The executive assistant recruitment process can take several weeks to several months of diligent time and effort. And for busy founders and executives who are already strapped for time and in need of help, using a staffing agency can be a great way to shortcut that process.
With that said, you still need to figure out which staffing agency to hire. There are a lot of staffing services out there, and it often isn’t clear how they differ.
So, how should you evaluate staffing agencies to determine which one will best meet your expectations and needs?
That’s what we’re going to discuss in this article. We’ll cover:
- Recruitment Agencies vs. Staffing Agencies: Which Is Better for Your Staffing Needs?
- 2 Key Factors to Look For in an Executive Assistant Staffing Agency
- How We’ve Addressed These 2 Key Factors with Our Executive Assistant Service
Note: Our unique hiring methodology enables us to find top tier executive assistants for our clients. We hire roughly 1 out of every 1,000 candidates. If you’ve been wanting an assistant but haven’t had the time to hire one, or you want to shortcut the hiring process, 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.
Executive Assistant Recruiting Firms vs. Staffing Agencies: Which Is Better for Your Staffing Needs?
If you’re looking to outsource the hiring of your executive assistant(EA), you’ll notice that there are two main options: recruiting firms and staffing agencies.
While both offer the advantage of sourcing candidates for you, there is a key difference between these two types of firms that makes staffing agencies a better option for most businesses.
Specifically, staffing agencies are paid on an ongoing basis (typically month to month) for as long as you are happy with their service. If at any point you are unsatisfied with your assistant, you can stop using their service or request a replacement. Therefore staffing agencies are incentivized to provide you with a great assistant who works out for as long as possible. In other words, their incentives are directly aligned with the interests of your company.
In contrast, recruiters are generally paid a one-time fee (typically 15% to 30% of the EA’s first year salary) for placing someone in the role. If you get three months into working with your EA and find that they aren’t meeting your needs, the recruiter or recruiting agency has already been paid. They typically only offer a 60 to 90 day grace period where they will replace your assistant for free, and you usually need at least this much time to onboard and evaluate your EA. So by the time you figure out they aren’t a good fit, it’s too late to get your money back.
In addition, because of this business model, recruiters are incentivized to find candidates at the top of your salary range (they make more money this way), as well as candidates who seem impressive and make a good first impression, but aren’t necessarily the best long-term fit for the role.
For these reasons, staffing agencies tend to be the better of the two options. Now let’s discuss what you should look for in an executive assistant staffing agency.
The 2 Key Factors to Look For in an Executive Assistant Staffing Agency
When evaluating candidates for administrative positions such as executive assistants, there is one thing that matters above all else:Does this person have the qualities that it takes to be successful in this role?
In our experience, there are two key factors required to figure this out:
- You need to know what the qualities are that predict success in an executive assistant role, and focus on them directly.
- You need to rigorously measurethose qualities when evaluating candidates.
So, these are the two factors you should look for in an administrative staffing agency. Do they focus on hiring for the right qualities? And do they rigorously measure the extent to which candidates possess those qualities?
If they do, they’re likely to provide you with a great executive assistant who you’ll be happy with and who will work out for as long as you need an EA.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.
Factor #1: Does the Staffing Agency You’re Considering Focus Directly (or Peripherally) On the Qualities That Predict Success in an EA Role?
We have found that there are 4 key qualities that predict success in an executive assistant role:
- 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, trustworthy, detail-oriented, etc.?
- Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? Can they play the role of gatekeeper, communicating on your behalf or alongside you with key stakeholders (executive team members, board members, investors, etc.)?
- Tech-Savviness: How comfortable are they with learning new technologies and software? How quickly can they pick up and learn the programs that modern companies use to run their businesses?
If a candidate possesses this set of qualities, they’re likely to perform exceedingly well in an executive assistant job.
However, many companies (as well as recruiters and staffing agencies) do not focus directly on these criteria when hiring executive assistants. Rather, they focus on proxy variables that vaguely indicate candidates have some of these qualities. For example:
- They’ll judge smarts or problem solving ability based on whether or not candidates are college educated.
- They’ll judge communication ability based on a few email exchanges and how well someone speaks in a one-hour interview.
- They’ll judge character traits such as reliability based on how long each candidate worked for previous employers.
- They’ll judge overall assistant competency based on whether they have past years of experience in an assistant role.
The problem is that these assumptions are just that—assumptions. And in our experience, they turn out to be false as often as they’re true.
