In a previous article we discussed some of the many reasons it’s great idea for the single dude to hire a personal assistant but we did not cover how exactly you might go about doing that. Today I would like to share with you my surefire way for finding the perfect personal assistant to suit your needs and your budget.
Where should my personal assistant be based?
The first question you will need to answer is: Where should my personal assistant be based? If you live in an expensive, western country having a locally based personal assistant will likely be out of your price range unless you are quite wealthy. Assuming you cannot afford that, my advice is to seek a personal assistant in Eastern Europe or perhaps in the Philippines. I generally find Eastern Europeans to be far smarter than Filipinos, all else equal, but Filipinos are generally friendly, hard working, have excellent English skills and are very cheap to hire. That said, dollar for dollar, I have always found Eastern Europeans to be the most highly educated, competent people you can hire to do this kind of work for $5 per hour or less.
Despite what you may have read in “The Four Hour Work Week” (or elsewhere), under no circumstances should you consider hiring an Indian. The retardation levels are simply off the charts, particularly among Indians working in India in call center type environments which is which covers the vast majority of people available as “virtual personal assistants”. You need to keep in mind here that you are not saving money by paying someone $2 per to spend 3 hours on a task that you can pay someone $5 an hour to do in 20 minutes. This is the kind of tradeoff you would be making to hire a cheaper Indian over a more expensive Eastern European nine times out of ten.
If you live somewhere that salaries are low enough to fit your budget you may consider both local and remote candidates, it’s up to you. Note that when seeking a remote personal assistant you will typical save even more on salaries by searching in second tier cities rather than the capital cities. It is not uncommon for wages to be double in the capital city as compared to other cities in many Eastern European countries.
How can I find the right candidate?
I strongly recommend that you advertise your personal assistant position just like any other professional office job, which is to say place an advertisement (can be free or paid) on local job websites in your target locales. You will likely be surprised by the number of responses you can generate with good ad copy. I will share with you the advertisement I used to hire one of my own personal assistants a couple of years back:
Title: Executive/Personal Assistant
Job Description: This position requires a candidate that can manage a mix of personal and business related tasks for one or more company directors and/or senior executives. Duties will include scheduling and management of calendars, travel planning, basic research on a variety of topics, purchasing of day to day items (including pickup and drop off) and other tasks as required.
Hours per week: Negotiable (minimum 20, maximum 40)
Salary: Negotiable, hourly or flat monthly compensation
- Fluent in English (written and spoken) – other languages a plus
- Basic computer skills
- Owns a laptop computer
- Organized and efficient (can effectively manage your own time and as well as ours)
- Self-directed, self-motivated and able to work independently with minimal oversight
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Able to draft concise summaries of complex topics
- Competitive salary
- Flexible schedule
- Casual work environment
- Opportunity to earn performance based bonuses
If interested please e-mail your English CV, cover letter and salary expectations in PDF format to firstname.lastname@example.org
The ad above resulted in more than 50 applicants from just one city in less than two weeks time.
The Interview Process
You know your business, personal and otherwise, better than I do so I can’t tell you what skills you’re going to need exactly but based upon that make a short list of around 10 candidates you would like to to interview. Interview your candidates in person if possible otherwise by Skype. I’m not going to cover how to perform an interview, there are thousands of resources for that online and each employer’s interview questions should be tailored to the tasks they need performed.
After your interviews are completed prepare a second short list of up to five candidates but no less than three. If you don’t have three candidates you want to advance to the next round keep advertising or look for more in other cities.
The Practical Test
You don’t want to hire somebody just based on an interview. Many people are very good bullshitters able to fool even the most skilled interviewers. The practical test is where the rubber meets the road.
