How to Hire an Administrative Assistant: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you look around online, most articles on how to hire an administrative assistant offer very little substantive advice about how to execute each step of the hiring process successfully.

For example, they’ll say you need to “create a detailed job description” and tell you that being detailed is important. But what business owner, entrepreneur, or startup founder wanting to hire an assistant doesn’t know this? Companies and executives would benefit far more from advice about how to craft a compelling job description that attracts great candidates. 

This is what most people are looking for—and yet, most advice on hiring is vague and not that useful. 

So, in this article we’re going to provide detailed and actionable advice on how to effectively hire a great administrative assistant, based on our own experiences hiring assistants for our executive assistant service

We’ll cover:

When should you hire an administrative assistant?

What does an administrative assistant do?

4 Steps to Effectively Hire a Great Administrative Assistant

Note: Our unique hiring methodology enables us to find world-class assistants for our clients. We hire roughly 1 out of every 1,000 applicants. If you want to shortcut the hiring process and get a top .01% assistant, fill out our form. 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 should you hire an administrative assistant?

Hiring an administrative assistant can be a smart move for many businesses, as it allows business owners to delegate administrative tasks and focus on higher-level activities. However, it’s important to consider your specific needs and budget before making a decision.

The decision to hire an administrative assistant depends on several factors, including your current workload, your budget, and your priorities. Here are some factors to consider:

1. Workload

Are you spending too much time on administrative tasks?

If you find that you’re spending a significant amount of time on tasks such as scheduling appointments, responding to emails, or managing paperwork, it may be time to hire an administrative assistant.

2. Budget

Can you afford to hire an administrative assistant?

Consider the cost of salary, benefits, and any other expenses associated with hiring an employee. You may also want to consider the cost of not hiring an assistant, such as the time you spend on administrative tasks that could be better spent on revenue-generating activities.

3. Priorities

What are your priorities as a business owner?

If you value your time and want to focus on high-level tasks such as strategy and business development, hiring an administrative assistant may be a good investment.

What does an administrative assistant do?

An administrative assistant, also known as an administrative support specialist or office assistant, performs various tasks to support the smooth operation of an office or organization. A successful administrative assistant must have excellent communication skills, be proficient in various computer programs and software, and be able to work independently and efficiently, especially in a remote environment.

The specific duties of an administrative assistant may vary depending on the needs of the organization. Some common duties and responsibilities of the role include managing correspondence, scheduling meetings and appointments, organizing and maintaining files, conducting research, and providing support for project coordination and office management tasks.

1. Managing correspondence

Many administrative assistant tasks can include answering phone calls, scheduling deliveries, responding to emails, and handling mail.

2. Scheduling

An administrative assistant may schedule appointments, meetings, and travel arrangements for their employer or team.

3. Data entry

Administrative assistants often enter data into databases or spreadsheets, ensuring accuracy and completeness.

4. Filing and record-keeping

Administrative assistants may maintain paper or electronic files, including confidential documents such as personnel records.

5. Office management

An administrative assistant may order supplies, maintain inventory, and manage office equipment such as printers and copiers.

6. Reception

Some administrative assistants also greet visitors and provide basic information about the organization.

7. Project coordination

Administrative assistants may assist with organizing and coordinating projects, ensuring that deadlines are met and resources are allocated appropriately.

4 Steps to Effectively Hire a Great Administrative Assistant

Step 1: Create a Job Description That Stands Out to Top Applicants

It’s common for busy hiring managers and executives to overlook and underestimate the importance of writing a unique job description (JD). 

Often, they’ll find a boilerplate administrative assistant job description template, make a few small tweaks, and paste it into their job posting. But these types of generic job posts fail to attract great candidates because the best applicants are looking for unique positions that stand out from other opportunities.

Over the last 4 years assessing well over one hundred thousand candidates for our remote executive assistant service, we’ve learned that the most effective approach is to create a customized job description that communicates two key things:

  1. Why should applicants care about what your company does?
  2. Why should they be excited about the opportunity to work with you?

This can take a number of different forms, such as opportunities for growth, an inspiring company mission, or a unique company culture, to name a few. You still need to describe the details and specifics of the role. But these are the additional elements that enable you to stand out and attract the most ambitious applicants in the candidate pool.

To learn more about how we approach creating job descriptions, check out our previous article on how to write an executive assistant job description. That post walks through the various sections we include in our own assistant job descriptions, and also shares a free template that you can use to create your own.  

Step 2: Choose the Right Platforms to Promote Your Job Post

The right job board for you depends on the market in which you’re looking to hire your admin assistant. 

When hiring in the US, we’ve had the most success using LinkedIn for administrative assistant positions. However, if you want to hire an overseas assistant, you need to post on country or region-specific job boards to find qualified candidates.

Once you choose a job board, it’s also essential to run paid or premium posts. If you try to rely on free posts, it’s unlikely you’ll get the volume or quality of applicants that you’ll need to find the right hire. 

And lastly, it’s often possible to find good leads by seeking referrals through your network and promoting your job post organically through your available online communities and social media channels. 

Note: We do not recommend hiring freelancers off of marketplace platforms such as Upwork or Fiver. To learn more about why, check out our article on how to hire a virtual assistant

Step 3: Review Applicant Resumes and Decide Which Candidates to Evaluate

During the resume review process, we’ve observed that people often get hung up on looking at relatively superficial criteria that they think indicate applicant quality or competency. For example:

  • Whether they have past years of experience working as an assistant
  • Whether they worked for a blue chip company or brand name
  • Whether they went to a well-known college

But in our experience, as we’ll discuss more below, these factors generally aren’t predictive of on-the-job success in an assistant role. And in some cases, they’re actually counterproductive.

