Business Articles

Online Executive Assistants: Why Finding a Good Assistant Is So Challenging — And How Persona Can Help

Jason Hreha
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October 11, 2023
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Learn about the challenges of finding a great online executive assistant and how Persona solves them for executives that want to work with world-class talent.

Online Executive Assistant

Hiring an online executive assistant (EA) can be transformative for founders and executives spending too much time on administrative tasks. However, finding the right EA in the sea of options online isn’t easy. 

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

  • Their assistants were flaky and unreliable.
  • They had poor time management skills.
  • They required a lot of instruction and micromanaging.
  • They lacked strong organizational skills.
  • They weren’t great communicators.

So, if you’re planning to hire a remote executive assistant, how can you avoid these situations and make a great hire the first time?

That’s what we’re going to discuss in this article. Below we cover:

Why Should I Avoid Hiring From Freelance Marketplaces?

The answer to this is simple: freelance marketplaces don’t yield top talent executive assistants.

Fiverr and Upwork are two of the first options that come up when you search for online executive assistants. But while these might seem like viable options to find affordable administrative support, there are two key issues with these platforms that often lead to poor outcomes.

First, the freelance executive assistants that come up in search results and appear reputable often do not have the availability to take on new clients. If they are accepting new clients, they’re likely working with several other executives which means a) you may not be their first priority and b) there may be delays on deliverables at times when you can’t afford delays.

The second issue is that among the remaining freelancers, it’s hard to tell who would actually be a good fit and perform well for you. Certain individuals could make great administrative assistants, but it will likely take a lot of trial and error to find the right person.

For these reasons, we recommend avoiding these platforms. If you plan to manage the hiring process yourself, you’ll be better off placing your executive assistant job posting on LinkedIn when hiring in the U.S. or regional job boards when hiring internationally.

With that said, many executives don’t have several weeks to several months to do what it takes to hire a great executive assistant on their own.

A quicker and more convenient option is to use a virtual executive assistant service—companies that have assistants ready to begin working with you immediately. 

However, it’s important to understand how to vet these services. In the next section, we’ll cover what to look for in an executive assistant service.

Why Should I Avoid Using Online Executive Assistant Services?

The reason to avoid using online executive assistant services is that they don’t actually vet their candidates.

As we discussed at length in our founding story, traditional methods for hiring administrative professionals such as executive assistants are not sufficiently rigorous to consistently find great talent.

The typical hiring process used by most companies (including recruiters, staffing agencies, and online assistant services) is as follows:

1. Put up job postings.

2. Review applicant resumes.

3. Look for relatively superficial criteria such as past years of experience as an assistant, how long they were at their previous company, or where they received their bachelor’s degree.

4. Have a few interviews with candidates that look good on paper.

5. Choose the person they like the most (or the candidate that shows the best interpersonal skills during their interview).

There are a number of problems with this, but the fundamental issue is this: nothing in this process directly measures candidates on the qualities that predict success in an executive assistant position (i.e., problem solving ability, communication, key character traits, and tech-savviness).

And because these traits and skill sets are not directly measured, hiring outcomes are inconsistent. Whether you get a great assistant or not is a 50-50 crapshoot.

So, when reviewing or speaking with virtual assistant services, make sure you get clarity on their hiring processes. Specifically, you can ask them:

  • What specific attributes do they look for in their assistants?
  • Do they directly measure these attributes during their hiring process?
  • How do they measure these attributes? What specifically do they do?
  • And how thorough are they in the measurement of candidates’ key traits and abilities?

If they’re vague in answering these questions, or say they primarily rely on resumes and interviews, you should consider other options and choose an agency that has a more rigorous recruitment process like what we use at Persona. 

The Persona Talent 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 hiring methodology that directly and thoroughly measures candidates based on the core competencies that have been shown to predict success in an executive assistant role. Specifically:

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, trustworthy, detail-oriented, etc.?

3. Communication Ability

How well do they write and communicate? Can they play the role of gatekeeper, communicating 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?

How Do We Vet Our Candidates?

We don’t rely on making assumptions about the extent to which candidates possess these traits and abilities based on resume proxies and a few short conversations. Instead, 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 project-based or administrative tasks they’re likely to do in an assistant 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.

By leveraging additional forms of assessment such as work sample projects and communication exercises, we’re able to see how candidates perform the exact types of tasks that they’ll be responsible for on the job. We have concrete evidence that they have what it takes to be successful in the role before we hire them. And as a result, we’re able to consistently deliver top talent assistants to the executives and businesses we serve.

What Our Online Executive Assistants Do For Our Clients

Our online executive 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, Excel spreadsheet data entry, expense reporting, and other relevant administrative tasks.
  • 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, designing PowerPoint presentations and slide decks, lead generation, 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 top level executive support to executives across the U.S.—in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Miami, Washington D.C., and New York—and internationally.

If you’re a founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive interested in trying out one of our online 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 executive assistants. We only offer full-time, fully dedicated online assistants that can work with executives in any time zone.

How To Get Started With Us Today

  • 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 full-time, world-class assistant (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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