This article is focused on hiring a part or full time executive virtual assistant for 20-40 hours per week. If you’re trying to hire someone for a short term project, this is the WRONG approach. I have a totally different process that I use for project based jobs. If you’re interested in learning more about hiring project based freelancers, let me know by commenting below. If enough people are interested, I’ll write a step by step guide.

I hired my first virtual assistant 7 years ago…it was an absolute disaster. I went through a company in India that I found in an online forum for 20 hours per week at $1.75 an hour. That should have been my first clue that something wasn’t right; how could this company provide good service for such a low rate? If the owner was making $1.75 per hour (minus Paypal fees), how much was he paying his employees? How could they afford fast Internet and computers?

The first task I had them work on was relatively simple: creating an excel spreadsheet of data from résumés. 2 weeks later, only 152 lines had been created in the sheet after “40 hours of work”. I set up a Skype call with the owner of the company to let him know I wasn’t happy, but I could barely hear him on the other end. His Internet connection was so bad and had such a long delay that I felt like a World War I radio operator.

Are you going to be able to finish this project on time…over…say again I didn’t copy.

I decided this wasn’t going to work―he just couldn’t be productive with Internet that slow. 

Lesson #1: Have all VAs perform an Internet speed test before hiring them

Lesson #2: A low hourly rate doesn’t mean your overall cost will remain minimal. If it takes 4x as long to do the same work as someone you’re paying $5 per hour, you’re losing money (4 x $1.75 = $7 per hr).

Since learning these lessons, I’ve hired dozens of VAs and it’s been a game changer for my companies. Over the years, I’ve refined and improved my hiring process thanks to the lessons I’ve learned while interviewing and selecting new VAs. Now, I only hire the best. I’m writing this blog post because friends are always asking me how I hire awesome VAs. Since productivity is at the forefront of my business model, I decided it’s better to write this post once and share it with everyone who asks, instead of explaining the same strategy over and over :).

Let’s Get Started

I use two main platforms to source my candidates: Onlinejobs.ph and Upwork. I used to exclusively use Upwork to recruit VAs, but recently it’s been harder to find VAs on Upwork who are looking to work a consistent 20-40 hours per week. That’s not to say you can’t find great people on Upwork, but I’ve had more luck there recently for project based jobs vs full time hires.

Before we jump into how I use these sites, let’s create our hiring system. Don’t skip this step unless you want to waste time scheduling and interviewing low quality candidates! By putting these systems in place, I’m able to eliminate 90% of candidates right away WITHOUT an interview.

Create a Job Application Typeform

Onlinejobs.ph makes it too easy for candidates to apply to your job, leaving you with hundreds of copy paste applications to sort through. To solve this issue, I write in the job post that all candidates must apply through a Typeform link and that all applications sent through Onlinejobs.ph will be ignored. You can use the free version of Typeform and modify their job application template.

What should I include on the job application Typeform?

Here’s a Typeform application that I created for a Virtual Executive Assistant role. Feel free to steal anything you’d like!

Important parts that you should include for every VA role are the following:

  1. A 30-90 second Loom video
    1. I require all candidates to create a 30-90 second video of themselves using the Loom Chrome Extension. I ask applicants to tell a little bit about themselves and why they feel they are a good fit for the role.
    2. By using the Loom video I’m able to eliminate candidates who:
      1. Can’t figure out how to download the Chrome extension and record a video. I need someone well versed in technology to work remotely.
      2. Have poor English or an accent that makes them hard to understand. I have my VAs making calls, so they need to have strong verbal communication.
      3. Don’t have a camera on their computer―yes, this can be an issue in 2019! I like to do video calls at least once a week with my VAs. Seeing each other helps to build a better team culture vs audio only calls.
      4. Aren’t really interested in the job and don’t want to take the time to create a video
  2. Ask if they are available during the same work hours as you
    1. Many VAs are located in countries with a significant time difference (E.g. the Philippines is 12 hours ahead of EST). If you want an effective executive VA, they need to be available while you are working. If you’re looking for someone to do data entry, they can work any time, but this post is focused on hiring an amazing executive virtual assistant. 
    2. You may be surprised to find that many VAs are willing to work during your hours. Most of the countries you will be hiring from have a lot of call centers or business process outsourcing (BPO) companies that operate during US business hours, so overnight work is common. Still, it’s important to ask this question before you spend the time interviewing someone.
  3. An Internet speed test
    1. Remember my awful experience with my first VA? If I had required an Internet speed test during the hiring process, I would have avoided the entire situation. 
    2. The easiest way to verify the speed of your VA’s Internet connection is to have them run a speed test on speedtest.net. Ask them to submit a link to their results on Typeform so you can double check. I require a minimum download speed of 15 Mbps. This is enough for the VA to work efficiently with modern software applications.
  4. How many gigs of ram their computer has
    1. I require a minimum of 8 gigs of ram. A great VA with a slow computer won’t be able to work effectively.
  5. A screening question that requires a written response
    1. This question should be specific to the job they are applying for. I like to ask a two part question here, which requires a longer, more thought out response: What are your favorite project management tools? How do you use these tools to communicate with your team and ensure deadlines are being met?
    2. I eliminate any candidate who:
      1. Only answers one of the questions. I need a VA who is thorough in their work.
      2. Has poorly written English. My VAs need to be able to communicate clearly with customers, vendors, and other team members.

Create a Hiring Project in Asana

To track candidates I create a new board layout project in Asana (the free version works just fine). I then use Zapier to link Typeform to Asana so that all new applications in Typeform are automatically added to the hiring project in Asana.

In Asana, I create the following columns and move candidates through the stages:

  • New application
  • Passed screening: If the candidate passes the initial screening from their application, I move them here.
  • Schedule 1st interview
  • Schedule 2nd interview
  • Passed 2nd interview
  • Failed: if at any point we decide not to move forward with a candidate, I move them here.
Asana hiring board for VAs
Asana hiring board for VAs

I utilize the “assign” feature in Asana to assign candidates to certain people on my team at different stages of the hiring process. For example, another VA on my team always does the initial screening through a first round interview. We also use the comment feature so that everyone can add their notes on a candidate.

The Job Post

This will vary from company to company, but I always include the following in every job post:

  1. The amount of hours per week and the pay. Make sure to mention that the hours are guaranteed. You want to attract the types of candidates who are looking for consistent work.
  2. The number of hours a day I expect the VA to work, which days of the week, and what times including the time zone. Example: We need you to work 4 hours each weekday from 9 am to 5 pm EST.
  3. The application link, along with a note explicitly stating that only applications sent through the link will be reviewed (Onlinejobs.PH only, since you can’t post external links on Upwork).
  4. The technical requirements. My requirements are:
    1. 15 Mbps download speed or faster Internet connection
    2. 8 gigs of ram
    3. High quality mic

Where Do I Source My Candidates?

Onlinejobs.ph

Onlinejobs.ph is a job board specifically for finding home-based Filipino workers. You have to pay a monthly fee to post and see contact info for job candidates. Recently, I’ve been finding my best VA candidates here. Most of the candidates on this site seem to be looking for part time or full time work, as opposed to working on project based jobs.

You can also search résumés and invite people to apply for your job. I highly recommend you do this! They also have a function where employers can leave reviews, but it’s not heavily used.

Upwork

Upwork allows you to post for free, but recently they have limited your job invites to 3 unless you pay for the featured post. I’d highly recommend paying for the featured post on Upwork, since you’ll need to invite a lot of candidates to find the right person.

Upwork makes money by charging the VA a fee on any payments received and charging a payment processing fee to you. To be competitive on Upwork, you may need to increase the pay slightly to account for these fees. The benefit of Upwork is that they handle the payments automatically for you and have some great software to monitor your VA’s work with time tracking and screenshots. While these are great features, you can easily use a software like Time Doctor or Hubstaff if you hire candidates from Onlinejobs.ph.