So, while people hiring EAs often have a vague sense that they want these qualities in their assistants, many do not directly focus on these qualities during the hiring process. And therefore, many staffing agencies fail to reliably deliver top talent to their clients.
When speaking to staffing agencies, be sure to ask them about what qualities they focus on when vetting candidates. Do they focus directly on the qualities themselves? Or do they focus on vague proxy variables and make assumptionsaboutthese qualities?
This will give you insight into how likely they are to provide you with a great assistant.
Factor #2: Does the Staffing Agency Rigorously Measure Those Qualities When Assessing Candidates? (i.e. Do They Do More Than Just Resume Reviews and Interviews?)
In addition to focusing on assessing the right combination of qualities, as we’ve discussed above, it’s necessary torigorously measurethe extent to which candidates possess these traits and abilities.;
This means thatstaffing agencies need to do more than just resume review and interviews.There’s only so much you can do to assess complex qualities like problem solving and communication ability through an interview. And the same is true when assessing nuanced character traits like organizational ability or or attention to detail.
To consistently be able to tell whether candidates possess these traits and abilities, it’s necessary to use other tools such as quantitative assessments and work samples. But most staffing agencies and recruiters base their decisions on unreliable vetting methods, like resume reviews, unstructured interviews, and (in some cases) reference checks. As a result, most executive assistant staffing agencies rarely deliver top talent.
So, in addition to asking staffing agencies about whatthey focus on when hiring EAs, you should also ask themhowthey go about measuring candidates’ abilities.If they say they just do resume reviews and unstructured interviews, you should look for a different agency that deploys additional tools to vet candidates.
How We’ve Addressed These 2 Key Factors with Our Executive Assistant Service
We’ve used our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to create a hiring methodology thatdirectly and rigorously measuresthe 4 key things that predict success in an executive assistant role: problem solving skills, communication skills, tech-savviness, and the character traits that make the absolute best executive assistants (e.g. trust-worthiness, dutifulness, reliability, detail-orientedness, ability to be a team player, and many more).
And instead of relying solely on resume review and interviews, as most staffing agencies do, we use a tailored mix of the following when assessing candidates:
- 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 project-based or administrative tasks they’re likely to do in an EA 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.
By deploying additional tools such as assessments and work sample projects, we’re able to see a) the quality of candidates’ work and b) their ability to do the exact types of tasks they’ll be responsible for on the job—before they’re hired!
We’re not making assumptions about the executive assistants we hire. We’re certain that they have what it takes to perform at a high level on the job.
In addition, our recruitment process is highly customized and tailored on a candidate by candidate basis, based on how they perform at each step. For example, if we determine that a candidate is intelligent but may not have the requisite tech-savviness to work with our startup founder clientele, we take additional steps to measure the candidate’s ability to navigate and use modern software tools and interfaces.
Or, if we like the quality of a candidate’s writing samples, we might want to know “how quickly and consistently can this candidate produce this level of writing?” and employ additional tests to answer that question.
Due to the rigor of our hiring methodology, we’re able to find and place world-class EAs—the types of EAs that can grow into Chiefs of Staff. We hire roughly 1 out of every 1,000 candidates, and as a result, our EAs can help with tasks and projects that aren’t generally found in an executive assistant job description.
Currently, our assistants manage some combination of the following for our clients:
- Communications: Manage email, communicate on an executive’s behalf and alongside them with key team members and stakeholders.
- Scheduling and time management: Manage an executive’s calendar, schedule meetings and phone calls, 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. Help with recurring administrative assistant tasks such as data entry.
- Marketing and social media management: Create and schedule social media posts on top platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, monitor engagement metrics, respond to comments, help grow overall online presence.
- People operations: Support human resources efforts to manage employee onboarding, assist in employee recruitment (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 (e.g. customer support, invoicing, etc.). 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 light graphic design in Canva, workflow design, transcription, lead generation, CRM management, Amazon eCommerce management, and more.
- Personal assistant tasks: Help make online orders, reservations, travel arrangements, and other accommodations for executives’ personal lives.
Try a Persona Executive Assistant
We provide world-class executive support for all types of industries, including tech startups, non-profits, real estate, professional services, financial services, and more. We serve c-level executives across the U.S.—in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Miami, and New York—and internationally.
If you’re a founder or senior executive interested in trying out one of our top caliber executive assistants, you can try one for a month or two and see how you like it. We require no long-term commitments.
Here’s how to get started with us:
- 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 a superb 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.
- Step 5: For a flat monthly rate, you get a full-time, world-class executive assistant.