Blog Should you hire an admin, virtual, or executive assistant?

Should you hire an admin, virtual, or executive assistant?

May 25, 2023

8 min read

Recently, a job description for a Series A startup on Linkedin described the role of an executive assistant for a brand new position. This role was for an AI-tech startup looking to grow efficiently and looking for their first EA for their NY headquarters.

The main duties were described as:

  • Conducting marketing research
  • Managing social media accounts
  • Assisting with presentations and written documents
  • Assisting with meetings and action items

This description is insufficient and too broad to understand the level of depth and expertise needed to perform such tasks. The requirements for this position weren’t low: a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and proficiency in multiple tech software, to name a few. How do they know which role do they really need? An admin assistant? A virtual assistant? Or an executive assistant?

All of these roles offer some form of executive support, at different levels of proficiency and proactiveness. As an example, all three can support startup executives in calendar management but not with the same mastery, techniques, or abilities.

Table of contents:

  • What is the difference and how do you understand what you need?
  • Comparing 3 support areas from least to most advanced:
    • Calendar management support
    • Email management support
    • Travel planning support
  • Should you hire an admin, virtual, or executive assistant?

What is the difference and how do you understand what you need?

The difference between admin, virtual or executive assistants relies much on their thought process, their proactiveness, and their proficiency. This is due to the type of tasks that the individual will be performing.

An executive assistant is a driver of productivity whereas lower-level roles in proficiency as admin assistants are more like passengers that do reactive work.

To understand their difference, consider them at different levels of support:


Profficiency levels of executive support. Viva executive assistants.


In the most basic level of proficiency, we have an admin assistant who is able to perform simple administrative tasks, by taking orders from their superiors. A strong candidate should be able to perform well by completing their task list with efficiency. As the role concerns, an admin assistant needs to have good time management and good written and communication skills.

The next level of proficiency is a virtual assistant. These individuals are capable of handling more demanding tasks than admin assistants and their job is done remotely. It’s important to note that virtual assistants can take on many tasks that an executive assistant (next level) would have but not necessarily at a higher level of proficiency. A well-qualified candidate should have the same skills as an admin assistant + have experience in the role, be detail-oriented, have proficient skills in specialized software, and have good organizational skills.

For an executive assistant role, which is one of the highest levels of proficiency, the individual needs to have a high level of initiative and proactiveness. This is the trait that sets them apart. Being proactive means that they are going a step ahead in their areas of support which include email and calendar management, travel planning and expense keeping, and in many cases, project management skills. An EA is attentive to detail in a considerable way.

An executive assistant needs substantial delegation skills and top-performing techniques for managing of calendar and email, as well as superior meeting support and team engagement. A great executive assistant who is experienced and competent should be able to do the work of a junior Chief of Staff, which is the most advanced support because they are sound thinkers with high intuition levels that can give advice to executives and team members and drive projects from start to finish. Many executive assistants can be skillful project managers going beyond administrative proactiveness into operational results drivers.

The Chief of Staff role is more strategic because they drive business processes and organizational structure initiatives, analyzing research data, and even partnering with executives in managing talent, investor relations, and stakeholders. They make decisions on behalf of the CEO and take on many of the CEO’s tasks. A CoS should have consulting experience and solid leadership skills.

Qualifications and requirements for the roles

Qualifications also matter when assessing the differences. Administrative assistants and virtual assistants usually require a High School diploma with excellent verbal and communications skills and proficiency in Microsoft software are sufficient for the job. Some roles can be done at an hourly rate and don’t require the level of commitment that a full-time position does.

For all Viva executive assistants, an undergraduate degree is a requirement. Some of Viva’s EAs even hold master’s degrees. Also, EAs need to have strong skills in calendar compartmentalization, prioritization, email management techniques, and greater use of software tools. An EA has a full-time role because of their advanced support.

A Chief of Staff role would require more qualifications than an executive assistant, with many years of experience in the startup industry, just like a more extensive educational background. According to Linkedin Talent Solutions, a minimum of 7 years in business management or executive role is needed to perform successfully.

Comparing 3 executive support areas from least to most advanced

Whenever startup executives are considering bringing in support, they might be unaware of the extent of that support and not know what role is the best hire for their specific situation. They might be looking in the wrong places for the wrong hire. This post is here to help them understand what they need according to the level of support that they require.

These three support areas are the most common ground for startup executives, although not limited to them:

  1. Calendar management support
  2. Email management support
  3. Travel planning support

These have two simple subcategories: from the least advanced support you can get to the most advanced support available so you can understand what kind of support you need and are looking for. As a result, understanding what you need will allow you to hire the role that best fits your company’s needs.

