What to look for in a Virtual Assistant
It’s hard to believe, but April is the anniversary of my Virtual Assistant business. On April 1st... Yes. April Fools Day – I stepped out on my own to bring in a little money on the side as a Virtual Assistant. After 10+ years, that little side gig turned into a full service Virtual Assistant Firm, Check Off Your List. I’ve hired more Virtual Assistants than most people will ever come close to working with in their career, so I’ve learned a thing or two through trial and error about what makes a good Virtual Assistant. There are certain characteristics that I always look for in new Virtual Assistants for Check Off Your List, and my goal today is to share some of those characteristics with you. Check Off Your List has supported many industries with a variety of tasks, so I've learned there are certain characteristics that all Virtual Assistants should have, regardless of their expertise and who they're assisting. These are characteristics you should look for when seeking out the best back office support to meet your needs.
Now, before we dive in: Many people work in a completely remote environment, like Check Off Your List, but not everyone is fully remote and you might not be. I just want to say, that’s ok, because some aspects of your business, whether you’re brick and mortar or completely virtual, will be handled remotely. If the past year proved nothing else, it’s that remote work is only going to increase, as even traditional, on location work environments are pulling in remote help or transferring parts of their team to a hybrid work environment. So whether you are primarily remote or on location, you’re keeping yourself ahead of the curve by considering the characteristics that make any professional more successful in a virtual environment.
One other thing before we get started: If you’re like me, you’re probably driving or on a walk or multi-tasking in some way as you’re listening. There’s a lot to remember in this episode. It’s broken down into six qualities, and each quality has specific things to watch for as you consider each area. That to say, you might wish you can take notes. Feel free to grab a pen and paper, but it’s fine to keep listening on the go. I’ve put this list in a convenient hiring checklist, and it includes a summary of the characteristics I look for in new hires. The best part is, it’s a free checklist. You can download it at coylwithrachelluther.com under resources for this episode, so keep on doing what you’re doing and download the checklist when you’re done listening.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it:
We’ll start with communication. One of the most important qualities, which we test greatly in the hiring process, is communication. If you didn’t listen to Episode 9: How to Find a Great Virtual Assistant, I recommend listening to it. I divulge the secrets I use when hiring the Virtual Assistants at Check Off Your List, and a lot of our screening process revolves around determining whether they are skilled communicators.
First and foremost, they must have excellent written and verbal communication skills. It’s basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s common. No matter what their expertise is - social media, bookkeeping, human resources, web design – basic grammar and language skills are a must for all positions... not just for our copywriters. The reason is obvious: Most of what Virtual Assistants do includes some measure of writing; they might have the best ideas in the world, but how useful are they if they can’t communicate them intelligibly. Remember all those grammar lessons that most of us resisted in school? Well, it turns out that most well-respected businesses prefer their communications to be grammatically correct. If your team isn’t up on their grammar, then you’re probably going to be paying another team member to proofread their writing. You can see how that might be problematic. It’s basic but important.
Along with basic communication skills, another big aspect of communication is how responsive they are. Each work environment works at its own pace, and you need someone who can keep up with how you work. Someone’s responsiveness as you consider working with them is quite telling about what you will get during the day to day if you decide to work together—very rarely does someone elevate or improve their response consistency; it typically goes the other direction over time. You’re getting the best of the best communication time at the start of the relationship, so they need to respond within the timeframe that realistically matches your workflow.
Now, we should all turn our technology off from time to time, so be reasonable about the parameters and your expectations. That being said, I expect quick responses during the business day. It’s the minimum of what I need to keep our workflow moving at Check Off Your List, and I think that is a reasonable request of your remote team. If you need special after hours or weekend accommodations, that’s something to talk about up front, because your team can’t have quality of life being available 24/7. That doesn’t mean you can’t get the after-hours support you need. It just needs to be a conversation before you start working together and it goes right back to establishing expectations during the hiring process, which I talk about in Episode 9: How to Find a Great Virtual Assistant.
Another aspect of communication I consider when adding to my team, but I don’t think everyone does, is how adaptable they are when communicating. Remote environments require extra communication for successful communication, and that means, the ability to follow up in various forms becomes necessary. E-mail, Microsoft Teams chats or video calls, and old-fashioned phone calls are critical, and a Virtual Assistant must be assertive enough to get what they need over these platforms to do their job well. You’re not going to be in the same location as your team, so communication in its myriad of forms is the remote version of popping your head into someone’s office to follow up or clarify instructions or just make sure they’ll send what they’re supposed to send you.
As you can see, these characteristics have a lot to do with the virtual in Virtual Assistant. Your team should ensure your back office is running smoothly even though they’re remote, if not more smoothly than they would in a non-remote environment. Along these lines, your virtual team member must be independent, whether that is in trouble shooting technology or on the job training. Your Virtual Assistant should be tech savvy enough to navigate new apps, websites, and customized portals without hand holding or step by step instructions from you. I look for team members with an eagerness to learn new things to grow their experience and knowledge. I love hearing that a team member is knowledgeable in a certain application, but not everyone can know everything. I also love hearing “I haven’t actually used that before, but I looked at a few reviews and found some YouTube videos about it. It seems like something I could easily pick up, so how can I help?”
A lot of this type of attitude stems from the mentality that they won’t say “no” but they’ll learn and figure it out. Now, each team member should have their own expertise and contribute in a specific way, and I’m not talking about someone who can do everything. I do not recommend a “Jack of All Trades.” I’m sure you’ve heard to anecdote, “a jack of all trades, master of none.” I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about them owning their niche and figuring out new things as they grow their unique experiences and increase their tangential knowledge within their expertise.
