Blog This is how we find top executive assistants

This is how we find top executive assistants

Jun 6, 2023

10 min read

Whenever we say that we hire top talent only, the following questions tend to be: What does your process look like? Where do you recruit from? or How’s your vetting process?

These are all valid questions, given that people want to understand if we are really hiring the top 1% and how is that happening regularly.

Think of this post as a blueprint to find top executive assistants. These tips will help startup executives know what to look for when recruiting EAs. Keep in mind that this is a lengthy process that needs tight quality controls to make sure the best candidates make it to the finish line. It also requires training and constant coaching, even the A players need it.

Recently, an executive from a Series B startup delegated email management to one of our EAs. It was an inbox of over 20,000 unread emails (and counting!) In a matter of days, the EA was able to prioritize, eliminate and delegate all those emails to reach inbox zero. She used email management techniques like using tags to keep their inbox clean and helpful. Now, the average unread count is about 10 emails. This A player was able to take on the task that the executive was unable to manage by themselves and provided a timely, fast, and much-needed solution in a matter of days.

So how do you find, recruit and keep those A players in your team? Read on to find out.

Traits to look out for when recruiting top executive assistants

One of the most important things about hiring an EA it’s knowing what to look for. This is a list of 10 skills to look out for, divided into soft skills and hard skills.

Soft skills of top EAs:

  • Organizational Skills
  • Good Time Management Abilities
  • Streamlined Communication Skills
  • Innovative Problem-Solving
  • Prioritizing
  • Proactiveness

Hard skills of top EAs:

  • Calendar & Email Management
  • Meeting Support & Presentation Design
  • Travel Research & Event Planning
  • Project Management: planning, coordinating, and carrying out tasks on behalf of their executive
  • Provide key findings based on their research and timely insights based on data

How do you recruit for these skills?

Case scenarios are a great way to understand how an EA will perform, another great tool is asking about past experiences to understand how their reasoning works and how this setup will work for you and your business.

Our top priority when recruiting executive assistants is proactiveness. A strong sense of ownership is necessary for this to happen. Proactiveness looks like an energetic person who is bold and makes things happen.

When you are interviewing a candidate for the executive assistant job, you may ask these questions. These will let you understand the level of support you’ll be getting once they’re hired.

Lists of questions to ask when interviewing an executive assistant:

Describe a time when your organizational skills helped you.

  • Answer you should look for: The use of tools, time management, and how big the challenge was.

What would you do if given a list of 10 priorities but you won’t have time to complete them all by the required deadline.

  • Answer you should look for: Skills in managing expectations, time management, prioritization techniques, and communication.

If you need to have a difficult conversation with your leader, how would you prepare for it?

  • Answer you should look for: Proactiveness, communication skills, and problem-solving.

Tell me about a time that you solved a problem in an innovative way.

  • Answer you should look for: Skills in problem-solving, communication, research, and proactiveness.

You see that your executive is struggling to be ready for the next board meeting, but hasn’t reached out for help. What would you do?

  • Answer you should look for: Proactiveness, skills in communication, project management, calendar management, meeting support, and presentation design.

How would you handle an email inbox of over 10,000 emails? How long should it take for you to have it under control

  • Answer you should look for: Skills in email management, managing expectations, time management, prioritization techniques, project management, and innovative problem-solving. Proactiveness.

What would be your #1 advice for my calendar management?

  • Answer you should look for: Skills in calendar management, prioritization techniques, communication, organizational skills, and managing expectations between executives.

Tell me about a time when you managed a project from start to finish.

  • Answer you should look for: Skills in project management, communication skills, prioritization techniques, proactiveness, managing of time and expectations.

Top executive assistants should be proficient in at least one of these skills per question. They should also be assertive and prepared to deal with these situations.

Bonus skill to assess: typing speed

Typing speed goes beyond being able to type fast. Besides the productivity benefits of making fewer mistakes and working faster, we’ve found a correlation between typing speed and strong thinking skills. People who can type within 45 to 70 words per minute can be great candidates for executive assistants. This is why we use typing tests as the first filter in our recruitment process.

What degrees should my EA have?

Why are undergraduate degrees important to hiring EAs?:

  • Undergraduate degrees demonstrate that EAs have the academic knowledge and skills to handle complex and diverse tasks
  • Show that EAs have the commitment and discipline to pursue and complete a long-term goal
  • Expose EAs to different perspectives and experiences that can enrich their professional and personal growth

According to a study by Zippia61% of executive assistants hold a bachelor’s degree and 20% hold an associate degree.

