It’s been a lifelong ambition of my partner to visit the land of the rising sun. Ever since we’ve been together he’s spoken about going there and has over time given me itchy feet for this very particular country and its many islands. Work has so far prevented us from taking a proper career break and going to explore the archipelago, but we’ve finally planned to visit Japan next year and will spend 3 weeks travelling around this exciting country.
So far, the opportunity to see Iceland has cropped up roughly x3 for me and each time there has been something in the way which meant that I was unable to go. Living in Europe you’d think this would be a fairly easy job jumping on the plane and going to see what the volcanic island has to offer, but, alas, no such luck. I can’t wait to go and see the the wild plains and bubbling springs of Iceland. Fingers crossed this happens, I definitely have this high up my priority list.
I’ve been to a few places in North America already, having family in the East of Canada has made things easier (in terms of renting a car and driving over the border to New York, Connecticut and Vermont etc.). Chicago comes highly recommended by colleagues and friends who have done multi-city visits to the USA and waxed lyrical about the culture, setting and culinary delights of the windy city! Hopefully I’ll manage to tick this off the list sometime soon… cameras – and big appetites – at the ready!
A recent holiday to Madagascar has fuelled my intrigue for visiting other African countries. On a visit to a cocoa plantation I met a Belgian woman who told me that every year she spends 1 month travelling in a different African country – she has truly fallen head over heels for the continent. She doesn’t take any holidays in the year and saves all her annual leave for her great African escape. When I asked what her favourite place had been so far she said without a doubt Botswana. The fauna and flora being of stunning and abundant quality. I don’t know when I’ll fit this visit in but if I happen to have an extra couple of weeks leave (ha ha ha) or an extra couple of grand kicking about (even more ha ha ha’s) then this is somewhere I’d love to go.
Having already spent time studying and working in Italy I am a die-hard fan of all things Italian, the people, the food, the country and the culture. It’s so varied and authentic – good for the soul! I know I’m not alone in my obsessive wanderlust for this country so any opportunity I can get to go back I grasp with my pale, sun-starved, desperate northern European hands!
Applying for an internship at the European Commission
The European Commission is one of the biggest multi-national civil service organisations in the world. With EU nationals representing all 27 Member States (ok, so still 28 but with Brexit this number will change). For anyone who studied EU politics, economy, or languages then you could well find yourself backing into a Brussels corner. And where else to exercise all of that knowledge?! Here are a few practical pointers on applying for an internship at the EU Commission and what to expect.
There are x2 intakes of interns per year. One in March and the other in October,
Applications for the internships close 6 months in advance and most traineeships last for 5 months – unless you can wangle your way to an extension or a temporary contract,
The application process is long (and with the aim of filtering out as many people in the early stages as possible)
Paid positions averaging about €1200 per month (which should be just about enough to live off in the Brussels bubble).
There are 2 kinds of traineeship, administrative and translation. If you are applying for an admin post (and by admin I don’t mean purely photocopying letters – although I’ll get to that bit later on) then you’ll need a good command of at least one of the administrative languages English, French or German plus another EU language. However, if you are a native English, French or German speaker then you’ll need to speak another of the 3 admin languages. For example:
Hungarian applicant: German + Hungarian to qualify
French applicant: French + English or German to qualify
For a translation traineeship you would need a good command of 2 administrative languages and another EU language for good measure. Essentially the more obscure the EU language the more likely you are to get to the final stages of the sift.
What to expect?
You will need to create an account on the online application portal and begin completing the application form. NB: if you start doing this on the last day of the applications you will never complete it in time or to the best of your ability. It’s your first taste of European bureaucracy at its finest and it really is like writing War and Peace. Each answer will require a considered response and you’ll be trawling back through all of the weekend and temporary jobs you’ve had since you were old enough to work – so make sure you have the dates and names of employers to hand.
Tip: One trick I used was to keep all of the business cards of my old employers/companies and write my dates of employment on the back so that filling out the form was less of a chore.
Once this has been issued and the deadline passed, the Commission will request proof of: ID, university degree (completed), any ongoing studies, language skills, work experience and IT skills if relevant.
Following a sift, the top 2000 candidates will be selected for the notorious Blue book. This number outweighs the need for interns across the Commission but provides the departments with the best pool of applicants to pick from. Not all will be selected but those who are will have been matched up as best as possible to the needs of the department.
What are my options?
