When I talk to entrepreneurs who are overwhelmed with doing too much in their business, the conversation often turns to hiring an assistant to lighten the load. For those who have worked with a team in the past, there are often horror stories galore and legitimate fears to overcome. Last week I shared in the first of this series how you can get clear with a list of tasks and then write the appropriate job description to find the assistant you need.
Today let’s take that a step further and test, or vet, the applicants that will come in when you clearly define your business and share your opportunity with the world.
First, there are a few reasons that I suggest using a service such as oDesk (the one I use) to secure a VA. You’ll have more candidates and typically more qualified candidates when you’re fishing in a pool full of people who want jobs. Besides, you’re busy and need help so why add the job of posting your position all over the internet to your to do list? oDesk enables support professionals to log their hours manually or, as I prefer, while doing the task including screenshots of their computer. This ensures you’re paying for the time they spend on task, not watching Lord of the Rings on Netflix. A service will also manage the payment account and, in the case of oDesk, allow you to set the price you’ll pay per hour and hours per week so there’s no risk of a task going hours beyond what you’re willing to pay.
As your VA demonstrates skill and responsibility you can raise or lift the hour restriction.
Test Before You Hire
I’m a big fan of testing because in most situations the only way you’ll know how someone will respond is to put them in the situation. Of course you don’t want to give dozens of people access to your website admin panel or database so here’s the next best thing to testing capabilities. Instead of simply outlining the principles I want to show you exactly how I test and evaluate candidates.
When a candidate responds to your job description your first response to them should include a test. Here’s the email template I use:
Hi (first name),
Thanks for applying for the position, I have a few candidates to look over and so I’ve put together some additional information and a request. Please send it back soon as I’ll be making a decision in the next day or so to get started with someone.
*Note the timeline is in the very first paragraph. This is the first test and eliminates all the candidates who write and send a response weeks later.
Immediate Tasks include:
(insert tasks from Job Description)
More data will be given on how to accomplish each of these tasks and the time to deliver the projects is not yet determined. I will not, however, expect this to be done without training or in just a few hours.
*note the second test here, hours are undetermined, training is expected and flexibility is required.
Later/Ongoing Tasks include:
(Insert larger projects)
If these tasks sound doable and something you are interested in learning I have two requests.
*Here I’m giving an expectation of growth, indicating this position is long term. The ask is whether or not this is feasible and leads directly into a request.
1. Choose a single article from this site, read it in full and write me 2 tweets (140 characters, no need to add the link): www.kellyazevedo.com
Send me back the title and link of the article you chose and the two tweets (to review if you’re unfamiliar go to www.twitter.com and you’ll see the messages)
*the first part of the request relates directly back to the job description where I ask for candidates familiar with Twitter. This test allowed me to immediately eliminate half of the applicants, such as ones who wrote tweets but did not indicate which article they had read. Any applicant who chooses two articles and writes one tweet for each is also eliminated. The applicant who wrote me two paragraphs as “tweets” was also eliminated from the pool.
2. When you send back the tweets give me some times you are available in the next 48 hours to meet via Skype for 10 minutes for a quick interview. I’ll reply via oDesk with a time and my Skype ID so we can connect.
From there if it’s all good I’ll set you up with the first task and some guidelines and we’ll get started.
*In this part of the response I’m adding on to the test to find someone who pays attention to detail (also a skill listed in the job description). Candidates who did not include times to meet or failed to respond within 48 hours were also eliminated as possible hires. While it was not explicit, I should note that the candidates I interviewed also included their Skype ID making the interview process smoother. That attention to detail and anticipating the next question helped put them ahead of other candidates.
I do move very quickly in my life and business and have clear but not unreasonable expectations of my employees. I will most likely hire 2 or 3 people to start and see how it goes for the long term.
*This part is optional but I felt that since the first tasks would be coming within 72 hours of posting the job offer it was critical to identify the company and potential candidates as willing and able to move quickly. I temper this expectation by letting them know I am not unreasonable and clarified further in the job interview that communication was essential to this element of working together. Finally, the note that I would hire 2 or 3 candidates put a little competition in the process and encourages the ones I hire to continue to do their best work.
Before hiring your VA you’ll have a sample of their work know whether or not they can follow directions and know that you’re hiring someone who understands your style and business before a single hour is paid. Assistants are just like any other professional field, you have to be specific about what you want and what you don’t or you’ll be disappointed.
Many of the horror stories you hear all track back to one major underlying problem: communication. In this system I hope you’ve seen how clear expectations, communication of desires and fair expectations can help you find the right assistant for your business.
Make sure to read Part 1 here: Hiring Support in Your Business with the Right Job Description
Part 3 is coming soon: Using systems to track results and avoid problems