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Thu 10 Nov 2016 12:22 PM

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Career tips from the offices of Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela and Facebook's Timothy Campos

Advice on how to land your dream job, overcome challenges and more

Career tips from the offices of Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela and Facebook's Timothy Campos

Personal assistants are many things. They are gatekeepers, publicists, counsellors, writers, negotiators, auditors, accountants, listeners, couriers and even stylists. How do they do it all? We spoke to the assistants of some of the world’s top personas to find out.

1. How to deal with criticism:

Former private secretary to Nelson Mandela Zelda La Grange says being a gatekeeper to anyone is not easy. She admits, “I was sensitive to criticism in the beginning but then realised that it was not a popularity contest I signed up for. I had to account to my boss and make sure he was comfortable with how I managed his professional world.”

2. How to handle pressure:

Bill Gates’ executive assistant Lauren Jiloty started working in politics at a young age and even served as assistant to Hilary Clinton when she was senator. She says the exposure to a fast-paced work environment taught her to deal with pressure. “Of necessity, I learned to get things done quickly and efficiently and without being asked.

3. How to land your dream job:

Al-Husein Madhany, former executive assistant to Facebook’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) Timothy Campos, advises building your professional network in order to bag your dream job. “Build your professional network. Your next job referral may come from the people who see you work every day. It's a small world, so let your reputation precede you,” he says.

4. How to deal with a demanding job:

The biggest and most consistent challenge in being Gates’ assistant is achieving balance, according to his assistant Jiloty. “It’s elusive and rarely do I feel it is within reach, but I’m always chasing it. Yet the chase doesn’t seem out of synch. It just comes with the territory, especially in this line of work. I wake up every day and do the very best I can at work and at home, and hope that my percentages are at least moving closer to balance on any given day.”

5. How to overcome challenges:

For La Grange, challenges were a dime a dozen. But the former private secretary reveals no one fully comprehends what is needed to face challenges. “Life equips you,” she says. “It is a journey of self-actualisation and personal growth. The key it to remain humble and grounded and realise you always have something to learn, even from your enemies.”

6. How to keep learning:

Gates’ assistant Jiloty insists there are so many things to learn just by observing. She says, “The most obvious thing is that no two principals are alike. So, no two jobs are alike. From one position to the next, it is important to learn lessons from both success and failure, and develop an appetite for learning new ways of doing things. When I see something or hear something that doesn’t make sense to me, I’ve learned that often it won’t make sense to my boss, either. The best course of action is to ask for clarification and not stop asking until the situation is clarified.”

7. How to lead others:

Facebook has undoubtedly led the way into the rise of social media. Campos’ former assistant Madhany says one of the secrets of true leadership is leading through influence, not management. “Specifically, leading others without having direct authority over them as a manager. I have used an executive coach and highly recommend it. None of us are perfect, and we all must keep learning and improving,” he says.

8. How to be good at what you do:

To be a good personal assistant, you have to master so many things, but positive attitude, responsiveness and talent are the most important skills on the list, according to Gates’ assistant Jiloty. “I enjoy working with people who are always pleasant and positive, reliably reachable, have great instincts and talent, and are driven to always improve,” she says.

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