Executive Assistant Recruitment Agencies Rarely Deliver Top Talent. Here’s Why.
Over the last 4 years building our executive assistant service, we’ve learned that recruitment agencies are one of the worst options for outsourcing your executive assistant search. This article explains why and discusses how we've created a better alternative.
Outsourcing the recruitment of an executive assistant (EA) can be invaluable for founders and executives who don’t have the time or resources to hire an EA themselves.
In fact, for most senior executives, doing the hiring themselves doesn’t make sense. The reason they’re looking to hire an EA is because they don’t have enough time as it is. So spending weeks or months searching for and evaluating candidates isn’t a good use of their time.
Executives in this position often look to recruitment agencies to help them find qualified candidates. On the surface this seems like a good option, and recruiters have historically been the go-to solution for outsourcing talent acquisition.
However, over the last 4 years building our executive assistant service, we’ve learned that recruitment agencies are one of the worst options for outsourcing your executive assistant search.
In this article, we’re going to explain why and discuss how the service we’ve created—which is based on a more rigorous and methodical approach to hiring EAs—is a better alternative.
Below, we’ll cover:
- 3 problems with using recruitment agencies for hiring an executive assistant
- The methodology we’ve developed to find world-class EA talent
- What our EAs manage for our clients
- How our service works
If you’ve been wanting an assistant but haven’t had the time to hire one, click here to get started. You can try an assistant for a month or two and see how you like it—no long-term commitments required. For testimonials from our clients, check out our homepage.
3 Problems with Executive Assistant Recruitment Agencies
There are 3 key reasons why recruitment agencies are the least favorable option for hiring an EA:
- Misaligned incentives: Recruiters are paid to put butts in seats—not to guarantee great long-term outcomes.
- Entry-level recruiters: EA recruiters are typically the least experienced recruiters.
- Ineffective hiring processes: Traditional recruiting processes are ineffective at evaluating candidates on the qualities that predict success in an executive assistant role.
Let’s look at each.
1. Misaligned Incentives
First, the way recruiters are paid creates misaligned incentives with their clients. You hire them to fill a role for you, but they’re paid a percentage of the new employee’s first year salary—usually 15% to 40%.
This means they have an incentive to find the most expensive candidates possible. Often they’ll either only send you candidates asking for a large salary, since their fee is dependent on what the candidates make, or they’ll coach less expensive candidates to increase their asking salary to the middle or top of your privately expressed compensation range.
This makes it so that the people you hire through a recruiter will tend to ask for much more than the market average, even if the people the recruiter is sending you aren’t much better than average.
As we’ve talked about in previous articles, recruiters are quite bad at effectively vetting talent—especially for generalist roles like EAs. So it’s unlikely that the recruiter is sending you anyone that you couldn’t easily discover and engage with yourself.
In addition, you receive almost no guarantees for the large price you’re paying. Normally, there is a 60 or 90 day replacement guarantee. This means that if you decide to let go of the candidate within the first 60 or 90 days, the recruiting firm will find you someone new free of charge. However, it normally takes two or three months to onboard a new employee and get them fully up to speed. Just at the time you’re able to evaluate whether they’re actually a good fit, your recruiter’s guarantee runs out. They’re fully paid and off the hook.
This sets up a situation where, from the recruiter’s standpoint, they just need to get you someone who makes a great first impression and is likable. These individuals will get hired and stay on for at least a few months before you realize they may not actually be all that great. There’s no incentive for recruiters to find people who may not be all that charming, but will really blow you away in 6 or 7 months as you realize how quickly they’re able to evolve and become a core member of the team.
Therefore, when you work with recruiting firms, there’s greater risk that your recruiter will lack focus on finding an assistant that’s the perfect fit for you long-term.
2. Entry-Level Recruiters
Second, executive assistant recruiting tends to be done by entry-level recruiters. This is also due to the way they’re paid.
The most lucrative recruiting jobs involve hiring for specialized positions like engineers or c-suite executives that have the highest salaries. So recruiters with the most experience and seniority tend to focus on these higher paying roles.
Meanwhile, positions that have lower salaries relative to those specialized roles—executive assistants, administrative assistants, office managers, etc.—are generally taken on by the least experienced recruiters.
This can often result in recruiters who are satisfied with just filling positions. They’re less focused on finding the highest quality talent. Not to mention, they lack the experience it takes to do so.
3. Ineffective Hiring Processes
Lastly, traditional recruiting processes are ineffective at evaluating candidates for EA roles. And recruitment agencies aren’t alone in this. It’s also common in staffing agencies, most executive assistant services, and in-house human resources departments.
This speaks to the broader problem that we set out to solve when we started Persona, which is: Hiring great executive assistant talent is hard—and relying on the traditional process of resume review and interviews is an insufficient method for consistently finding top talent.
Why is it hard?
It’s hard because the qualities that make a great EA—things like problem solving ability, communication skills, and character traits like being reliable, organized, etc.—cannot be thoroughly evaluated through resume review and interviews alone. They require additional methods and tools to measure properly.
