The 5 soft skills Executive Assistants must have
While on paper, it’s very easy to assess past experiences, track records, and educational background, EQ skills can sometimes be overlooked during the hiring process because either hiring managers don’t know how to screen for them or they don’t place enough importance on softer skills. Despite hard skills showcasing a candidate’s experience, when it comes to hiring an executive assistant, soft skills help an EA be more of a generalist and adapt to each of their executive’s needs and priorities. Executive assistants need a variety of soft skills in addition to their technical knowledge in order to communicate effectively, form connections, and collaborate well with others.
In this article, we’ll dive right into what are soft skills and the most important ones you should consider when thinking about hiring an executive assistant.
What exactly are soft skills
Essentially, soft skills are all the non-technical and interpersonal skills needed in the workplace. They’re sometimes known as ‘people skills’, as they are a mix of personality traits, work ethic, motivation, manners, and attitudes in the workplace.
These skills can sometimes be overlooked by hiring managers or executives, as they can tend to hyper-focus on technical skills and academic backgrounds when hiring. But in reality, even the most technical computer-based jobs require at least some type of soft skills. As EAs are sometimes referred to as a jack-of-all-trades position, interpersonal skills are vital for the success of the role. EAs not only interact with their executive daily, but with people inside and outside of your organization. They are masters in the art of streamlining communication, prioritizing effectively, and problem-solving techniques.
To help you in your hiring process, we’ve narrowed down the top 5 skills EAs must possess and how to screen for them.
The most important soft skills for Executive Assistants
1. Organizational Skills
Being well-organized is one of the most essential skills for a great executive assistant. EA’s need to arrange meetings, set deadlines, and develop and maintain tight schedules. Because they’re frequently managing several projects at once, EAs need to perfect the ability of balancing tasks and prioritizing effectively. Maintaining a tidy schedule is essential for success in this position, only then will you know if they will be able to also handle your schedule. To do so, often EAs maximize their work by using productivity tools such as Notion, which also doubles as a personal and team’s workspace and allows EAs to visually organize tasks, information, and even conversations through useful templates.
To screen for this skill you could first start with an ice-breaker question, asking a candidate how they stay organized in either their life or while working. Once you have an idea of how organized they are, you could then give a candidate a hypothetical scenario, where they have to manage multiple deadlines and tasks. For example, ask the candidate to elaborate how they would organize in steps the task of finding the best location to host your next company brunch. Proceed to evaluate how effectively they arrange their thoughts into actionable points. Don’t focus on the details, but rather on how they lay-out a clear picture of the steps they would take to get one project from the start to the finish line.
2. Good Time Management Abilities
Time management skills will also be crucial in this role. EAs must be experts at effectively managing both their own and their executive’s time as they frequently juggle several duties and deadlines. High-performing executive assistants usually possess planning techniques that help their executives keep on top of tasks, appointments, and meetings, all while making sure everything gets done on time and efficiently. Executive assistants verify they’re meeting deadlines by managing expectations, reprioritizing when necessary, and setting smart goals from the start.
To screen for this skill you could ask candidates to give specific examples of how they have handled numerous projects at once and prioritized work in the past to demonstrate their time management skills. You could also ask them about a time where they had to meet a strict deadline, and how they approached it.
3. Streamlined Communication Skills
An executive assistant can often be a reflection of yourself, meaning other team members can directly approach them instead of worrying you over minor details. This is because great executive assistants are known for their excellent communication skills. A great assistant can help streamline communication by filtering information and facilitating details both inside the organization and with outside partners. This process allows their executives to focus on other important conversations with the rest of their team. Being able to communicate effectively is a necessary skill for any executive assistant. This also means being able to get along with people of all different walks of life, being aware of speaking in the right tone and appropriate body language, and writing emails that are clear and concise. Someone that is very structured in how they communicate their thoughts can often express themselves in a targeted manner and can thus work effectively with their executive. An example of this are long emails. More often than not, executives won’t have the ability to acknowledge a dense email due to time or unclear communication. EAs are experts when it comes to structuring emails effectively, providing clear and concise bullet points in very few words and ending emails concisely. This is to ensure that the executive knows what is expected of them and can quickly respond. For example, EA’s facilitate communication by ending emails with the following actionable points:
- Requesting or reminding information: “Could you kindly send the current sales data?”
