Business

How to Know When You Need an Executive Assistant—and When You Don’t

Jason Hreha
May 27, 2022
8
min read

Executives in the midst of overwhelm often reach a point where they think they may need an executive assistant, but aren’t 100% sure if it’s the right time or the right fit. This article helps founders and executives think through and answer these questions.

How to Know When You Need an Executive Assistant—and When You Don’t

Executives in the midst of overwhelm often reach a point where they think they may need an executive assistant (EA), but aren’t 100% sure if it’s the right time or the right fit. 

Their hesitation or uncertainty typically revolves around things like:

  • Will the return on investment be worth it?
  • How much will an assistant really take off of my plate?
  • Do I have the time to find and hire a good one?

These are all valid questions that we’re going to discuss in this article.

From our perspective, the decision about whether or not you need an executive assistant is straightforward: If you’re running a company, you should hire someone you can delegate to.

Finding and hiring the right person is the hard part. 

Below we’re going to cover: 

  • Why the ROI of a competent EA far exceeds the cost
  • 2 key factors that determine the ROI of hiring an EA
  • The rigorous hiring methodology we’ve developed to find world-class remote executive assistants

Before we get there, let’s briefly cover some cases in which it may not make sense to hire an EA.

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, 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.

When Not to Hire an Executive Assistant: 3 Cases In Which It May Not Make Sense

There are a few scenarios where we’d recommend against hiring an executive assistant:

1. You Mainly Want Help with Personal Tasks

If your primary motivation for hiring an assistant is to get help with personal tasks (as opposed to business-related tasks), then an executive assistant likely isn’t the right fit for you. You should hire a personal assistant instead. 

The role of an executive assistant can include delegating light personal tasks as a small part of their job, but overall their responsibilities are business-focused.

Check out our past article on executive assistants vs. personal assistants if you want to learn more about the differences between them.

2. You’re Working on a Side Project

If you aren’t running a company, but rather you’re working on a fun side project in addition to your day job, an executive assistant probably isn’t a good fit either. Outsourcing certain tasks to freelancers on a contract basis might be appropriate, but hiring a full-time EA likely would not.

3. You’re Not Sure You Have the Budget

Lastly, if you don’t feel confident that you can afford hiring an executive assistant, this may also be a sign that it’s not a good fit or the right time for you. However, great EAs can deliver substantial ROI, so that’s something worth considering as well. 

In the next section, we’ll look at how much EAs cost and how to think about the potential ROI from hiring one. 

The ROI of Hiring a Competent Executive Assistant Far Exceeds the Cost

Figuring out whether or not an EA will be worth it to you is relatively simple. 

The average cost of hiring an executive assistant in the U.S. ranges from $50K to $150k per year. So let’s just say for the sake of argument that a solid EA—someone who’s well educated, competent, and has the right qualities for the job—costs you somewhere in the $60-$80K range.

In our own experiences working with EAs, as well as what we’ve learned from speaking with thousands of founders about their experiences, a great EA can roughly double the amount of time you spend on your core competencies—whether that’s product, business development, fundraising, etc. 

To understand the ROI on a $60K or $80K investment, you just need to consider the following:

If you could double the amount of time you spend on activities that generate the most value in your business, how much more value do you think you could generate in the next year?

If your answer is equal to or greater than that salary, hiring an EA is a no-brainer. There’s only upside. You get to spend more time on the big picture work that drives business value (and that you actually enjoy), and less time on administrative tasks that stifle your productivity. 

And what’s even better is if you can find an EA that’s really smart and prone to take initiative, they can take on far more than the EA basics of email management and scheduling appointments and meetings.

With that said, having a positive and fruitful experience with an EA hinges on 2 things:

  1. Hiring them for a full-time (not part-time) role
  2. Having a hiring process to properly vet applicants and find top talent

Let’s look at each. 

1. Full-Time EAs Produce Significantly More ROI Than Part-Time Ones

There are 2 ways to explain why part-time EAs deliver far less ROI than full-time EAs. The first is that part-time EAs cost more per hour than full-time ones. Where a full-time EA might cost $40/hour, a part-time EA might cost $60/hour for the same types of tasks. So in that sense you see less ROI per dollar spent.

