In the digital world, we have gotten used to answering our own phones and email when it comes to business. Hiring an administrative assistant to run your office, however, may be the best investment (and decision) you can make. An assistant is one of the most important people in your business life. He or she is the person your clients meet before getting to you, and they are someone who makes your professional (and even personal life) run smoothly. Yet, it’s a job most financial advisors invest very little time interviewing for.
That’s a big mistake. A hire who doesn’t work out can hurt your productivity and even your reputation.
“People think it’s a simple thing, and it’s no big deal to hire an assistant, but this is a problem,” says Joan Burge, author of Become an Inner Circle Assistant. “You have to put time and effort into it if you want to get the right person. The idea should be to get a very good match – a person who will stay and grow with you.”
Today’s executive assistants are not just secretaries who answer phones and take dictation. They are smart, talented problem solvers who are driven. They have leadership skills which enable them to do your job when you’re not there, and they understand your business.
Ellen Rudnick, executive director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, says while an assistant can feel like a luxury, it can often be a wise hire.
Before running an ad or meeting candidates, it’s important to identify and create a detailed job description. Clearly identify and define the duties – even the mundane tasks, like: answering the phone, managing your CRM, tracking down dividends, copying, etc. you expect the executive assistant to do. Clear expectations on both sides go a long way toward ensuring a good fit.
Put some thought to who this person is. Think about behavioral traits and personality – yours and the future assistant’s. You’ll want someone who is organized, self-motivated, has a positive attitude, and winning people skills, but personality can be a bit tricky. Do you want someone who comes across as no-nonsense and serious, or do you want someone who is more relaxed and carefree? Consider screening prospective team members by having them take the Myers-Briggs personality test to see how compatible he or she is with you and the rest of your team.
In the interviews, your key objectives are to find out if the applicant can really do the job and will he or she fit into your work culture.
You don’t want to hire a clone of yourself. “One of the biggest mistakes advisors make is hiring someone because they are like you, you like them, or think they would be fun to work with,” says Bob Cobb, founder of the Advisor Business Institute consultancy in Woodland, FL. “The Number one thing to look for is someone who has complementary skills. If you’re a rainmaker, you don’t want another rainmaker, but someone to do the paperwork.”
When interviewing, don’t ask questions which give you yes/no answers. Instead, structure questions which require the candidate to think and talk. Adam M. Kleinbaum, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, suggests a well-handled first interview can be the key to making the right hire. “An interviewer can ask what kind of organizations the applicant has enjoyed working for or hasn’t, what ways they’ve gone about work has gone well for them, what hasn’t,” he says. “This is obviously easier to do in organizations which are clear about their own values.”
Once you have identified your finalists, correspond with them via email and phone so you can get a feel for their writing and communication skill sets. Also, be sure to meet with them outside the office – say over lunch or a drink – to see how they act and react. Pay attention to how they are dressed and how they conduct themselves outside the office environment.
Don’t forget to check references – at least three. Finding a great executive assistant is only the beginning. Grooming them and keeping them is a real challenge.
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