So, you’re in the Blue book, you’re the chosen few and the future of the bureaucratic machinery that drives Europe. Job done…right? Wrong! You should wait a couple of weeks after hearing that you are on the virtual list before playing your cards. As a Brit, I found this next step wholly unnatural and made me want to take a good hot shower after I completed the task. And that task is: Chasing Your Application with a Phone Call. This might be a big no-no where you come from, but in Brussels more is more, and if you can get hold of a potential Director or Deputy Director in a department which interests you then it’s time to start selling yourself shamelessly.
I have Italian friends who tried this and it didn’t work, they were told it was too pushy and that jobs had already been allocated. I had German friends try this and it was successful, they were told they had the right language combination that was needed. And then there’s me, I called and I was told that they hadn’t considered me for that particular role but they heard another position had been liberated so I should call “X” in another department and ask…and I got the job.
Tip: Don’t wait too late to call for the job you want. The pick of the crop often get allocated first and you might find yourself in a job which doesn’t bring you joy. Also to bear in mind is your phone manner. As someone on the receiving end of one of these calls, there is nothing more off putting than a desperate graduate who comes across as either a charity case or a self-obsessed talking ego. Instead, think about how you would benefit the team? What would you bring to the department that they may not already have?
What jobs are on offer?
The translation jobs are quite self-explanatory. They are often not as sexy as they sound – try to get Nicole Kidman in ‘The Interpreter’ out of your head for this one. You are likely to find yourself sat in a small room with 3-4 others working on a long, heavy document containing very specific, sometimes legal, terminology. There will be times when you will attend seminars with live interpretation and get more than your share of free Brussels lunches but the mundane office work can often outweigh the benefits.
The administrative jobs are varied and very manager dependent. You might find yourself working for a vivacious person who wants to get you involved as much as they possibly can, or you could find yourself working as the personal assistant to an accountant for 5 months. Time to learn how to use that photocopier properly!
In either scenario try to make the most of the contacts you will build up and the opportunities that may follow. Think outside the box, your future may not be in the Commission but thanks to your experience and insight into the day to day work of the EU’s administrative power then this can only help you up the career ladder. Life in Brussels is really what you make of it and experiences can be varied. Reap what you sow.
You can apply to the European Commission for a traineeship here.
Sleep is so underrated. And, yet, so powerful. For any insomniacs reading this, I truly feel bad for you. It must be awful to never achieve a good nights sleep and I hope that you manage to find some relaxing coping mechanisms that get you through. For the majority of the population, we do manage to get some sleep, but it’s still not enough. Living in the northern hemisphere the summer nights are long and unless you invest in some good blackout curtains then the nights are very, very long. Going to bed early, no caffeine after midday, electronic shutdown at least 2hrs before bed and making a concerted effort to BE in bed even if I’m not sleeping by 11pm latest helps massively. Stress happens, it’s a fact, but equipping yourself with energy and the best mood possible will ensure you’re able to deal with it and manage the impact it has on your life. A tired mind and body makes this a lot harder than it needs to be.
2. Drink lots of fluids
And by this I mean water, mainly. Just anytime you can spend drinking do it. Staying hydrated can stop you from unnecessary snacking, feeling fatigued and feeling stressed. At work, the stress may be rising but keep cool and keep things under control – go for a walk to the kitchen/staff area and drink up!
3. Phone a friend
Checking in with your nearest and dearest ensures you keep you feet on the ground and allows you to put things into context. That really stressful situation you’re going through might be solved by talking candidly to a friend. They might have been going through the same thing or can offer you advice. They might also tell you to get a grip and look at the issue in another way. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh, in relaxed, chilled surroundings and shake off your troubles… it really is the simple things in life!
4. Goodbye midweek drinking, hello morning run!
Simultaneously reducing your alcohol intake and upping your physical activity can make a world of difference. It might be the last thing you want to do on a rainy morning at 6am, but getting up early and getting out for a run will boost your mood, reduce your stress levels and increase your fitness overall. It’s life’s free gym and you only have yourself to compete against. Running has changed my life. I feel fitter, happier because I’m more comfortable in my own skin and less stressed at what life throws at me. Aside from the endorphins, the running gives me an hour of space to myself to think about the day ahead and organise my thoughts. It also allows me to process any difficult situations and find solutions. Give it a go for a couple of weeks and see if you notice any difference…
5. Make lists
My life feels like a long list. Even this blog post is a list! But, seriously, if I know I’m up against a stressful day then a list can just make everything seem less daunting and more orderly. Even the illusion that I have some level of control is better than the madness of a typical day where I’m blindly trying to balance my time with work with socialising.
