Lawiza Arain describes her job as PA to the head of marketing and communications at a university.
What is your role?
I have two main roles. I am finance administrator for the marketing and communications department and also PA to the director of marketing and communications.
In my finance role I look after and monitor spending on budgets in the department. I organise purchase orders and all other finance admin work for the staff in the department. I organise transport and rail tickets for staff to attend events. I book accommodation for staff and manage the use of the company credit card.
My PA role involves organising meetings and looking after the director’s electronic calendar. Organising meetings involves checking other people’s calendars to ensure that everyone is available at the same time for the meeting. This can sometimes be quite difficult, especially if other directors have a very busy calendar. I book the rooms and refreshments, as well as any car parking, travel or accommodation that is required.
I have an HR role for the marketing and communications department which involves updating staff personal records and logging any staff sickness.
I am the first point of contact in the department for both external and internal enquiries by phone and email. I often have to stop what I am doing to deal with a telephone call. You have to be good at multi-tasking, and at times the job is very busy.
I am also responsible for monitoring university branded items such as pens, prospectuses, carrier bags and leaflets. I take orders from other departments in the university and distribute these for events such as open days.
What do you like about your job?
I enjoy the finance side of my job, as I like looking after the budgets. I have a good idea of what is in each budget and make sure that we do not go over the budget in any area.
I also enjoy the wide variety of the work, as no two days are the same. I have a good overview of all the projects within the department for marketing courses to UK and international students. I am usually involved with most activities in the department, from the initial ordering of materials through to helping out with the bigger projects.
The good thing is that we have very good staff development and training at the university. We are encouraged to book onto any relevant training that will support our roles.
The university also funds external training and courses. I am doing a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) course soon to improve my knowledge of marketing, as it is not my background.
What’s not so great about it?
It can be very frustrating trying to organise meetings that fit in with everyone’s calendars, especially if they are very busy and do not have many free time slots in the week. Often I have to contact other directors’ PAs to do this, so it is important to have good relationships with other PAs.
I find some other areas of my work less interesting than others. For example, doing risk assessments can be quite time-consuming and not as interesting to me as other aspects of my job.
How did you get to where you are?
I left school with A levels in English and business studies. At the time I did not want to go to university. My goal at the time was to buy a house and so I went straight from school into a job as an admin assistant. While I was in that job, I studied for an NVQ in IT skills at a part-time evening class.
After two years in the admin post I applied for another admin job with the local authority adult education service.
I then applied for my present job a year later, as it had a PA role within it. This was what I really wanted to do. I have been in this job for five and half years.
I did achieve my goal to buy my own house at age 21.
What do you want to do next?
I have always thought that I might like to go into teaching. I could go to university one day and look to do a degree course in primary teaching.
If I decide to stay in business administration, I could look at operational jobs within other departments of the university at a higher scale or at similar roles elsewhere.
I could also move into another PA role with more responsibility in another organisation. Some PA roles have high salaries, especially in London.
What advice would you give young people thinking of doing your job in the future?
The best advice I can give if you are thinking of going into business admin is to try and get some work experience in an office environment. It is useful to know how an office works and how to use basic office equipment such as telephone systems and photocopiers.
Try and get as many IT skills as you can in office-based programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
You need to have excellent communication and listening skills. Be confident when talking to people on the telephone.
Take any opportunity you can to do courses offered by your employer to help improve and develop your skills, for example in taking minutes and using email.
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