But most recruiters who hire EAs don’t know what these are or how to use them effectively. They filter candidates based on criteria that have been shown not to be predictive of good on-the-job performance, such as past years of experience in an assistant role. And they make assumptions about applicant quality based on superficial proxy variables.
For example, they assume someone is reliable because they were at their previous company for several years. Or they assume someone’s a great problem solver because they went to an elite university.
These types of assumptions, and the lack of additional tools and methods for concretely evaluating candidates on the qualities that make great EAs (i.e. problem solving, communication, key character traits), produce inconsistent hiring outcomes. And, as a result, execs who use recruiters are often underwhelmed or entirely dissatisfied with the assistants they deliver.
This is the crux of the problem we built our service to solve. In the next section, we’ll share the comprehensive methodology we’ve developed to find some of the world’s best executive assistants. (We hire roughly 1 EA for every 1,000 applicants to our service.)
The Hiring Methodology We Developed to Find World-Class Executive Assistants
After having hit or miss experiences with hiring assistants throughout our careers, our team at Persona wanted to see if we could apply our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to more consistently find top EA talent.
That process resulted in developing an EA hiring methodology that rigorously vets candidates on the 3 qualities that have been found to predict success in an executive assistant job:
- Problem Solving Ability: How smart are they? Can they figure things out in new and complex situations?
- Key Character and Behavioral Traits: Are they organized, reliable, detail-oriented, etc?
- Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? Can they communicate on your behalf or alongside you with key people (team, board members, investors, etc.)?
To measure these abilities and traits in more concrete ways, we leverage tailored combinations of the following:
- Quantitative assessments: Tests that allow us to evaluate candidates accurately on key generalist abilities.
- Structured interviews: A strategic interview process to cross-compare candidates on the qualities and abilities that matter.
- Work sample projects: Mock projects to see the quality of their work, based on the types of tasks they’re likely to do in a VA role.
- Communication exercises: Exercises to evaluate candidates on key communication skills such as email etiquette.
- Reference and background checks: A structured approach to interviewing candidates’ references.
Because we use this comprehensive methodology, we don’t need to rely on proxy variables like most recruiters and staffing services. We’re able to see how candidates communicate, behave, and solve real-world problems throughout the hiring process.
Candidates actually have to prove their competencies and abilities before they’re hired—not once they’re already on the job, which is fundamentally why hiring EAs with most other services is so inconsistent.
As a result of our rigorous approach, the range of what our executive assistants can do, and their ability to handle administrative tasks in addition to more complex projects, are far greater than what you’ll normally find.
Currently, our EAs manage the following for our clients:
- Communications: Manage email, communicate on an executive’s behalf and alongside them with company staff members and key stakeholders, draft company memos, etc.
- Scheduling and time management: Manage an executive’s calendar, schedule meetings, schedule appointments, resolve scheduling issues, balance personal appointments with work meetings.
- Project management: Manage the CEO’s to-dos, ensure they stay up to date and on track with their key projects.
- Business operations: Help create, organize, and improve on internal business processes and standard operating procedures.
- Marketing and social media management: Create and schedule social media posts, monitor engagement metrics, respond to comments, help grow overall online presence.
- People operations: Manage employee onboarding, assist in the employee recruitment process (e.g. reviewing resumes and cover letters for certain criteria), manage payroll, etc.
- Strategic planning: Work with the company leaders to define and come up with plans for new products, initiatives, and services. Project manage some or all of these new company programs.
- Client services: Handle important interactions with clients. Provide ideas and feedback about how to improve systems and processes.
- Special projects: Manage a wide variety of unique projects depending on what your executive needs. For example, our EAs have worked on things like web design, video editing, workflow design, building data sets, and more.
- Personal assistant tasks: Help make online orders, reservations, travel arrangements, and other accommodations for executives’ personal lives.
Finally, our EAs’ capabilities to accomplish tasks and projects without significant instruction is a quality that our clients (especially startup founders) find to be invaluable.
As they begin to establish a working relationship with their assistant, they’re able to ask their EA to handle complex, random tasks and projects—even things the assistant hasn’t done before. This is why getting a Persona assistant is invaluable for time-strapped founders and executives.
How Our Executive Assistant Service Works
We provide c-level executive assistants for all types of industries, including tech startups, non-profits, real estate, professional services, and more. We serve businesses across the U.S.—in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York—and internationally.
The process for getting an executive assistant with us is simple. Here’s how to get started:
- Step 1: Complete our form to let us know your needs.
- Step 2: If you’re a good fit, we’ll set up a call to discuss our service with you.
- Step 3: Our team will hand pick an executive assistant who we think will be a great fit for you based on your needs.
- Step 4: Our talent team will guide you through the onboarding process over 2-3 weeks.
- Step 5: For a flat monthly rate, you get a fully dedicated executive assistant working for you 40 hours per week (the equivalent of a full-time assistant with no long-term commitment needed).
If you’ve been wanting an assistant but haven’t had the time to hire one, or have had bad experiences with them in the past, click here to get started. You can try an assistant for a month or two and see how you like it. For testimonials from our clients, check out our homepage.