I find this tip particularly helpful on a Sunday at about midday when I’m starting to feel the Monday blues creep in. I grab a pen and a cute notepad – who says practical can’t be pretty! I note down under two columns the things I need to do to ensure a sane start to the week. The first column is a list for work and the second a list which covers personal life, like items I need to post, or collect and people I need to get in touch with. In addition, I give each of these items a number 1 for “priority” or a number 2 for “important but the world won’t implode if this isn’t done today” status. I try not to begin the 2s until I’ve taken a good stab at the 1s. Usually, most work items are under 1 but I still manage to squeeze in some real-life business – it’s important too!
How to tackle a never ending mountain of housework on top of your day job.
When you get in from work put your shoes away on their rack/in their box/in the cupboard and either dump your dirty clothes in the laundry basket or hang your suit up. It sounds obvious but stripping down and leaving your clothes and bags strewn all over the place is an invite for a floordrobe and will lose you time scavenging the following morning. For those used to spending the rest of the evening in your workwear – try changing into something more comfortable and hanging your outfit up. This will take some of the creases out or give you more time to clean it for the next day.
If you’re trying to take out some creases in your shirts then throwing them in the dryer on a speed cycle with some ice cubes will release just enough steam to smooth things out. If you’re really short on time then hanging your shirt/dress up in the bathroom whilst you shower will also steam out some creases.
We have got into the habit of washing our clothes midweek. The idea of spending my weekends or a rare free day doing laundry and housework fills my heart with dread. If you live in a well sound-proofed flat then you should take advantage of running a wash cycle overnight and hanging the clothes up first thing in the morning. This means that the wash is working whilst you sleep and it’s not left too long to gather that horrible damp smell. One of the best tips my mother gave me was to wait until the clothes were bone dry before folding them away. Woe betide those who fold away damp clothes. If you don’t have a balcony or garden to hang the clothes out to dry then leave them in a room with the window open to allow the air to circulate and to get rid of any potential dam smell. Make sure the clothes aren’t too near to the kitchen, so that they don’t pick up any cooking smells or musty smoke.
We don’t have a dishwasher and I’m convinced that getting one would solve 90% of the arguments I have with my partner. Alas, we are living in rented accommodation and can’t install one. So, to make do with traditional washing at the sink tasks we have a couple of rules which might work for you too. 1) DO THEM IMMEDIATELY. The below image is tells a sad tale of what happens when you have friends round for dinner + not doing the dishes the morning after + leaving sticky foods like porridge and cereal to bowls. Just get them done as soon as you’ve finished eating. Then you can relax and not have to pick up the chore later (and it really is a chore). When cooking, clean as you go, don’t have any “dead time” where you’re just waiting for the food in the over to be ready, make sure you wash the utensils and pots once you’re done with that section of the meal. If you have friends round, I tend to boil a kettle and pour the hot water into sticky pots and pans to soak, so even if I’m not getting around to cleaning straight away the job is easier when I eventually get there. 2) Use as few pots, plates and utensils as possible. I you can double up cooking veg in the same pot (mixing carrots and peas etc.) then do so. Likewise for serving on plates – think more platter style where you can throw different foods together. This tip will also encourage people to eat a wider variety of foods at your table as it will be mixed in together.
I have to confess that hoovering is probably my favourite household task. It makes such a difference and you get instant, visible results. I would guesstimate that I hoover about 3-4 times a week (which even I find excessive) but we are living in a rented flat and the flooring is just the worst to keep clean. You can still make things easier for you with this task by taking your shoes off at the door – think Japanese living! This stops you dragging muck throughout the home and keeps things tidy – see point above about workwear. Limiting your eating places to one or two areas of the home also helps. This stops crummies being dispersed all over your floors. I know exactly where the messiest places are and where I need to pay close attention to hoovering. The kitchen floor, just under the chopping board and bread bin and the ‘favourite’ corner of the sofa where countless TV snacks and game foods are consumed. These are the only 2 places were we’ve agreed eating and making a mess away from the dining table is ok. Otherwise, we’d spend a lifetime hoovering up all over the place. Also, as an aside, try not to eat in bed – I know it’s really good when you’re hungover or feeling under the weather but there’s nothing worse than biscuit crumbs under the duvet and ketchup stains on your blanket. We also bought a cordless hoover recently = game changer. It’s super fast, got great suction and you’re not hampered by the distance of a cord. I’m not going to recommend any particular brand in this post because there are so many good vacuum cleaners out there for a variety of budgets but make sure you get a really lightweight one which picks up dirt and hair really well.