Whereas the typical background is in communications, psychology, and administration, atypical backgrounds also bring strong team members to the table. A startup executive might be missing out on the best candidate when disregarding atypical backgrounds.

We’ve had the opportunity to discover fantastic executive assistants at Viva that come from diverse backgrounds from equestrian to nutrition to healthcare. There are a lot of transferable skills a person can pick up from these experiences. They’ve proven to be reliable and proactive in all duties of an EA, giving back 2-3 hours a week to startup executives.

There is no such thing as the “perfect degree” for an executive assistant because what you should be focusing on are the soft and hard skills above, that can be brought to the table from people of all backgrounds. This includes geographical locations, like Latin America which is a preferred location for startups and techs for sourcing great offshore talent.

Atypical backgrounds are not a new thing in startups. Founder Tavonia Evans used to be a Creative Director and is currently a Master Astrologer. She is the founder and CEO of privately funded, Guapcoin, “a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency created to promote economic growth and wealth” according to Crunchbase. She is also an Afro-American female, as if her background wasn’t atypical enough (stats show that founders in the US tend to be overwhelmingly male, 91%).

What are the English skills requirements for EAs?

When vetting executive assistants, English skills are a must-have skill. All of our recruits are required to have a minimum of a B2 level, with a preferred C1 level, which is near-native English proficiency.

Bilingual hires also bring innovative problem-solving skills and are better equipped to switch tasks faster and more easily than monolinguals.

What tools should be the minimum for a top EA?

Once your executive assistant starts working with you, they should have a combination of two factors: proficiency and abilities.

  1. Proficiency in core startup tech stack like Google Workspace, Slack, and Notion.
  2. Ability to learn new tools quickly like project management, CRM, Travel, and Expense keeping.

This is why focusing more on aptitude than skillsets is so important since they will probably need to learn new tools and data about your particular industry. It’s important to know the basics but all more so, to be able to learn new things easily.

All Viva’s EAs go through 8 weeks of training in tools and abilities to succeed at supporting startup executive assistants. With the help of our Customer Success team, we even train EAs in the background in tools they need to learn specifically, so executives can focus on growing their company.

How to retain a top executive assistant

Once you’ve found the top executive assistant that is performing above expectations, you’d want them to stay for the long term. Highly engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their job.

Many organizations struggle with retaining high-value employees. In 2022, the overall cost of voluntary employee turnover amounted to over $1 trillion.

Employee engagement is highly linked to retention. According to Gallup, this statistic has been in decline since 2022. Although the general stats are declining, for some companies, this number is actually doubling.

The same study found that employee engagement is found in company culture (feeling cared for, their opinions counting, having work friends), and hybrid or remote working conditions. Another feature for retaining top talent is having growth opportunities.

Viva can be a great partner in employee retention since we handle all of these conditions in the background through our Culture and Wellness initiatives. Our Customer Success team also supports all executive assistants to continue their learning, abilities, and growth path next to their executives.

We’ve also built a world-class culture. Even though they are remote to our customers, they are local to us. Why? Because they have continuous events and support through our EA network with local teams across cities.

Another important retention factor is that we don’t have fractional support. This allows for each executive assistant to provide support to 1 or 2 executives at most, leaving room for them to succeed in their performance. These factors drastically improve productivity delivering a positive impact to customers with the added benefit of retention and satisfaction of your newest team member.

Hiring EAs through Viva

At Viva, we hire the 1% talent, train them, pair them with startup executives, and augment their support and abilities with constant coaching and training. This means that we are part of the process every step of the way from recruiting to coaching and training post-onboarding. We don’t just help you find these candidates to support you, we become their support system.

This process would usually take more than three months for recruiting, hire, and onboard candidates. At Viva, we understand the fast-paced environments of startups and three months can feel like ages especially if you are waiting to find value. That’s why we’ve developed a process that allows for a <24-hour onboarding process of top and highly trained executive assistants.

If you are interested in learning more about our process and our talent, book a call with us. We are on a mission to 10x productivity for startup executives with talent, technology, and techniques. We understand that sometimes, this may mean pointing them in another direction. That is our transparency promise for all our calls.

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