Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) can be stressful. First, you have to wade through the options—onshore or outsourced being the big question to consider. Then you might need to assess multiple candidates before selecting someone.
And while the process is similar to hiring full-time employees, there are some unique elements to navigate.
This mini-guide explains those unique elements and how to manage the whole thing.
1. Identify your needs
It’s unfair to lump all virtual assistants under the simple category of “VA” because of the varied skill set (and work quality) you can get. Within the VA ecosystem, you can get assistance on a variety of tasks:
General admin: these tasks mirror the traditional “assistant” and include booking meetings, sending reminders, keeping track of tasks, and accountability for you.
Financial admin: these tasks can involve data entry—for instance, filling out and sending invoices—up to complex bookkeeping. In some cases, VAs even have accounting designations and can understand complicated financial book closings.
Marketing and sales support: a wide variety of tasks—all depending on the VA’s skill set—from design to copywriting and audio or video editing.
If you can do it on a computer, a VA can do it. That’s why it’s essential to identify your needs first, or you’ll get lost in a sea of possible candidates.
2. Understand the “big two” VA risk factors
Think consciously about the two factors that can make or break your VA experience: language skills and budget.
While many VAs are fluent in English, there are multiple levels of fluency, from technically fluent to native speaking with cultural understanding.
Virtual assistant pricing has three levers: a VA’s skill level, focus, and client load. For instance, a VA with significant design experience working with high-end magazines will likely charge more than someone who has only recently learned how to use Canva.
When choosing what level of VA you need, revert to your needs (point one, above). Your budget should increase as you need higher quality, confidentiality, trust with your VA, and if you have limited room for error. If the tasks are important but flexible, you can save money with someone more junior or inexperienced. But if you need something done right, a lower budget might result in redos that cost more in the long run.
3. Draft a clear job description
Like any hiring exercise, you need a clear role description that enumerates: core tasks, responsibilities of the role, necessary qualifications, and compensation. One example is a Role Guide, a structure suggested by workplace consultancy Bloom.
Erin Booth, a virtual assistant coach and YouTuber, explained that VAs are unique compared to full-time employees because you’ll also need to “plan out how many hours per week or month you anticipate needing assistance.”
In all cases, don’t forget to make it easy for someone to apply—give them the instructions you want them to follow.
4. Ask the right interview questions
If you put a call for applications on a large platform like Upwork, chances are you won’t have time to interview or screen every single candidate. In these cases, use video interviewing platforms to manage the process.
In contrast, if you get a trusted referral or a couple of high-quality reach outs, you can connect live to interview them (either in-person, if you’re both in the same area, or via video chat).
For both cases, focus on asking questions that give you confidence this person can stick around for the long term.
- Types of work they are good at / strongest.
- For them to talk through examples of work they’ve done that’s similar to yours — or if they are new, what experience(s) they have that shows they are qualified for the role.
When grading interviews and ultimately making a decision to hire someone, Booth said to pay particular attention to tone and body language, nonverbal cues that make up 65% of interview communications.
5. Set your VA up for success
Whatever task you want your VA to take on, you have to empower them to do it. Booth recommends three key pieces of technology: a file sharing system, a task management platform, and a way to share passwords.
“There’s only so much a VA can do for you if you’re both starting from scratch, as in without any systems already in place,” said Booth.
Further, Booth recommends filming yourself doing certain tasks if there’s a specific way you like it done (screen recording if a digital task). That way you can show your VA how you want it done rather than them having to make an assumption.
“The more organized you are before you hire a VA, the faster the onboarding and learning process will be,” said Booth.
Post-onboarding is about iteration
Ok, so you have your systems set up. But there are two other things Booth cautioned against. The first is to realize and fight against perfectionist tendencies. With virtual assistants, it’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting perfection from both you and them, leading to disappointment if the first few tasks aren’t out-of-this-world amazing. Instead, realize that your working relationship can (and should) improve over time.
The second is realizing that your VA can provide great feedback if you only ask, sharing tips on how they can help you more and how you can achieve different tasks. While VAs are known for doing admin work, they often have strategic minds and are great at organizing.
Once your VA is up and running, it’s also critical to realize they are a full team member in your business. While they may not work full-time or join you in an office, they get a lot of important work done and should be assessed with long-term potential.
“Your VA isn't just an assistant, they can be a long-term member of your team,” said Booth.