When life throws you challenges, get flexible
12 Jul 2016
Whatever issues life has thrown at Sarah Graham, part-time solutions have always been the answer
After years as a radio production assistant and press officer, I decided to become an Executive PA. I stayed in the broadcasting sector for twelve years and worked at the BBC and ITN, where I was PA to the Chief Executive. I then decided I wanted a change and went to work for a large accountancy firm where I was PA to the managing partner. This was a very busy but rewarding job where I worked long hours.
After maternity leave I went back full-time, but I found this working arrangement tough. I negotiated a 3½ day week and my boss even created a new role for me, but realistically, it was still a full-time position.
In order to get a better work/life balance I looked for work closer to home. I had been unwell and having tests, but I’d been going to interviews thinking the results would be negative. However, I was diagnosed with breast cancer just as I had been offered a PA & Office Manager job at a local legal services company. As I would have to undergo several months of treatment, I turned down the job immediately to focus on my health. So it was a real shock when the company offered me work on an ad-hoc basis, which I could do during my treatment.
So I worked there throughout chemotherapy on a job share for 3 days a week, taking the odd day off if I was too tired. This worked really well as our different skillsets meant we complemented each other, but after radiotherapy and further surgery, I realised I needed a break, a bit of breathing space and some quality time with my daughter who was at 3 years old at the time.
I took a 12 month career break, and during this time I volunteered at the chemotherapy unit at the hospital where I had my treatment. I wanted to give something back, and this gave the unit a chance to maximise my PA skills. When I felt ready to return to the workplace, I saw a part-time job advertised on Timewise Jobs and applied straight away. I got the job out of 220 applicants and I now work 5 mornings a week for Digital 3&4, a joint venture owned by ITV and Channel 4. I have been in the role two years. Quite simply, I love my job.
The most important thing for me during my career break was that I kept my hand in through voluntary work. This is something I would recommend to anybody who’s looking to refresh their skills after a break from the workplace. It can also be useful to use mentors to get your confidence back, even just to get a second opinion on your CV. I've mentored other PAs in the past and it’s been lovely to see them flourish and use tips that I've given them.
I also believe you should keep persevering when looking for part-time jobs. Opportunities don’t happen overnight, so be patient and keep applying.
Another thing I have learned is that you shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate flexibility, always go for it. I have done it in previous roles with success. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.