If you want to hire a virtual executive assistant (EA), one theme you’ll likely notice when reviewing services online is that very few companies share details about their approach to finding talent. They’ll explain “how it works” or what services virtual executive assistants can offer, but they rarely speak to the specific ways in which they evaluate the assistants they hire.
The implication of this is that founders and executives have no real sense of how rigorously their assistant has been vetted for the qualities and skills they’ll need before hiring them. They have to blindly trust that the service has thoroughly evaluated assistants and found smart, competent individuals who will excel in the role.
In contrast to most virtual assistant services, we’ve written in detail about our approach to finding and hiring top executive assistant talent. This way, executives that are interested in working with us can have more clarity about our process, and a greater sense of confidence and trust that choosing our service will yield a truly top-notch EA.
This is what we’re going to discuss in this article. Below, we’ll cover:
- The key qualities we look for in executive assistants
- The hiring methodology we’ve developed to rigorously vet candidates on these qualities
- Examples of the types of tests and exercises we use in our evaluation process
- How our virtual executive assistant service works
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.
The Key Qualities We Look For in Executive Assistants
In general, people who hire executive assistants place too much weight on hiring criteria that aren’t predictive of on-the-job performance—such as whether or not they went to a good university, have past assistant experience, or have several years of experience in an administrative support role.
In reality, these criteria provide very little concrete evidence of the qualities that truly matter 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 highly motivated, resilient, organized, detail-oriented, etc.?
- Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? 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? (e.g. Notion, Asana, Slack, Superhuman, Airtable, Excel, Zoom, etc.)
In our experience, if you focus on vetting candidates rigorously in these 4 areas and find someone who’s highly competent in each of them, you can hire an assistant who is actually transformative for your business.
The challenge: How do you thoroughly evaluate EA candidates on these qualities?
As we’ve written about in our article on how to hire a virtual assistant, doing this requires more effort than the traditional hiring approach. Evaluating assistant candidates on qualities like problem solving or specific character traits simply can’t be done adequately through basic resume review and interviews.
It takes additional tools such as work sample tests, structured reference checks, and personality evaluation. Just because a candidate looks good on paper and can speak well in an interview doesn’t mean they’ll be a great fit in the role.
Over the last 4 years building our remote executive assistant service, we’ve designed an in-depth hiring process based on these needs, which we’ll describe below.
The Hiring Methodology We’ve Developed to Find Top EA Talent
We’ve applied our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to develop a flexible, adaptive hiring methodology that rigorously evaluates EA candidates on the key qualities we described above: problem solving ability, communication ability, character and behavioral traits, and tech-savviness.
Each of our assistants goes through an individually tailored series of evaluations on their path to being hired, such as:
- 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.
The key differentiator between Persona and other executive assistant services is that each candidate shows us the quality of their work and proves their abilities before they’re hired. We do not hire based on assumptions or superficial proxy variables (e.g. “They went to UC Berkeley, so they’re probably good at problem solving.” ← We don’t do this.).
Furthermore, every step of our process is customized on a candidate-by-candidate basis—depending on how individuals perform as they progress through each step.
For example, if a candidate has a critical reference who describes a weakness that the candidate has, we select a sample project for that candidate to perform in order to evaluate for ourselves the scope of that purported weakness.
Or, 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.
Finding the absolute best talent isn’t possible with a cookie-cutter process. It needs to be flexible and account for different contexts presented by individual candidates. This customization is what allows us to find the truly exceptional remote assistants.
To demonstrate how our methodology works in practice, let’s look at some examples of the steps mentioned above.
Work Sample Test Examples
We deploy a wide variety of work sample tests based on the types of tasks our EAs perform for our clients. In doing so, rather than simply taking candidates’ by their word during an interview, we’re able to see the quality of their work in practice.
Examples of these tests might include:
#1. Social Media Management
Assistance with social media is a commonly requested service from many of the founders and executives we work with. So, to assess a candidate’s abilities in this area, we might have them create a project plan detailing how they’d approach social media management for a business.
For example, this might include prompts to explain how they’d:
- Create a content calendar.
- Source regular content to publish.
- Draft a few sample posts.
- Measure performance.
- Facilitate responses to comments and reactions.
This type of project can provide insight into a candidate’s tech-savviness and experience navigating social media platforms. And for candidates who may not have experience with managing social media, it can show us how quickly and effectively they’re able to learn new things.
#2. Planning a Business Travel Itinerary
Planning business travel is another common task that EAs facilitate for our clients. As another test project, we often have candidates create a plan for a hypothetical trip.
For example, this might include:
- Giving them a set of preferences, such as preferred airlines and seating, the types of hotels and locations they like to stay in, and their favorite types of cuisine.
- Having them create an itinerary for the trip, complete with a price breakdown.
- Having them write out the steps they took to come up with the itinerary.
This allows us to see how well they demonstrate organizational skills, attention to detail, and ability to take executive preferences into account—all of which are essential for performing in an EA role.
Communication Exercise Examples
We place significant emphasis on evaluating each candidate’s writing skill set because a) EAs are often responsible for email communication on behalf of our clients and b) much of their internal correspondence takes place through messaging apps like Slack.
Examples of writing tests we deploy include:
#1. Composing Emails
Email management is one of the most common responsibilities of EAs, and it is absolutely essential that they’re expert email communicators.
To ensure that assistants we hire are highly competent in this area, we often provide them with a series of email scenarios indicative of the types of emails they’d be expected to handle in the role, and have them write their responses.
This allows us to see their writing ability and email etiquette. And, depending on the scenarios, we can also gain insights into their personality and problem solving ability.
#2. Research Reports
A lot of our assistants do various forms of market/industry/product research for our clients. So, another test project we’ll sometimes give candidates is a research report. We’ll give an industry topic or question as a prompt, and have them show they can summarize, condense, and articulate information in a clear and relevant way.
The Tasks and Responsibilities Persona EAs Manage For Our Clients
As a result of this rigorous hiring process, Persona EAs are capable of managing more than just administrative assistant tasks. Presently, our EAs manage some combination of the following for our clients:
- Communications: Manage email, communicate on an executive’s behalf and alongside them with company staff members and key stakeholders, sit in on phone calls, etc.
- Scheduling and calendar management: Manage an executive’s calendar, schedule internal and external meetings and 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. Assist with bookkeeping, data entry, expense reporting, and other relevant administrative tasks.
- 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 Office 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 Virtual Executive Assistant Service Works
If you’re a founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive of any kind, you can try one of our EAs for a month or two and see how you like it—no long-term commitments required.
Note: We only offer full-time, fully dedicated assistants.
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).
Whether you’re an executive vice president at a large company, a chief financial officer for a mid-sized company, or a startup founder, we can match with you and your company with world class virtual assistants. They’ll handle whatever you need: calendar management, general office duties, office support functions, project management, email management, scheduling meetings, preparing communications, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a service oriented executive assistant who can coordinate between executive and external parties, and do all the things a normal virtual assistant can do (and more)?