Prepare a list of 10-20 tasks that will be representative of the kind of things you will require of your personal assistant. Be sure to include as wide a variety as possible. Add some items that are very clearly defined and others that will require thinking outside the box. Here is an example list that I have used, yours will be different:
- Find me the cheapest flight possible from Paris to Sydney leaving between October 1 and October 5, returning between October 5 and October 20 with at least 7 nights in Sydney (maximum time 1 hour)
- Find me the cheapest price on Now Foods Taurine Capsules delivered to my door in Barcelona (be sure to factor in taxes and duties if ordered from outside the EU) (maximum time 30 minutes)
- Come up with a few ideas for a surprise, romantic weekend getaway for my girlfriend for the weekend of September 14-16 with a budget of not more than 500 EUR (maximum time 1 hour)
- Research the cheapest, easiest way to get an extended visa for Thailand if I plan to stay for 90 days later this year (maximum time 1 hour)
- I have a broken GoPro camera that is slightly out of warranty, the serial number is XXXXXXXXX, see if you can convince them to fix or replace it anyway (maximum time 30 minutes)
- I need a wireless laser printer delivered to my current address in Barcelona within 7 days, find me the best option for 150 EUR or less (maximum time 1 hour)
- Find out the requirements to obtain citizenship in Paraguay and write me a one page or less summary that includes costs, time required and two or three law firms that can assist and have good references (maximum time 3 hours)
- Find me a maid, if possible, that can clean my apartment once per week for 25 EUR or less (maximum time 1 hour)
- I have an Utah LLC that I closed about 8 months ago, I need a “tax clearance certificate,” find out how to get it (maximum time 30 minutes)
- My dog is currently living with relatives in the United States, find out what kind of documentation, licenses, permits, etc. is required to bring him into the EU (he’s a chocolate lab weighing about 38kg if the breed matters) (maximum time 2 hours)
Now what you want to do is come to an agreement, in principal, about compensation with all of your second round top picks. The proposal you will make to them is that you will pay their requested salary on an hourly equivalent basis for this list of tasks. I recommend you provide the list in spreadsheet format and tell the candidate that she is on her honor to track her own time but that she may not exceed the maximum time limits for any task. The maximum time limits are important and protect you from an idiot, or disingenuous person that may try to bill you for three hours on a 15 minute task. Of course you could just tell them to get lost but why not avoid this potential conflict with just a couple of minutes of extra planning? Now you will have the opportunity to test the candidate’s mettle without the risk of handing over anything too important before you know exactly what her capabilities are and you have a very limited downside potential.
Repeat this process with each candidate. You may choose to give them all the same list or to each a different list. It’s up to you. If you give them all the same task you can compare who is the most efficient and effective but you will pay for the same work twice. If you give them all different tasks you will not be able to make direct comparisons. What I prefer to do is give them mostly different tasks but with overlap on two or three tasks. I ensure that the overlap occurs on tasks that I know I will need over and over like booking travel arrangements.
You may notice that I left some ambiguity in some of my trial tasks. For example for the airline ticket I didn’t mention anything about number of layovers or total travel time. This is intentional, I want to know if the candidate will think about these things on my behalf without being explicitly asked. Obviously a flight that is $25 more expensive but has 10 hours less travel time and one less layover is a superior option but I want to know if she will pick up on this on her own. Likewise I didn’t say what size bottle of vitamins I want, I want to know will she calculate and determine the cheapest cost per capsule or will she select some arbitrary bottle size. I think you get the point.
Now that you know how your candidates perform “in the field” so to speak, it should be obvious who you should hire. If for some reason you still have more than one highly qualified candidate you can always do a second round of trial tasks to see who performs better.
I have always found females make far superior executive assistants than males. I don’t know why but those are the facts based on objective testing. I always interview the males that apply and if they do well in the interview I test them on trial tasks. They always suck. I have never found a single male that seemed appropriate for the job after testing him on trial tasks. Stereotypes are stereotypes because they’re usually true. Your mileage may vary.
Do not choose your assistant based on looks, just don’t do it. If you’re looking in Eastern Europe, you will be tempted. Just don’t do it! Also, do not fuck your personal assistant. Good personal assistants are much harder to find than good fuck buddies, don’t waste a perfectly good one.
I currently have a bilingual, full time assistant with a masters degree. She costs me aproximately $575 USD per month (gross). If I were in the US I am certain I could not hire this person for less than $40,000 USD per year which would be at least $45,600 USD ($3,800 per month by) the time you add on payroll taxes.