Paula Harding, executive assistant to dean of education and senior management team has worked in the industry for many years. She’s known by many professionals as a brilliant networker and a fantastic EA. Her hard-work over the years has meant that she is well-respected and admired. We speak to Harding about her professional life, her life out of work and of course, how best to network yourself.
How did you come across your current role?
I was already working at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) as executive assistant to heads of academic/research departments.
In September 2017 LSTM announced its new Strategic Plan for 2017-2023. One of the three major strategic goals was to expand the teaching portfolio. As a result, professor Phil Padfield was recruited as LSTM’s first dean of education. I was asked to work with Phil to assist him and his team to achieve this key area of expansion.
What have you found most enjoyable about your job?
I have watched and debated the changing role of the executive assistant over the last couple of years. Leaders in our field have been advising that assistants will need to be more strategic and to act as middle managers to remain relevant and to add value to organisations. I haven’t had to have this conversation with Phil, he treats me as a middle manager and has complete faith in my ability.
We recently held a workshop to start identifying areas for improvement and he tasked me with developing the communications strategy. It wasn’t even a question, he assumed I was capable. I love that, I feel inspired and excited to work with him.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I think it would have been the confidence and passion I have developed for this profession over the last couple of years. It is a unique and complex role.
I watch influencers on social media who encourage people to do what they love. I thought about that a lot and I realised I love what I do. I love the fact that I get to work with inspirational people and that I am involved in the success of a business. Since that realisation, I have undertaken a variety of development opportunities and I champion and promote this profession at any opportunity I can.
What are your thoughts on the current industry? Where do you see it heading?
I suppose it’s like being a boxer, we need to keep on our toes, ducking and diving. It’s always going to be changing and at a speed we can’t even predict. For me, I’ll keep an eye on all the trends and see where I need to adapt my skills and knowledge and make sure I keep up. I am quite excited by change, with change there is always new opportunity.
What would you say makes someone successful at networking?
Authenticity and being yourself. You have to want to be there. It’s a two-way process, you can’t just take, take, take. When two people connect, they should be able to work out how they can help each other.
What tips/advice would you give someone to improve their networking abilities?
When you meet with someone really listen to what the other person is saying. Don’t go in with your own agenda and interrupt them. Listen to what they are saying and be present and patient. When someone feels that you are interested in them and what they have to say, the connection is stronger. They will then be more interested in getting to know you and how they can help you.
I really enjoy attending networking events outside of my profession. Every time I go, I always come away thinking about something new and how I can translate that into my role. It’s an amazing feeling when you can refer back to an event and share your knowledge with someone.
If you see someone stood on their own looking a bit lost, go over to them and start a conversation. If they say they are nervous, perhaps mention that you used to be when you first started or offer to introduce them to people you know.
What apps or Online social platforms do you find help you network?
I use LinkedIn and Twitter a lot and Facebook now and again. I would say be open minded and try all different types. What works for me may not work for you. I watched Gary Vaynerchuk being interviewed once and he was bouncing off the walls with excitement about how much engagement he was getting with Snapchat. It’s not something I use much but I have friends who do and love it.
What makes a successful networking event?
Gosh, that’s a toughie. An open space probably. I’ve been to events where there are individual tables set up and you don’t get the chance to meet everyone. I would keep any music or noise minimal, you can’t network if you can’t hear each other.
There are great companies out there who offer entertainment. One I’d really like to try is indoor crazy golf hire. There are a lot of companies out there that provide that. Anything that takes the pressure off having to ‘find’ someone to talk to if there are nervous people in the group.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I would love any type of head massage. I never get one, how silly is that?
It’s the weekend. What are you binge-watching?
A complete random selection. One day it could be films or dramas, the next it might be darts and Countryside. I love to go to the Cinema, the music with the end credits is usually really good, I come out feeling motivated.
Ooooo?? If I really had to pick, probably a really big Pizza ?
I can whistle through my teeth (not very exciting is it!).