How to Find a Good Assistant – The First Four Steps

The right assistant can add years to your life! Ask any CEO, manager or business owner and they will tell you that good staff, and especially admin assistants (be they virtual or on-site), can lighten your workload and make your life easier. They’re there to support you professionally in work-related as well as personal matters. While you are out growing your business, signing deals and making money, your admin assistant is making sure your bookkeeping is up to date, everyone at yesterday’s meeting got the minutes, your car’s licence is renewed and your son’s birthday present is ready.

Finding this precious individual can be quite tedious because it seems anyone who can type, answer a phone or open a file is quick to consider himself/herself an admin assistant! If you don’t have an HR department nor the time to filter through 100’s of CV’s, I suggest you read further.

During AdminAssist’s four years of business we have recruited 40 superstar admin assistants based on information shared in the book The Business Coach by Brad Sugars. If you have decided it’s time to add an assistant to your team, then the guidelines below will certainly help ease the process.

Some points of order: We’ve decided to spread the post over two weeks, as this allows us to add more depth to each step as opposed to just skimming over a point. We refer to assistants as female although many excellent male assistants have crossed our path. Some steps will have to be modified if you’re recruiting a virtual assistant as opposed to an on-site assistant. And lastly, this recruitment process can be used to find personnel for any role and not only admin assistants.

Step 1 – List the Qualities Your Require

If you don’t know who you’re looking for, how will you know you’ve found her?

This post was written with a start-up or small business in mind, but if you have a larger business you may well include in the process all the staff members that will be working directly with the new employee. They can offer valuable insight into what is required. If they’re part of the process from the beginning, it will also aid team-spirit.

The first step is to define your ideal candidate in terms of four aspects: Character, skills, qualifications and experience level.

  • Character

Whereas skills can be taught in a relatively short time such as within a one-day course or a year’s worth of night school, your adult assistant sort of ‘already comes with’ her character. Very loosely defined we can say that character is everything her mom was supposed to teach her! And while you can help a person improve their character it isn’t really your function in this context. And this is why it is imperative to start with character first.

An example of character traits you might require: “My assistant must have integrity, be optimistic and a problem-solver. She must be able to think on her feet, think outside the box and think before she speaks.”

  • Qualifications

Divide the qualifications the role requires into those that are non-negotiable and those that are preferred. Non-negotiables in the field of admin might include a qualification in bookkeeping or Office software. Preferred qualifications might include completion of a course in writing or photo editing.

  • Skills

Which skills are necessary for her to do her job successfully? Must she be able to speak another language or perhaps be able to handle customer complaints effectively?

  • Experience level

Experience level often goes hand in hand with salary expectation, and for good reason. Employing an experienced individual saves you the time and effort of teaching the basics of the specific role. If the assistant is experienced she will alsobe able to perform at her peak within a shorter time than an unexperienced person.

The flip side is if you are currently cash-strapped you can attempt to find an assistant with little or no experience but with great potential. Then you can offer a lower starting salary and grow her salary as she grows in experience.

Step 2 – Place a Strategic Ad

The ad must contain two sections: A first section with abundant information regarding the position such as the location, hours, qualifications and salary, andthen a second section with very specific instructions on how to apply.

The strategy behind this step is two-fold. Firstly, if you provide sufficient information beforehand you evade unsuitable applicants. The idea is that a candidate won’t apply if she’s unable or unwilling to meet your requirements. Secondly, if you give very specific instructions for applying and the candidate does not follow them, it goes to show that she does not pay attention to detail and/or does not follow instructions carefully.

An example of a strategic ad:

We are looking for a part-time admin assistant with proven integrity and the ability to stay calm under pressure. This person must speak Afrikaans and English excellently and be based in Pretoria East. Experience in an admin position is non-negotiable and experience in the legal or medical industry will be preferential. She/he will sometimes work from home and sometimes from the client’s office. Payment will be per hour worked at a rate of R80/hour.


Applicants are to e-mail their CV’s to and highlight their most relevant qualities, qualifications and experience in the e-mail body. Failure to do so will result in the CV being discarded without being considered. All levels of the relevant training and work experience will be considered. Closing date: 31 July 2016.


Step 3 – Immediate Elimination

As your ad specified, all candidates who failed to follow your application process lose your consideration. For the example above, you (or an existing assistant if you have one) will now simply delete those e-mails where the applicants did not highlight their most relevant qualities, qualifications and experience in the e-mail body.

If the applicant didn’t do as requested, it means that he/she is possibly applying for jobs willy-nilly and not searching for a specific position at your firm. Those candidates that did do as requested demonstrated their attention to detail and their care to perform duties as stipulated.

It only takes 5 -10 seconds per e-mail to complete this step. Take it from someone with experience in the field, this process of immediate elimination will save you a lot of time and effort.

Step 4 – Elimination by Qualification, Skill or Experience Level

If you have listed qualifications, skills or experience levels that are non-negotiable, then the next step is to scan through the remaining applications and eliminate those candidates who do not possess these non-negotiables.

Remember that the candidate (as per our request in the ad) has written this information in the e-mail body, meaning you don’t have to open attachments to find it. Therefore, it only takes about 15 seconds to filter an application and you can ask an existing employee to help you as the process is quite straight-forward.

After you have worked through the non-negotiables, or if you don’t have non-negotiables, eliminate now based on the preferred qualifications, skills and experience levels you listed.

These were the first four steps of eight. In the next post we will teach you how to conduct a clever little group interview to separate the wheat from the chaff and finalise the recruitment process. We will also share the figures from the first time we followed this process as an example of just how effective it is.


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