This post is the second in a four-part series on hiring and working with your dream Virtual Assistant. You can find part one: When Should I Hire a Virtual Assistant here.
As a former VA, I get asked a lot — I mean A LOT — how to hire a Virtual Assistant. Most of the time, however, what they’re really saying is: “I don’t want to do this. Where can I find someone to do it for me?”
That question misses the point. It’s often followed by the next question, which was asked on my blog after my last article.
“…how can I trust a virtual assistant won’t sabotage my efforts for their own nefarious purposes? How can I find a reputable, committed VA?”
How to Hire a VA You Trust
Nefarious purposes. What a great phrase. And the question is a good one. As business owners we work hard at what we do. How do we know the people we bring into our business and share our dreams with won’t turn around and use that to destroy everything we’ve worked for?
We build relationships with the people on our team.
Let’s be honest here. There is no way to know for certain the people you work with won’t steal your stuff. Almost daily you can find stories in the news of trusted employees, occasionally even family members, who went from prized member of a company to embezzling scoundrel. It happens. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often, and it rarely happens with a professional Virtual Assistant. In fact, in over 10 years, I’ve never heard of it happening once.
The key is building relationships. And it’s a two way street. You need to care as much about your VA and her business as she cares about yours.
But let’s not be foolish. When looking for your dream VA: A long-term Virtual Assistant who cares as much about your business as you do, there are definitely things to be aware of. You should not, for example, hop on a computer, spend 30 minutes looking and expect to find someone who will be your right-hand woman.
The Most Important Thing to Look for When Hiring a VA
Believe it or not, the most important thing to consider when hiring a VA isn’t a particular skill set. It isn’t even something specific like honestly, loyalty or flexibility.
The most important criteria to use for hiring a VA that will become your right hand woman is personality. Skills and systems, programs and procedures can all be taught and developed over time. Personality, however, won’t change and a VA’s personality reveals a whole lot.
Unfortunately, uncovering personality isn’t as easy as putting out an ad on Craig’s List and hiring the first person who responds. You have to put time into this process. It’s one of the reasons I recommend starting early when looking for the perfect VA and starting with just a few hours a week. You need get to learn more about each other.
Personality Traits of Fantastic VAs
Before you can determine what you are looking for in your VA, you need to look at your own personality. If you want a VA who cares about your business you will need to hire someone who takes initiative and isn’t afraid to let you know if she has a better solution. You seriously need to think about this.
In ten years of working with clients as a professional virtual assistant, I learned that just about every business owner would tell me at the beginning of our interview process they liked collaboration and hoped I will bring my ideas to the table. This turned out to be true only about half of the time.
In fact, the number one reason I fired clients over the years is because they didn’t listen to me as a professional but instead treated me like an admin who didn’t have a stake in the game. Those clients were looking for a goat when what they needed was an eagle.
The Eagle and the Goat
When I first became a Virtual Assistant, our trainer told us a story about an eagle, a goat and an idyllic farm.
In this beautiful scene there are all of the typical things you’d find at a farm. There are horses in the field, kittens in the barn, and goats in a pen. Maybe there are even some ducks in the pond and a few chickens scattered about. It’s a beautiful sunny day, the perfect temperature, and everything is working as it should. Overhead an eagle circles on the breeze.
As we look at the different parts of the farm we see the chickens pecking quietly at the ground. They’re minding their own business, eating bugs and scratching the ground. They are basically doing their chicken thing.
Then there are goats. The goats are happy as can be eating grass and climbing on their little piles of dirt and being goats. They aren’t trying to be a chicken because they don’t know how to be a chicken. They are goats and being a goat, in this barnyard at least, is a very good thing.
As we zoom out, we see an eagle soaring above but ever watchful on the scene below.
Suddenly, one of the chicks starts following a particularly fast little bug. It is intrigued by the bug and follows it right towards the moving tractor. The farmer, high up in his seat is oblivious.
The eagle swoops down, calling calmly to the mother hen while moving swiftly towards the impending doom of tractor versus chick. It works. Her eagle eye and lightening fast dive moves the chick back towards the waiting mama hen and out of the way of the tractor. The eagle saved the day! All thanks to the eagle, who was keeping a watchful eye over the farmyard.
