How to Hire a Rockstar Executive Assistant

How to Hire a Rockstar Executive Assistant

Phoenix Normand 08/11/2018 7

Clearly, we need to start from scratch. So throw everything you think you know about recruiting top tier Executive Assistants out the window. Execs: Stop using all of the Mad Men, Ballers, and Entourage episodes as a reference. Grab a Diet Coke, the iPad and Apple Pen your previous EA bought you, and get ready to scribble. EAs: Pay close attention, here. Some of you have some work to do as well. Let's begin.

The Resume

  1. Check the vibe. Look for resumes that have a nice, clean design and that look like some actual formatting went into them vs. just filling in a bad, 1990's-style, Word template. This is the first indicator that the candidate is passionate about their first impression, is aware of their audience, and has made an effort to stand out from the crowd. NO TYPOS. Not even one.

  2. Just the facts, ma'am. I personally despise resumes with cheesy objectives and lengthy "look at me" paragraphs that do little more than talk about how good they are at the the other 4,329 resumes in the inbox. The basics are a baseline expectation now. They don't make you special. Instead, I teach EAs to lead with their wins in each of the roles they list on their resumes. If you've saved the company money, made the company money, or created an efficiency of some sort that did either or both, or have skills/education/certifications or have successfully absorbed another role above your pay grade that saved the company an additional headcount or two, that's what I'd want to see first. Save the calendaring, correspondence and travel planning prowess for the end. WE KNOW. It's implicit in "Executive" vs. "Administrative" Assistant. But what makes you special? That's what to look for.

  3. Head to the bottom of page 2 of the resume and look for activities, associations and affiliations that require some sort of consistency, training and execution in-the-moment, people management skills, and accountability. Earned your Black Belt in Kenpo? Sweet! Owned your own small business? Perfect! Ride and show horses on the weekends? Nice! Coordinate volunteers for a Habitat for Humanity local chapter? Hired! The goal is to find a nice balance between left and right brain and activities that require the use of both...especially under duress and depending solely on one's own devices. This will pay off when shit hits the fan at the most important conference of your life. Will you have a warrior or a wuss?

  4. Calm down with the college requirements. I know Execs with advanced degrees who can barely "work" the Uber app or grasp the choreography of dialing into the same weekly conference call they've been attending for the past year-point-five. Yes, college provides some great education, culpability, time management and execution-under-deadline skills. But let's face it. Most people are working in an industry that has absolutely nothing to do with the parchment they put themselves into debt to get. EAs are no different. My degree is in European Studies and Humanities with aspirations of one day running The Louvre. I became a master of all-things-administrative who used to sit on the other side of the desk from Jack Dorsey trying to figure out which nostril the piercing for his nose ring was in. #ohlife Experience, acumen, self-awareness, intuition, and soft skills trump collegiate education in this role. #facts. The best EAs have lived a little, have gone through some shit, are a little aggressive, and show up on a resume with a results orientation as opposed to the new grad, "what's in it for me," zero experience, BS resumes I consistently see that actually score the roles but fail out in 4 months. I know EAs with High School diplomas who absolutely mop the floor with some of these "Assistant for now" college grads. Jobs, Zuck, Gates, Dorsey, Ellison, Branson, Wintour...not college grads. Again, calm down. Look for the diamond.

The Interview(s)

  1. Please stop handing your first (recruiting) impression to unprepared, fresh out of school, under-socialized "children." I can't tell you how many phone screens I've had where I've completely NOPE-d the company from consideration because the 21-year old on the other side of the conversation was clearly reviewing my resume for the first time while I was on the phone....and showed up 6 minutes late for the call. Top EAs are intuitive like that. We are masters of cool under pressure and have bullshit detectors that rival the CIA. Stop wasting our time. Give us a pro from the jump.

  2. Be original with your questions. We all have canned answers to every question you Googled for the "Top 10 Candidate Questions of 2018"...just like our previous 5 interviewers. We did, too, and we already know which order you'll be asking them and have mastered and memorized the answers we will tell you that will make you think we're the best thing since flugelbinders. Take some damn time and create questions that are germane to the role and to what/whom you're looking for, specifically. We like a challenge. Bring it! If we can recite your questions and the order you ask them... #deuces

  3. Take it to Starbucks. This is the best way for the Exec and the Assistant to engage on a more human level. You know, the way they will communicate going forward. By moving the EA/exec interview to a venue outside of work it allows each to see how they behave/react in a public environment. If the EA is overly nervous or non-talkative, that's a sign of under socialization. If the Exec is distracted and constantly staring at his Apple watch, that's an immediate sign that they're unfocused, especially during an incredibly important interview. Grace under pressure and in non-curated environments often exposes those tidbits of information that can make or break a potential partnership right from the jump. The best interview I've ever had was over dinner with a previous CEO. He asked me this question: "From what you've learned about the company/product so far and if you were the CEO, what would you do differently?" I'm a bit of a smart ass so I think I answered, "Everything." He laughed, mightily, and I gave my honest, solicitedfeedback based on my observations during my interview cycle, my expertise, and my experience with what's worked well at my previous companies that seemed to be deficient in his. I was hired the following morning. My first six-digit salary as an EA. He and I would regularly have lunches and dinners with him asking my opinion about the product, certain employees, company morale, etc. I mattered. And he constantly made the effort to prove that I did.

