I need a personal assistant. What’s the secret to making the relationship work, and do you have any tips on how to hire the perfect PA?
Business colleagues, regular visitors and my closest friends are able to sum up the attributes of an ideal PA in one word: “Christine”.
Christine ismy personal assistant, has worked in my office for 15 years, but she started with Timpson 20 years before that. On her first day as PA, she already knew everyone in the building, understood the business and connected with our culture. That experience is invaluable, so I advise you to look inside the company, rather than elsewhere.
There’s no need, these days, to look for shorthand skills or typing at 120 words a minute; you need someone with patience and personality.
It’s vital that you get on with each other – a similar sense of humour helps – and that you find a PA who can cope with you on your occasional grumpy day. Christine has got to know my moods almost as well as my late wife, Alex. They talked together on the phone almost every day. It helps if your PA has your partner’s full approval.
I’m not sure whether Christine was ever given a job description, but if I wrote one today it would simply say: “You have total authority to do whatever you can to make my life stress-free.”
She does everything straight away – if I telephone for some information, the email arrives before the call is over. She likes a challenge and takes on any and every task without question, but often doesn’t wait to be asked. She has an uncanny and slightly irritating ability to anticipate my next move before I mention it.
A good PA also keeps a tight control on your diary, and Christine sends me away with clear instructions whenever I’m not in the office. It works well as long as I look at my programme, but I still have some embarrassing senior moments, which are totally my fault.
Christine also displays a masterclass in patience. Not just when she waits in a call centre queue, but the time (often her own) that she spends helping out members of our extended family, who used to rely on Alex. She, like Alex did, gets a real buzz from helping others.
To sum up: look inside your organisation, to find someone with the right personality, who can handle your moody moments, does things straight away, and takes the initiative.
I would, however, make it crystal clear that Christine is staying with me.