Do you have any tips for making household task less of a chore? Or are you a weirdo like me and enjoy hoovering?
We’ve all been there, the skint intern who has to turn up and shine everyday even though their bank account is reaching deep into the negative. It can be hard keeping up with the lifestyles of colleagues who are higher paid or who move within high-flying and high-paid circles. As an intern ‘living’ in Brussels, I really struggled to operate on the same level as the rest of the office who had many benefits (such as free accommodation, paid utility bills, free flights to home and help on the ground with some of the life admin that living in another country entails), none of which I had access to as an intern.
On top of this I was still out partying and socialising as though my bank account accommodated the same pay every month as theirs did. The days and nights rolled by (as I myself rolled in and out of bars and shops and expensive days out) and it all resulted in me being quite short on money – to the extent, that I was coordinating mealtimes with networking aperitifs or free lunches – attending only for the food despite having to go through the dullest of seminars. I was also, as my then boyfriend lived in Germany, using any savings (hahaha…ha) to pay for flights. If Easyjet did loyalty cards, they would owe me a house by now.
Looking back I don’t regret any of this. It taught me to value money and to really consider purchases before committing. It also showed me that investing in my future meant a lot more about time than it did about money. Thanks to the internships and placements I held, I am now in the best job of my life to date and still have people from my past life in Brussels contacting me to congratulate me on where I am.
Below, I’ve included some tips on how and where you can save money when on an internship or just generally if your current wage doesn’t stretch to meet those little extras that add up.
Most hairdressers will have 2 or more trainees on their book. These guys are always looking for models to practice on and their appointment hours are often later on in the day. Some salons will also stay open later into the evening to allow for these bookings. The cuts cost next to nothing and some may even be free. You’ll leave the salon having had a full wash, cut and blow-dry and you may not even have to book time away from the office to do this. They use the same high quality products on your hair as they would if you were being seen to by a senior stylist. They also ensure the finish on the hair (bouncy blow-dry, straight, curly) is up to the same standards as if you had paid full price. But…these appointments may take longer than normal. I still go for a trainee cut from time to time as I don’t dye my hair and don’t want to pay astronomical prices for taking a few inches off. I’ve noticed that instead of the standard 45min session that I normally get they can sometimes take up to 1hr30 as their work needs to be checked by a manager before you leave and they sometimes re-do certain sections to provide the best possible service. Also, they usually ask over the phone how much you would like off the length. Often, they will not accept any clients who want less than 2inches to give them decent space to practice.
This is a great tip for anyone looking to get their eyebrows/eyelashes done, waxing or nails taken care of for a fraction of the price. As with the hairdressers, the college is usually open for appointments later in the day and you will be seen to by the friendliest, most welcoming students. They are graded on both the quality and customer service, so they really pay attention to you as a client. Again, the work is checked by a senior member of staff and the only downside I’ve found is that they might have more than one beautician observing or working on you at a time. This will depend largely on the college or the amount of customers they manage to attract. Which, in my local college’s case, is a lot – they offer treatments and services for 25% of the local rate!! Get in!
Commute on foot
Walking to work is an excellent, de-stresser, money saver and sure fire way to keep fit. I would recommend, coming up to summer, to make a point of walking to work, especially if your commute takes you through a park. The benefits of walking allow you to relax on your way into work and on your way home. It’s also a bit of free, gentle, exercise which can give you time to listen to a podcast, your favourite music or just allow you to get some fresh air away from the all too often bed-bus-office combination that we subject ourselves to. Commuting on foot is also a good barrier against the commuter flu. When I travelled to work by train, I used to get ill all the time because of the germs that people carry with them and the close proximity to others in the carriage. Exercise in general can help boost your immune system, making you stronger against coughs and colds. It’s important to take time out of your busy schedule to get a bit of fresh air or move around for a bit. Your health should always come first and compliment your working style, not suffer because of it.
