Between checking in with team members, reviewing budgets, and overseeing product development, you hardly have time left to grab lunch, let alone book your next trip to visit customers or investors.
You’ve finally decided you need help.
Whether it’s keeping you on schedule, having someone you can delegate smaller tasks to, or simply having a trusted “right-hand” that you can confide in and rely on, an assistant can be an invaluable asset to you and your business.
You know you need help, but you’re unsure of what type of help you need. You’re asking questions like:
Should I hire a personal assistant, an executive or business assistant, an administrative assistant, or a chief of staff?
What are the differences between these roles?
How do I go about finding the right person?
How do I make sure they’re paid appropriately?
This article sets out four simple steps you can take to figure out the sort of assistant you need, what they’ll do, and how much they should be paid.
Maybe you’re the founder of a start-up or early-stage company, a small business owner and entrepreneur, or a senior executive—perhaps even the CEO—of a larger business.
Regardless, this article will help you feel more confident that you know the right job description to put up, the right salary to pitch, and the right places to hire a personal assistant without a ton of hassle.
4 Simple Steps to Hire an Assistant
Step 1: Figure out what you need help with
The first step to hiring an assistant is to dig into what you actually need help with. It’s not enough to just wave your hands in the air and cry for help. The responsibility, salary, and level of impact of a chief of staff, for example, can be quite different from an administrative assistant.
You’ll need to take a methodical, analytical, and introspective approach to determine the type of assistant who will most benefit you and your organization.
What are your personal pain points?
You’re human, and like all humans, you have your limits. Maybe you caught yourself on your phone during your child’s birthday party booking a business trip (guilty!), or you feel like you have no one to lean on at work when you want to take a vacation. Having a healthy work-life balance, for example, is often the driving force behind the need to hire a personal assistant or executive assistant.
Tip: Make a list of your personal pain points, whether it’s a need to have a trusted right-hand who can act on your behalf when you’re out of the office or a reliable individual who can reorder office supplies and pick up coffee.
What are the organization’s pain points?
As a leader within your organization, your time is precious. As the organization grows you’ll want to spend more time growing your team, developing products, and seeing customers. One-on-one meetings with your team members, for example, will become a priority over trying to find a new vendor for your office supplies.
Increasingly, people will look to you to define the company vision and set organizational strategy, rather than figure out a new way of processing expenses. And as they get busier, and their time becomes more precious, your team members will want you to show up to meetings on time and well-prepared.
Tip: Make a list of what you think your organization’s pain points are, then talk with team members and ask them what they think they are. They may not match, and coming to a common understanding of how an assistant can help is key to knowing the type of assistant to hire.
What am I willing (and not willing) to delegate?
In most small- and medium-sized businesses everyone wears multiple hats, and if you’re the founder or owner, you’re probably wearing the most. This makes delegation hard, but also makes it necessary as the organization grows. This step requires some deep introspection into how much day-to-day control you’re actually willing and able to give up.
Deciding what tasks and small projects you are (and are not) willing to delegate will impact the sort of assistant you want to hire.
To do this, track your activities over the course of a week, and analyze them.
Make a list of everything you did each day, and approximately what percentage of your time was spent on each.
Highlight those activities that directly contributed to advancing or growing the organization. Make note of ones that you wish you could have spent more time on.
Highlight those activities that you think you could have delegated to someone capable of who you trust.
Review at the end of the week, assign yourself an hourly wage (maybe you pay yourself $50/hour) and determine whether you would pay someone else at that rate to do all of the tasks on your list. If not, it’s probably time to hire a personal assistant.
Step 2: Decide on the type of assistant you need
Based on what you need you can now decide on what type of assistant to hire, as well as where they need to be (remote or in-office) and how often you need them (full-time or part-time).
Personal Assistant: personal support for you
We’ve all heard of personal assistants (PAs), but what exactly does a personal assistant do? A personal assistant is generally responsible for a wide variety of tasks:
Administrative support e.g. tracking expenses and filing expense reports, preparing meeting agendas, note-taking, and dictation, printing and filing
Schedule management e.g. scheduling meetings and calls, renting external meeting spaces, general calendar management
Travel coordination e.g. setting itineraries, booking flights and hotels, planning customer events
Communication liaison e.g. screening phone calls, responding to emails
Personal assistance e.g. picking up dry-cleaning, grabbing coffee, walking your dogs
A personal assistant (also known as an executive personal assistant in some cases) is dedicated to supporting only you. In the business world, however, and particularly within smaller organizations, the title “personal assistant” is not common. In fact, a recent LinkedIn jobs search yielded no open positions across Canada.
