When hiring an executive secretary, or what most people today refer to as an executive assistant (EA), it’s common for companies to overlook the importance of writing a unique and compelling job description.
The thinking is: secretarial work is basically the same at every company (i.e. take phone calls, schedule meetings, perform various administrative duties). So, it’s fine to just use a boilerplate job description, make a few tweaks, and paste it into a job post.
Through our experience assessing tens of thousands of executive assistant candidates over the last 4 years, we can tell you that this way of thinking is highly unlikely to attract great candidates.
There are many smart, ambitious professionals currently in the market for EA positions. But these individuals are looking for executive assistant jobs that sound interesting! You need to sell them on why they should come work for your company—and your job description is a first essential touch point to do that. If you post a generic JD, they’ll skip right over your job post, and you’ll miss out on the best candidates.
In this article, we’re going to share a template we’ve created that can help you write a compelling JD that attracts great applicants. We’ll also discuss why you should consider dropping “Secretary” from your job title, plus two mistakes to avoid as you progress through the hiring process.
Below, we cover:
- What Is an Executive Secretary? (And Why You Should Consider the Job Title “Executive Assistant” Instead)
- A Template for Creating a Compelling Executive Assistant Job Description
- Two Key Mistakes to Avoid as You Progress Through the Hiring Process
- The Hiring Methodology We’ve Designed to Find Top 0.1% Executive Assistants
Note: Our unique hiring methodology enables us to find world-class 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.
What Is an Executive Secretary? (And Why You Should Consider the Job Title “Executive Assistant” Instead)
An executive secretary manages a variety of administrative tasks on behalf of an executive in order to free up their time and allow them to focus on their core competencies.
Common executive secretary responsibilities include:
- Communications: Managing email, taking telephone calls, drafting memos, etc.
- Calendar and Time Management: Scheduling appointments, arranging board meetings based on executive preferences and availability, helping to prioritize daily appointments, and keeping the executive on track to meet deadlines.
- Travel Planning: Booking airline, hotel, and restaurant reservations for business or personal travel.
- Documentation and Organization: Taking meeting notes, organizing and managing digital filing systems, etc.
- Miscellaneous Administrative Tasks: Completing other operational tasks as needed.
In general, companies look for candidates that have qualities such as:
- Strong organizational skills
- Excellent time management skills
- Competency with digital tools such as Google Workspace and Excel (or, increasingly, tools such as Notion, Trello, Airtable, Miro, Calendly, HubSpot, Superhuman, etc.)
Now, while the title “Executive Secretary” is often used interchangeably with “Executive Assistant” or ”Executive Administrative Assistant”, there are a number of reasons why we recommend titling your role as “Executive Assistant” instead of “Executive Secretary”.
First, in our experience, the title of “Secretary” is often perceived by candidates as being less exciting. The same goes with using “Administrative” in the title. These words signal to candidates that the role will be confined to administrative work, and is therefore less attractive to the best candidates who are looking for more dynamic positions. For example, roles that offer opportunity to grow into managing more complex tasks and projects.
Second, many executives would love to have an assistant or secretary who can take on more complex responsibilities and projects as they progress and grow with the company. So by using the title “Administrative Assistant” or “Secretary,” they set an expectation from the outset that works against that aspiration.
This is why we recommend using the job title “Executive Assistant.” It will satisfy the same needs, while avoiding these potential issues.
Regardless of what you decide to title the role, the template provided below will work equally well for both titles.
A Template for Creating a Compelling Executive Administrative Assistant Job Description
To help you create a unique JD that will appeal to great applicants, we’ve created a different style of template. Specifically, instead of providing a boilerplate list of tasks and responsibilities, we’ve created a series of prompts that will help you create a JD that stands out on job boards.
The template, which you can make a copy of here, is broken down into the following sections:
- Company Background: Most of the time, when candidates apply to assistant jobs, they’ve never heard of the companies they’re applying to. Introducing them to what your company does and what it stands for is important for catching their interest and providing them with context about who they’d be working for.
- Description of the Role (Job Summary): This section lists the executive assistant’s duties and paints a picture of what the job will look like and require on a day-to-day basis. This helps candidates determine if it’s a job that they want to do, as well as whether or not they would be a good fit for the role.
- Desired Abilities and Traits: This section describes the abilities and traits that candidates will need to be successful in the role. We tend to focus on generalist abilities like problem solving and communication skills versus specific skills (more on this below).
- Role Logistics: Including a section on practical logistics of the role—things like the timezone your EA will be working in, any special equipment they may need, or the software programs they’ll use—is often overlooked. But this is actually an important section to include because it provides further context to help candidates understand if they’re a good fit to apply.
- Final Big Picture Details: This section concludes your JD by zooming out, tying everything together, and inspiring great candidates to apply.
