example is someone who cares very deeply about social justice, and would like to do work for the marginalised in society and really values pro bono work but the corporate organisation they work for, won’t give time to you to give back to the community. Your values and the organisation’s values do not align and it’s a recipe for disaster. You’ll become more and more miserable and need to find somewhere where your values are aligned.
  • You’ve been sitting on the same salary for three years – global financial crisis or not, if you’ve stagnated salary wise while the cost of living has increased, that’s a sign that you’re not being valued. Unless an honest conversation doesn’t fix the issue, you will in all likelihood receive a higher salary if you go elsewhere.

Everyone gets itchy feet from time to time – but you need to ask yourself if it is just itchy feet or something more serious. It is said that the current generation of young employees get those itchy feet sooner than previous generations. No longer are people with the same organisation their whole working lives. Like marriages, which end in divorce, employment relationships eventually tire and, like divorce, it may be as simple as “irreconcilable differences” rather than one thing that causes you to want to leave.

And of course, when you’re ready to move on, we would be delighted to help you!


First impressions can be lasting impressions – The Employer – Part 2

In the previous blog post we talked about how first impressions are so very important for employees. Similarly for employers, the impression you give to new starters will be a lasting one of you as an employer. Here are some of the things you can do to create a good impression with your employees, and help ensure that they continue to look forward to coming to work:

  • Make sure whoever is on reception knows who is coming and what their name is so they can be welcomed accordingly.
  • A large organisation will have (or should have) a formal orientation program. If you are a smaller organisation, or don’t have an orientation program, a small welcome pack which contains stationery, a list of commonly used phone numbers and a floor plan is a really good start.
  • Have someone show them around the office so they can familiarise themselves with the important things like fire escapes (!), bathrooms, and the chocolate dispensing machine.Thank you!
  • Make sure that whatever desk your employee is sitting at has been cleaned and ready for them to use. There is only one thing more dispiriting for new employees to come into an office and find that the belongings of the previous occupant are still at their desk and that no one has been told they are starting!
  • Make time – make sure your new employee is given time by their immediate supervisor to have the role explained and answer any questions the employee might have.
  • Set calendar appointments for probation reviews so that the employee knows when to expect those meetings and how to prepare for them.
  • Assign a buddy – if the organisation is a large one, assign a buddy for your new employee so that they have a peer they can turn to if they have any questions.
  • Say thank you – nothing brightens the day for a new employee than having the boss say “thank you”, even for the smallest things.
  • Wrap up – at the end of your new employee’s first week make sure you take the time to sit down with them and just ask them how they found it and if they have any questions they need answered.

Remember – It’s the little things that count.

First impressions can be lasting impressions – The Employee – Part 1

Do you ever wish you could press the ‘rewind’ button on the remote control of your life? Like the poor person who turned up to work on his first day at work to find out half way through the day that his fly had been undone the entire time?

Our brains have to process thousands of pieces of information at any given moment and this includes decisions about people. Snap judgments about other people – rightly or wrongly – are easy to make. Regrettably when we start a new job, it is very easy for mistakes made early in the piece to create lasting impressions with our employers and colleagues.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the speed with which we “size up” people we meet, in his 2005 book “Blink: The power of thinking without thinking”. Our brains have developed in a way to enable them to process information quickly – this is a mechanism that serves us well in dangerous situations but not well in social situations or in situations requiring us to exercise good judgement.

So here are our top tips to make sure you make a great first impression with your work colleagues instead of a bad lasting impression:impressions

  • Avoid giving work colleagues a nickname in your first week. A nickname is an intimacy that has to be earned so try to resist calling people “mate” or adding an “o” to John’s name to make him “John-o” or calling someone whose name is Sharon “Shazza”.
  • If you have a nose ring that you took out for the interview, it will be considered a deception if you turn up to work with it visible, especially if the organisation has a dress code that limits visible piercings. The same goes for tattoos.
  • Beyond time – nothing says “slacker” as someone who is disorganised enough to be late on the first day of work (severe weather events excluded).
  • Avoid saying “in my last job” ad nauseam. No one cares. You’re in this job now and unless you are specifically asked what your previous employers did in a certain situation, keep it to yourself. In any event if there is a better way of doing something it’s best people think it’s your idea not something you’re copying from your previous employer.
  • Smile – even if you’re feeling nervous. Smiling will reduce the stress that you’re feeling and basically tells people (whose brains don’t forget are making thousands of tiny decisions every moment) that you are friendly and approachable.
  • Always shake hands when you’re introduced to someone – regardless of whether that person is a peer, a superior or a junior colleague. Shaking hands (and don’t forget to smile) is a very quick way to establish a friendly rapport.
  • Dress professionally – most recruiters know that what job seekers wear to an interview is generally their best effort, and employers are starting to know this as well. Don’t underestimate the message you send when you turn up to work. Although there is a growing trend for people to wear thongs (shudder) or sandshoes (shudder again) to work and then change into work shoes, we don’t recommend that you do this on your first day.
  • Repeat back people’s names as you’re introduced so that you can try and remember them. If you don’t remember someone’s name the next time you see them, it is okay to say “I’m so sorry I’ve forgotten your name” rather than letting it go 6 times by which stage it’s too late to admit that you’ve forgotten.
  • If someone tries to engage you in gossip, avoid it like the plague. If someone is prepared to tell a new colleague gossip about someone in the office, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be talking about you just as quickly.
  • Say thank you to everyone who helps you along the way – gratitude is a much underrated virtue and showing genuine gratitude to people who assist you along the way will make you go far.
  • And unlike the fellow in the opening paragraph, double check everything is as it should be with your clothing

Your first few days in the job may determine how others perceive you. Make it count.

Managing Work Life Balance

Workplace flexibility has become an essential component of any attraction and retention strategy. In fact, flexibility in the workplace is one of the key factors in maintaining an employee’s motivation, loyalty and commitment to their employer.Managing your balance

Certain employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Employers can only refuse these requests on reasonable business grounds. An example of a flexible working arrangement can include a change in location (e.g. working from home) or a change in hours of work (e.g. changes to start and finish times).

Under current law, employees who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they:

  • are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger;
  • are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
  • have a disability;
  • are 55 or older;
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence; or
  • provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.

An employer can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements on reasonable business grounds. An example of a reasonable business ground is the requested arrangements are too costly or other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request.

Outside of the categories regulated by law, “Employers of Choice” are allowing other employees to alter their working arrangements either on an ad hoc basis or on a more permanent basis. Today is the age of the “digital worker” and half of Australia’s working population use the internet to work from home or on the go. Many employers recognise that there can be many benefits in an employee working from home e.g. more often than not workers who work from home don’t work a standard 9am to 5pm day but end up working longer hours and thus there is increased opportunities to get the work done.

Additionally, there are financial benefits to employers having employees work from home. Employers with a home workforce (or part home workforce) save money on overheads, desk space and absenteeism at work becomes a non-issue.

Given the law surrounding flexible working arrangements, it is therefore necessary for employers to implement an ongoing communication strategy to ensure employees are aware of workplace flexibility, and managers and staff know what is available and how a flexible work arrangement can be established.

The development of a flexible work strategy will contribute to an organisation’s “Employer Brand” and will greatly assist in the attraction and retention of staff.