1. Calendar management support

As a startup executive, your day looks swamped: back-to-back meetings 10 to 12 hours a day. You also know that having no room to breathe between meetings can be detrimental to performance and you would also love to have lunchtime every day. Being in constant meetings leaves you drained and unable to manage your calendar, sometimes it feels like your calendar is running you. You can get support for calendar management in the following ways:

Least advanced support:

  • Scheduling meetings and appointments.
  • Taking notes in meetings, distributing minutes, and following up on action items.

Advanced support:

  • Including least advanced-support tasks, plus
  • Using techniques like calendar compartmentalization by creating time slots for every important item, including time to focus and lunch (they could even order lunch for you every day/week).
  • Proactively prioritizing meetings, scheduling, deferring, changing, or delaying meetings to create more space in your calendar.
  • Making sure there are at most 2 back-to-back meetings throughout your day to give you room to breathe between meetings.
  • Some startup executives ask their EAs to defer any meeting without a clear agenda, in the spirit of saving time.
  • Turning meetings into emails whenever possible.
  • Proactively protecting your time so you are able to focus on the most important tasks**.**

2. Email management support

The email count for a startup executive is usually about 250 emails per day. Depending on how well is their inbox managed, this number can easily hit four digits. Most executives without support have unmanageable inboxes that block their productivity.

Least advanced support:

  • Scheduling time for email management.
  • Assisting in purchasing extra cloud space for your emails, at request.

Advanced support:

  • Organizing your inbox every morning so that you only focus on what is most important.
  • Reducing unread email count significantly up to zero by using techniques like inbox zero, prioritizing, eliminating, and delegating emails.
  • Removing all irrelevant email subscriptions to reduce distractions.
  • Creating archiving processes that allow for proper documentation.
  • Implementing software to improve email management e.g. Superhuman.
  • Responding to emails on behalf of the executive for driving projects forward.

3. Travel planning support

Let’s say that you will be a keynote speaker at the next Tech Crunch Disrupt. Planning how to get there, making hotel and dinner reservations, and getting the tickets are all tasks that need to be done in advance since San Francisco tends to be packed by then. Travel planning is one significant bucket that assistants can focus on, either for business or personal travel. The logistics of traveling are time-consuming and many executives prefer to leave this task to their assistants.

Least advanced support:

  • Making flights & hotel reservations.
  • Sending travel details prior to departure so you have them handy, at request.
  • Researching basic information on venues, conferences, and other events.
  • Answering calls and taking messages while the executive is OOO.

Advanced support:

  • Making flights & hotel reservations minding your personal preferences and budget. Organize everything in carefully curated spreadsheets for later reference.
  • Creating pre-meeting briefings about other speakers, founders, and investors also attending.
  • Creating your presentation for the speaking event.
  • Driving communication efforts to let stakeholders know about this happening.
  • Handling last-minute cancellations or delays to make sure you are on time.
  • Scheduling focus time at your return to make sure you catch up on emails while OOO.
  • Include dinner reservations with other attending executives or prospects.
  • Create talking point scripts about your company so you have on-the-go, bulleted data to share with stakeholders.
  • Reminding and assisting you in tasks that need to be completed before leaving.
  • Completing expense reports after you’ve returned.

In this article, we’ve not mentioned ChatGPT as an alternative to either role as it’s a tool for assistants. As an example, executive assistants are sharp and know that technology like chatGPT can help them. We wrote a blog post to tell you more about this in more detail.

Other advanced areas of support for startup executives

  • Meeting support
    • Creating agendas and presentations
    • Coordinate Board meetings logistics
    • Follow up on action items
  • Team engagement
    • Plan offsites
    • Organize team events
    • Coordinate gifts and prizes like swag and anniversary gifts
  • Operations and Special Projects
    • Organize documents, folders, and workspaces in digital tools and clouds
    • Create checklists, playbooks, and process flows for teams and departments
    • Conduct research and prepare reports for the executive team

So, should you hire an admin, virtual, or executive assistant?

Now that you know and understand what the differences are between the least and the most advanced support, you can understand more easily whom you need to hire.

  • For the least advanced support levels: hire an administrative assistant.
  • For the medium level of support (meaning you need advanced support but on an hourly basis): hire a virtual assistant.
  • For advanced levels of support: we recommend you hire an executive assistant or a Chief of Staff. In order to help you make this decision better informed, we’ve also developed a 7-question list to understand when it’s time to bring executive assistants to your startup.

Was this resource helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!

Recommended for you