We’ve written previously about the rationale behind each of these sections, as well as mistakes to avoid and how to get them right. Check out our article on executive assistant job descriptions for further detail on each section.
Now, writing a compelling job description that attracts quality candidates is just a first step to finding and hiring a great executive assistant. The biggest challenge of making the right hire is the evaluation phase.
This is where executives, human resource departments, recruiters, staffing agencies, and most assistant services make two key mistakes that lead to poor hiring decisions.
Two Key Mistakes to Avoid as You Progress Through the Hiring Process
As we explained in our founding story, when companies hire executive assistants, they tend to (1) focus on superficial proxy variables when evaluating candidates and (2) fail to directly measure candidates on the qualities that predict success in the role.
Let’s take a closer look at these mistakes and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: They Focus on Proxy Variables When Evaluating Candidates (Not the Key Traits and Abilities That Predict Success in an Assistant Role)
Most people who hire executive assistants rely heavily on proxy variables when reviewing resumes and choosing candidates to interview. For example:
- Past years of experience working as an assistant
- How long they’ve held jobs at previous companies
- Where they went to university
They look for these types of superficial variables, and then they make assumptions about candidates based on these.
For example, “If they have past work experience as an assistant, they’ll probably be more capable in the role than other candidates (or easier to onboard, more familiar with operational processes, etc.).” Or, “If they’ve been with their previous employer for a period of years, we can probably expect them to be reliable and committed to the role.”
But in our experience, these assumptions aren’t reliable for predicting on-the-job performance in an executive assistant role. Instead of looking for proxies, companies should focus on directly measuring the abilities and traits that make great assistants.
Specifically, we’ve found that the following key qualities predict success in an 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 highly motivated, resilient, detail-oriented, etc.?
- Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? How are their verbal communication skills? Can they communicate 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?
By focusing on these traits and abilities, you’ll be much more likely to select an individual that performs well on the job. However, to evaluate these qualities, you need to do more than review resumes and interview candidates—which brings us to the next mistake.
Mistake #2: They Don’t Directly Measure Candidates on the Qualities That Matter
A key reason why companies make the first mistake discussed above—focusing on proxy variables instead of measuring traits and abilities—is because they don’t tend to have thorough ways of evaluating candidates on generalist qualities like problem solving ability, communication skills, or character traits.
So, instead of directly measuring candidates on the traits and abilities they’ll need to be successful in the role, they make assumptions and best guesses about candidates based on their resumes and how well candidates respond to interview questions.
As such, companies end up hiring people before they ever see the quality of their work. And in doing so, they’re often disappointed with how their chosen candidate performs once they’re on the job.
Instead, companies need to use additional forms of assessment during the hiring process that allow them to assess the actual work of candidates before hiring them. This is a key part of the approach we take at Persona that has allowed us to consistently deliver top talent for our clients.
The Hiring Methodology We’ve Designed to Offer World-Class Executive Assistants
We’ve used our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to create a hiring methodology that solves the two key mistakes discussed above.
Specifically, we do not rely on proxy variables when assessing candidates. We focus on directly measuring the key qualities that predict success in an executive assistant role: problem solving ability, communication ability (written and verbal), necessary character traits, and tech-savviness.
And instead of relying solely on resume review and interviews, 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 tasks they’re likely to do in a virtual 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 using additional assessments, exercises, and work sample projects, we’re able to see the quality of candidates’ work—the exact types of work they’ll be responsible for managing on the job—before they’re hired. While this is a time-consuming process, it allows us to get concrete evidence of candidates’ abilities and ensure they have what it takes to succeed in the role.
This has allowed us to find the absolute best executive assistants in the market. Presently, we hire roughly 1 in every 1,000 candidates that we assess. And the rigor of our hiring process enables us to offer assistants whose services go beyond basic administrative support.
For example, our assistants manage customized combinations of the following for our clients:
- Communications and email management: Act as the executive’s main point of contact, communicating on their behalf and alongside them with key stakeholders. Sit in on phone calls, draft memos for company-wide communications, etc.
- Scheduling and calendar management: Manage an executive’s calendar, schedule meetings and appointments, resolve scheduling issues, balance personal appointments with work meetings.
- Project management: Manage the executive’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. Assist with bookkeeping, data entry, and other relevant administrative tasks.
- Marketing and social media management: Create and schedule social media posts, keep social media accounts up to date, monitor engagement metrics, respond to comments, help grow an 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 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 graphic design, video editing, performing market research, designing Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations, event planning, workflow design, building or compiling spreadsheet data sets, and more.
- Personal assistant tasks: Help make online orders, reservations, travel arrangements and itineraries, and other accommodations for executives’ personal lives.
Want to Shortcut the Hiring Process? Try Our Remote Executive Assistant Service
If you’re a founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive interested in trying out one of our EAs, 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 an 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 world-class assistant that equates to a full-time employee (40 hours of remote work per week, with no long-term commitment needed).