You won’t be able to post the Typeform link on Upwork, but you can create screening questions on their platform. You can then manually add the candidates who pass screening to Asana.

Inviting candidates on Upwork

To get the best candidates on Upwork, you need to invite them to your job. If you wait for candidates to apply, you won’t get many applicants and most will be low quality. Since inviting candidates to apply is time consuming, I have one of my VAs invite those who meet the following criteria:

  1. Freelancers only
    1. I don’t want to work with an agency who is taking money off the top from the VA. I’ve found you get better VAs if you pay them well, and agencies get in the way of this.
  2. Fluent in English
    1. This is self-reported by the freelancer, but it will eliminate some poor English speakers.
  3. $30,000 or more earned
    1. I want someone who has a lot of experience working remotely
  4. 20 or more jobs
    1. My VAs do a variety of jobs, so having worked many different jobs means they have a variety of experience vs someone who has only worked for one company.
  5. 99% job success
    1. When a job is completed on Upwork, the employer is asked if the job was successfully completed. Employers tend to be very lenient when answering these questions, since they feel VAs are cheap (even though they’re making a great wage for their cost of living). Because of this, I only consider VAs with a 99% or better job success score.
  6. Not based in the US
    1. This one is obvious: a $5 or $6 per hour job won’t appeal to someone in the US.
  7. Hourly rate of $15 per hour or less if hiring for a VA position
    1. Many VAs on Upwork post their hourly rate higher than the rate they’d actually accept, especially if you are offering stable, long-term work. If you want to verify the rates they have charged previously, you can look at their reviews, which show the hourly rate they charged for each job.

To make the inviting process easier, I have my VA, who is inviting candidates, use the following filters on Upwork search. From there, my VA manually verifies the criteria above before inviting the person to apply.

Upwork search filters for Virtual Assistants
Search filters we use to invite top Virtual Assistants to our Upwork job

TIP: You’ll need to invite hundreds of candidates on Upwork to find a real rockstar VA.

Tips when inviting candidates to apply

When inviting candidates on both Upwork and Onlinejobs.ph, you should make sure to personalize the message with the candidate’s name. Good VAs get a lot of job invites, but most are generic. I also like to include some benefits (e.g. 20 hours per week guaranteed) and deal breakers (e.g. you would be working EST hours).

Why list deal breakers in the initial message? Because I don’t want to waste my time reviewing applications if the person isn’t willing to work EST hours or fulfill other requirements. Here’s a sample invite message I used for a recent job:

“Hi {first name},

We’re looking for a rockstar executive assistant/project manager and I thought you may be a good fit based on your experience.

We would guarantee 20 hours per week and this would grow into a 40 hours per week role in the next 5-7 months. You would be working EST hours.

If you’re interested, please make sure to answer the screening questions on the job post :)”

What Do I Pay My VAs?

This varies greatly based on the role you’re hiring for. For Executive VAs, I start them at $5 per hour and give them a raise to $6 per hour in 5-7 months. I also give my VAs bonuses when they do amazing work. Comment below if you want me to write a post on the best ways to compensate VAs.

Screening Candidates

I have my hiring VA screen the candidates who applied according the criteria I mentioned in the Create a Job Application Typeform section. If they feel the candidate meets all the requirements, they are moved to the “passed screening” column along with a comment in Asana detailing why I should consider the candidate. If they don’t fit the requirements, they are moved to the “failed” column.

Asana Virtual Assistant hiring board
My hiring VA screens all applications and moves the best candidates to the “passed screening” column

Each day, I check the “passed screening” column in Asana and review the candidates. I watch their Loom videos and read their response to the screening question, since anyone who doesn’t meet the other requirements has already been moved the “failed” column. Any candidates that I like are moved to the “Schedule 1st interview” column.

Asana VA Application
Reviewing candidates in Asana

Interviews

All of my interviews are video interviews done through Skype. A video interview allows you to see the candidate’s work environment, which is very important as they’ll be working from home. A video interview will also give you more insight into the speed and consistency of their Internet connection. I ask all the candidates to use a headset for the interview. I want to make sure they have high quality audio, since my VAs speak with my customers and vendors on the phone.