The second and more important way to look at it is that an EA’s effectiveness increases the more they work with you. In other words, the more hours they spend working alongside you, the better they come to understand your business, relationships, communication style, and preferences—all of which are key factors that determine your ROI from hiring them.

Compared to full-time EAs, part-time EAs will have less experience and time spent with you, so it will take longer to understand how to meet your needs and preferences. And often they’ll be working with and spreading their attention across multiple clients. This introduces room for scheduling conflicts and the need to attend to other executives’ needs over yours in urgent situations.

Due to these factors, in our experience the ROI from working with a fully dedicated, full-time EA is orders of magnitude greater than working with a part-time EA. 

2. Seeing ROI From Your EA Necessitates Having a Rigorous Hiring Process

The need for having a rigorous vetting process when hiring an EA is a topic we’ve discussed a lot in previous articles. In fact, it’s fundamental to why we started Persona.

Most businesses (as well as executive assistant recruiters and virtual assistant services) do not have effective methods or processes for vetting EA candidates. They rely on the standard resume review and interview process that’s been used for decades. 

But it turns out that this process is highly ineffective for accurately assessing executive assistant job candidates. Specifically, it doesn’t rigorously measure or evaluate applicants on the qualities that have been shown to make the best executive assistants:

  1. Problem Solving Ability: How smart are they? Can they figure things out in new and complex situations? 
  2. Key Character and Behavioral Traits: Are they organized, reliable, trustworthy, detail-oriented, etc.?
  3. 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.)?  

When companies are limited to just using resumes and interviews, their ability to assess candidates on these qualities is severely limited. 

How much can you really learn about someone’s problem solving ability from a job interview? Sure, you can ask them a problem-solving question. But having assessed tens of thousands of EA candidates over the past 4 years running our executive assistant service, we can say for certain that the way someone answers an interview question is not a rock-solid indicator of their ability or behavior in practice.

Resumes and interviews are simply not enough to concretely measure things like problem solving ability and key behavioral traits. So what do companies do?

They tend to make a lot of assumptions and rely on superficial proxy variables when assessing applicants. For example, they might think, “This applicant went to UC Berkeley. That’s a good school. They’re probably pretty good at problem solving.”

Or, “This applicant held their last administrative assistant job for 3 years. They must be pretty reliable.”

These things may be true, but very often they’re not. Relying on assumptions and proxy variables often leads to hiring someone who doesn’t perform well once they’re on the job.

This is the key problem we set out to solve when we started our service. We wanted to develop a way to thoroughly evaluate applicants and ensure they have what it takes to make great assistants before they’re on the job. And as a result we’ve been able to create a service that our clients love. 

Note: For a more in-depth understanding of these problems with the traditional hiring process, check out our founding story

The Methodology We’ve Developed to Find and Hire World-Class Executive Assistants

We’ve applied our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to develop a hiring methodology that thoroughly measures problem solving ability, communication ability, and key character traits in EA job applicants. 

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.

In particular, our assessments, projects, and exercises allow us to see how candidates perform the types of tasks that they’re likely to encounter once they’re on the job and working with one of our clients. 

This is a key differentiator between how most companies and services hire EAs. Instead of seeing an assistant’s performance of real-world EA tasks once they’re on the job, we have them prove their competencies before they’re hired. 

We also customize our entire vetting process on a candidate by candidate basis. Depending on how candidates perform on any given assessment or project, we may test them further in certain areas to ensure they’re well rounded in their competencies.

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 and fluency in navigating and reasoning about modern software apps and interfaces.

The result of this more thorough evaluation process—and the biggest benefit to executives using our service—is that our assistants are capable of exceeding expectations and taking on more than what most executive assistants do.

For example, 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 and phone calls, 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 on top platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, 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 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, designing Microsoft Powerpoint presentations, event planning, workflow design, building data sets, and more.
  • Personal assistant tasks: Help make online orders, reservations, travel arrangements, and other accommodations for executives’ personal lives.

How Our Remote Executive Assistant Service Works

If you’re a startup founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior management executive of any kind, you can try an assistant 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).

If you’re ready to try a remote executive assistant that can be truly transformative for your business, click here to get started. For testimonials from our clients, check out our homepage.

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