Let's face it, we could all use a few more hours in the day to get things done. One way to free up time is by hiring an assistant, allowing us to offload some of the more repetitive tasks and focus on our core competencies. The right assistant can make all the difference in the world.

In this valuable guest post, Sharon Tsao leads you through what it takes to identify your needs in an assistant and separate out the good ones from the great ones. Sharon is a principal of Contemporary Staffing Solutions who specializes in identifying a client's gaps and providing solutions by hiring talent with strong readiness. She is also a Member of Inc. Magazine's Business Owners Council and serves on the board of Independence Realty Trust. She is a multi-time Inc. 5000 honoree and a member of the Council's Masterclass.


"I need bandwidth--I need a great assistant."

You've muttered it to yourself and said it aloud to friends, lamenting all that is on your plate or just feeling dangerously close to burnout. Maybe you have no idea how you would even go about finding and hiring an assistant, or perhaps you've hired such help before and it didn't work out.

If you hire an assistant right now, you want the person to be with you for a long period of time. You're ready to dig deep and pay in the $35,000 to $80,000 range for a great executive assistant, realizing it's an investment that will pay off if only you make the right hire.

Before you look to hire an executive assistant, you have to do some self-assessment. (Unless you work with a hiring firm, which should do an assessment with you before they bring you any candidates.) This self-assessment needs to examine what you're willing to reveal to your future assistant, your own strong skills and where there are gaps, what's taking up your time unnecessarily and what desired qualities will provide you with the bandwidth you need.

In more detail, here are the seven questions you need to ask yourself before you write the job description for HR to post.

1. What insights have you gained from the person leaving--or gone from--the position?

If you've already had an assistant (or more than one), what have you learned from those relationships? Consider whether anyone you've hired before has possessed qualities you later realized prevented him or her from excelling as your assistant. Also, if you haven't already and it's still possible, do an exit interview. Find out what they think you should look for in your next hire. You might be surprised to learn what they think you need in an assistant. Check the ego and all biases at the door!

2. What initiatives or projects have you been putting off? The impact of being able to launch those projects today or in the near future is tremendous!  

Some might call these your long-term goals, or consider them items that are important but not on fire. They're really areas you're too busy to prioritize now though they will drive your business forward. What recommendations did your mentors have for you when you were journaling your daily / weekly / monthly activities? What have past entrepreneurs, current direct reports, customers, clients, and business partners commented on? What have you repeatedly thought to yourself is missing and critical? These are usually gaps in your soft skills. That means you should look for an assistant who is able to fill the gaps of what you're doing and what needs to be moving forward so you continue to work on the business, rather than in the business.

3. What would your dream assistant be able to do for you?

For instance, you may think a great executive assistant is one who can provide research to enhance your flow of information. They may give a financial temperature read in the U.S., a national and global economic read, and a local business and local government read. They may research trends in your clients' industries and provide highlights that will pique your curiosity for further research. They may keep you posted of advanced technologies so you can ensure your company has an edge and a vision for the future. Your ideal assistant would have a natural interest in these topics and would spend time on the job reading about them so he or she can give you a sense of larger trends and issues that might affect your business. This question is important to ask yourself because it addresses both the soft skills you seek and the tasks you should expect an assistant to manage while at work.

4. What kind of communication style do you have versus what do you expect from your executive assistant?

Will you tell your assistant what to do or will you expect him or her to mind your read? Do you want your assistant to compare the actual expenses to the budgeted expenses and summarize the difference? Will your assistant need to visualize the sales support you need and act on this vision or will you share your expectations? Do you want your assistant to tell you if he or she sees a conflict with your leadership team, or do you expect them to draw the line there?

5. Will you expect them to take on personal duties?

Manage expectations by sharing in advance that you may need your assistant to jump into your personal life to help move initiatives forward--consider allowing them to build a relationship early on with those you care about in preparation for a triggering event. Advance notice is not the norm.

6. How much are you willing to share with your assistant?

When you have someone working in your office, how much will you tell him or her about your vision and strategies for your company? Will your assistant have access to your email? Will your assistant update your calendar at your request or will he or she be able to work and manage your calendar? You might be willing to tell your assistant everything with the idea in mind that he or she will someday assume an executive position, perhaps as the manager of operations, while other entrepreneurs might be afraid to give over that much information. The gut feeling you have about this question will play a large role in determining the kind of relationship you'll have with your assistant.

7. What tasks have you handled well but would like taken off your plate?

Maybe you've done well organizing your own calendar but the minutiae of emailing someone to coordinate schedules and having to keep an eye on the clock during a strategic meeting so you can leave in time for a conference call has become distracting. Or perhaps you've managed all of your social media thus far and want to hand it over to an assistant who knows your schedule. Maybe you just need help with the follow up and follow through after each meeting because they are related to many of the initiatives you're working on. Your answers to this question will become the start of the list of duties your future assistant handles.

Once you've asked yourself these questions, you should have a better idea of the capabilities and soft skills the ideal candidate would have to do a great job with the tasks that need attention.

Experience gets candidates the interview and hired; what they do on the job brings the value for which you should provide feedback and evaluations. Overpay and over-feedback the ones who are bringing value to allow you to grow the business. There is nothing better than a great executive assistant.



About Sharon Tsao

Sharon Tsao is a principal of Contemporary Staffing Solutions, a national recruiting firm that fills 82 percent of searches in less than 48 hours. She specializes in identifying a client's gaps and providing solutions by hiring talent with strong readiness. Tsao is a member of Inc. Magazine's Business Owners Council and serves on the board of Independence Realty Trust.

Are you perfect for a job as an assistant? Connect with Tsao on LinkedIn or email her at sharon.tsao@contemporarystaffing.com. She can also be reached at 215-568-5630 or 610-832-2500, and ask for Lily or Alyssa if Sharon is not available.



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