Avoid back and forth when scheduling interviews

I use Calendly to schedule my interviews. This is a huge time saver, since it eliminates all back and forth over email. I create an event type on Calendly for 30 minute Skype interviews and create a custom invitee question asking for the candidate’s Skype username. I set two 3 hours time slots where candidates can choose their own time. I make these time slots during the normal hours the VA would be working if hired―I want to see if they can perform at this hour or if they are tired/sluggish. Calendly sends a calendar invite to both me and the candidate once they pick a time.

When it comes time for the interview, I immediately eliminate anyone who is late or a no show. If you can’t make an interview on time, how will you show up to work on time? Calendly sends reminders and adjusts to the candidate’s time zone, so any time zone confusion excuse isn’t valid.

1st round interview

My hiring VA conducts the first round interview. She’s very experienced in hiring, so I don’t give her much direction. If you are working with someone less experienced, you can create interview questions and pass/fail criteria for them.

My hiring VA adds comments in Asana for anyone she interviews and moves the candidates she likes to the “Schedule 2nd interview” column. Her favorite candidates are listed at the top.

2nd round interview

I review the candidates and schedule a 2nd round interview with the ones I like based on my hiring VA’s notes. Here’s the message I send to schedule a 2nd round interview.

You interviewed with my colleague, who spoke highly of you.

I’d like to set up a Skype video interview.Can you pick a time that works for you here (Calendly link)? I’ll give you a call on Skype at that time.

This will be a video interview, so please make sure to have your camera set up. I look forward to speaking with you!

Some VAs will respond to this email with a time that works for them instead of using the Calendly link, as instructed. I immediately eliminate anyone who does this. I’m looking for VAs who are able to follow clear instructions.

Interview questions vary based on the position. Generally, I ask open ended questions to understand how the candidates approach projects. One question I always ask is “You’re working for me all night, so you won’t have a normal sleep or social schedule. How can you sustain this for more than a few weeks?” I’m looking for someone who ideally has experience working the night shift or has planned a strategy to make this work.

Comment below if you want me to put together a post with more sample interview questions.

Written questions

My VAs need to have excellent written communication, be able to figure out projects on their own, handle issues with vendors, and manage other team members. To test these skills, I send them three written questions before scheduling the final round interview. Each question is focused on testing one of these areas, plus their written English. I’m looking for well researched responses that fully answer all the questions―again, it’s a test to see if the candidate is thorough in their work.

Here’s a sample of some questions I recently used:

Ability to figure out projects on their own

We are hiring three new remote employees and want to track the time they spend on specific projects so that we can bill this time to our clients. We need a software that monitors the employees with screenshots and integrates with Asana. The software can be paid.

  1. Which software would you recommend for this and why?
  2. What features of this software can we use to accomplish employee monitoring and time tracking for specific clients?

Testing handling issues with vendors

One of our maintenance vendors, John, quoted $100 to repair a sink and later emailed you a bill for $150 for this same job. We have a great relationship with this vendor and have not had any problems like this before. Please draft an email to John addressing this issue.

Testing management skills

One of our team members, Sarah, is responsible for creating graphics for our landing pages. Recently, she has been missing deadlines, causing projects to be delayed and frustrating other team members who rely on her work to complete the landing pages. How would you address this issue with Sarah to get her back on track?

Final round interview

By this point, I’m usually down to two candidates and leaning towards one. On the final round interview, I dive into the answers to their written questions and ask a few other role-specific questions. I then let the candidates know that I will be making a decision in the next 3 days and will notify them by email.

I always notify all candidates who made it to the final round of my decision, even if I decide to move forward with someone else. After all, the first candidate may not work out, and you might need to hire another person in the near future. Having a backup or two will save you from having to begin the search all over again.

Hiring is only the first step. If you want a truly effective Executive VA, you need an amazing training program.

If you’re interested in hearing how I train my VAs, sign up here to receive my free VA training guide.
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