How to Know If You Need a Virtual Assistant (And Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring)

It’s not uncommon for founders and executives to have colleagues who work with virtual assistants (VAs), or to have seen virtual assistant services come across their Twitter or LinkedIn feeds. So it’s not surprising that at some point they’ll wonder, “Do I need a virtual assistant?”.

From our perspective, if you’re in a leadership position at a company and you don’t have an assistant, you should hire one because your time is too valuable to be spent on time-consuming busy work that someone else can do. 

A great VA can allow you to spend significantly more time on big picture goals that drive business growth (while vastly improving your work-life balance) so the ROI and benefits of hiring one far exceed the cost. 

However, many executives that hire virtual assistants have bad experiences. Whether it’s that their VAs are flakey, disorganized, or need really detailed instructions on how to do tasks, for one reason or another, they don’t work out. 

In this article, we’re going to explain the reasons why executives have these bad experiences, and share the virtual executive assistant service that we’ve developed to solve them. 

Specifically, we’ll cover:

  • 4 key reasons why executives have bad experiences with virtual assistants
  • The solution we’ve developed to provide executives with world-class VAs
  • How our virtual executive assistant service works

Note: Our unique hiring methodology enables us to find world-class virtual 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.

4 Key Reasons Why Executives Have Bad Experiences with Virtual Assistants

Over the last 4 years running our remote executive assistant service, we’ve learned there are 4 key things that lead executives to have unsuccessful VA engagements:

  1. They hire VAs off of freelance sites like Upwork or Fiverr
  2. They assume VAs are only appropriate for rote administrative tasks
  3. They don’t vet their VAs thoroughly enough
  4. They hire part-time VAs instead of full-time VAs

Let’s look at each. 

1. They Hire VAs Via Freelance Sites (Like Upwork and Fiverr)

In our experience, finding talented, reliable VAs through sites like Upwork and Fiverr is rare. The freelance VAs that are easily discoverable (i.e. the ones with the best ratings) typically work with many different clients, meaning they charge the most and have the least amount of time to offer.

Meanwhile, newcomers who might have the right skill set and a willingness to dedicate their time to you are nearly impossible to identify. As a result, finding a VA that’s a great fit for your business needs is difficult on these platforms.

2. They Assume VAs Are Only Appropriate for Rote Administrative Tasks

There’s a perception that the sole purpose of hiring a virtual assistant is to handle rote administrative tasks (e.g. data entry, invoicing, etc.). But while VAs can and should take ongoing administrative work off your plate, confining them to this is a missed opportunity to get support with more complex tasks, and it often leads to poor hiring decisions.

Specifically, executives don’t focus on hiring for talent because they don’t see administrative tasks as requiring sophisticated judgment. However, this tends to lead to underwhelming assistant performance and a lackadaisical approach to hiring (which leads us to the next point).

3. They Don’t Vet VA Candidates Thoroughly

Because executives think the work of VAs is straightforward and simple, they tend to not put much effort into vetting VA candidates for the qualities that make great assistants (more on this below). They’ll often run a fast and loose hiring process, reviewing some VA profiles online, speaking off the cuff to a few individuals that look decent on paper, and hiring the one who speaks best in their interview. 

In addition, they’ll often make assumptions about candidates based on superficial variables like where they went to school, whether or not they have past experience doing administrative assistant work, or how long they were at their last job. 

But these assumptions—which don’t actually tell you anything concrete about how well a candidate will perform in the role—along with a rushed hiring process often lead to the problems we discussed earlier: VAs that are flaky, disorganized, need a lot of instruction, etc. 

Finding a great VA takes a more intentional, thorough hiring approach like the one we’ve designed at Persona (which we’ll elaborate on in a moment). 

4. They Hire Part-Time VAs Instead of Full-Time VAs

Finally, many executives only hire VAs on a part-time basis. But as we discussed in our article on how to know when you need an executive assistant, there are a number of reasons why this leads to less successful VA experiences.

First, VAs cost more per hour when you hire them part-time. For example, where a full-time VA might cost $40/hour, a part-time VA might cost $60/hour for the same tasks.

Second (and more importantly), the less time they spend working alongside you, the less they come to understand your business and personal preferences, and the less capable they are at meeting your needs. 

And lastly, when you hire a part-time VA, they’re often splitting their time and attention between you and other clients, which can lead to delays in their deliverables and an inability to help you in situations that require urgent action. 

This is why we’ve chosen not to offer a part-time option for our service. We exclusively offer executive VAs that work in a dedicated, full-time capacity. 

Now, let’s look at the system we’ve developed to make it easy for executives to get top VA talent without the hassle of finding and hiring an assistant themselves. 

The Solution We’ve Developed to Provide Executives with World-Class Virtual Assistants

When we started Persona, we wanted to make it easy for executives to get a world-class remote assistant that would perform at a higher level than what most assistant services in the market can offer.

To do this, we applied our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to develop a more effective and thorough methodology for vetting assistant candidates. 

Specifically, we identified the qualities and abilities that must be evaluated in order to find talented 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 highly motivated, resilient, organized, detail-oriented, etc.?
  3. 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.)?
  4. 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, Calendly, Excel, Zoom, etc.)

Instead of relying on proxy variables that aren’t actually predictive of how well someone will perform as an assistant (e.g. past assistant experience, where they went to school, etc.), we focus 100% of our efforts on vetting these qualities which have been shown to predict success in an assistant role. 

Then, we developed a more thorough set of tools and methods for evaluating these qualities in candidates. We use a tailored combination of the following during our evaluation process:

  • 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.

Instead of relying solely on resume review and interviews, these methods allow us to have assistant candidates prove their capabilities before they’re hired, thus avoiding the problem of candidates looking good on paper but performing poorly in practice. 

By focusing on measuring the right qualities and abilities, and more thoroughly evaluating candidates, we’ve been able to build a team of world-class assistants which we offer to executives through our virtual executive assistant service

Currently, our assistants perform tailored combinations of the following for our clients:

  • Communications: Assist in email management, 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 posts for a company’s social media accounts, 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 startup founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive of any kind, you can try one of our VAs for a month or two and see how you like it. No long-term commitments required. 

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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