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Interview: Birmingham PA Awards winner: Hannah Smith, Designated PA

2018 saw the introduction of the first Birmingham PA Awards, and what an evening it was, where five exceptional assistants were recognised for their efforts and achievements in the industry. Jade Burke speaks to Hannah Smith, VA at Designated PA, the winner of the inspiration award, to find out why she believes PAs are no longer expendable.

Congratulations on winning your award! How did it feel to be nominated and then to go on and win?
Thank you, it’s all still quite surreal to be honest. It was a joint nomination between myself and my employer, Designated PA. Initially I was very reluctant – self-promotion has never been my strong point – but my MD and my colleagues at Designated PA were so supportive and really encouraged me. Then followed a long process of telephone and face-to-face interviews, which all sounds a bit overwhelming – but Dan Skermer and the judges worked hard to make it an enjoyable experience and we did have some fun along the way.

To be a finalist in the Inspiration category was a great honour as the calibre of the other finalists was exceptionally high – and to go on and win was totally unexpected. To be recognised for my hard work, dedication and unique strengths as a PA would always be an amazing achievement, but to earn this recognition in my second year as a virtual PA feels even more special.

Can you tell me a bit about your role and responsibilities?
I started working for Designated PA in 2017 as a virtual personal assistant. Prior to that, I was EA to the CEO of a charity so I brought with me many years of experience in an assistant role. I came out of a traditional office PA/EA role and became a VA so I could take a more flexible approach to work for my family while having a career that I love.

The work I do depends entirely on my clients’ needs and business demands and has included: organising luxury trips to France; setting up a cycle to work scheme; project managing the launch of a new website; responding to reviews on Facebook; arranging meetings, events and travel; writing board papers and arranging tennis lessons.

I feel that I’ve acquired more new skills in the last 18 months as a VA than I did in the previous 12. When you are working remotely you have to be very resourceful and open to learning and thinking in different ways. I have realised that you can turn your hand to anything if you’re given the chance and have a good support network around you.

I love what I do – the variety of the work and industry breadth of my clients. I can honestly say no two days are ever the same. I work exceptionally hard, but the flexibility allows me to be both a successful PA and there for my children – which is invaluable for me.

As well as working for my clients, I also work on internal projects for Designated PA. I am a PA ambassador for our POD group and I regularly write blogs on behalf of the company. I have recently been offered an internal promotion to client development manager, alongside my PA work, which I am really excited about.

“All too often we are viewed as expendable admin staff, but the reality is that we are often the oil that keeps the different components of business moving together and are absolutely crucial to its smooth running. I think that’s worth recognising.”

Having won the inspiration award, what has always inspired you?
I am constantly inspired by the strong women in my life and I am very lucky to have been surrounded by so many. In my career I have worked for some fantastic female bosses, including two particularly inspirational and empowering women who have really supported me through my career as I’ve juggled a full-time job with the complexities of being a mum. To all those women, I am truly grateful for the opportunities they have given me, their belief, support and encouragement. I hope to be able to afford the same support to other PAs, my colleagues and through networking opportunities.

I now have my own children and it’s important to me to inspire them to work hard. I want them to achieve anything they puts their minds to whilst always supporting them, celebrating their highs and helping them learn from their lows.

What advice would you give to a PA just starting out? What should they take inspiration in?
As well as always carrying a notepad and pen in your handbag (yes I’m a bit old school), my best piece of advice would be to take every opportunity that is offered to you. In a new role, accept the training courses and the opportunities to meet colleagues and customers and learn as much as you can about the business. Networking events with other PAs may seem daunting but will give you a great platform to meet and engage with more experienced PAs.

Would you like to see more awards ceremonies take place in the northern region of the UK to support PAs?
Absolutely. Celebrating PA attributes and the contribution they make to business is a hugely positive step. All too often we are viewed as expendable admin staff, but the reality is that we are often the oil that keeps the different components of business moving together and are absolutely crucial to its smooth running. I think that’s worth recognising. It would be wonderful to see more PAs from across the UK being recognised at regional awards events.

Why should PAs go on to nominate themselves in award ceremonies such as the Birmingham PA Awards in the future?
I would really encourage anyone thinking about nominating themselves for this award to go for it! It is quite therapeutic to write down all your achievements and recognise the amazing work you have done. During the process I often wondered why I had put myself forward, but I kept going and I’m so glad I did. Winning this award has given me such a boost to my confidence and that feels amazing.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to say thank you to Daniel Skermer, the sponsors and the volunteer committee at the Birmingham PA Forum. They’ve done an exceptional job of creating an impressive awards platform with great potential for growth, and I am honoured to be a part of the inaugural event. Being able to support and celebrate with other PAs has been really inspiring and I’ve loved every moment.

hannah S

Photo credit: Edwin Ladd – Mr Ladd Media