  4. BE. ON. TIME. Seriously, people. I realize things are crazy at your 5-year old "startup" because you're sooooo busy. Snaps for you. But if I'm making the effort to arrive at my interview 5-10 minutes early and you show up 5-15 minutes late to the very first interview of 8 you've scheduled for me, that gives me 10-25 minutes to ponder whether or not I'd actually want to work at your company based on such a shitty first impression. BE. ON. TIME! Especially for the first interview. If timing shifts a bit because some conversations run long that's actually less annoying than having to be made to wait.
Pro tip: I purposely show up about 10 minutes early for my interviews, because I like to sit in the reception area and spy. I listen to how the receptionist answers the phone and how employees interact with her/him. I eavesdrop on conversations of employees heading to or returning from the elevator. Many of the "man, f*ck this place..." conversations that I've overheard from employees walking past while waiting for my interview have actually dissuaded me from taking the job.

The Offer

  1. Come correct. Lowballing a rockstar EA, especially in this market, is a HUGE mistake. There are not enough of us to go around. Sure, you can hire one of our B-team or a new grad and hope they can keep up. But, remember, you'll also need to adjust your expectations accordingly. Where you shoot yourself is that you don't. You saddle them with way more than they can handle or have experience/aptitude for, treat them like shit when they can't keep up, and burn them right out the door, often less than a year later. Just to start a lengthy, time-consuming recruiting cycle again from scratch. An expensive endeavor indeed. Had you spent the extra $20K from the jump on the rockstar EA who could hit the ground sprinting, this bullet wouldn't even appear in this article. If you're struggling with the number and the "optics" of paying an EA that much then it's clear you have no idea what you're doing and should just hire two college kids at half the pay and pray they can figure it out. Oh. Right. You tried that, too. Here's a thought: attend one less international conference this year. That aggregate reg fee/business class ticket/hotel/Uber rides/meals with colleagues expense should more than cover the gap between what the EA is asking and what you are offering. Done. You're welcome.

  2. Have their manager or, preferably, the CEO present the offer. "But CEOs are sooooooo busy!" Shhhhhh. You're missing the point. There's nothing that can make an employee feel more special than getting an offer from the Big Cheese. Optics, people! We should be considered clients just like you bend over backward for the clients who pay you. A 5-minute phone call from the CEO with a super strong offer makes it that much more special and that much harder to pass up. My last CEO made a point of doing this and it made me drop my life in California and move to Denver without even thinking twice. Let the CEO (or manager) close the deal. Let the 21-year old HR generalist handle the minutiae.

  3. ONBOARD. THEM. The absolute quickest way to give a new employee buyers' remorse is to completely botch or ghost out on their onboarding. I wrote a fantastic article about it. Wanna see it? Here it go. Onboarding EAs is a bit different. Luckily, we have the gift of FITFO so we'll always be okay. But simply showing us where the bathrooms, kitchen and supplies closet are is not reeeeeeally the onboarding we are hoping for. It actually doesn't need to be as comprehensive as that of other employees (though it should, by default), but at least give us four days with the previous EA...two days to imbibe and observe, and two days to do the do. A quick daily check-in with our Exec should be mandatory the first week to help build the relationship, gauge how each other is adjusting, suggest, course correct, etc. Sadly, what often happens is previous EA splits. Exec is reeling from calendar backup and the disappointment (read: infuriation) of the previous EA leaving. New EA walks in, is plunked down at the desk, and is immediately thrown into crisis mode. They have no idea who the IT contact is. Are approached immediately by employees looking for time with their boss. Get less than 5 minutes of face time with their boss that morning. All while mitigating the stress and anxiety of being somewhere completely unfamiliar, with a whole new set of acronyms to learn/comprehend, with the fear of asking questions and being perceived as "needy," blah blah blah. SLOW YOUR ROLL. Onboard your EA. It will pay HUGE dividends on the backend and keep the weekly, higher-paying poach attempts at bay.

In Conclusion

If you follow the above, to the letter, I can assure you that you will find the EA of your dreams. Most of this applies to candidates for other roles as well. We each have a responsibility to show up as the best representation of ourselves. My professional life is now centered around helping EAs to do just that. Your turn. Executives and companies need to get over their own entitlement and B-minus execution and actually make the effort to attract and retain the best EAs in the biz. Like I've said before: "Just like you constantly remind us that we're not the only game in town, you're not either." Level up. Pay up. Team up. Then, go make some history.


EAs: Beat a path to Be among the best EAs in the biz for advice, tips+tricks, education, meetups, and internal referrals for recruiting opportunities at the TOP companies worldwide.

Execs and internal recruiters: I "heal" EA/Exec relationships onsite. For 3 days I fly to you, observe, remedy process inefficiencies and comms gaps 1:1 with the EA, and conclude with a detailed 30-day plan to create a strong, galvanized, hyper efficient team, with follow-up coaching sessions for the EA to make it stick. HIGHLY effective and will extract you from the expensive, EA revolving door you may be caught in. DM me for more info.

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  • Ryan Johnstone

    I think "visionary" EAs are able to see both the vision of their company, and a vision for their particular place and role. Good EAs don't have to be the top dog.

  • Andrew Hankin

    Great advices

  • Karl Bowdrey

    Look for someone who can love the business, and the job they are doing.

  • Mark Goddard

    This is great but - how do you find people like this?

  • Holly Simpkin

    As a recruiter, I was not trained to think like this but it's true.

  • Thomas Brooke

    Excellent article

  • Cody Parrill

    Must read !!!!!

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Phoenix Normand

Society Expert

Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.


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