A healthier way and a cheaper way to keep your bank balance and waistline in check. There’s no last minute hesitation at the canteen to opt for the unhealthy choice on the menu and you know where that food has come from and what’s gone in to the meal – not that I’m saying all canteens are disgusting, far from it. I just know that food that sits out can be exposed to coughs, sneezes, hands and other hazards that your lunchbox won’t come into contact with. If you’re trying to eat healthier this is the safest option which will keep you from giving into some of the puddings and extras such as fries which you can normally smell coming from the canteen. In terms of saving money, I try to use the leftovers from the night before. They are still fresh enough and sometimes, especially as an intern, you’re unsure where your social life will take you in the evening – you might never get round to eating that massive vat of cous-cous for the rest of the week. Amen for lunches!
Coffee to go
I don’t really want to think about the amount of money I’ve given over the years to Starbucks and other take-away coffee shops. Of late, I’ve been trying to avoid the coffee giants and if I absolutely have to I’ll buy from a smaller, independent café. However, the true holy grail of saving money on the coffee run is to bring it in from home. Whether this means buying the coffee and storing it in the fridge, and bringing in a cafetiere, or just making the coffee in a thermos and trotting off to work with your flask it all adds up to money saved in the bank. Also, if you didn’t know already, all Nespresso stores offer customers one free taste per visit – usually in espresso form, sometimes with milk if you’re fortunate. Something to remember when you’re out shopping and looking for a pick-me-up on the cheap.
If you’re doing an internship that pays peanuts, hang in there. In my experience it is worth seeing this through and can be used as a trampoline on to other great roles. If you’ve worked as an intern, and have any good tips on how to save money, please leave a comment in the box below. Or, if you’re thinking about applying for a low paid internship/new job, what are you most concerned about?
Back in school I remember people telling me to “make the most of it now” because “it only gets harder when you’ve got a job in the real world”. And in some ways this has been true. Getting to grips with the ups and downs of being an adult, not only holding down a job but climbing the career ladder as well and maintaining a good stable mental, social and wellbeing standard. Sometimes it can all get a bit much! Cue the trustworthy friend, boyfriend or colleague with a cup of tea.
We all need someone who we can let off steam with, whether it’s because we’ve had a rough day, are struggling with an emotional problem or just need to talk to someone. It’s so important, especially now that a lot of our lives are spent staring at computer/phone screens, that we get the right face to face contact with those we love and want to spend time with.
My favourite way to catch up with friends is over a cup of tea or with a breakfast, especially if I’m having a crazy week at work. It’s really good to ground yourself and get a bit of a reality check. It’s also important to see how your friends/loved ones are feeling. They may be going through the same thing as you, or have already been there and could offer some great advice and a sympathetic ear.
It can be tempting after a rubbish day at the office, or a really challenging week, to shut yourself away and spend the weekend on the sofa with Netflix and a glass of wine (or 4) but this won’t do anything for your wellbeing in the long run and might make it harder for you to open up to people when you eventually have to. I sometimes work weekends, as do my friends, so when we manage to coordinate a free day we make a point of a lazy brunch or an afternoon tea somewhere a bit special.
It’s good to re-group, especially on a week where I feel that I haven’t spoken to anyone who isn’t a colleague (completely immersed in work). Just think, it could cost as little as a cup of tea and the results are similar to a £100+ therapy session! You should always have some coping mechanisms that you can infallibly rely on when the going gets tough. whether that’s a good support network, a sport or honed inner strength, it’s so important to release that pressure valve.
What are your ways of letting off steam? Do you have a blog, sport, hobby, bestie that you go to as a fail-safe?
A lesson in acceptance and giving yourself a break
Since beginning work in a high-pressure environment, I have realised that so many young professionals, myself included, are breaking their backs every week to maintain the image of these perfect all-rounders who can hold down brilliant jobs, transform into domestic goddesses and maintain a vibrant social life which never impacts negatively on their figure or gives them bags under their eyes. This ‘image’, more often than not, is self imposed – and I’m as guilty as any. It’s easier said than done when fighting against this idea that all young professionals, and women in particular suffer from this, are able to attend 6am gym classes x5 weekly, furnish their penthouses immaculately with BoConcept furniture and have mastered Michelin star level cooking.
There are however ways around the madness of a busy work-life clash. A couple of tips colleagues and friends have given me along the way have ensured that life outside of the office doesn’t slip through the cracks and you can keep yourself sane.
Looking after yourself
There is no short cut way to truly looking after yourself other than finding a good work-life balance where you can manage your stress levels properly. There are, however, some helpful tricks that can make the morning rush less frantic and allow you some more ‘me time’ before the world comes at you.
