Hiring An Executive Assistant: Part 2 – What to Look For

11 mins read

This article is written to discuss what to look for when hiring an executive assistant, to best suit your and your business’s needs.

An executive assistant is a partner in many ways. They are the right-hand of executives, a shoulder to lean on, and a constant source of stability in a hectic business world. In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the value an executive assistant can bring to your business, and how those benefits might coincide with needs you are experiencing. Now that you know why an executive assistant is so valuable, the question is: how do you hire the right one? If an executive assistant is an executive’s right hand, the person who increases productivity and acts as a link between the executive and their employees as well as their outside colleagues, hiring the right fit is paramount to success. Hiring the right executive assistant involves evaluating candidates’ hard skills regarding software, experience, calendar and travel management and more, and, perhaps more importantly, involves evaluating their soft skills and personality. As someone who executives will work closely with on a daily basis, it is important to find an executive assistant who not only fits the hard skills required to get the job done, but the soft skills required to mesh with the executive’s working style, personality, and needs.

What Is Their Role?

Before you begin the hiring process, it’s important to determine what you need from your executive assistant. Though they can be a “jack-of-all-trades” in an organization, what does that mean to you and what do you expect your executive assistant to be able to do? In general, there are 3 levels of executive assistants:1

Level 1: a level 1 executive assistant holds very basic responsibilities, and will work on simpler tasks so that the executive can focus on other things. These simpler tasks might include screening calls, printing, filing, and running errands.

Level 2: a level 2 executive assistant will manage these above tasks, and will also take on greater responsibilities. This level will be more integrated in the daily work of the executive, and will take care of things like assisting with projects, scheduling and preparing for meetings, and scheduling travel logistics.

Level 3: a level 3 executive assistant is the most advanced, and the most involved. These executive assistants will fill a more strategic role, providing objective advice, participating in meetings, spearheading projects, and managing important assignments.

Though these levels are broadly defined, they can give you a firm foundation for determining what kinds of things you need from your executive assistant. For smaller businesses, levels 1 and 2 might be all you need, while larger businesses may instead be looking for levels 2 and 3. This depends on the executive, what they need, and the way they work.

Skill Sets

As you consider hiring an executive assistant, it’s important to determine what the most important skills are to benefit your organization. Depending on your business, hard skills like software proficiency, internet research skills, advanced proficiency with Word, Excel, and Outlook and more might be focal points. While these skills are fundamental to many executive assistants’ daily duties, they are also skills which are not difficult to teach and learn. In comparison, soft skills and personality traits to look for in an executive assistant might include excellent verbal and written communication skills, problem-solving and leadership skills, strict confidentiality, creative and critical thinking, analytical skills, communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills.

An executive assistant generally needs to be able to understand the unspoken needs and characteristics of the people they work with, and should have high levels of emotional intelligence. As the connective point between an executive and their employees, and often the first point of contact between an executive and other outside colleagues, it is fundamental that the executive assistant is fully equipped to handle personal tasks, respond to subtle cues, and react with situational awareness. There are many apps and programs available to help with scheduling your meetings and booking your travel, but no application can do what a good executive assistant can: give companies and managers a human face. An effective executive assistant is a trouble-shooter, diplomat, travel consultant, listening ear, and ambassador for and to their executive.2

Here are 5 key skills every executive assistant should have:

    1. Communication Skills – this includes both the ability to speak directly and succinctly, and the ability to actively listen and ask questions.
    2. Organizational Skills – executive assistants need to be able to stay on top of a variety of tasks in a timely manner, everything from scheduling conferences and tracking meetings, to booking travel, preparing documents for review, and more.
    3. Professionalism – as the right-hand of an executive, an executive assistant will be interacting with all levels of the organization and must exhibit professionalism, confidentiality, and respect.
    4. Collaborating Skills – the executive assistant’s work is never completely independent, it is always to help the executive accomplish greater things and produce stronger results.
    5. Willingness to Learn – this means being adaptable and taking on new tasks with the determination to achieve the best results.

Connection

While skills are important in determining the right executive assistant for you, personal connection and interaction are sometimes more important than skills or experience. Qualified on paper does not always mean the right fit for your company. As we have discussed, your executive assistant will be your right hand, one of the people you interact with the most on a daily basis, and needs to be someone you can trust. This means that, even if a candidate seems like the perfect fit on-paper, but when you meet something doesn’t quite mesh, they may not be the right fit. Ask yourself what you want from your executive assistant. If you want someone who is efficient and knows what they are doing already, focus on the skillset! But keep in mind that if you want someone you can grow with, trust, and build a professional relationship with, take the time to consider personality. You can always teach and guide your executive assistant to suit the duties they perform, but you cannot change their personality to better suit you or those they will be working closely with.

Hiring an executive assistant is bringing someone onto your team who will immediately be part of the foundational executive team. As you hire someone new, keep in mind your company’s values and your needs as an executive. These are what will guide you in making the best decision possible for yourself and for your business. When you weigh out the candidate’s skills and personal connections, you will find someone who will improve your productivity, smooth out the bumps in your day, and establish a stronger process for achieving your business’s highest heights!

Remember, skills alone are not necessarily enough, and neither is personality! It is the right blend of the two which will lead you to the right executive assistant for you. It’s okay if this takes a bit of time. Finding an executive assistant who can grow with you and your business is worth the time and effort spent, and now that you have a roadmap of what to look for, you are ready to bring someone new and exciting onto your team, someone who will become indispensable in a short amount of time!

Download this resource Hiring An Executive Assistant: Part 2 – What to Look For.

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1 Huskins, Nate. “Six Tips for Finding and Hiring an Executive.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2020/03/02/six-tips-for-finding-and-hiring-an-executive-assistant/?sh=2ae2e7bf2bb8

2 Duncan, Melba J. “The Case for Executive Assistants.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-case-for-executive-assistants

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