The Problem with Most Executive Assistant Services (And the Process We Built to Solve It)

Over the last 3.5 years, my cofounder Nathan and I have spoken with hundreds of entrepreneurs and executives about their needs for an executive assistant. 

Often, they’re startup founders wearing many different hats, and they’re spending too little time on their core competencies (whether that’s product, sales, business development, fundraising, etc.) compared to time spent on the myriad other things they need to do to run their business. They know they need help, and typically a board member or peer in their network suggests they get an executive assistant.

Due to the limited time they have, executives in this situation commonly look to outside services to find or provide them with an assistant. Specifically, they’ll use one of the following:

  • Recruiting agencies
  • Staffing agencies
  • Companies that offer executive assistant or virtual assistant services

The time and effort executives can save by using one of these services is significant. And if they choose one that finds them a truly talented assistant, it can be absolutely transformative for their business.

But many executives that use these third party services end up with average or incompetent assistants. For a variety of reasons—whether it’s that the assistant requires a lot of micromanaging, or they’re not that organized, or they aren’t great communicators—they often don’t end up working out well. 

There are different things that feed into this, but fundamentally it comes down to hiring. 

Most recruitment agencies, staffing agencies, and executive assistant services use hiring processes that are ineffective at assessing candidates on the qualities that make great 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, 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.)? 

In this article, we’re going to explain why the traditional hiring processes used by these services are ineffective. Then, we’ll share the methodology we’ve developed to effectively evaluate candidates on these qualities—a process that enables us to find world-class executive assistants for our clients. And one that has allowed us to create an executive assistant service that consistently delivers more talented assistants than other options on the market. 

Regardless of the service you choose, anyone considering hiring an outside service for their executive assistant should read this article. You’ll learn the fundamental issues involved in the traditional hiring process, and have a deeper understanding of what to look for in an executive assistant service.

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.

The Hiring Process Used by Most Executive Assistant Services Is Fundamentally Flawed

The typical hiring process used by recruiters, staffing agencies, and executive or virtual assistant services is exactly what you would expect:

  1. Review applicant profiles and resumes.
  2. Choose applicants to interview based on things like whether they’re college-educated with a bachelor’s degree, past years of experience in an executive or administrative assistant role, how long they worked at their previous company, etc.
  3. Interview candidates who look good on paper and hire the ones who perform best in their interviews.

The core problem with this approach is the extent to which it’s over reliant on relatively superficial assumptions. For example, the resume review process:

  • Assumes that candidates are reliable because they’ve stayed with past jobs for long periods of time.
  • Assumes that candidates are organized because their resume is neatly put together.
  • Assumes that someone is good at problem solving based on where they went to school (e.g. “Oh, they went to UC Berkeley, they’re probably pretty good at problem solving.”).

It’s fine to make some assumptions about job applicants’ resumes. But candidates put their best foot forward when applying for jobs, and assumptions like these often don’t hold up and don’t translate into on-the-job performance. 

And while the interview process can reveal a little more about applicants—for example, how articulate they are, how quickly they can think on their feet, if they seem personable, etc.—it also lacks concrete ways of measuring the key qualities that make great executive assistants (i.e. problem solving, key character traits).

Can recruiters or services ask candidates questions related to these qualities in an interview? Sure. But how a candidate responds to questions related to these topics can be very different from how these qualities actually show up in their work. 

Even when assistant services are intentionally looking for the right qualities in their job applicants, relying primarily on resumes and interviews in the hiring process leads to very inconsistent outcomes. And as a result, executives using these services also end up rolling the dice. Sometimes their assistants are good, many times they’re not.

In contrast to the typical hiring process that relies on a lot of assumptions, we’ve developed a methodology that allows us to assess candidates on the qualities that matter most, and to do so in concrete, measurable ways. 

Our Methodology for Hiring World-Class Executive Assistants (And How It’s Different from Traditional Hiring)

We’ve used our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to create a methodology that quantitatively and qualitatively measures candidates on their problem solving ability, communication ability, and key character traits (e.g. organized, detail-oriented, reliable, etc.).  

Our in-depth vetting process includes a mix 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.

Because of the way we assess candidates, we’re able to see the quality of their work and behavior before we ever hire them. We’re not seeing their work for the first time when they’re already on the job. And we’re not relying solely on assumptions made based off of resumes and interview performance.

Every step of our process is customized on a candidate by candidate basis, based on how each applicant performs as they progress through each step. For example, if we like the quality and sophistication of a candidate’s writing samples, we then want to know “how quickly and consistently can this candidate produce this level of writing?” and employ additional steps to answer that question about fluency. 

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 tools and interfaces.

As a result of this methodology, we’re able to find and hire truly world-class assistants—people who are highly reliable and competent and can learn and execute a wide range of tasks for our clients—far beyond the basic administrative tasks thought to be the basis of what most executive assistant services can offer.

Our data suggests that our assistants spend about 30% of their time on typical administrative support (e.g. taking phone calls, doing data entry, making travel arrangements, calendar and inbox management, etc.). The rest of their time is spent helping our clients in a wide range of other areas, such as:

  • Social media management and digital marketing support
  • Workflow and project management
  • Building datasets
  • Business or content writing
  • Bookkeeping and payroll
  • Invoicing
  • Customer support
  • Web design support
  • Employee onboarding
  • Designing presentations
  • eCommerce management
  • Personal assistant tasks (e.g. meal planning, scheduling reservations or deliveries, etc.)

Presently, a large percentage of our clients come to us through referrals. You can view testimonials and see the individuals and companies we work with on our homepage.

Our virtual executive assistants support execs in all types of industries including tech, non-profits, real estate, professional services, and more. And we serve execs ranging from small business owners and independent consultants to founders of fast-growing startups.

Note: Check out our article on the best virtual assistant services to see how we compare to companies like BELAY, Prialto, Time etc, and more.

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 we’re a good fit for each other, we’ll set up a call to discuss our service and pricing with you.
  • Step 3: Our team will hand pick an 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 executive assistant working for you 40 hours per week, the equivalent of a full-time assistant with no long-term commitment needed (we don’t offer part-time assistants).

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 and learn more about our monthly plan. Regardless of what time zone you’re in, 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.

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