All You Need to Know about Hiring a Virtual Assistant
*This is a guest post by Felix of OutsourceWorkers.com.au – You can also check out my new Virtual Assistant course here.
The Virtual Assistant has certainly gone a long way since the 1980’s when women, mostly stay-at-home moms were hired as home-based personal secretaries or assistants. Fast-forward to the new millennium and the virtual assistance industry has gone global and opened up to accommodate more specialized skills and competencies. Today’s virtual assistants are often referred to as “freelancers”, “home-based workers” or “telecommuters”; people who are contracted to perform a set of tasks online from a remote location.
The growth of the virtual assistance industry can be attributed to its ability to streamline costs and improve productivity. But despite this rare attribute of addressing both cost and revenue, a Virtual Assistant can be a hit-or-miss option. You will still hear or come across “horror stories” about one’s experiences with his Virtual Assistant.
Just like a regular office employee, virtual assistants can be “bad” or “good”, “productive” or “unproductive”, a “godsend” or a “basket case”. Thus, when hiring a Virtual Assistant you have to make sure a system is in place to help you qualify the best candidates.
- Identify your need
The system starts with you. Ask yourself why you need a Virtual Assistant. Here is a checklist of common reasons to hire a Virtual Assistant:
- Delegate non-essential tasks
- Organize the business
- Task requires specialized skill
- Lower cost of business
- Accommodate larger volume of work
- Increase hours of operation
Once you’ve identified the need, the next step is to create an outline of tasks for your Virtual Assistant. For example, if you are hiring a Virtual Assistant to delegate non-essential tasks, the scope of work would include:
- E-mail filtering
- Calendar management
- Appointment setting
- Phone handling
- Social media marketing
- Preparation of presentation materials
By identifying the need and creating the scope of work, you will have an idea of how to conduct the selection process.
- Widen your sources for candidates
There are several avenues you can consider for building a pool of candidates.
First up are the online networks that provide you access to potential candidates from various locations around the world. The biggest and most patronized website is Elance-Upwork which claims to have more than eight million freelancers servicing 180 countries. Other popular networks are freelancer.com, guru.com and peopleperhour.com and BestJobs.ph.
Then you have the virtual assistance websites. There are many online which is why you should be careful in choosing the website to deal with. The Internet is home to both legitimate business and scam artists. Before communicating with a virtual assistance website, conduct due diligence work. A simple “Google” may yield results of sites such as OutsourceWorkers.com.au. You can also join virtual assistance forums and get advice from those with previous experience.
Finally, get recommendations from friends, family and close associates who have worked with a Virtual Assistant.
- Create a challenging job post
Start the qualifying process by designing a creative but challenging job post. Here are a few tips:
- Make the post long; try to maximize the allowable characters.
- Include as many requirements as possible; these include latest resume, certifications, recommendations, sample portfolio, Skype ID.
- Include a qualifying “curveball”; require candidates to follow a key instruction such as “in the upper left hand corner of your application write the phrase ‘I am the best person for the job’”.
The purpose of the challenging job post is to test a basic qualification of any Virtual Assistant: attention to detail. If the applicant does not have the patience to accurately read through your job post, he may not have the dedication or commitment to manage tasks to the best of his ability.
- Build a short-list of candidates
The biggest mistake made by entrepreneurs looking for a Virtual Assistant is hiring the first applicant that comes along. It’s not because the first applicant is the worse but it is always safer to have candidates to choose from.
Take the conservative approach when building the short-list. Assume that only 10-20% of the pool will be qualified. If you are looking for only one Virtual Assistant that means you have to build a short-list of 10-20 candidates. Generally, the larger the talent pool, the better your chances of landing the most ideal candidate.
- Implement a comprehensive selection process
Another mistake often made by entrepreneurs looking to hire a Virtual Assistant for the first time is putting too much value on the resume. Hiring the candidates with the best qualifications will not guarantee a productive engagement. Besides, these resumes are often made to seem “as good as advertised”. Some applicants will even have their resumes “manufactured” or outsourced. Here is a sample of an effective selection process:
Part 1: Preliminary interview- Focus on the resume plus introspective questions. The purpose is to get an idea of the candidate’s behavioral profile. Ask the candidates questions related to the conduct of work such as:
- “What are your five (5) non-negotiable core values and which one is the most important?”
- “What has been the biggest challenge of your life and how did you overcome it?”
- “Why did you decide to become a Virtual Assistant?”
- “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
- “Please state the five (5) most important qualities for a Virtual Assistant.”
- “What are your expectations for this job?”
- “What are your expectations of me as your client?”
Part 2: Practical testing. Once a candidate has passed your interview, subject him to tests that measure his level of competency:
- Technical skills- Those related to the nature of the job.
- Fundamental skills- Standard tests for virtual assistants such as typing, web navigation, organization.
Part 3: Test period. Your candidate must be made aware that the selection process will include a paid test period. Spend at least two (2) hours per candidate and have each one do the same set of tasks. Measure their performance based on:
- Statistics- The number of tasks a candidate was able to complete.
- Accuracy- The percentage of each task the candidate did correctly.
- Ethics- The conduct of the candidate while performing the task.
- Create a system
Once you’ve selected your Virtual Assistant, create a system or a workflow. The system should include the following:
- Frameworks; the programs or online tools you will use for project management, file-sharing, collaboration, time-keeping and communication.
- Process improvement; schedule weekly meetings with your Virtual Assistant to make sure all concerns and issues are effectively addressed.
- Protocols; establish a set of guidelines your Virtual Assistant can reference under certain situations. These include when and how to contact you after operating hours and how to attend to inbound inquiries.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant is a great strategy for any business regardless of size and scale. It is rare to come across an option that addresses both variables of the profit equation: cost and revenues. The key remains finding the best candidate for the job. Perhaps, it all starts with changing your mindset. Instead of looking for a Virtual Assistant, you should look for a Virtual Strategic Partner.