How To Find The Best Virtual Assistant
Early in 2014, I was in the process of recruiting a Virtual Assistant to do content marketing services for my website and social media accounts. I had posted the job opening in a highly-reputable online recruitment platform and there was quite a list of candidates. But one candidate stood out because of his experience. For purposes of this narrative, let’s call the candidate, “Joshua”.
Joshua had a good-sized portfolio of clientele in the seven (7) years he had done content marketing services and in fact, received several glowing reviews, recommendations and referrals from clients in the process. I checked his body of work and these were outstanding. Joshua lived just an hour from where I was. After I finished reviewing his application, I messaged Joshua for an interview at a popular coffee shop the following day.
Interviewing a virtual assistant
The interview covered the usual bases: his early beginnings as a content marketer, views on the future of content marketing and social media, latest industry trends, worst experience and most frequent problems in content marketing, how he interacted and worked with clients among others. I told Joshua after the interview that I was interested in hiring him to do content marketing and he would be working with a virtual management team for digital marketing and personal assistant services. Joshua signed the contract after the interview, we shook hands and we expressed optimism at this new working engagement.
I was surprised the following day when he sent me a billing statement for AUD$70 covering our 2 hour interview. At first I thought it was an attempt at humor because the contract he signed clearly stated the working arrangement including compensation. I messaged him via Skype and invited him for a call. When I got him online, I asked him what the billing statement was for. I will never forget his response.
“I’m a professional content marketer and my time is paid for. Yesterday’s interview could have been used for another paying client. I’m thankful for the opportunity and for your trust in me, but I should charge you for foregone earnings.”
Long story short, the call did not end well. I did not pay the AUD$70; the coffee and pastries cost just as much, and Joshua will never find work in my company. Right after the call, I got to thinking how Joshua was able to get all those clients. And strangely still, all those recommendations? Yes, his work was excellent but who in his right mind would agree to pay someone to be interviewed for a job opportunity.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant or any virtual employee is not the same as hiring a regular, office-based employee. The process essentially follows the same structure and although we may have similar expectations for both, the working conditions are different.
In the first place, virtual employees are contractual; usually hired on a per-project basis and is not covered by the same compensation package as a regular employee. Therefore, because there are lesser obligations, the level of dedication may not be consistent or at par with those whose primary means of income depend on your enterprise. As a freelancer and a proprietor of his or her own enterprise, he or she may have other clients and may not be able to dedicate as much time or effort on your project.
Second, a remote worker’s place of business is mobile. Unlike a regular office-based worker, there is not much supervision except for the occasional updates. If he or she is based in another country where time zone differentials exist, you may have to deal with frequent incidents of miscommunication because of language and cultural barriers. For example, if you were to hire a Virtual Assistant from the Philippines, you need to be aware that the country is predominantly Roman Catholic and Filipinos do not work on days of Catholic obligation.
From my experience and based on the references I have come across, problems in working arrangements with remote workers are a function of the realities of the virtual world. Put simply, the virtual world makes it difficult to build a relationship with them. In my experience with Joshua, we lived in the same time zone and had what I would qualify as a successful interview. However, when Joshua went back to the virtual world, he became “different”.
The key to a successful and productive engagement with any virtual employee lies in the ability to build a strong working relationship.
Just like any relationship, the process will take time but here are three tips you can use.
- ) Shift 80% of the focus during the initial interview away from the technical and fundamental know-how and toward his or her personality. Engage him or her in hypothetical situations which will give you an idea of how he or she frames their decision-making process. The scenarios should reflect actual situations common in your industry or line of work.
- ) Require your candidate to provide you with the contact details of his previous clients or those who have given a recommendation. If he or she refuses, that is a major red flag. Because the client agreed to issue a recommendation, he or she can no longer invoke the Confidentiality Agreement.
- ) Schedule regular weekly meetings. These have a three-fold purpose. First, to have a rundown of the week’s priorities, pressing concerns, pending issues and targets. Second, to establish structure in the working relationship. The meeting acts a Process Improvement system. Finally, to build on the working relationship by adhering to a two-way system of communication. Communication must always be two-way and each party must be respectful and mindful of the opinions of the other.
There is no denying the value of having virtual assistance onboard your business. In addition to significant cost savings, your productivity level will go up exponentially as you can now channel your resources to your main enterprise.
You just need to lift the veil off the virtual world and build a genuine “real world” working relationship with your Virtual Assistant.