For example, we often find that the best assistant candidates don’t have past experience in an assistant role. There are many smart, competent people that have recently graduated or are looking to make a career change that are interested in assistant positions. If you filter out candidates who don’t have past assistant experience, you often miss out on some of the best people in the candidate pool.

So keep an open mind when reviewing resumes and focus on looking for evidence of achievement or ambition in candidates’ backgrounds—whether that’s through their academic work, career, or extracurricular biography. Finding candidates with a history of achievement or ambition is a far better indicator of talent than direct past experience doing admin work.

In addition, it’s useful to look for candidates who finish what they start (e.g. university, or having stable longer-term stints at past companies). This indicates a certain degree of work ethic and ability to follow through and accomplish goals. 

Once you have an adequate set of candidates to evaluate, following the advice in the next section will help you find and choose the best candidate from the group. 

Step 4: Assess Candidates on the Right Qualities (With More Than Just Interviews and Reference Checks)

We’ve written at length about the problems with the typical approach to evaluating candidates for assistant positions. Read our founding story for our in-depth explanation of what people get wrong, and how we approach the hiring process from first principles to achieve better results.

In short, there are two key factors to properly evaluating candidates that will get you the best assistant from your candidate pool:

  1. Focus on evaluating the right qualities (i.e. qualities that predict success in an assistant role).
  2. Directly measure candidates on these qualities (with more than just interviews and reference checks).

Both of these are essential for making a successful hire. Let’s look at each.

Factor #1: Focus on Evaluating the Qualities that Predict Success In an Admin Assistant Role

When people hire assistants, they tend to make assumptions about candidates based on superficial indicators such as those we discussed above. Instead of evaluating candidates on the qualities they’re looking for, they’ll focus on proxy variables that they think indicate candidates have those qualities. 

For example: 

  • Proxy: This person went to UC Berkeley. 
    → Assumption: They’re probably a pretty good problem solver.
  • Proxy: This person has been an admin assistant before. 
    → Assumption: They probably have pretty strong organizational and time management skills.
  • Proxy: This person was at their last job for three years. 
    → Assumption: They’re probably pretty dedicated and reliable.

In our experience, these assumptions are inconsistent and unreliable. They turn out to be false as often as they’re true. 

Instead, it’s much more effective to focus your evaluation on directly measuring the traits and abilities you’re actually looking for. At Persona, we focus on four qualities which have been shown to predict success in an assistant role:

  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, detail-oriented, and a good team player? Do they tend to get work done in a timely manner, work well under pressure, etc.?
  3. Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? How are their verbal communication skills? 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, Airtable, Excel, Zoom, etc.)

By focusing your assessment on concrete abilities and traits—rather than proxy variables—you will have a far greater likelihood of choosing the best assistant from your applicant pool, and significantly better odds of having a successful assistant engagement.

However, focusing on the right qualities is just the first step. It only works if you directly and thoroughly measure these traits and abilities in candidates—and interviews alone are insufficient for doing this.

Factor #2: Directly Measure Candidates on These Qualities (With More Than Just Interviews and Reference Checks)

The standard process for evaluating assistant job candidates consists of resume review, a few Skype or Zoom video calls with several of the best looking candidates, and maybe some reference calls.

But many people with an adequate or even impressive resume can speak well in an interview but not end up working out well once they’re on the job. And importantly, interviews are limited in their ability to directly measure candidates on the key traits and abilities discussed above (i.e. problem solving, communication, etc.).

So while interviews are important, they’re not sufficient for ensuring you make a good hire because they’re based on hypothetical discussion—not concrete evidence someone will perform well in practice. 

Among other key steps like performing thorough reference checks, you also need to see samples of candidates’ actual work in order to be certain they can do the types of tasks you want them to do.

At Persona, we use a tailored combination of the following when assessing candidates:

  • 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.

To learn more about how to properly execute a thorough evaluation process, check out the following articles where we’ve discussed these topics at length:

All of the lessons and advice discussed in these articles—including in-depth advice and examples on performing structured interviews, work sample tests, communication exercises, and reference checks—apply to hiring any type of generalist assistant.

How to Shortcut the Hiring Process and Get a World-Class Administrative Assistant

We’ve gone to extreme lengths to create what we think is one of the best executive assistant services on the market. Presently, we hire roughly 1 in every 1,000 candidates that we assess. And the rigor of our hiring methodology enables us to offer assistants whose services go beyond basic administrative support.

For example, our assistants manage customized combinations of the following for our clients:

  • Communications and email management: Act as the executive’s main point of contact, communicating on their behalf and alongside them with key stakeholders (company executive team, board of directors, partners, etc.). Sit in on phone calls, draft memos for company-wide communications, etc.
  • Scheduling and calendar management: Manage an executive’s calendar, schedule 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 digital filing systems. Assist with bookkeeping, expense reports, data entry, and other relevant administrative tasks.
  • Marketing and social media management: Create and schedule social media posts, keep social media accounts up to date, 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 graphic design, video editing, performing market research, designing Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentations, event planning, workflow design, building or compiling spreadsheet data sets, and more.
  • Personal assistant tasks: Help make online orders, reservations, travel arrangements and itineraries, and other accommodations for executives’ personal lives.

If you’re a startup founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive interested in trying out one of our assistants, you can try one 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).

Note: Our assistants are 100% remote. If you’re looking for an in-person assistant to help with office management, we unfortunately won’t be able to help you. 

If you’re ready to try an 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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