Most of our clients are entrepreneurs. That means they don’t have extensive experience interviewing assistants, since even if they are former corporate types, HR often handled initial recruitment and took the first pass at sourcing candidates. We do an excellent job vetting candidates and are exceedingly careful about who we hire – so YES, everybody we put in front of a client is qualified, but that does not help our client select between them. Qualified does not necessarily mean the right fit. How then, should a client successfully interview a Virtual Assistant?
Given that I come from a headhunting background and recruitment is, in fact, my passion – I thought it might help to walk you through what to look for (and what and how to ask) when evaluating potential Virtual Assistants. Here are my 5 best tips for identifying the right Virtual Assistant for you.
1. Make them tell you stories
Nope, skip Jack and the Beanstalk. I’m talking about employing a behavioral interviewing style. Basically, you’re shifting the onus (pressure!) onto the candidate to lead the interview. Put the candidate in the position of having to demonstrate expertise, adaptability, leadership and communication style to you by relating accounts of how he or she has risen to challenging occasions in the past. Think “Tell me about a time when you….” instead of asking specific questions. This way, you are presenting the candidate with a platform from which to springboard. Either she takes it and runs with it, or you better run the other way.
2. Be casual and the candidate’s guard will drop
OK, it’s a bit sneaky. But we’re talking about evaluating your right hand, here! Pull out all the stops to make the right decision. If you are very ‘stiff upper lip’ on the interview, the savvy candidate will match your style and not let anything slip. If, however, you are easygoing and casual, laughing and joking a bit, your candidate will feel more at ease. No, we’re not going for something that makes your candidate comfortable because we want to be nice – we’re trying to make the interview comfortable to see if he or she can still impress you, stay on topic and remain professional even when presented with an opportunity to falter.
3. Require ideas
Spend 10 minutes describing your goals and what you have in mind, task-wise, for the Virtual Assistant’s upcoming responsibility. Then, ask the candidate what he or she could suggest to expand on those tasks and get you closer to your goal. This way, you’ll be able to decipher if the VA is proactive (able to come to the table with ideas, suggestions and ways to improve your business) or reactive (will take direction and follow through on assigned tasks, but will not generate new ideas.) Make sure you are comfortable with what you find out – if you require a proactive partner, shy away from the reactive candidates.
4. Best and worst
Find out which former employment position your candidate liked best, and which was least desirable. Ask (directly) about the reasons for the answers given. You might be surprised at the answers. A diplomatic, professional candidate will be careful about conveying any negativity regarding former employers or experiences, while the less savvy candidates will be caught off guard and tempted to badmouth a negative experience. Hire the careful one, as someday you may be a former employer as well.
5. Hours and response time
Do you expect your VA to be at your beck and call? What exactly does that mean for you – email response within 30 minutes, 2 hours, or 24 hours? Make your expectations clear and ask your candidate directly if they are amenable to these conditions. Clear communication begins at the interview. How late does the VA work? Can you schedule a call at 4pm EST? What about 7am PST? Do you work Sundays? Does she? Find out the parameters of your VA’s schedule before you begin working together, especially if hours or response time might be a deal-breaker for you.
Ultimately, you want to find not only someone who can handle the tasks you have in mind, but someone who can think about your businesses’ bigger picture and long term sustainability. You are going to be spending a lot of time with your VA – be certain that you enjoy his or her company, since it will certainly add to a sense of collective trust, companionship, and ultimately – success.
Submitted by Hilary