Is it ever a good idea to take advice from Bridget Jones? Because that’s exactly what I’m doing – I’m following her example, and I’m starting a New Year diary. New Years are for new starts aren’t they? And it turns out that I, very much like Bridget, need to get a grip on my life.
So here I go:
This diary will help me organise myself, focus my goals and record my (no-doubt extensive!) lessons learnt. No more drinking until I pass out – no more alcohol induced illness in the back of late-night taxis! No more sneaky stockroom snogs with handsome work colleagues!! No, I am saying goodbye to the spontaneous, unstructured approach of my formative years. As it states on my CV: I am Lucy Green; I am efficient; I am conscientious; I am an asset to your team.
Oh God, if I wasn’t already painfully aware of how embarrassingly underequipped I was for the next chapter of my life, my incredibly helpful parents have successfully stressed the point this Christmas. My stocking was crammed with a series of unexpected self-help aids: Jamie Oliver’s ‘Ministry of Food’ (‘to counter your lack of culinary prowess darling’), a box set of The Apprentice complete with Karen Brady’s empowering ‘10 Rules for Success’, and this diary! I assumed that these were designed to inspire the wayward graduate to pull her socks up, get a proper job and finally flee the family home. My suspicions were confirmed when my mother casually left a wikihow article entitled ‘how to get your adult children to move out’ open on my laptop…
Apparently the first step is to ensure they have a job. Well luckily for everyone I have just got one: and it’s a proper job too. I’m starting at a Mayfair Hedge Fund this week in a role that combines Receptionist and PA duties, and although I’m excited at finally embarking on my PA career, I am naturally also beyond terrified!
Frankly, I’m as surprised as anyone, that I got the role. Nobody need know this, but I actually applied thinking that a Hedge Fund was a type of horse racing. Turns out it definitely isn’t, but that a 2:1 from Leeds and glowing reference from an obscure Oxfordshire pub landlady (whose bar I have been reliably managing since graduation) is worth a lot more than I could have hoped.
For the first time in my life I am making a career move: no longer will I eternally re-fold knitwear and jump at incomprehensible Russian commands in the Bicester Village branch of Ralph Lauren. Nor will I sloppily pull pints into cloudy tankards for our village neighbours in the local pub. This is a Mayfair Hedge Fund. This is court shoes and pencil skirts; speedy typing and buoyant efficiency; slick organisation and effortless office charm.
Goodbye undergraduate fancy dress parties, Tuesday night binge drinking, and 4am Subways. I am moving to Clapham, and I am becoming a young professional. Time to grow up, get organized and don’t mess up. Oh god, wish me luck!
16th January 2015
What a week. I keep having those skin creeping, spine shuddering moments where you replay an embarrassing scenario again and again in your mind… and want to jump out of the window! I’ve been feeling pretty confident about my performance so far, wearing appropriate attire; knee length skirts that make me look like a tent, turning up on time, making everyone tea just how they like it (you know…the basics). Office location is fab - lunch breaks are spent window shopping the Bond Street jewellers, picking out my engagement ring (haven't actually snogged anything except my toothbrush for 14 weeks) and ogling the underage Abercrombie models. I'd even impressed the CEO with ruthless efficiency when he asked me to pop out and pick up a birthday card for his wife. I decided to bring back a selection claiming that unwanted ones were returnable. Not true. Nonetheless, although I'm £25 poorer (I hit Fenwicks, DOH!), I’ve made a proactive investment for my future at the firm. CEO, Ed Stirling, now winks at me when walking past (unclear yet if this is in a fatherly manner).
Cut, however, to earlier today, AKA the moment my professionalism was thrown under a bus - it goes a little something like this:
Pricilla, my ageing Office Manager is both lovely and austere in the confusing manner of a school headmistress. I’m just never quite sure where I stand with her. She’s one of those mature thoroughbreds you see galloping around Mayfair in a sturdy court shoe and pastel twinset, facial expression is both a smile and a grimace at the same time - basically she looks deeply constipated, but I'm not about to reveal this to the woman that sits between me and the pay-cheque.
