Business

Why You Shouldn’t Use a Recruiter for Your Executive Assistant

Jason Hreha
Nov 30, 2021
7
min read

Over the last 3.5 years, my cofounder Nathan and I have been in the business of finding and hiring the most capable executive assistants in the world. During that time, we’ve discovered there are 2 reasons why using a recruiter to hire an executive assistant will often result in a low quality or very average assistant. This article explains why and presents a better alternative.

Why You Shouldn’t Use a Recruiter for Your Executive Assistant

Over the last 3.5 years, my cofounder Nathan and I have been in the business of finding and hiring the most capable executive assistants in the world. During that time, we’ve explored every avenue that businesses can use to find and hire executive assistants. 

Through that process, we’ve discovered there are 2 reasons why using a recruiter to hire an executive assistant will often result in a low quality or, at best, very average assistant:

  1. Executive assistant recruiters are typically the least experienced recruiters.
  2. Traditional recruiting processes are ineffective at evaluating candidates for executive assistant roles.

These problems aren’t obvious or intuitive. How can it be that most professional recruiting services—businesses solely focused on recruiting high-quality job candidates—don’t do a great job at finding great assistants?

And does this even matter? If you primarily want an assistant for administrative tasks like email and calendar management, how important is it really that your executive assistant is highly competent?

Finally, if you don’t have time to hire one yourself, and recruiting services tend to do a poor job, what are your other options?

That’s what we’re going to explain in this article. Below, we cover:

  • The 2 fundamental problems with using a recruiter to find your executive assistant.
  • Why the quality of your executive assistant is more important than you think.
  • The process we’ve developed at Persona to find truly world-class executive assistants.
  • How our executive assistant service works.

If you’ve been wanting an executive 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.

The 2 Problems with Using a Traditional Recruiter to Hire Your Executive Assistant

Problem #1: The Best Recruiters Don’t Specialize in Hiring Executive Assistants

There are some recruiters that specialize in recruiting executive assistants, but they’re few and far between. 

Why is that?

It’s a function of the way recruiters are paid. Typically, recruiters receive a percentage of the first year’s salary of the person they’ve recruited (usually around 20%).

As a result, the best recruiters specialize in staffing high paying positions like software engineers, financial services professionals, and top executives or c-suite staff.

In fact, most experienced recruiters won’t recruit for executive assistant roles—along with other generalist roles like office assistants, administrative assistants, personal assistants, or office managers—because they’re less lucrative. 

A symptom of this is that recruitment agencies and staffing companies tend to put new recruiters with little or no experience onto these lower paid roles. 

Meanwhile, executive assistant roles can actually be more difficult to hire for than higher paying roles like engineers because, unlike technical skills which are often easier to assess (e.g. giving a coding challenge to an engineer), most people don’t know how to evaluate the types of generalist abilities that make a great executive assistant (e.g. problem solving ability, communication skills, organization skills, etc.).

There are ways to test executive assistant candidates on their generalist abilities, but they’re not well known or commonly used by recruiters. Therefore, candidates aren’t rigorously evaluated, which often leads executives to end up with average or poor quality assistants.

Note: This is deeply connected to why we started Persona.

Problem #2: The Traditional Process Recruiters Use to Find Executive Assistants Is Fundamentally Flawed and Ineffective

The second problem is that typical recruiters don’t have a process to assess prospective candidates effectively.

Consider the generalist skills and traits that anyone would want in a great executive assistant:

  1. High level problem solving ability: Are they able to think quickly on their feet and solve problems for you (without relying on you heavily) as they come up?
  2. Character traits essential for being an effective assistant: Traits like organization skills, detail-oriented skills, dutifulness, etc.
  3. Incredible communication skills: Are they able to communicate with your team, clients, and customers in an efficient, professional, personable way that represents how you would want to communicate with them?

These are the traits that determine success in an executive assistant role.

Now, consider the standard process recruiters use for hiring executive assistants. It usually goes like this:

  1. Review resumes and look at where someone went to school, where they worked, and their years of experience.
  2. Choose candidates to speak further with about the role based on these relatively superficial variables.
  3. Talk to those candidates and select ones they think would be the best fit for you to interview.

None of these steps tell you anything concrete about a candidates’ problem solving ability.

You get a little insight into their verbal communication skills during an interview, but what about their written communication skills? For example, their email etiquette? You won’t have any idea about that if you follow this process.

