Blog Top 5 hard skills to look for in an Executive Assistant

Top 5 hard skills to look for in an Executive Assistant

Feb 23, 2023

9 min read

If you’re thinking of increasing your productivity by hiring an executive assistant, you should consider starting by having a clear picture of the qualities and skills that great EAs possess. There are some abilities that are necessary in order to be successful in this position. Knowing the required skills to look for will ensure you get the right person for this job, as hiring the wrong candidate can not only be costly, but will also likely take a hit on your productivity. According to a study, 34% of leaders indicated that inefficient hiring practices not only reduced their productivity but also forced them to spend 17% of their time managing subpar workers. One of the reasons why executives hire executive assistants is because EAs boost an executive’s productivity, so making a wrong hiring choice can potentially backfire on your performance. 

Most executives are looking for a partner, not a subordinate, so ensure you’re making an accurate decision by looking for the right skills. In the following article, we’ll do a deep dive into the top hard skills that you should look for when thinking of hiring an EA, along with advice on how to check for them during the hiring process. 

The top hard skills to look for in Executive Assistants

Hard skills, otherwise known as technical skills, are those skills gained through education, experience, or training. These can be linked back to specific degrees, certifications, and previous work experience. Executives tend to focus on these the most, as the majority of positions require a particular skill set to be carried out. When it comes to EA specific hard skills, these can vary depending on your needs, however, generally speaking, great executive assistants possess the following: 


1. Calendar & Email Management

VPs and executives often encounter packed schedules and clogged inboxes, leaving them with little time to focus on strategic decision making. Generally, leaders are spending 24% of their work time on their inbox, and that number can go up to 72% when it comes to time spent on meetings. 

To avoid burn-out, a thorough and detailed calendar compartmentalization must take place. A highly-skilled executive assistant knows the first step to ensure their executive is working efficiently is to perform a calendar audit. This will allow them to understand what is currently being a bottleneck for their executive and how they can improve it. When EAs understand their executive’s working style, they know how to program time accordingly. Say you’re often more productive in the morning. Your EA can schedule meetings for you during the afternoon, when you have completed what you wanted to accomplish during the day. 


While looking to test this skill, look for prior experiences in calendar management. You should test their ability to understand how to make your schedule productive and how they’d set you up for success. You might also want to consider the calendar tools your candidate has used. Even if you’re not familiar with them, place importance on how the candidate describes these tools and uses them to their potential. 

top hard skills for executive assistants

2. Meeting Support & Presentation Design

Executives spend about a third of their time attending meetings, but this time could be cut by up to 80% by following through a detailed agenda. Not having a concise meeting agenda can result in conversations getting off track. When this occurs, teams end up covering too many topics and action points are not made clear. Meeting planning and support are essential skills for great executive assistants. 


EAs streamline meetings by first creating a detailed agenda before a meetings takes place. This allows executives to have a clear idea of the points that will be discussed. Executive assistants are also tasked with making sure their executives are prepared for these meetings, whether by informing them previously of the topics being covered, the people they’re meeting with, or any additional information their executive should know beforehand. During meetings, EAs can take the lead and work as chairmen, guiding the team through the agenda and redirect whenever needed. After a meeting is over, executive assistants provide the team meeting minutes. Skilled EAs are experts when it comes to meeting minutes (otherwise known as meeting notes). Concise note taking during meetings ensures that findings, decisions, next steps and accountabilities are set, vastly improving the productivity of your team and letting their executive focus on strategic work rather than logistics when it comes to conversations. Asking candidates to take notes during a meeting is a straightforward way to assess this ability. 


When it comes to presentation skills, EAs should be able to create appealing and successful slides that help convey important information and ideas to stakeholders. Presenting visual communication effectively, putting together professional slides, inserting the right graphics, are abilities EAs rely on in order to guarantee presentations run efficiently. 


3. Travel Research & Event Planning

Due to their crucial role in supporting their executive’s schedule and traveling plans, research and event planning are key abilities for executive assistants. This task usually involves planning schedules and logistics for meetings, off-sites, conferences, and business outings. Additionally, EAs handle pre-traveling information, lodging, transportation, paperwork, and other key arrangements (i.e. covid/vaccination requirements). These abilities are essential for making sure that an executive’s business trip or event flows smoothly, allowing them to take their mind off these details and focus on the objectives of these events. 


