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Hiring an executive assistant for a dynamic CEO

10 May 17:00 by Anastasia Kelly

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If you are an HR manager for a large organisation, there may come a time when you are tasked with recruiting an executive assistant to the CEO. It can be one of the most daunting appointments to place. Many HR managers find it challenging. After all, it’s a unique position in the organisation—the executive assistant to the CEO has unlimited access to the inner workings of the company. Plus, the CEO has high expectations of the HR team to find the ideal candidate, and limited time to brief you – so many HR managers feel they are navigating the situation blind, with considerable pressure and expectations to find the perfect fit.

This is even more challenging when you are working with a high-performing CEO. You need to find someone who can remain resilient and confident while working to support a dynamic, creative executive. CEOs are a special type of breed. They’ve built a career on their brilliant mind, drive, business savvy and quick thinking. Most CEOs are exacting, precise, quick-thinking and highly attentive. So it can be challenging to find an executive assistant to give them the high level of support they demand and expect.  

A close working relationship like no other

Executive assistants see the entire spectrum of their bosses’ behaviour. Their CEO is under immense pressure, and often is required to perform – for clients, the board, stakeholders and important decision makers. They are the face of the organisation and everyone is looking to them and paying attention to their every move. Often, the executive assistant is the only one to see the mask slip and witness firsthand the pressure the CEO is facing. If the CEO is feeling stressed, a good executive assistant will be able to understand and sympathise, while also actively helping the CEO make decisions and handle stressful situations that often come with the position. 

Coping in high pressure situations

A high performing EA will be confident handling a dynamic executive, but also a fast-paced, demanding workplace. Decisions are made quickly, senior stakeholders can put enormous pressure on the leadership team and the CEO can be feeling the heat. Communication flows incessantly, and the EA must be competent in managing the inflow and outflow of correspondence. Many high-performing executive assistants actually thrive in this kind of highly demanding environment.

So how do you recruit for an executive assistant with these important skills?

Experience: nothing beats experience in a similar working environment. It’s not about industry experience as much as working under a similar kind of leadership style. Understanding the potential candidate’s preferences about the kind of day-to-day workplace in which they thrive will help you determine how they’ll be able to perform.

  • Tenacity: the first few months of the executive assistant’s tenure may be the most difficult, as the CEO will have high expectations and needs a fast learner. So an EA with a strong tenacious streak who’s willing to withstand the initial difficulty while they settle in the role will be highly valuable.
  • Confidence: seek candidates who are capable of setting firm boundaries and won’t lose sleep if they get negative feedback. A confident candidate will be able to handle high-pressure situations and know how to manage the CEO to get the best out of them at work.
  • Resilience: coping in a high-pressure, fast paced workplace requires a good dose of resilience. Questioning candidates about how they take negative feedback will help you determine if they’re capable of dealing with feedback or setbacks.
  • Empathy: the top performing executive assistants deeply understand the pressure that the CEO is under. As the working relationship grows, the EA connects with the CEO and is often the only one who sees the strain. A deeply empathetic nature will help the candidate see things from their executive’s point of view.
  • Maturity: it’s not about the age of the candidate, but the ability to handle things calmly, rationally and sensibly. If the CEO has a high-pressure problem, the mature executive assistant can act as a calm, reasonable, and rational source of comfort and advice.
  • Fast learning: an executive assistant who can learn fast will be an asset. The CEO will feel best supported if an EA can quickly get up to speed, using a strong streak of common sense to read situations and people so that the CEO doesn’t have to invest too much time in onboarding a new executive amid all the daily pressures of the workplace.
  • Salary: finally, if you are seeking a truly high-performing executive assistant to cope with a dynamic CEO, expect to pay them handsomely. Your EA deserves to be well compensated for their unique ability to handle a high-pressure working environment. This can include a good base salary as well as generous entitlements for leave, training and performance development, and other benefits available to the company like staff discounts or other entitlements. If you want the best of the best, you should be willing to pay the salary they deserve.

Looking to recruit an executive assistant to the CEO?

Altitude EA are specialists in high-performing executive assistants. We’d love to help you fill this crucially important role. We have a unique understanding of the evolving role of the executive assistant and a strong network of contacts with EAs for some of Australia’s leading employers. Call Anastasia today on 0421 16 55 96 to see how we can support you.