Executive Assistant: business support for you (and maybe others)
An executive assistant (EA) is the most typical type of personal assistant and operates as your trusted “right-hand”. It is common for an EA to support other executives within your organization, in addition to you. An executive assistant will have similar clerical and administrative responsibilities as a PA, listed above, but will typically be focused more on supporting you in your business life, rather than your personal life. Additional responsibilities of an EA can include:
Financial management e.g. overseeing CEO and other executive budgets
Process creation e.g. new administrative and clerical processes
In her book, “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”, Jan Jones, who finished her career as the executive assistant to the world-famous personal development icon Tony Robbins, described how she, “made coffee, typed letters, answered phones, organized travel, hired and managed teams, set up and run administration operations, managed small businesses, developed and run projects big and small, operating as an extension of my bosses, always vigilant about their businesses, while also playing the role of their confidant, adviser, champion, and friend.”
Administrative Assistant: support for the entire team
An administrative assistant is responsible for clerical and administrative support for the entire organization. As a result, they will be less focused on supporting you or other executives, and more focused on tasks that help everyone in the company.
Depending on the size of your organization they may report directly to you or some other senior leader or executives, such as the Chief Human Resource Officer or Chief Executive Officer. They may also be referred to as an “office assistant”, or depending on the level of seniority and responsibility, an “office manager”.
An administrative assistant typically has broad company-wide responsibilities, such as:
Office management: ordering office supplies, managing vendors and cleaning staff
Event coordination: planning company parties, organizing customer meetings
Customer relations: front desk reception, receiving customer calls
Depending on the size of your organization, you may end up with a hybrid of an executive and administrative assistant.
Chief of Staff: senior-level strategic partner
The role of chief of staff (COS) is less common than that of an executive assistant and is poorly understood in a business context. This is partly because it uniquely combines some of the more strategic responsibilities of a senior leader or executive with the more typical responsibilities of an EA, and partly because it is more often associated with the world of politics.
The COS almost always reports to the Chief Executive Officer. In addition to the responsibilities of an executive assistant outlined above, the COS will often:
Act as proxy and stand-in for the CEO at meetings
Manage a portfolio of projects on behalf of the CEO
Act as a business advisor to the CEO
Manage organizational business rhythms, like board meetings and leadership retreats
Manage strategic planning and budgeting for company executives
In his book, “Chief of Staff”, Tyler Parris defines the COS as, “a catch-all role, filled by someone with exceptional organizational and people skills, who handles all manner of tasks not covered by an existing member of an executive’s leadership team or administrative staff.”
He also offers a more comprehensive outline of the typical duties of a chief of staff.
Step 3: Create a job description, determine compensation, and hire!
You know what type of assistant to hire and the types of duties they will be responsible for, so now it’s time to craft a job description, determine how much you’re prepared to pay the person, and get hiring!
Creating an assistant job description
How do you create a job description for the assistant you want to hire? You can start creating the job description using the list of tasks you identified in Step (1), combined with some of the example personal assistant responsibilities and personal assistant duties listed in Step (2), depending on the type of assistant. In your job posting, make sure to also include:
Other benefits and perks of working for your organization.
How closely they’ll be working with you and other executives.
The broad impact the position can have on the company’s success.
Expected behaviors and personal qualities.
Required/desired qualifications and experience.
Talented candidates place significant value on working with senior leadership and want to know that what they’re doing means something.
Part-time or full-time, remote or local
In addition to the title and job description, and before you decide on things like salary and compensation, you’ll need to decide on whether you need a full-time (~40 hours-per-week) employee or someone to come in on more of a part-time basis. There are pros and cons to each, and you should consider the following:
Costs: part-time employment will cost you less, both in salary and possibly medical and health benefits.
Availability of talent: there are typically more individuals seeking full-time employment, so making it a part-time position may limit the number of possible candidates.
Scaling up / down: if you over or underestimate how much work you have for an assistant, it could be difficult to make a full-time employee part-time, or vice versa.
Learning curve: an assistant who works closely with you full-time may get up to speed and become effective earlier than one who works part-time.
You will also need to decide how important it is for your assistant to be physically present in the office with you and your team.
There are many different models for remote and virtual work, with their own advantages and disadvantages, and deciding on where your assistant is located, as well as whether they will be an online personal assistant, will largely be guided by their duties and your own personal preferences.
Determining how much an assistant should be paid
How much should an administrative assistant be paid? Should you pay them an hourly rate or an annual salary? The answer to these questions again depends on the role, their responsibilities, and whether they are full or part-time.
Typically, a full-time assistant would receive a total compensation package, which would include an annual salary, medical and health benefits, and other financial perks.
The following table summarizes typical salaries in Canada according to various public salary sources for the executive assistant and administrative assistant positions, which are the most common assistant positions.
* Based on converting hourly rate to 40 hours per week for 52 weeks.
Step 4: Recruit, select, and hire!
You’ve created your new assistant’s job description, written a job posting, determined how much you’re prepared to pay, decided where they’ll work, and how often. With these key ingredients in hand, you’re ready to start searching for your ideal candidate!
How could hiring a personal assistant help you be more effective and less stressed? What benefits do you think an effective assistant could bring your organization? What type of assistant would be best for your organization, and why?