- Requiring clarification: “Can you clarify the objective for today’s meeting?”
- Requesting consent: “Would you like to schedule the conference call for next week while you’re traveling?”
Communication skills can be evaluated in something as simple as how the back-and-forth of emails has been leading up to the interview and afterwards. This will give you a clear picture of how they will work with you in the future. During the interview process, make sure to ask your candidate questions related to their communication style. Take note of their listening skills, how they get their point across, and even their non-verbal communication cues.
4. Innovative Problem-Solving
Thinking critically is a skill that all EAs must possess in order to come up with creative solutions to any issues that may arise. An Executive Assistant must always use their problem-solving abilities in their day to day work, whether it’s by finding solutions to tight and overlapping schedules, or knowing how to reprioritize when sudden changes occur. This requires an ability to think outside the box and push for ideas that might be more time-efficient.
Usually hiring managers stick to asking candidates to describe a stressful situation at a previous job, and how they overcame it. However, this might be a bit overdone and rehearsed. Instead, opt for providing a candidate with a specific scenario (simulation) that has been a bottleneck for you as an executive. For example, you could potentially be experiencing one or more of the following situations:
- “Our meetings are going on for too long and we can’t seem to get concise action points when they end. How do you suggest we solve this?”
- “With so many deadlines we need to meet, we have been pushing back projects that are also important. How do you think we should prioritize and organize these deadlines?”
- “We have been struggling with effectively delivering announcements from top management to the rest of the team. Do you have any suggestions for streamlining communication?”
These are just some examples of what you could be facing on your day to day operations, but be sure to give your candidate a real pain-point that could be solved by them. Once again, ignore going into details, and focus on how effectively they come up with solutions on the spot. Even mentioning in their answer something as simple as “I’d need to research”, could show you how a candidate might not know the answer but is willing to learn and be resourceful to find an answer to the solution.
Generally, leaders spend an average of 5 hours a week on assigning, prioritizing, and reprioritizing tasks for themselves or their team. EAs skilled in the meticulous task of prioritizing give back their executive these valuable hours. To test whether or not a potential EA candidate can handle this important task, ask yourself the following questions: “Are they able to place themselves in their executive’s shoes?” “Do they understand their executive’s priorities and goals?”
A great EA can often challenge what is being done in terms of priorities so your team can ultimately break the cycle of task collision. EAs take the initiative to solve things that may be bottlenecks for you and your team, and they tackle issues you’ve overlooked due to overlapping priorities.
To test for this skill, you could give your candidate a list of tasks and ask them to categorize them into urgent and important, important but not urgent, not important but urgent, and not urgent and not important. This list doesn’t have to be long. It’s simply to understand your candidate’s reasoning into how they classify tasks, giving you insight in their time-management skills.
For executives assistants to be successful at their role they must master soft skills, as these enables EAs to communicate effectively, build relationships, manage their time, and solve problems. But aside from having a high EQ, EAs should also possess hard skills that will make them successful at their position. Hard skills are crucial because they allow EAs to carry out responsibilities with accuracy and efficiency, so they can efffectively support their executive. To help you, we have compiled a list of the 5 most important hard skills you should look for when thinking of hiring an executive assistant. If you’re ready to maximize your productivity with an EA but want to avoid spending time and resources interviewing and vetting potential candidates, by choosing an executive assistant from Viva you’ll be linked with EA in less than 24 hours. Our EAs are excellent complements to C-Suite and VP level startups because they not only have the necessary skills but also thrive at teaching teams productivity hacks and practices. Start your journey with Viva today.