Online Assistants: How to Evaluate Your Options and Make the Right Hire

Over the last 4 years running our virtual executive assistant service, we’ve spoken to many founders and executives who’ve had bad past experiences with online assistants. Specifically, they’ve mentioned problems such as:

  • Their assistants were flaky and unreliable.
  • They failed to get things done on time.
  • They needed a lot of instruction and micromanaging to get tasks done correctly.
  • They were disorganized.
  • They weren’t great communicators.

Now, there are a number of reasons why we think this is so common. But we believe the core reason is that most businesses lack an effective method for evaluating assistant candidates. 

Among other things, they look for assistants in the wrong places. They focus on the wrong criteria when assessing candidates. And they base their hiring decisions on relatively superficial variables without ever getting concrete evidence that candidates can perform what’s expected of them.

In this article, we’re going to discuss these issues and offer advice on how to properly evaluate candidates so that you can make a successful hire. Because if you have a good process for evaluating assistants or assistant services, you can find truly talented remote assistants that can be transformative for both your business and your work-life balance.

Below, we’ll cover:

  • The 3 biggest mistakes that lead to failed online assistant engagements
  • How to properly evaluate online assistants and services to make the right hire
  • The virtual executive assistant service we developed that makes it easy to get a world-class assistant

Note: Our unique hiring methodology enables us to find world-class virtual executive assistants. 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, or you want to shortcut the hiring process, 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.

3 Mistakes That Lead to Failed Online Assistant Engagements

1. Hiring Assistants From Freelance Marketplaces Like Upwork and Fiverr

When searching for a virtual assistant (VA), it’s common for executives to look for candidates on freelance marketplaces such as Upwork or Fiverr. However, there are two key issues with these platforms that often lead to poor outcomes.

First, the freelance VAs that are discoverable and appear reputable (i.e. they have lots of reviews and show up at the top of search results) are often fully booked and do not have availability to take on new clients. And, if they are accepting new clients, you’ll likely be one of many businesses that they’re working with, which has its own set of implications: they’ll have limited bandwidth to support you, there may be time-management issues and delays on deliverables, you may not be their priority client, etc. Meanwhile, these VAs will charge the highest hourly rates.

The second issue is that among the remaining VAs, it’s extremely difficult to tell who would actually be a good fit and perform well for you. Certain individuals could be competent virtual administrative assistants, but it takes a lot of sifting (and trial and error) to find the right person.

As a result of these two issues, many people have bad experiences when hiring VAs on these platforms. If you plan to hire a virtual assistant on your own, we recommend placing your job postings on LinkedIn when hiring in the U.S., or regional job boards if you want to explore hiring internationally (e.g. Columbia, Brazil, Poland, Kenya, the Philippines, etc.). 

2. Selecting Candidates Based on Criteria That Do Not Predict Success in an Assistant Role

This is one of the fundamental flaws of the traditional hiring process that’s used when hiring assistants. Businesses, recruiters, and even virtual assistant services tend to focus on the wrong types of criteria when evaluating candidates for remote administrative support roles.

Specifically, they look for criteria such as:

  • Past years of experience in a virtual assistant job
  • Length of time spent at their previous companies
  • Whether or not they went to a reputable university

The key problem with relying on these criteria is that they’re used as proxies to make assumptions about candidates that often prove to be unreliable. For example, they’ll assume, “candidates will be committed and reliable if they’ve stayed with prior companies for years at a time.” Or, “candidates with past assistant experience will be more competent than candidates without past assistant experience.”

We’ve found that these assumptions turn out to be false as often as they are true. They aren’t actually predictive of on-the-job performance, and in fact, they can be counterproductive to finding the best candidates. 

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

So, what criteria should you focus on when vetting assistant candidates? 

We’ve found that the following generalist abilities are what actually predict on-the-job success in an assistant role:

  • 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, detail-oriented, etc.? 
  • 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.)?
  • 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.)?

If you can identify people in your candidate pool who possess these qualities, your chances of making a great hire go up significantly. This is what we’ve designed our entire hiring methodology around for our executive assistant service (more on this below)

Before we get to that, there’s a final problem: How do you evaluate candidates on these qualities? This brings us to the final big mistake.

3. Relying Solely on Resumes and Interviews When Evaluating Candidates

In addition to focusing on the wrong criteria when evaluating candidates (as we discussed above), companies also lack a thorough method for assessing these criteria throughout the hiring process.

Most companies, recruiters, and VA services rely solely on resume review and interviews when evaluating assistant candidates. But these steps alone are insufficient because they don’t concretely measure candidates’ abilities. They never actually test and demonstrate the quality of candidates’ work before choosing someone to hire, and only find out their competence level once the person is on the job.

In our experience, many people can speak well in an interview but not end up working out well once they’re in the role. Therefore, companies need to deploy tools beyond resumes and interviews when evaluating assistant candidates.

How to Properly Evaluate Online Assistants (And Virtual Assistant Services)

To avoid these mistakes and properly evaluate online assistant candidates, businesses need to get two things right:

  1. They need to focus on evaluating criteria that predict success in an assistant role (i.e. problem solving, communication ability, key character traits, etc.)—not superficial proxy variables like we discussed above.
  2. They need to use additional tools beyond resumes and interviews—prompting candidates to prove their abilities before hiring them.

We’ve written at length about how to do this in our article on how to hire a virtual assistant. If you plan to hire an assistant yourself, read that post to learn additional steps you can take when assessing candidates, such as using work sample tests to evaluate how well they can perform the types of tasks they’ll be responsible for on the job.

Alternatively, if you plan to hire through a virtual assistant service, then be sure to ask them to share details about their hiring process. For example, be explicit in asking:

  • What does your hiring process look like?
  • What criteria do you focus on when vetting candidates?
  • What do you do beyond resume review and interviews?

Companies should be able to answer these questions. If they’re vague, focus on the wrong types of criteria like we described above, or rely primarily on resumes and interviews, you should consider other options and choose a company that has a better, more rigorous vetting process like what we use at Persona. 

Our Methodology for Hiring World-Class Virtual Executive Assistants (And How Our Service Works)

We’ve used our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to create a more effective hiring methodology that allows us to find candidates who are great problem solvers, great communicators, and have the necessary characteristics to excel in an assistant role (reliability, adaptability, resilience, etc.).  

Instead of relying solely on resume review and interviews, we use a tailored mix 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.

Every step of our process is customized on a candidate-by-candidate basis—depending on how individuals perform as they progress through each step. And due to the rigor of our methodology, Persona assistants are able to manage a wider range of tasks than most online assistants—and do so at a higher level of performance.

What Our Assistants Do for Our Clients

Our assistants currently 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. Sit in on phone calls, draft messaging 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 standard operating procedures. Assist with bookkeeping, data entry, and other relevant administrative tasks.
  • Digital Marketing and social media management: Create and schedule social media marketing campaigns, 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. Help to provide customer support.
  • 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 and web design, video editing, lead generation, designing presentations and slide decks, workflow design, building or compiling data sets, and more.
  • Personal assistant tasks: Help make online orders, reservations, travel arrangements and itineraries, and other accommodations for executives’ personal lives.

Want to Shortcut the Hiring Process? Try Our Remote Executive Assistant Service

We provide world-class executive support for all types of industries, including tech startups, non-profits, real estate, professional services, and more. If you’re a founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive interested in trying out one of our virtual executive assistants, you can try one for a month or two and see how you like it. We require no long-term commitments. 

Note: We don’t currently offer part-time assistants. We only offer full-time, fully dedicated assistants that can work with executives in any time zone.

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 virtual 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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