Eyelash and eyebrow tinting. This one means that for roughly 4-6 weeks you don’t need anything other than a light sweep of foundation and lipstick before you leave home in the morning. If you’re someone who feels that they have to have more make-up on then this might not be the best tip for you, as you’ll probably make-up over eyelashes and brows in any case, but if you’re like me and unfailingly lazy when it comes to make-up then this one’s for you!
Hair care. Personally, I find that since growing my fringe out and allowing my hair to get longer, time spent on my hair has reduced. There’s no frustrating tidy up of the fringe and less need to style longer hair overall as it can be tied back on a bad hair day. Also, living in the UK where it rains a lot means that however you left your home in the morning will not translate exactly to the look you are pulling off as you walk into work. Hairspray and dry shampoo are very helpful.
Gel nails. These are good if you can commit to getting them re-done properly every 2-3 weeks, but it’s a great way to avoid chipped nails and having to re-paint in the morning – because you did them too close to bed time and they have the fabric imprint across the varnish. Bravo!
Looking after your home
We can’t all afford domestic staff, so unless you are able to pay for a cleaner to come on a weekly basis (I’m not judging anyone here, I have been SO tempted to call for help in this area, a weight is lifted and you’re giving someone employment) then you need to get your domestic chores down to a finely tuned art. There are ways of doing things around the home which are cost free and time saving. I’ll post an article on this shortly which goes into more detail on how the busy professional can score a few hat tricks at home! But for now, my top tips are as follows…
Dedicate one evening a week to blitzing your flat – dust, hoover and disinfect toilets etc. I normally opt for a Friday as weekends are usually when I have people over and this saves me waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays before they come round. Also, if you life in a flat and you have to hoover in the evening your neighbours are less likely to be in and more likely to forgive a quick Friday blitz rather than a mid-week headache.
Food shop online and get home delivery – you spend less money because most supermarkets will save your shopping list preferences so you don’t do that thing where you aimlessly wander the aisles chucking in a few extras, ahem. You also buy yourself a lot of time with this one.
Fake flowers. Yes, the real ones are nice and they smell lovely, but it’s just something else to remember to throw away before they go mouldy. You can get some really authentic looking ones that don’t appear too trashy. Alternatively, cacti. Although these are just like flowers that die really, really slowly.
Get a good dishwasher. The root of 90% of the arguments in our flat is around the subject of unwashed dishes. A good washer will avoid this and any other stress related to plates stacking up. You don’t have time, you don’t have the emotional stability by Thursday to go through another round of ‘whose turn is it’, just get it sorted.
De-clutter x4 a year. It doesn’t need to be more than this if you’re serious about it each time you do it. You don’t want to be rummaging around in drawers at 6am in the dark looking for another black top – and by the way, when was the last time you saw that, has it been washed and where did you hang it? Cutting back on clothes you don’t wear, general bric-a-brac and ‘stuff’ will help you see clearer and have better access to the essentials as you fly out the door in the morning.
Looking after life-admin
My mobile banking app has been the BEST thing that’s happened to me this year. Monday to Friday I’m too busy out making the money to actually manage where it goes, and as Monday to Friday coincides with banking hours then this can make keeping on top of your finances a bit tricky. The last time I went for an appointment at the bank I had to book a morning off in advance with 3 weeks notice! So, being able to transfer money, pay people back and move wages into savings accounts whilst walking to work is a massive benefit.
Opening your mail is one sure fire way to face up to all the business you’ve yet to get round to – which might be the main reason why my post piles up on tables dotted around my flat before I wonder why there are no more clear surfaces. Facing up to the post as it comes in is the best, and really only, way of dealing with it before it gets out of hand. To motivate yourself, think about it this way: that could be an outstanding bill (or, less likely but still possible, you might have money owed to you and this is a notification of such joy!), an important change to your current situation (speaking from experience I have allowed overpriced home and contents insurance to roll over for another year because I didn’t open my post in time – NEVER AGAIN!) or sometimes just a letter or a card from a friend – this would just be rude if you didn’t open this kind of mail in a timely manner!
Finally, relax! We all mess up, we have all gone to work looking less than our best and we’ve all been that person who is frantically trying to hide dirty laundry and plates in cupboards and under beds before guests arrive. The only pressure you should ever feel to manage any of the above aspects is from yourself. So, give yourself a break and learn to accept that you are perfect already! Everything else is just details…
Do you have any tips for making life easier in the mornings or dealing with life admin? Please share below in the comments.
