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Blog

Pitfalls to avoid when hiring an executive assistant

09 Dec 11:00 by Anastasia Kelly

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When you’re recruiting an executive assistant, finding the ideal candidate can seem as elusive as a needle in a haystack. When you have a particular set of requirements for the role, and the applicants aren’t meeting the criteria, it’s incredibly frustrating. It can cause inconvenience to the senior executive who continues to operate inefficiently without the level of support from a capable assistant in the role. 

Often, there are simple adjustments you can make to your recruiting process that can put an end to these challenges and help you secure the right candidate. Read on to find out how you can attract better quality, high-performing executive assistants to your advertised position. 

 

Underselling the role

It can be tempting to whip up a position description and advertisement without giving it too much thought. However, we find this is the most common contribution to a lack of quality applications. 

If you haven't taken the time to highlight the benefits of the role, you may find the candidates don’t find it appealing. 

The best way to approach the position description is to shift your mindset around the purpose of the document. It should be selling the role! This means the position description should be carefully written, using persuasive language to describe the benefits of joining the organisation and create a sense of excitement about the opportunity to join the company and play a role in  supporting a senior c-suite executive. 


Like an ad selling products or services, it should be persuasive and high-impact to stand out from the other similar ads on the market. Consider these questions to determine if it’s hitting the mark: 

  • Does it use clever wording to sell the benefits of the role and appeal to potential ideal candidates?
  • Is it accurate in how it describes the responsibilities and opportunities the role offers?
  • Is the language a reflection of the brand values of the organisation?
  • Does it mislead in any way, or omit important information that may cause candidates to lose trust?
  • How does this ad compare to similar executive assistant roles currently being advertised? Is it more or less appealing?
  • Does it give a clear and accurate picture of the responsibilities and KPIs of the role? Or is it too vague?

Luckily, this is a problem easily fixed. A copywriter can take a lacklustre job advertisement and transform it into a clever, compelling piece that works harder to drive applications from the most desirable candidates. Plus, when written well, these documents can also repel the wrong type of candidates, thus saving you in administrative hassles processing unwanted applications.  

 

Struggling with volume of applications

This is a common problem for many employers. Unlike the previous issue of a lack of applicants, the opposite is the case. Are you getting flooded with poor-quality applications that take time to sift through? 

Amongst these disappointing applications are terrific candidates, but finding them is like sifting through rubble for gold. 

If you are taking care of recruitment in-house it can fall to administrative staff to peruse the applications. This can be time consuming. Plus the short-list criteria can be open to interpretation,meaning there’s a risk of a junior administrative employee might skip over the application from an ideal candidate. Or, if the task is too time-consuming, it’s tempting to give applications only a cursory glance to speed up the process. Either way, it’s possible that applications from terrific candidates fall through the cracks. 

Obviously, working with a recruitment agency will ease this burden. We find that investing in a quality position description and advertisement that clearly explains the criteria will help stem the flow of poor quality applications too (because those not meeting criteria won’t waste time applying). 

If junior staff are tasked with finding applications to shortlist, it's important to give them adequate time to complete the process. This will reduce chances of corners being cut. Specifying clear criteria on what kind of applicants should be shortlisted make it easier to determine who makes the grade.

 

Having unclear requirements

Executive assistants are clever and discerning, which means they can spot an unclear brief a mile off.  If you are unable to articulate the key responsibilities, KPIs, typical daily routine or expectations in the role, EAs may question the working environment and decide against applying. If the position description is haphazard and unclear, perhaps working in the role will be too? 

Therefore, it’s vitally important to clarify in precise detail what is required in this position. Vague references about ‘general support’ can be a cause for alarm amongst candidates who seek a more precise understanding of the nature of the role. 

The best way to avoid this problem is to clarify what is required across all elements of the role — in detail. How many years of experience are needed? What would a typical day look like? Which qualities are essential, and which are simply nice-to-have? 

Part of our executive assistant recruiting service goes through this process to define these elements, so when it’s time to write the position description, the process has already been completed for you.  

Adding this precision to the position description will help increase its appeal to executive assistants and in turn your quality of applications is likely to improve too. 

 

Seeking only administrative support

Increasingly, top-level executive assistants are seeking roles where they can act as chief of staff or business partners to the executive. While administrative-style executive assistant roles still have their place and are in demand, the cream of the crop are looking for a greater challenge and to make a strategic contribution. 

If you are willing to look beyond the traditional executive assistant model and embrace the new solution of a high-influence, high-support executive assistant, there are numerous benefits to enjoy. Plus, you may find that the highest quality candidates are operating in this space, which may explain why you are failing to attract them with an administrative focus on your position description. 

Business partner EAs are not suitable for everyone but we’ve seen first-hand what an impressive contribution they can offer. So if you are looking to recruit a high-performing EA for a top senior executive, then consider adding this requirement to your position description. 

 

Not using a specialist recruiter 

Of course we are biased here, but we find that recruiters with other specialties often struggle with the specific nature of recruiting executive assistants. By hiring a specialist, you get access to a database of executive assistants who may not be looking for a role, but could be open to discussion, as well as candidates who are more actively seeking a position. This widens up your visibility to potential candidates. Also, specialist executive assistant recruiters have a fine tuned process for finding the right candidates, which is more likely to deliver you better quality applicants. 

 

Struggling to find the right candidate when hiring an executive assistant? 

Altitude EA would be delighted to assist you. We are specialists in EAs so we have the experience, process and network to find the ideal candidate for your next vacancy. List your vacancy online or contact Anastasia on  0421 16 55 96.