So around lunchtime, she guided me back to the Reception desk (I had left it un-manned for merely a few minutes to nab a freebie diet-coke) and asked me in a motherly tone how I was finding it so far. The constipated face made me think; 'Is this a trick question?'
‘Oh really great’, I enthused, but tried to level with her by matching her semi-distressed facial expression. ‘Everyone’s being so wonderful, I loved the colour of the meeting invite you chose in the diary today and I’m just so excited to be here!’
The conversation was going well. Perhaps one day we'd laugh about my first week in the office over a bottle of wine, "remember when we didn't know each-other"?!
I continued, ‘But how do you think I’m doing? Do you have any advice for me? Any tips for how I could do better?’ Always ask a question in three different ways my posh grandmother used to say, it really ensures people know what you're asking for.
‘Well’, Pricilla started, striding into her booming vocals like Paul Hollywood pacing the bake tent, ‘the best advice I can give you, dear girl, is to uphold the highest standards of precision at all times’. Then increasing her volume even further to speak over the boisterous IR team who were just returning from a client lunch, ‘to have such a thorough attention to detail that you are accused of having OCD – or how does my son put it these days – that you’re accused of being ‘anally retentive’’.
‘Fantastic’, I began, enthusiastically agreeing and raising my voice to match Pricilla’s volume: ‘I'm all over precision, I. LOVE. anal.'!
It just so happened that my triumphant broadcast had coincided exactly with a lull in the IR team’s conversation who were now settled down at their desks and had no knowledge of the context.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see them unified in sideways glances and collapsing into peals of laughter. Pricilla retreated to looking beyond constipated now. I shrank behind my enormous, panelled reception desk with a face like a beetroot.
A few moments later I see an email pop up from Pricilla:
‘Dear Lucy,’ (formal greeting from someone sitting ten metres away – clear sign of a telling off)
‘I think we discussed in your interview that you have to watch your professionalism in front of the IR team as they are predominately male and have a tendancy to get over excited by anything remotely titillating. Whilst I encourage enthusiasm, I suggest that you take greater care over your language. I trust you will have a restful weekend and come back refreshed next week.
Only one person to turn to: FRAN – super-charming flatmate who can talk her way out of, well, prison I reckon.
Forward email to Fran: ’HELP! I’ve massively c*cked up’
I froze; stuck in time; numb as I caught sight of Pricilla’s name in the ‘To’: section whilst the email disappears from my screen. God help me.
Please feel free to never come around.
23rd January 2015
Right, this week I've been grabbing life by the horns, "reaching out", as those crazy Yanks say, to my inner most strength to NAIL IT! It's been amazing getting advice from other PAs who clearly have a much better grip on this work thing than me - I've learned so much from everyone and that there are so many different ways to approach a problem but face it I certainly have!
I've assembled my best lessons learnt and made a fool-proof guide – with these little nuggets. we WILL acclimatise a rosé guzzling, trainer clad Leeds grad to the world of work:
The Office To Don't List
1. Don't ignore anyone; always acknowledge everyone from the cleaner to the CEO - including Garth, the invisible IT man who smells alarmingly of tuna - you never know when you might need that person in your corner (i.e. someone to sort Pricilla emailgate via remote access - true story! Thank you Garth). I now know internal emails can be retrieved AND deleted as long as the recipient hasn’t opened said incriminating email – gulp thank you god.
2. Striking new dress / tie / haircut - don't ignore it on others, assuming you sound like a novice. Acknowledge it and throw them a subtle compliment, because when it comes to compliments suddenly everyone’s interested in what I have to say for a change.
3. Say no to nothing and YES to EVERYTHING: everyone loves a do-er: Yes of course I will get rid of that chewing gum you have trampled into the sole of your shoe. Printing 20 copies of a 300 page double-sided document at 5.59pm? I'd love to!