An ability to troubleshoot goes hand in hand with this mentality. It’s the simple things like Googling something before asking. A Virtual Assistant should need minimal training. Knowledge is out there thanks to the internet, so searching for answers before asking questions exponentially increases someone’s impact on a team and in a business.
Now, there are two sides to every coin. Independent troubleshooting is a wonderful thing, but an effective team member also knows when to ask for help. They should be cognizant of when they've exhausted their skills and reached the end of their quick troubleshooting. A person's willingness to admit they don’t know something and ask for help from the appropriate person at the right time is just as crucial as independent troubleshooting. Possessing this kind of self-aware initiative truly optimizes their impact on the team by focusing their time and efforts on maximizing their skills and continually pushing the boundary of their knowledge.
A team member’s willingness to ask questions also increases their ability to complete projects. Your Virtual Assistant should be a few steps ahead of you at all times. They should ask questions you don’t know you need to answer yet or foresee issues coming down the road, to address them before they become a road block. The ability to look ahead for questions moves a project forward and increases efficiency by minimizing future back and forth that only takes up time and stalls your work flow.
This same ability to look ahead for questions also guides a remote worker as they prioritize and make decisions, and you want your team to excel at prioritizing. Empowering them to make decisions is the only way their responsibilities are truly their responsibilities, not yours. What’s even more important though, is that they consistently make good decisions that align with the core values that helped you build your business. When under pressure, does their natural inclinations or intuition guide them in the general direction that you want them to go if you made the decision for them? When they prioritize how you prioritize, a team member becomes a direct extension of you. They work in sync with your goals, and that truly optimizes their impact on your behalf as you work together to drive your business to success.
This is as simple as prioritizing tasks in the order you want them tackled...without you outlining everything along the way. Now, this cohesiveness evolves over time, but the more you talk to someone throughout the hiring process the easier it is to see how closely you’ll align in the seeming simple things that honestly make the most difference in the day to day. Can they successfully multi-task by juggling different responsibilities in your business seamlessly... even if you throw in a one-off task that just needs to be done right now? As they work, do they set deadlines so you know what to expect and when? Do they then meet those deadlines with time to spare or are they consistently working at the last minute?
This takes me right to another quality I look for in our Virtual Assistants. Your new team member should be very self disciplined when it comes to their schedule and general organization. The only way they can set and exceed deadlines is to have a grasp of their calendar and the time it takes for them to complete a task. A lot of my team members seem to time block their schedule in order to accommodate their various responsibilities. It’s certainly not the only way to organize your day. I do a modified version, because that’s what works for me as I juggle Check Off Your List, home schooling, acting and podcasting. No matter how someone tackles their day, the important thing is the discipline to evaluate responsibilities and the dependability to follow through until they're completed.
If your team member says they will do something, you want to count on it being done and that they are organized enough to know where that project is at any time. As I’m sure you gathered if you’ve been listening from the start, I’m a sucker for a to do list, and a lot of my team members are the same way. They use digital to do lists like Microsoft Tasks or Trello or Asana. A lot even go old school with physical to do lists sitting on their desk next to their laptop, which I do from time to time as well. There’s also a trend on my team of color coding to easily skim by project or client, etc. Whatever the method, you want a team member that takes their own initiative to organize themselves and is self-disciplined enough to follow through until it’s checked off their to do list … virtual or pen and paper.
Your Virtual Assistant should be motivated to drive a project until it’s done. A lot of people are good at starting a project, but it’s rarer to find someone who is wrap up focused. Your team should be one step ahead of you and lets you know what needs to be done... not the other way around. You want someone who successfully follows a task start to finish and exceeds expectations...even when you don’t check in or they hit roadblocks. I don’t want to check up on my team members. I want them to follow up with me to let me know what needs done and when to complete a project ahead of schedule.
They can’t be shy about what they think. Your remote team member needs to be willing to speak up and share ideas. They’re the expert. It’s why you hired them. You want someone who owns that and uses it to your advantage by improving your business through innovation and new ideas. At the same time, they also need to be perceptive enough to see when you don’t want to go with their ideas and be flexible enough to adjust accordingly when needed.
Whew. Ok. That was a lot of info, but I think it’s valuable and worth going over. Compiling this list has been 10+ years of trial and error, so take a breath and download the hiring checklist for a summary of what we’ve covered today. You can find it with the resources for this episode.
But let’s be honest, finding the right person with the technical skills you need is difficult, and you probably need more than one person to cover the variety of skills required by your back-office support. Today’s episode might have been a little overwhelming, and you’re possibly unsure how to figure out if someone has all of these qualities, not to mention finding these qualities in enough people to meet the different needs of your growing business. There is an easier option, which is why I started a back-office support firm of Virtual Assistants. I’ve already done the legwork to find the right qualities coupled with the right skills to pinpoint the exact person you want on your team. There’s no need to recreate the wheel in your business. Find a Virtual Assistant Firm that has already vetted the talent and compiled a team ready and willing to come along side you in pursuit of your business goals.
As my team at Check Off Your List has grown, we’ve added team members with skills to expertly cover the many aspects of my business. One of those is Human Resources. I’ve outsourced expanding my team through Misti, our Human Resources Manager at Check Off Your List. Her experience in HR overshadows mine, and we hire better Virtual Assistants now that she has taken over the process. That is outsourcing functioning at its best! I invited her to join me on the next episode to talk about some of the mistakes she has seen and works diligently to overcome when hiring a Virtual Assistant. You won’t want to miss these tips, because they’ll help you find the perfect Virtual Assistant for you and your business. Click subscribe and join us next time on Checking Off Your List with me, Rachel Luther.