To test for this skill, provide your candidate with a scenario of a last-minute business trip. Allow them to answer what would be the steps they would take to ensure this request can be followed through. Don’t evaluate specifics, focus rather on how they would organize the steps in which they would plan for success. 

top hard skills for executive assistants

4. Project Management

Executive assistants effectively handle project management by planning, coordinating, and carrying out tasks on behalf of their executive. Aside from setting clear objectives and deadlines, EAs should handle managing team members to ensure projects are completed on time. Having an executive assistant that’s strong in project management skills can also help their executives by anticipating potential difficulties in projects. Through effective communication and necessary support, EAs can ease their executive’s to-do lists, allowing them to focus on strategic decision making and not minor details. 


Ask for references of previous projects your candidate has handled. Even if they haven’t managed projects professionally, take into consideration personal projects as well. You could also provide your candidate a scenario in which they have to handle a mini-project with multiple people within the company. For example, let’s say you’re looking to improve work-culture by setting up trivia sessions for your team. Let your candidate walk you through how they would handle this project as it involves multiple people, both participants and hosts. Even if you disagree with some ideas, focus on how they would handle organizing this type of project and evaluate based on planning abilities. 


5. Research

Although necessary, researching can be very time consuming, and can take an average employee around 3 hours of daily work, a number that has increased since the pandemic. Executives could be spending up to 15 hours of a week’s worth researching, and that’s not including compiling and analyzing results. 

Whether an executive needs to research a specific industry, client, or market trend, an EA helps their executive by handling this task, allowing them to focus on research results and next steps. An EA must be able to provide key findings based on their research and timely insights based on data. At Viva, our remote executive assistants have helped their executives by researching SOP’s, policies, and even specific companies and industries. Recently, a customer asked their EA to research hotels for holding a conference. The EA was tasked with providing the best venues and rate them based on location, price, and service according to their needs. Their executive was only left with the task of choosing based on their EA’s recommendations, allowing them to focus on the conference itself. 

To screen for these skills ask your candidate to talk about how they would proceed with researching for a specific topic and let them walk you through how they’d structure a report. Let’s say you’re curious to research how your industry is performing in an emerging economy, but don’t have the time to review nor compile all this research. Allow your candidate to elaborate on how they would tackle a researching project. This will give you insight into their structuring process. 


Overall when it comes to evaluating technical skills, try to avoid relying only on experience or academic qualifications. Don’t hesitate to get creative and provide either assignments or scenarios in which they would handle specific tasks. Take into account that these skills can be learned or shaped to fit your needs adequately. Aside from evaluating and vetting for hard skills in your candidates, make sure you’re also looking for soft skills. Great EAs not only possess a high level of emotional intelligence, but they also possess a set of interpersonal and non-technical skills like communication, problem solving, and time management. To make sure you’re getting the right candidate, check out our list on the top 5 hard skills executive assistants must have

Now that you’re well-versed in the hard skills that great executive assistants must have, it’s time to start looking for a solution tailored to your needs. To guarantee we’re getting the right fit, at Viva we have implemented a hiring process that focuses on getting the best candidates. We hire the 1% of top talent in Latin America and crafted a screening process consisting of testing critical skills, including English proficiency, attention to detail, data collection, and formatting. We do so in order to assess communication, professionalism, critical thinking, and fit, through a behavioural interview and customer simulation. Even after the hiring process takes place, all EAs must undergo an eight-week in-house training program that thoroughly teaches them the skills they need to be successful for every engagement. 

Save yourself countless hours of screening hundreds of candidates and the oversight that follows by opting for our remote executive assistant at Viva. Our EA’s not only possess all the required skills that make them great additions to C-Suite and VP level startups, they excel in providing teams productivity hacks and techniques, and come with the right technology to help maximize your performance as a leader. The best part? We’re ready to onboard you in 24 hours – Start your journey with Viva today.


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