Q&A with Kirsi Swinton, PA of the Year 2020

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At the PA Life Star Awards, Kirsi Swinton was awarded PA of the Year 2020.

Kirsi is an Executive Assistant and Assistants Network Lead at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In 2020 Kirsi published her first article Who Decides the Value of an Assistant, followed shortly by a second article ‘The Problem with Politeness: Why straight-talking as an assistant always wins’.

Kirsi was also a panel speaker at Practically Perfect PA Virtual Event discussing Building Influences with your colleagues and co-hosted a webinar on Moving Back to the office and the Post COVID 19 EA/PA.

PA Life spoke with Kirsi about her busy year and how she felt when she won PA of the Year 2020…

What’s the best thing about your job?

Its potential. I don’t mean how every day is different but that you can really shape your role. It enables you to grow and learn the necessary skills to really push your career forward.

And the most challenging?

The lack of time. Over the last few years I’ve had to accept that while you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Understanding priorities, not only your managers but also your own, is very important and accepting that sometimes ‘good enough’ is enough. For a control freak like me that’s a challenging thing to accept.

What inspired your first published article ‘who decides the value of an assistant’?

I wanted to talk about the elephant in the room. I see many assistants underselling their skills and their value. The change starts with us and it’s important to take responsibility – to own the conversation. We have a choice between being a victim or being someone who takes every opportunity to communicate their role and present their argument.

There are fewer enemies than we think but many are less informed and I wanted to encourage assistants to have these conversations, identify their own value and proudly communicate it. It all starts with assistants understanding their own value and believing in it. Whether you’re an assistant or not, we often feel we need permission to see value in what we do. We need a change of mindset – that this change starts with us.

How has the pandemic impacted your job?

It’s been quite a mixed bag. I was not a stranger to working from home but I had to rethink many aspects, especially how to stay connected. My nature is to adapt quickly, I don’t always love it, but I tend to focus on the reality of a situation, not hypotheticals. I have definitely spent more time focusing on new skills and strategy and thinking how I can take my role to next level.

What advice would you give someone wanting to join the industry?

Enjoy the learning. Most likely you will need to take a pay cut or start from a lower level compared to your previous job. Take advantage of it. Be inquisitive and focus on getting good at the role you are doing not only focusing on your next promotion and getting that pay rise.

Master the basics and build on them. Avoid office (virtual or not) politics. Know your value and set expectations and boundaries from the start. Work for a company and a boss who share your values and what you believe in. An assistant’s job is very personal, don’t tie yourself to a person who you don’t respect, it’s not worth it. Take your time, understand why you want to do this role. Learn, ask questions, and build relationships across the organisation from day one.

How did you feel when you won PA of the Year 2020?

I was extremely grateful my friend was also attending the event and messaging me Congratulations – I thought I misheard. Surprised and super happy really covers it! It is such an honour and I am incredibly grateful for being selected.

Congratulations Kirsi! To see the full list of winners please click here or to find out more about the Star Awards please visit https://palife.co.uk/pa-life-christmas-party.

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