The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a...city PA manager?"

Welcome back to week 2 of ‘The Monday Interview’ - our new weekly blog feature where we give an insider’s guide to some of the careers that are out there for you to explore.

One of my biggest frustrations as a careers adviser is that people often have very limited views on what careers are available and achievable. Take jobs in the City and most people think of investment bankers or lawyers. But a successful investment bank isn’t run by investment bankers alone. What about the infrastructure within these companies? What about the thousands of opportunities that exist for people with the skills that provide these multi-million pound organisations with their day to day support. Without them, these very companies couldn’t exist.

Today’s interview goes to show how a combination of fabulous administrative and people skills can mean that you too can have it all in a successful City career. Deidre (not her real name, but we like it;-)) explains more about her job as a PA Manager:


So, briefly, what is your job?

“I manage a team of 50+ PAs in a City law firm. Essentially I am responsible for ensuring that every Partner, fee earner and trainee solicitor in my teams receives a top class PA service, as well as making sure that the firm is getting best value out of its PA resource and looking after the PAs that provide that service. I deal with any day to day operational issues that arise (lateness, absence, holiday etc) and also I make sure that all my PAs are ok from a welfare perspective. I am also responsible for hiring, firing, performance review, disciplinary, etc. I spend a lot of time developing and coaching my staff to raise their performance levels.”

How did you get into it?

“I got into this by a rather roundabout route - I had been in the public sector for 12 years. My last job before I came to the firm was as Executive Assistant to the Chief Exec in a charity, where I ran a small team. I was appointed here as a ‘Team Leader’ looking after a team of 8 and also working as PA to two partners. Since then the role has developed and I now have five teams totalling 55 staff (I gave up being a PA quite quickly!) This is a rather non-traditional path into secretarial management - most of my peer colleagues have worked up from being PAs for their whole career. I did not need any specialist qualifications as I was a ‘lateral’ hire but most PAs will require ILEX or some other secretarial qualification.”

Describe a typical day.

“I check my blackberry on the way into work to see what has come in overnight and what sickness absences may need to be dealt with when I get here. Normally I walk round all my teams during the morning and just have a chat with people. I might then deal with some recruitment, or take feedback on people’s performance; or meet someone for a coaching session. Sometimes there are issues to be dealt with so I would discuss those with HR if necessary and then meet with the people concerned. I do seem to go to a lot of meetings but so much of what I do is confidential! I also go and talk to fee earners and partners a lot as it is important that they know where to come to if there is a PA issue and that I properly understand their needs.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“It’s all about people and I can really see how the high performance of my teams contributes to the success of the firm. When we land a new deal or complete a big transaction the celebrations do include the PA team who have helped it happen.”

And the least?

“Filing!”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“That PAs are reactive (‘take a letter, Miss Jones’) and not terribly clever (it’s the ‘just’ a PA attitude) instead of being extremely knowledgeable, professional, proactive specialists in what they do. Without the PAs this firm would not function and that is true of any major company or organisation.”

What are the main skills you need to be a PA Manager?

“To do my job you need lots of good people skills; excellent communication skills, empathy, listening and a positive approach. On the flipside I also need to be able to take decisions from a rather hard-nosed business perspective so a fine sense of balance is required between these core functions. To be a PA you need excellent keyboard/IT skills and to be proactive, organised, efficient, flexible and endlessly patient and cheerful with often disorganised or distracted fee earners.”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“My role is in the range of 45-55k. At this firm we have an excellent benefits package too.”

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“A good foundation for those wishing to enter as a junior in this field would be a legal secretarial course. Excellent ‘Office’ and IT skills are necessary. No formal qualifications are generally required for promotion to management level but a lot of training is needed in the softer skills”.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“Head of PA Services for a mid- or top-tier law firm.”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“I roll in at half nine and go away again between 5.30 and 6. I don’t do much overtime because I work on my blackberry at all hours anyway!”

Tea or coffee?

“Green Tea please, and lots of it”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“Both…I prefer the pub, though”

The lift or the stairs?

“Lift to the floor below then run up the stairs!”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Depends what day it is… on a school night, its home/exercise/dinner/telly/bed; on the weekend, bring it on!”