A few months ago I was lucky enough to speak at this year’s National Home Staging Symposium about how to find and work with a virtual assistant (VA).
As well as being a VA myself, I’ve hired and managed teams of VAs for my clients and for my own business. This enabled me to share the process I recommend for choosing a virtual assistant once you’ve been inundated with candidates.
Before I run through that process, you probably want to know…
Where I find virtual assistants
I combine reaching out to individual VAs who meet my detailed VA role scope and posting job listings which are nearly as detailed as that scope.
While seek.com.au may be your go-to job board for hiring admin staff for an office, I’ve found that most experienced VAs aren’t using it as their primary avenue for job leads – they’re looking for clients and not employers. Seek will get you a majority of candidates who either aren’t available, set up, and/or tech-savvy enough to start remote work immediately. I just can’t justify the fee to list when there are plenty of free avenues available.
I also don’t use Upwork as I am not interested in cheap labour and I don’t agree with their policies around booting out members based on unsuccessful tenders.
So what do I use?
LinkedIn is great for searching for virtual assistants. I log in, then use the search bar with “virtual assistant [keyword]”, where [keyword] relates to the experience I am looking for such as ‘Infusionsoft’ or ‘property development’.
I then filter by location – most of the time this is just ‘Australia’ as I only build teams of local VAs, though you may want someone local to you (e.g. property developers may want a VA who is familiar with local council processes) or in a different timezone (e.g. I’m in NSW and I’ve engaged WA based virtual assistants to extend standard work hours).
Once I’ve found a VA I read their profile and if they have one, their website. I only reach out via LinkedIn message or email inviting them to apply for my role if they meet the VA job scope I’ve already prepared.
You can also post job listings on LinkedIn, though you need to pay per click and already have a LinkedIn company page set up. I plan on testing out this feature soon and reporting back, so sign up to our mailing list to receive an update.
As a virtual assistant, I’m lucky to have a huge pool of Facebook groups to network with other VAs and post my job listings. Most of these groups accept only virtual assistants as members, though there is no reason why you can’t provide the group admins with your job listing to post on your behalf.
The best Facebook groups I’ve found which operate primarily as job boards for VAs are ‘Virtual Assistant Tribe Job Board‘ and ‘Virtual Assistant (VA) Jobs Australia‘, though as I mentioned, I don’t limit myself to just these ones.
If you ask your industry colleagues if there is anyone they would recommend, chances are you are going to find a virtual assistant who has experience in your industry.
It doesn’t hurt to ask your friends and family either, as they might have an insight into the type of person suited to your work style or personality.
Put the job listing in an email so that they can forward it on to the VAs they know.
If I’m after someone with a very specific skillset and/or location, or the above options just aren’t finding me the perfect candidate, I will search using Google. e.g. ‘virtual assistant Australia Infusionsoft’, ‘virtual assistant film industry’ or ‘virtual assistant receptionist’.
Onto my rapid hire process!
The overall idea here is to spend more time upfront preparing for your hiring process, though let’s look at these in the order they are needed:
Job scope & listing
Preparing a job scope will help you to write a clear job listing – you want to avoid answering the same questions over and over.
You also want to focus on exactly what you’re looking for, so you don’t waste time contacting VAs who aren’t a good match.
Finally, your job scope will be handy to have in front of you as a guide when you’re speaking to a potential VA on the phone.
Direct applicants to a form with lots of questions
Have an extensive list of questions for candidates to answer in order to apply for the role so that you aren’t wasting time on the phone with every applicant.
Use something like Google Forms or Survey Monkey to have all your responses feeding into the one spreadsheet and make sure one of those questions collects their email address – I’ll explain why below.
Create a ‘secret’ test question
This is a brilliant idea I learnt from one of my clients.
Make one question in the form that really tests each candidate to help the good ones stand out. Something along the lines of how they would go about solving a particular problem or handling a client situation even you find tricky.
For any virtual assistants reading this… I always put this question in a random position!
Go to the spreadsheet where all the candidate responses are and find the column that has that difficult question.
Now work your way down that column and only read the answers to that question. As you read each candidate’s answer, colour each row with grey for answered poorly and yellow to take that candidate to the next round.
Only spend time reading the answers to the other questions when the candidate is highlighted yellow. As you read the answers to the remaining questions, you can still change a row from yellow to grey and immediately stop reading the rest of their answers so you can power through the list.
Ask candidates to send you a calendar invite
Email the virtual assistants you want to take to the next stage and arrange a time for a phone call. Ask them to send you a calendar invite for the call – it’s a simple task they should be able to do. A good VA is always thinking about how to make communication clearer and how to make life easier for their clients – I’d expect them to use the calendar invite to identify who is calling the other person and the phone number that will be used.
Have another set of questions ready for those phone calls
I have another spreadsheet open during my phone interviews with the next round of questions.
I have the questions set out along the top row and I fill in a new row for each virtual assistant while I’m on the phone, so that I can remember which VA said what.
Don’t keep all of these easy – you want to know that they know their stuff! Ask questions that relate to the jobs you would have them do, such as… Tell me what you’ve learnt about managing someone else’s calendar or inbox?
If you’re going to ask someone to manage your calendar, you don’t want someone who is focussed on colour coding your life – you want someone who knows it is important to adapt to your work style.
You can ask them questions similar to the test question in the first form, such as “Explain a time when X happened and how did you handle it?”
Test the finalists
Hopefully, you’ve had enough candidates to still be struggling to choose between a few. Even if you only have one you’re happy with, I would still proceed with setting them a test.
Make it relevant to the type of work you will have them doing, e.g. get them to:
- Fill out an order form with limited instructions to see how they handle operating with minimal detail and direction
- Proofread an email after you’ve riddled it with errors
- Transcribe something you recorded
- Format a document
Email in bulk
Remember how you included email addresses in the list of questions in the first application form? Go to that email column and select all the cells of VAs you don’t want to proceed with – you can select all of the relevant cells at the same time (hold down CTRL (PC) or COMMAND (Mac) while you keep selecting cells, then paste them in the BCc (the blind copy field) of the email advising the role is filled.
This doesn’t just save you time sending individual emails, it also saves time by stopping candidates following up and providing you with individual emails to reply to.
It’s also good manners!
Stalk them on social media
Finally, before you decide to offer a VA work, be sure stalk them on social media to make sure they are the type of person you want representing your business.