Travelling for work and being ‘Jet-set’ are two completely separate things in my book. Rare is the day that I step off a flight feeling refreshed and ready to jump straight into work-mode. Over the past 7 years since graduating I have travelled a lot for work and, given the location, some trips involved red-eye flights to save the organisation money and to maximise our time working with stakeholders during business hours. This means making a personal sacrifice in terms of home time vs. work and travel time and also takes a toll on your health and, eventually, sanity. Gripes aside, travel is excellent for business and is unavoidable in our big joined-up world.
With this in mind, I have compiled a few tips for professionals who travel regularly – whilst trying to respect some of the restrictions that come with travelling for work. From the outset, I’d like to say that if you work for a private company who allow their associates and staff to travel first/business class then you’re on to a winner. You will have access to flat beds and the golden ticket for the first class lounges at most international airports. This makes everything run smoother and gets you off to a head start, arriving at your destination looking slicker and less harassed (think 1980s power dressing business women – ever the immaculate travellers). This has not always been the case for me… I have had access to business seats and lounges but now working for a public organisation means watching the pennies when undertaking international travel and on this my advice is based;
1. Hair and make-up
Bit of a shallow one to start off with, but there’s nothing like a freshen up of your hair and make-up to make you feel work ready after a long flight. I know a lot of girls, myself included, who prefer to wear make-up to work. I think it’s psychological, like putting on war paint in the morning, and gets you in the zone. Practically it’s also very good for hiding dark circles and any bags that you carry under your eyes. If however you’re travelling alone, or feel comfortable going make-up free then, good on you, do so! Sometimes it’s better to travel fresh faced and apply on landing at your destination. This means that your skin has had time to rest and you can just apply a moisturiser throughout the flight. I find it easiest, when travelling with the boss, to keep my day’s make up on my face and just before we land pay a trip to the toilet to cleanse my eye make-up and re-apply fresh. No need to touch face or lips. This just makes the face look brighter and more polished. It also sweeps away any rubbed off mascara or stray eyeshadow flecks. Less is more and the darker the shade the more tired you’ll look, so stick to lighter colours and don’t forget your favourite concealer. For hair, I prefer to leave down on the plane, as rubbing it against those paper head rest covers seems to mess it up anyway. When I’m touching up my eye make-up in the bathroom I’ll pin my hair up, or just tie it in a simple pony tail for a more sleek look. This is also great for disguising any greasy hair issues, as travelling with dry shampoo can be a pain if you haven’t checked in luggage.
2. Alcohol and caffeine
Similar to the above note on moisturising and rehydrating your skin, it’s important not to go overboard on the complimentary drinks – no matter how hard a day you’re having. Trust me, I know the pain, seeing the drinks cart wheel by as you are left with a sparkling water when all the other passengers are getting their bloody mary/G&T fix. Sad times. But if your working day is not yet over then it’s best to stick to something that will keep you on point in the long run. You’ll have the last laugh as you hand out paracetamol and stealthily locate the important travel documents, hotel reservations and car bookings which your colleagues are sluggishly fumbling about for. This is of course a personal observation, but in general drinking on a school night stopped being a thing for me in 2010. The same can be said for caffeine. As someone who drinks up to 8 cups of tea and coffee a day I am not casting the first stone of judgement here. Heck, do whatever you’ve got to do to get the job done, just mentally prepare yourself for the caffeine crash at some point around 3pm which, with time difference thrown into the mix, could be just before that important meeting. Bull’s eye!
3. Always stay one step ahead
You’ve located the gate, found your seat, managed to stuff your over-packed bag into the overhead locker and are looking forward to pulling down that window blind and zoning out. ERROR. Before you kick off your heels and plug those ear phones in, check what the next leg of your trip is. Did you print all the hotel reservations codes? Do you have a local taxi number to get to the conference? Do you need to print off your return flight tickets? Do you have any urgent messages to reply to before you go off-line for the flight? With these ticked off you can minimise stress at the other end and enjoy the rest of the flight. For any unanswered travel questions the flight crew are usually very helpful and can point you in the direction you need to go in. If you’re going somewhere that doesn’t feature your native language then learning a few essential phrases can come in handy. Some airlines even have bi-lingual dictionary applications on the personal screens – hours of fun.
