How to Hire a Great Executive Assistant

By Robert Half May 16, 2017 at 7:23pm

A top-notch executive assistant helps keep an executive's life running smoothly. Perhaps not surprisingly, executive assistant jobs involve a range of important responsibilities, often including managing the boss's calendar, screening calls, scheduling meetings, preparing financial and data reports, and helping to coordinate projects — and this is just a partial list.

Exceptional executive assistants do it all. They’re technical whizzes, masters of time management and extraordinary team players who work well with all levels of internal management and staff. In short, an outstanding executive assistant is indispensable to an organization — which is why hiring the right one can be a challenge.

What do you need in an executive assistant?

The first step when recruiting for an executive assistant is knowing which skills and attributes are essential to your particular organization — and to you. Look for candidates who possess strong  software skills, internet research capabilities and advanced proficiency with Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook. Ideal candidates also should have a working knowledge of database management software, such as Microsoft Access and FileMaker Pro, or other specialized software used by your firm.

Because the person interacts with everyone from clients to vendors, an executive assistant should have excellent verbal and written communication skills. An executive assistant is often the go-to person in their boss's absence, so he or she should have good problem-solving and  leadership  skills. Since the assistant is sometimes privy to sensitive information, it's essential that this administrative professional can be relied upon to maintain strict confidentiality. 

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Find the right candidates

Of course, knowing what to look for in an executive assistant is one thing. Knowing the best way to hire one is another. Here are some tips for hiring a great executive assistant:

Pinpoint their duties

Be sure to list all the responsibilities in your  job description that the executive assistant is expected to handle, and be specific. Do you require your executive assistant to give PowerPoint  presentations or stand in for you at meetings? Will he or she be in charge of managing and training support staff? The job description should serve as the basis for the job posting, so the more detailed you are in writing it, the more effective it will be in attracting the right candidates.

Evaluate the candidate as a whole

 When reviewing resumes, look to see if candidates have all the attributes needed for the position. Just because an applicant is an experienced administrative assistant, don't assume he or she has what it takes to transition to an executive assistant role. Both positions share a basic core skill set, but an executive assistant's role requires more initiative, problem-solving and self-discipline. When evaluating candidates for executive assistant jobs, dig deeper for indications of these and other skills by also considering activities like volunteering or involvement in professional organizations.

Fine-tune your interview questions

You can gauge whether a candidate is self-directed enough for an executive assistant position by assessing the way he or she answers thought-provoking questions during the interview process. Asking someone how he or she would handle an urgent matter if a senior manager couldn't be reached is a way to determine whether the candidate has the problem-solving skills needed for the job.

Finding a skilled executive assistant requires more time and expertise than most managers think. Consider using a specialized  professional staffing agency  to help you find the right person fast. Recruiters have access to a broader range of candidates for executive assistant jobs, can vet applicants more quickly, and can keep you abreast of the latest administrative hiring and compensation trends.

Robert Half conducts exclusive research and offers free resources you can use to make better hires.

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