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Human Resources

How to Find a Good Assistant

Do you feel like you work all day, every day and get nothing done? Are you missing meetings and losing track of important deadlines? If these statements ring true, it might be time for you to hire an assistant.

While some people are hesitant to spend money on an assistant, the truth is that a skilled personal or executive assistant can save you a great deal more than he or she costs. Not only do assistants help you manage your time, but they also handle travel arrangements, assist with communication and generally enable you to accomplish more tasks in fewer hours. In general, good assistants make their employers happier and more productive.

Personal Assistants vs. Executive Assistants

Once you’ve determined that you need an assistant, the next step is deciding whether you want to hire a personal or executive assistant. Personal assistants (PAs) organize their bosses’ lives and save them time by handling basic daily tasks. Additionally, a personal assistant may be called upon to perform supportive tasks like running errands or picking up lunch. From taking calls to scheduling travel arrangements, a good PA needs to be an expert communicator.

Also known as an EA, an executive assistant is a skilled employee who not only assists the boss with daily tasks but can also manage in the boss’ absence in many cases. Executive assistants typically possess more extensive education and training than personal assistants; in fact, a large percentage of these employees hold master’s degrees. Along with exceptional IT skills, many EAs are efficient problem solvers. Because they work with CEOs and senior management, most executive assistants are experienced professionals with a good working knowledge of the business and its goals.

Determining whether you need a personal or executive assistant from the start can help you ensure that the candidate you hire fulfills all your needs from the outset.

Most Important Qualities for Assistants

Whether you are seeking a personal or an executive assistant, it’s important to consider what characteristics you want this person to have. One of the most important qualities for your new hire to possess is the ability to anticipate your needs before you articulate them. A good assistant is organized and knows what to do to help the office run smoothly. From prioritizing your schedule to ordering lunch without waiting to be asked, an assistant predicts problems before they start and ensures you have the time to focus on your job.

Additionally, a good assistant is calm and collected under pressure. Working in a busy office can be extremely stressful, and the last thing an executive wants is an assistant who’s easily frazzled. When searching for someone to fill that all-important EA or PA role, look for a candidate who can handle a variety of stressors without becoming overwhelmed (during the interview, don’t be afraid to ask the candidate for examples of high-stress situations they’ve handled)

Because the ability to multi-task is essential for assistants, it’s important that candidates possess strong time-management skills. A good EA or PA knows what tasks are most important and which ones can wait until tomorrow. While it may seem obvious, assistants should also be reliable and never show up to work late.

Finding the Best Assistants

Before you start interviewing potential assistants, it’s important to write a thorough job description detailing your expectations. Think about the types of tasks you want your assistant to perform. Will most of the work take place in an office setting, or does the candidate also need to run errands? If so, you will want to make sure your assistant has access to a working car. What sort of programs will the assistant be using? Does the candidate need to be familiar with Excel, Photoshop or PowerPoint?

A clear and honest list of expectations can help prevent confusion and dissatisfaction on both sides of the relationship. You should also include the salary or hourly rate the position offers. While an experienced assistant may command a higher rate, you will likely find that reliable labor is well worth the extra cost.

Once you’ve compiled a list of viable assistants, it’s time to begin interviewing candidates. Use open-ended interview questions that reveal more information about the subject. Instead of asking if applicants are good at resolving conflict, which will undoubtedly yield an automatic “yes,” inquire about the ways in which they had to deal with workplace conflict in the past. You can also pose hypotheticals about how they would handle specific situations while in your employ.

Another important aspect of the hiring process is checking your candidates’ references. Experts suggest speaking with at least two of an applicant’s contacts. Keep in mind that references may not say anything overtly bad about a candidate (due to the risk of being accused of slander); however, the reference’s level of enthusiasm about giving the recommendation often conveys his or her true opinion. References can also corroborate and expand upon any experience that the candidate described on his or her resume.

Don’t want to deal with the stress of checking references? Consider asking existing employees to refer friends and former co-workers. As an added bonus, your employees will be able to assess whether a potential assistant would get along well with the rest of the office.

To further reduce the stress associated with finding an assistant, employers may want to consider turning to professional agencies for help. Recruiting companies like GreatAupair, Care.com and Beyond.com specialize in connecting employers with a wide variety of skilled assistants and care providers to meet their needs. Additionally, they give employers fast, easy access to background checks, references and other information about candidates. If you’re considering a virtual assistant, learn more here.

While finding a top-notch assistant can take time, these employees add immeasurable value to your career and life. With a little effort, you can locate the perfect assistant to help your business—and your personal life—thrive.

Starting a Business?
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