The Real ‘Devil Wears Prada’ – A Day In The Life Of An Ordinary PA

Written by on February 18, 2014 in Career - No comments | Print this page


Being a Personal Assistant can be a very interesting job. Whilst some people think that you’re just a ‘glorified secretary’, others will have watched The Devil Wears Prada and noticed that there is so much more involved than serenely sitting at a reception desk and welcoming visitors.

Whilst it looks like hard work and a sacrificial lifestyle, there must be good reason to be a PA. Perhaps you fancy being at the heart of the company for which you’re applying to, but don’t fancy the pressure of sitting in the CEO chair? Perhaps you don’t want to have a serene and as some would say, boring, day at work.

Perhaps being a PA would be the perfect role for someone with great organisation skills, great interaction with people on all levels, and the ability to understand and maintain confidentiality on the inner workings of a big business.

Do you have the skills?

  • Excellent organisational skills are required, you must be efficient, confident and have a great memory for schedules/timings/requests made whilst away from your desk!
  • Good timekeeping skills and ability to meet deadlines
  • Strong communication skills, both written and spoken
  • Adaptability and flexibility as certain jobs may require you to take longer working hours during busy periods at short notice
  • Ability to build good relations – you will be the main point of contact for many colleagues, clients, and guests


  • Screen/manage telephone calls for your boss – deciding who to put through with priority and who to politely defer
  • Manage post, emails and faxes on behalf of your boss, issuing responses when need.
  • Organise your boss’s diary, including book appointments and meetings, arranging meeting facilities in advance, ensuring travel and accommodation requirements are booked according to their taste
  • Be flexible and able to think outside of the box to fulfil your boss’s requests – from dry cleaning, to present buying, to running to the shops for urgent supplies, to filling out passport applications or other personal requests

One day as a PA

8:30am: Arrive in the office. No matter how hard I try to get up early enough to get in before my boss, he is already there. I guess that’s why he’s the boss! It would be nice to have a moment to myself to get focused on what needs doing today, but in all honesty it’s all been going through my head and through my iPhone since the moment I woke up this morning.

I’m asked to go and get a round of coffees for the boss and his visiting colleague, and something for breakfast, so before I even sit at my desk, I’m off out again.

9:00 am: Having just returned and delivered breakfast & milk for the office, I just make it to my seat in time for the phone on my desk to start ringing as the answer phone turns off. Juggling the message taking with responding to urgent emails, I seem to get through an hour without making much headway on my To Do list!

10:00 am: As an additional couple of colleagues arrive, I join them and my boss to take detailed minutes of their meeting.  The agenda wasn’t riveting this time, but it was still a lengthy affair, and after a while my hand does begin to ache! Using short hand really helps to ease the process!

11:30 am: Finally back at my desk I again need to sift through all the voice and email messages checking for anything urgent and finally having 10 minutes with my boss to go through his schedule and my priorities for the day.

11:45 am: I finally get the chance to start on the day’s To Do list. First thing’s first, finding flights and accommodation for his business meeting in Indianapolis in a few weeks’ time. Why do all international meetings seem to be left until the last minute to be scheduled, leaving far fewer affordable options for travel? Anyway, comparing hotels and their locations, and weighing up different flight times and layovers, I finally arrive at 3 suitable suggestions which I ping over to the boss.  Second, I start trying to compile his personal expenses which are long overdue for submitting to Finance. Making a spreadsheet and sorting through many crumpled receipts and email print outs, I’ve almost got them all in order when I’m interrupted again. A request comes in from the CEO for a full bio and photo of my boss to be used in some PR, so I delve into my file, try to pull out the relevant copy and an image which will be suitable, and send them over to my boss.

12.30 pm: As my boss comes out of his office to head to lunch, I remind him of the two urgent emails I have sent him which require an answer – he promises he’ll look them over at lunch and respond…
In his absence I see the opportunity to go in to his office and clear up the coffees, breakfasts, meeting papers and used glasses from his earlier meeting. On his desk I find a pile of letters still seemingly unread which I put their yesterday for ‘urgent action’ – I flick through them again and make a mental note to ask him directly about each one on his return. As I see the photo frame on his desk with a picture of his family, I’m also reminded that his wife’s soon to be turning 30, and I must nudge him to organise something special! I spend the next 20 minutes googling suitable party ideas and gift suggestions for his lovely wife, as he’ll never get around to sorting it out without advice!

1.10 pm: Dash out for lunch, picking up dry cleaning on the way back to the office, making personal calls and checking in briefly with the boyfriend – no time to stop and chat.

