ASSISTENTE-DIREZIONE.IT: Hi Olga, Could you tell us something about yourself?
OLGA JANSZ: I am Dutch, 48 years old and married to Just. We have three sons, aged 25, 23 and 22 and only the youngest one is still living with us. We love to do long distance walks in our leisure time and I am a passionate piano player.
AD: For which company do you currently work and which tasks/responsibilities does your job include?
OJ: It’s been a year since I started working as a freelancer and I am running my own company. In this way, I work for several companies.
AD: Why have you decided to become a Virtual Assistant and be therefore your own manager?
OJ: For the past eight years, I have been working from my home office. I have colleagues working from home offices in every continent, so I was already used to working in a virtual environment. It makes you more flexible, also to deliver services to different employers.
AD: How did you start your career? And what are your previous professional experiences?
OJ: In 1981, I graduated from the European Secretarial Academy in four languages: Dutch – English – German and French. I started working for General Electric as a departmental secretary. This was a good start as GE was a leader in automation and I learned a lot. But most of all, it was fun, the team spirit was high and we achieved a lot. At that time the first PCs were being introduced.
Then I moved to Germany, to become an expat’s wife. I studied music and started to teach piano over there. After nine years we moved back to the Netherlands and I wanted to become a secretary again.
I lived in Germany from 1985 till 1994. Being back in the Netherlands, I had several secretarial jobs and in 1997 I started at Montell, which became later Basell and LyondellBasell.
I started there as a Management Assistant and later moved to Business Communications. Here, I had totally different acitivities to do, I also prepared business reports, constructed and maintained parts of the intranet, maintained the CRM system, etc. Did some special projects like customer satisfaction surveys and organised many events.
AD: Could you describe your typical working day?
OJ: In the morning I start by checking my e-mails, looking for business possibilities, etc. Then I work for my different employers and keep track of the hours spent per employer. Sometimes, I need to go to them or have interviews with new prospective ones. Depending on the workload, I work on this during the day. If necessary, I take some time off to do private things, this is the big advantage of my way of working. As long as you are available, you can decide on your working hours yourself. My iPhone is a perfect instrument for this. If the weather is OK and I have some time, I go for a tour on my bike or to the supermarket. Sometimes, I receive urgent requests in the evening. When I am available and if necessary, I then work in the evening.
AD: What software do you use most in your job and which ones are more effective in your opinion?
OJ: I am an enthusiastic Apple user and most programs I run on my MacBook. There is also an office for Mac that you can exchange with Windows as well. Next to this I use Apple’s Mail, Calendar, Firefox, Adobe Acrobat Pro, Photoshop, ExpressScribe for making transcriptions.
I also use an iPhone where all my mail, appointments, address book, etc. are synchronized. Besides the many useful aplications I have loaded on it, it is one of the best investments I ever made. I have my office with me even when I am not there.
AD: What languages do you use in your job?
OJ: My mothertongue Dutch and German and English. I hope to get some job offers where I can use my French, I am out of practice because it’s not part of my routine.
AD: Do you think continuous training is important in your role? How do you update your skills to be efficient in your job?
OJ: It is most important to keep software skills updated. For my language skills, routine is the best training there is.
AD: Did you notice any important changes in the role of assistant since you have started to work in this position?
OJ : Of course, when I started, I had an electric typewriter and prepared contracts the whole day. Now, I need more organizational skills and to be pro-active. Due to our PCs and networks, communication has improved so much that we now have remote access to each other’s calendars and we can see what people are doing. In this way you can be more pro-active because you have more insight into other people’s activities.
AD: What are the most difficult aspects of being a Virtual Assistant?
OJ: You have to take care that you do not become too isolated. Sometimes you do not have enough contact with the outside world as you do not have colleagues or a social meeting point in the office. Rule number one is: first try to talk to people on the phone or skype. If they are not available, then you can send an e-mail. Be sure that you talk to people and hear their voices.
AD: What advice would you like to give our Community on how to pursue a successful career as a Virtual Assistant?
OJ: Be prepared when you start your business, have a good website, a good network, the right equipment (PC, server, mobile phone etc). You need to be very organised, do not mix business from different employers/customers. Be flexible, as this is one of the biggest advantages for you, but also for your employers. Your integrity is most appreciated. Use the social media (LinkedIn).
AD: How do people change jobs in the Netherlands? … i.e.: Thanks to their own network of friends? … are there any famous job search engines on the internet (which ones?)? …or are people contacted by head hunters?
OJ: It is a mix of all these things. Nowadays, people mostly use the Stepstone, Monsterboard websites, but you also see an increase of job postings in LinkedIn and Twitter. It is getting faster, more and more. Advertisements in newspapers are also still common, but I am convinced it will be less in the future. Of course, intermediaries are favorable and for jobs at some levels, head hunters are being used.
AD: Do you have any tips to share with our Community regarding business etiquette in the Netherlands?
OJ: In the Netherlands, we are pretty open-minded. People mainly speak out about what they think and what their opinion is. For other European countries, this might sometimes seem rude. If I go to a company or business person for an interview, I will always wear business clothing. If you have been there before, you know their dress code so it is easier to adapt. Some companies are very casual, some are not and I think it wise to adapt to their standards.
We think going to work can be part of our social life, you spend many hours of your life at work. Sometimes, people also meet after work, but this is not common. Dutch people are very hospitable and most think a pleasant work environment and a nice job is more important than the salary. In many companies, there is not much hierarchy, people call each other by their first name. Be careful, it is mostly, but not always the case!
If you ever have the chance to work in the Netherlands or need to do business with a Dutch company and have questions to ask, please do not hesitate to contact me, I will be very happy to assist! Should you have any questions regarding my activities, please do not hesitate to contact me at: Olga@SecretaryXL.nl