Donald Gogel, president and CEO of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, once said of EAs, “A spectacular executive assistant can defy the laws of the physical world. She [or he] can see around corners.” There is no overstating the value of a skilled EA or the return CEOs will see on this investment. If they choose the right person for the job.
How do you know what to look for in an executive assistant? How do you tell the bad from the good from the spectacular?
A great EA is intuitive; she/he can tell what you want and anticipate needs. This, of course, takes time as you learn about one another, but when you find the right fit, a relationship of trust forms. It is vital that an executive assistant be able to:
- Pay attention to detail. If a person does not pay attention to the small things, he or she she will not be effective. An EA has hundreds of granular details to handle, from what time you have to be at the airport, to which meeting takes precedence, to which calls you absolutely need to take. Keeping track of the minutia is essential.
- Understand and adapt. Which appointments are more important? If you find yourself double-booked, which client or team needs your attention most? When you receive 500 emails before you’ve finished your morning coffee, which 100 need to be seen? With just a little instruction from you, your EA needs to be able to intuit what you need – and just as importantly, what you don’t need.
- Know your preferences. Are you the type of person who likes to have meetings in restaurants at lunch? Are you the type of person who likes Fridays off, and comes in early on Tuesday? Do you need to go to the gym before big client meetings? Your EA internalizes this. They use these preferences to make decisions on your behalf. This can help streamline your day and create optimal conditions for productivity.
It’s a great idea to test EAs before you hire them to see what their capabilities are, and to get a sense of their personality and demeanor. There are many tests available (typically found online) to make sure someone has the right set of capabilities, but the interview is a critical step of the process as well.
Standard questions need not apply; they won’t give you the information you need to make a good decision. You want to ask questions that put him or her into the job right away: “Tell me about a time when you had a CEO who had to be in two places at once. How did you handle that? Tell me about a time when you had to make travel arrangements for an executive on short notice and couldn’t get the hotel he/she preferred. What did you do?” These types of real-world scenarios can give you insight into a potential EA’s ability to intuitively understand your needs, focus on detail, and make sound decisions.
It can take two or three tries before you find the right fit. It’s not a bad idea – in fact, it’s a great one – to go through a temp agency so you’re not hiring and having to let people go. You can bring a potential executive assistant on board and see iff he or she works in your particular organization and environment. If so, great. If not, you try again. It is worth the effort in the end because EAs are so effective and provide a tremendous return for your time and effort.