1:30 pm: Lunch over, I remember that top of my To Do list was to book multiple couriers for copies of our annual report which need sending to various companies across the globe. It’s a long winded booking process and I’ve only got 1 hour until the deadline. I better start boxing up, taping, sticking labels on, and booking the collections online!

2:30 pm: As the courier man arrives to collect the parcels I’m still frantically taping their shipping labels, but he knows he has to wait when he comes to this office, and thankfully today it’s only a minute or two.

As my boss doesn’t have meetings this afternoon he finds himself free to ‘catch up’ on his own To Do list, resulting in many and varied requests falling on to my desk, frequently it would be writing a PowerPoint presentation, or proof reading and editing a speech he’s due to make that night, or visiting the company’s marketing department and explaining to them his feedback on the latest campaign.  Today though, I’ve been given a spreadsheet with 94 names of previous business contacts in South Africa, and I’m tasked to try to phone each and every one before they go home for the day (bearing in mind they are 2 hours ahead of us, leaving me with an hour to call almost 100 people…). 

4:00 pm: I am clutching at straws now with my calls to South Africa as many seem to have left the office for the day, so I too call it a day, on that exercise.  I go to my boss to report back on my afternoon’s exercise, and to chase him again to respond to my urgent emails about travel to Indy, and the bio for the PR, and again ‘I’ll look at it just now”. Ergo, he still hasn’t looked at it. And I remind him about the urgent letters, and his wife’s birthday, and he says he’ll get to it.

I spend some time booking meeting rooms for hire, responding to some unanswered emails, and working through my To Do list, trying to chase up board members who haven’t RSVP’d as to their intentions of coming to the next meeting, looking up suitable venues for a drinks reception for an event in London, trying to find a better priced caterer for lunch catering.

5:00 pm: Nearing the end of the day I approach my boss again to ask if he can sign off the PR bio. He says, he’s sure it’ll be fine as it is, just don’t use the photo of him that shows his receding hair line. I don’t know which one this is, so I wait in his office as he opens my email, and confirms that the photo I suggested is the very one I should know not to use. Back to the drawing board to pick another and await approval…

5:15 pm: Having just approved my 2nd choice of photo, I get ready to send the bio and photo back. As I’m typing and trying to finish up for the day, I’m asked if I could look into another 2 options for accommodation and flights to Indy – he’d like to fly Premium Economy or alternative on this occasion, forget the normal budget restraints, and he’d like to spend a night in New York en route. Could he not have told me this during the initial conversation before I’d spent hours searching for the most inexpensive options??

Furiously I spend the next 35 minutes finding the best Premium Economy options with the best flights times, finding New York accommodation and looking up the locations, and putting it all in an email to him so that he can let me know tomorrow which option he’d like me to book.

5:50 pm: Only 50 minutes late leaving work, I shouldn’t be frustrated – this was a relatively quiet and peaceful day.

Celebrity PAs

Many celebrities value their PA’s, not only as loyal workers but also as honest friends, many confide in their personal assistants. Oprah Winfrey valued her PA, Beverley Coleman, so highly that she reputedly offered her $1 million to stay in the job as she couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else knowing the entirety of her personal life.

The handsome George Clooney has bought his faithful assistant a house down the road from his in Beverley Hills so he can summon her whenever he needs her.

Fancy getting a PA?

Go for it! PA’s are the most dedicated type of employee and as long as you’re kind to them and reward them with gratitude and praise, they’ll become almost an extension of your family.

If you’d like to have the assistance of a PA but aren’t sure you have enough need, or are famous enough to need calls screening, or disorganised enough to need someone to help you plan your wife’s 30th, then there is less full time solution.

There’s always the Virtual PA service, where you can have a small dedicated team who work on a number of different clients’ accounts, so you are not the only person paying their salaries. They work round the clock to be on call to answer phone calls, respond to emails, manage your diary, view orders if necessary, and only contact you as and when something urgent arises. An absolutely great idea for smaller businesses who just need a little boost, rather than a full time PA.

Featured images:
  •  License: Creative Commons image source
  •  Image courtesy of Smart photo stock
  •  Image credit Cheap photos

Karen was some years ago a dedicated PA, but is now happily the owner of two young businesses, and has learned a lot from setting these up whilst also prioritising spending time with her children, enjoying nothing more on her days off than spending time with her grandchildren and taking her dogs for a walk.  At times using a virtual PA service has been the key to managing all the different needs of running the businesses.


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