A virtual executive assistant plays a big role in your work life.

From planning, to developing processes to communicating on your behalf, you have to be able to trust that you’ve found the best person to support you. The question is, how do you find them?

We’ve paired many executives and virtual executive assistants at this point, so we’ve learned a thing or two! Here are some key points for finding the right match in a virtual executive assistant:

Factors that matter for close working relationships

Of all the people you work with, your virtual executive assistant will usually be the person you spend the most time with. It’s a close working relationship and there are some key points that matter to make that work:

Cultural fit for your team

Cultural fit is important. It means at its core that the virtual EA has beliefs, behaviors and values that are in alignment with the company’s core values and culture.

For example, consider what it would be like if an ambitious person were employed by a company that didn’t offer any opportunities for training or advancement, or if on the opposite end, someone who wanted to rigidly stick with the status quo was employed by a company looking for growth and ambition.

Cultural fit is critical for good working relationships, but it has also had a bad rap at times, mostly due to some fundamental mistakes some companies have made in applying it. In some, the idea of cultural fit has led to a lineup of employees who all look very similar and share very similar backgrounds. They’ve adopted ideas like “who I’d like to have a beer with” in their hiring process, and ended up with a bunch of people who are very similar. Silicon Valley has been frequently criticized for the “tech bro” culture in this sense.

Terms like “cultural contribution,” “fit with our values” and “cultural add” are alternative ideas that help to ensure you’re not just hiring people who are “like you.” Cultural fit is important, but can come from people of all sorts.

Someone who you like

Don’t underestimate the importance of working with someone whom you actually like! On a day-to-day basis, it matters. Sometimes you’ll have challenging days and they’ll tend to go better when you like one another. And, let’s face it, we tend to be a bit more patient with people we like, which helps to build the relationship.

A peer you respect

A virtual executive assistant is highly skilled - they work at an “executive” level. It’s important to see them as a respected peer who is able to operate side-by-side with you. The responsibilities of an executive assistant are such that they take a proactive role - they’ve spent a long time honing those skills and building up experience.

Things can go wrong when executive assistants are viewed as “the help.” That’s when their work can be undervalued and then they end up feeling unappreciated too. No executive assistant will stick around for long if they feel that they’re not operating at or being valued at the level they should be.

Matches or can work with your style

There are several potential factors that go into this. For example, consider the everyday pace of your work environment - do you need fast with the ability to think rapidly, or more slow and methodical? “Fast” people will be uncomfortable in a slower environment, as will slower people in a fast-paced environment.

Consider your communication preferences, too. You need an EA who can cater to or support your own style. This includes your preferred modes of communication -- do you like to get on the phone or prefer to use Slack or a similar chat app? You need a good match for your personality as well - for example, if you tend to be blunt or assertive, you need someone who is not bothered by that, rather than someone who will take offense. (But don’t aim to be overly nice - that doesn’t always help in terms of getting results!)

A key factor is the willingness of the EA to be open to feedback. They need to hear it and act on it - you need to be certain that when you give feedback, it will be taken up. At the same time, your relationship with an EA will also work best if you’re willing to receive feedback, too. An important consideration from the beginning is some agreement for how feedback will be given and received.

It’s important to find a virtual executive assistant who is a good match for your working style CLICK TO TWEET

The right skills

In terms of hiring for the right skills, both hard and soft skills are necessary in the right virtual executive assistant:

Soft skills

Soft skills are those personal qualities that help a person thrive (or not) in the workplace. In your virtual EA, we’ve found that one of the most important traits is to be coachable and teachable. It’s a fact that not everyone is this way and you’ll have a hard time with training anyone who isn’t.

The best EAs we see are very willing and able to learn, even if they don’t already know your specific industry or technical knowledge related to it. They embrace technology and make the effort to learn new tools and programs.

Being smart or clever is important, but we’d rate being teachable and adaptable above this! Sometimes the smartest people are not as open to learning.

Another key soft skill is their ability to communicate. There’s a description we use, “professionally delightful” to describe how the EA communicates so that people feel warm and valued.

Hard skills

Hard skills are job-related knowledge. In a virtual executive assistant, administrative skills immediately come to mind. That may only be part of their responsibilities, but they need to be able to organize with precision.

Even with hard skills, remember that important soft skill - being coachable and teachable. We recommend trying not to be too caught up in hiring for specific experience or technical skills.

Ask the right questions

The best type of questions to ask are open-ended, process-related questions that encourage the potential EA to open up a bit with their answers. For example:

  • We have some processes that need improvement, where would you start to help us improve them?
  • What do you need from me to make this relationship successful? (This helps you to understand what sorts of things are most important to the EA).
  • How do you go about learning new things? (For example; tools, industry knowledge, processes…). You’re looking for an EA that knows how to learn!

Red flags or potential pitfalls

Are there any red flags or potential pitfalls that we look for in executive assistants? Here are some typical examples we’ve learned from:

  • Someone who doesn’t ask questions. It can mean a number of things, including that they don’t have the knowledge or experience to know what to ask, or that they’re not particularly interested.
  • Someone who hasn’t worked virtually or as a contractor before. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker though. The bigger question is, do they have the network to support them and fill in any gaps that will help to get them up to speed quickly? They may still be the perfect fit (everyone who moves into virtual work has to start somewhere).
  • If they have no background in administrative work or as an EA. It can be overwhelming to jump straight into working with a CEO without having experience at that level.
  • If the candidate sees the EA role as a stepping stone to another role or level. This can mean that they’re not going to stick around for long and honestly, to get into a productive groove, it’s much better to develop a long-term relationship with a virtual EA.
  • If you don’t like them for whatever reason. You shouldn’t ignore gut instinct.
  • The EA fee seems to be too good to be true (in our experience, it probably is).

Final thoughts

Finding the right virtual executive assistant is important but can be a time-consuming process. You’re looking for someone you will be working closely with, so it’s not a hire to be taken lightly.

Is there an alternative to doing all of this pre-hire work yourself? Yes! That’s where we come in at Worxbee. We work hard to recruit the best virtual executive assistants and match them up with like-minded businesses.

Talk to us here today about how we can help you.