4. In flight distractions
What’s that you say? Finished that briefing? Tied up those loose ends? Managed to book a seat away from any associates and colleagues? Yes, green light for the hotly anticipated catch-up-on-my-film-addiction segment. You’ve always wanted to see Jurassic Park 4. If it’s a short flight or you weren’t fortunate enough to get a personal screen, or worse you did but you haven’t brought any headphones and they cost an arm and a leg to buy, then a book or a magazine is the way forward. I personally prefer to grab a magazine as if my arms start to ache from carrying too much in my handbag I can ditch the magazine far easier than the emotional separation of having to leave a book behind. It’s also a survival tactic as looking at images makes me less likely to get travel sick than reading pages and pages of text. Given the nature of my work, we rarely use our laptops whilst travelling as lack of wifi/people looking over your shoulder (come on we all do it!) prevents us from working properly. I have however installed my favourite newspaper apps on my tablet but this comes back to the travel sick point. No-one wants to be sat next to Captain Vomit for 8 hours.
5. Awkward conversations and nights in hotels
Ok, so number 5’s title could have been snappier. But, really, these are both things that require a little consideration and preparation. You are likely to find yourself travelling with a colleague or even your manager. This means that the risk of ‘talking shop’ all throughout that long haul-flight is sky high (!) – sorry, that was bad. This is a good opportunity for you to unwind. Try asking them about other things that don’t involve work or that don’t get too personal. If you’re like me and you delight in the silence and reflective space of air travel, or indeed you just have colleagues with limited banter, then the not-so subtle presence of a magazine in your lap, or passive aggressive inserting of the headphones should solve this. It’s also worth remembering that it’s not just the flight you have to navigate, but the car journey, the hotel check-in and the awkward lift chat as you try to gauge whether they want to eat dinner with you or they would rather you just met at X o’clock tomorrow for breakfast and you retire to your rooms. If you’re in charge of booking travel this is worth bearing in mind. Some people prefer to keep space for themselves in the evening, others expect your attendance at the hotel bar into the wee hours and not doing so would be rude. Up to you how to play it, just remember that whatever goes down, you have to do it all again the next day!
Do you have any tips for travelling and work? Have you worked out a system of survival for long haul flights followed by boardrooms and conferences? Leave your tips in the comments below…
Surviving in a competitive working environment can often mean that you’ll face a certain degree of hierarchical snobbery. Particularly if you have landed the very underrated position of PA. Being personal assistant to the boss has connotations of dogsbody style working but in my experience it is anything but. Play your cards right and you can successfully put your stamp on a role that will allow you access to high level stakeholders and an address book of contacts that most heads of state would love to get their hands on.
Don’t let anyone look down on the important job you do. Often the people you are working to would be melting in a disorganised mess without your cool, prepared approach.
I have worked for a country leader for just over a year now and the role has brought with it a plethora of opportunities that wouldn’t be available to even the next-in-command. Attending meetings with the Head of the European Commission, Parliament key figureheads in the UN, Presidents and famous people with political messages to spread have all contacted me to get to my boss. I have sat in on those meetings and participated in the majority of those discussions, exchanging business cards with those who are keen to engage.
Stakeholders may not have come to see you expressly, it’s the ear of your boss they want, but don’t underestimate the power of being present and pro-active. They will remember your face, your name, your manners when you escorted them and advised them ahead of the meeting, your willingness to facilitate the discussion and your professionalism throughout. Of course, most stakeholders are wise to this, but they still know that you hold the key to the diary, to the relationship that continues outside of the meeting room and any future engagements.
Use the network that you build up as a platform for your career. You are your own brand. Supporting someone on a daily basis who is higher up the corporate chain from you is a testament to your capability, not a limit. As proof of this, many of my colleagues, who have a varied background of education and professional specialisation, have landed top jobs thanks to the contacts they made whilst working as PAs. When I was at school we were told that there are more paths to getting the job you really want. This is true, it’s not always a linear school-university-placement-job pattern that people work to. In fact, having experience in a coordinating and supporting role speaks for itself in competency based interviews and opens doors that the standard online applicants won’t have access to.
So next time you’re compiling that briefing or speaking note, or scavenging for fresh milk for the boss’s tea, just remember that it all counts towards the bigger picture and you’re honing your skills in multi-tasking, working under pressure and (more often than not!) patience.
Have you worked as a personal assistant? Or, have you been able to use your role as a trampoline for the next exciting opportunity? Feel free to leave a comment…