The same goes for character traits. Does anything about the traditional process give you a concrete understanding of how organized or detail oriented someone is? 

Not really. And yet, these are the fundamental skills that make a great executive assistant.

This is why businesses that use recruitment agencies often end up with poor or mediocre assistants. Consistently hiring truly effective executive assistants requires a more rigorous approach to evaluate candidates on these key generalist traits and skills. 

In contrast, the hiring process we’ve developed at Persona does measure these key traits and skills. We’re going to walk you through how it works below, but first let’s discuss why the quality of your executive assistant is so critical. 

The Quality of Your Executive Assistant Is More Important Than You Think

If you’re attempting to hire an executive assistant using a traditional recruitment agency, the recruitment process is fraught with problems, as we’ve outlined above. 

But why is the quality of your executive assistant so important? It can’t be that hard to hire someone to help you out with some administrative support, right?

This line of thinking stems from one of the biggest misconceptions employers make about hiring for administrative roles like an executive assistant: that being a great executive assistant is straightforward and easy.

It’s not. 

For example, we all manage our own calendars and email inboxes. These tasks take time, but they don’t feel complex. However, managing someone else’s calendar and email and doing it well, actually isn’t that straightforward. 

It requires having a nuanced understanding of how you would prioritize and respond to different—sometimes critical—situations in a dynamic business environment. 

When a scheduling conflict comes up, which meeting should take precedent? Or when you have a hundred emails in your inbox, which ones are absolutely essential and urgent, needing a speedy response from you? 

These things might be obvious to you, but they aren’t obvious to someone else.

When you hire a mediocre assistant, they tend not to be very good at understanding these situations and learning how to deal with them. This can lead to critical mistakes being made, such as sending an inappropriate response to a key investor or overlooking an important email altogether. 

The result of this is you end up needing to micromanage your assistant which defeats the purpose of hiring one in the first place, and ends up creating more work for you, not less. 

Calendar and email management are just 2 of the tasks employers want their executive assistants to manage. They also want them to handle tasks such as: 

  • Research
  • Data entry
  • Booking travel
  • Managing payroll
  • Personal tasks

So, not only are some of the tasks actually quite complex, the volume of tasks is also really high. An assistant needs to be able to handle many different tasks, sometimes under time pressure, and be able to prioritize which ones are the most important.

The bottom line is we expect a lot from our executive assistants. The work they do isn’t trivial—it’s hard, especially when done at scale. If you hire the wrong person, it’s more work than it’s worth and you may need to be constantly putting out fires.

This is why it’s essential to be rigorous when you hire.

So, how do you find executive assistants who are capable of effectively managing this volume of (often nuanced) tasks? This is the problem we created Persona to solve. 

The Process We Developed to Find the World’s Best Executive Assistants

Fundamentally, if you want to be able to find great generalists—people who can competently handle a wide variety of tasks in a dynamic business environment, solve problems as they come up, and operate without a lot of micromanagement—you need to be able to evaluate candidates on the 3 core areas we mentioned above:

  • 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.)? 

These qualities are really difficult to measure if you’re an in-house human resources department, staffing agency, or run of the mill recruiter—even if you have years of experience of recruiting for executive assistant jobs.

Evaluating them properly requires an intentional, rigorous approach like the one we’ve developed at Persona.

Every Persona assistant goes through an in-depth series of steps, each designed to quantitatively or qualitatively measure the essential abilities that make incredible generalists. We vet and test applicants thoroughly in the following ways:

  • Quantitative assessments
  • Structured interviews
  • Work sample projects
  • Communication exercises
  • Reference and background checks

Our entire vetting process is customized on a candidate by candidate basis, dependent on their background and how they progress through each step. 

This tailored approach means we can understand our applicants on a deeper level and find the perfect candidate for each client’s requirements.

As a result of our comprehensive candidate-specific process, we hire roughly 1 assistant for every 1,000 applicants. This allows us to find top talent that’s several notches above what you can find by using a traditional recruiter or recruiting firm.

We provide top caliber 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.

How Our Executive Assistant Service Works

We’ve made the process for getting a world class assistant simple.

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 over 2-3 weeks.
  • Step 5: For a flat monthly rate, you get a fully dedicated assistant working for you 40 hours per week (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.

Whether you're looking to hire personal assistants, top tier executive assistants, or a virtual office manager, we can help. Don't use a traditional recruiting agency. Click here to tell us more information and sign up for a call.

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