4. Never ask anyone eating a bacon butty / wearing yesterday's shirt / with an ink-stamped wrist to repeat an order - hungover people prefer the toilet bowl to you right now, get out of their way.
5. Don’t paint your nails at your desk when clients are due in for a meeting and you need to take their coats. In fact don’t paint your nails at your desk period.
Hang on - that spot of pillar box red was on the inside of that Max Mara coat all along, right? ...but that little spec of camel coloured wool fluff definitely wasn't on my finger nail before!!
Oh gosh, this is exactly why my mother says I’m accident-prone - thank goodness I brought the nail polish remover with me too. I just hope they’re in this meeting long enough to loiter in the cloak cupboard and sort it...
30th January 2015
Brilliantly good week:
- Calls cut off: 0 (YES!)
- Calls mis-transferred: 1 (and Garth totally covered for me so effectively 0)
- Clangers dropped: 2 (neither of which contained the word anal)
- Cute couriers: 1 (AND he was delivering cakes. My dream man!)
- Praise from Pricilla: 3 (once it was even in relation to my professionalism when dealing with an over-familiar client – he was all pink faced and wandering eyes…gross)
My brilliant week began on Monday with RMS, the recruitment agency who got me the job, sending me the most gorgeous box of treats to congratulate me on my new role (delivered by the yummy Cake Adonis courier from Gail’s Bakery). The transformation in my office reputation was instant: from ‘anal girl’ to ‘awesome girl with cookies’ in a Mayfair minute (Holly thank you for your advice, you were so right – forget about compliments, it’s food treats that really wins office friends!). The chocolate brownies are the most amazing I have EVER tasted. Thankfully I didn’t give up chocolate for my NY resolution and neither has the rest of the office by the looks of the empty box. Nice one RMS.
Bolstered by my newfound confidence I tackled this Receptionist and General Office Dogsbody thing head on. I took some risks that totally paid off – I interrupted Pricilla while she was engaged in her favourite activity (chatting to Ed Stirling, CEO & dashing international phenomenon) because I realised that he was going to be late for his next appointment.
Pricilla visibly melts when she’s in Ed’s company. It seems to start with her voice which drops an octave as she unleashes a relentless stream of turbo flattery, punctuated with great braying waves of gafawing laughter. Anyone can see why she would enjoy a casual flirt with Ed – he first appeared on the Forbes list aged 22 and has matured into a sharp-suited, chiseled silver fox since then. He definitely seems to enjoy all this attention too – he shines that winning grin at her and spurs her on. I don’t know who embarrasses themselves more in the process, and I’m undecided as to whether I should try to emulate it myself seeing as they seem to get on so well…I think not, it would only go wrong.
I’m actually beginning to really love Pricilla like a favourite teacher – I find myself striving to impress her, she doesn’t go in for any fluff so you know when she praises you it really counts. My flatmate Fran accused me of having 'Stockholm syndrome' last night as I talked about Pricilla from the moment I got home until we peeled off our mud face-masks before bed. I told her I've never even been to Sweden. Apparently that doesn't matter.
Anyway, my second risky move was a slight overspend on the food budget this week as I included a sneaky box of chamomile tea (Priscilla’s favourite), but she actually came over to my desk to thank me for my thoughtfulness. Yes.
Today though, I am in a very slight pickle. Monday is Pricilla’s birthday, and as the delegated keeper of the office birthday tracker, I have diligently sent my little collection envelope and card around the office three times this week. Only at lunchtime today it has the grand total of £7.52 in it. I feel awful for Pricilla. The collection for one of the IR team last week made over £50! I can’t send it round any more times – it actually came back with less in it after the last circulation. I really don’t think that £7.52 is going to stretch to the £40 Gardenia Diptyque candle I was planning on getting her… added to which, it’s the end of January and I’m completely broke so I can’t even sub too much myself! If I utilize my bottom draw card supply, forego the Itsu lunch, I can push it up to £20 … any ideas anyone?