Oh, but let’s not forget about the goats. The goats are still happily in their pen, expertly chewing their grass. They are goats, after all and that is what they do.
Is Your Dream VA an Eagle or a Goat?
When looking for your first VA, you need to decide if you want an eagle or a goat. Do you want someone to oversee what you do and be ready to warn you if there’s a problem? Or, do you want someone who is an expert at one or two tasks and completes those tasks perfectly with no questions asked?
Lest you think this little scene disparages goats and VAs, let me tell you with great confidence that there are many VAs out there who pride themselves on their goat-ness. They have no desire to be watching over all areas of your business, instead they’d rather focus on just one or two things. Every successful business needs both eagles and goats to thrive.
If what you’re looking for in a VA is an eagle, you are not looking for someone to just say yes and do exactly what you ask every single time. At the beginning of your relationship perhaps. Long term, however, you want someone willing to grow and collaborate with you. Someone to challenge you and be allowed to feel like she has ownership in the success of your business. You want someone who is drama free, who has leadership potential so someday she can help you to build your team. You want to think long term.
Interviewing to Hire a Virtual Assistant: It Should be All About Them
Hiring a really great VA isn’t really any different than hiring a person to work in an office with you. When you hire someone to work with you in person, you have them come in, you talk to them and you get a feel for the type of person they are and whether or not you’d be compatible. Once you know you’ll get along you start talking about the specifics of the job. There is a process you go through.
It surprises me that most business owners throw that process out the window when it comes to hiring online. Instead of taking time to figure out if this is a person they’d like to work with long term, most business owners jump in by asking first what skills the VA has and then explaining only what they need as an employer. There is little or no regard given to the VA as a person: her personality, her work-style and whether or not she will be a good fit for your business.
If you want to hire a VA that will be with you for the long term, who truly cares about your business, you need to care about the VA first. About her business and what is important to her. You need to treat her like a warm-blooded human being with goals and dreams and aspirations. She is not just a robot on the other end of the internet who is waiting to steal your information. Interview her, the same way you’d interview someone sitting right across from you.
I suggest two interviews. The first is to get to know each other and find out if you are compatible. The second interview is to go a little deeper. Sure that will take time, but time spent getting to know her before you are in the middle of a project is time well spent. Set up first interviews with candidates you think might be a good fit. Then set up second interviews with those who are the strongest candidates. Each interview should take about a half hour, but plan enough time in case the interview goes really well and you want to keep going.
Where to Find Fantastic VAs
Now that you understand how to figure out if a VA is a good fit, you’re ready to start looking.
As I mentioned earlier, there are different types of VAs in the world. There are eagles and there are goats. At the beginning of your business, chances are you are looking for an eagle VA willing to learn and do a few goat tasks while you are beginning to work together.
If this is the first person you’re bringing into your business, start small. Find a VA you are compatible with but may need training. She’ll be less expensive than a full-time professional VA and can learn exactly the systems and processes you use in your business.
Really narrow down your search to someone with some experience. Look for a few of the skills you want your VA to have, but don’t make proficiency in those skills a deal breaker. Just about any skill can be taught. The exception would be if it is a skill that you need that you absolutely must have someone else do for you. This type of Virtual Assistant will range from $5/hour for an overseas contractor to $40 or more for someone in the US. Often the skill sets are exactly the same, the cost of living in each country is just vastly different.
If you want a long-term relationship with a highly trained, professional VA, start with a VA training or certification service. A professional VA is less likely to take on just one client or start out small and grow with your business. She’s running her own business and needs a certain number of clients to make that business work. Oftentimes, she may have a minimum number of hours she’ll work for you each week. Professional VAs will often work on retainer.
Becoming a Favored Client
Treating your VA as a person, the same way you would if she worked next to you each day, is the fastest way to develop her loyalty. She will make mistakes. She’s not going to do everything perfectly the first time. You need to train her the same way you train any new hire. Although she’ll likely know most of the systems you use, she won’t know how to use them the way you do. In some cases, her process may be better. Be willing to consider your way may not always be the best way and let her know you value her opinions when you do.
Next week we’ll talk about how to effectively work with the new Virtual Assistant you just hired.
But right now, let me know in the comments below. What are your biggest questions about finding a VA who loves working with you and treats your business as her own?
Read part three of the series: How to Successfully Work with a Virtual Assistant