I Found an Executive Assistant Who Changed My Life — Here's How To Find Yours My EA lets me do more of what I love — find one to do the same for you.
- Some leaders might think hiring an EA means having to give up their busy work, but with an EA to strategically manage my time, I have found they eliminate the busy work so no one has to do it.
- I get to do more of the work I love with less of the worry.
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When I hired my executive assistant (EA), Kristina, I was far too late. Far, far too late — I had been president of a growing company in a fast-paced industry for 25 years before I finally took the plunge. If I could go back, I would have hired an EA 25 years earlier.
I was going through a divorce when I started Clearfield, and the work in worry-world became so absolute in my mind that I could no longer see the forest through the trees. I hit a breaking point. Maybe if I had an EA then, they would have recognized that.
Fortunately, I had support from the CFO and COO, who had my back and picked up the pieces I dropped while navigating that personal crisis. I'm thankful we have a culture in which no one ever says, "That's not my job." But if I look at it critically now, I see how much more effective it would have been for us if I had hired an executive assistant early on: My partners could have worked on more strategic tasks or enhanced their own personal development. I could have, too.
Once I finally hired the right EA, she changed my life. Here's how to find one to change yours:
Involve others to help find your match
Finding the right EA is kind of like getting married. We look for someone with the same values and the same sense of what clutter is so we can trust that individual to anticipate our world after we've been together a little while. In marriage, however, we get to date and find out first if we might be compatible. In the business world, we have to jump into that EA marriage and try it out to know whether or not it will ultimately work. In my case, I had a couple of false starts.
A couple of times, I thought we found the right person. One was so much like me, but the HR manager pointed out, "You two would fight like cats and dogs." Just like friends and family can give us relationship advice before getting married, a team of others who know what we would want from an EA will help us find the right match.
Instead of making a quick hiring decision based on surface-level capabilities, we took the time to vet someone through several layers of people who knew me well. Rather than going through our recruiter, the Vice President of HR took on the initiative personally — he knew me and the physical capabilities and personality traits I would want beyond the job description. Not only did I interview each individual, but so did the HR team and my entire executive staff. Sometimes, they knew me better than I knew myself. With their help in the EA dating process, I landed on the right individual who would improve my life.
Have tenacious patience
One of our new company phrases is "tenacious patience," reflecting the waiting happening in our industry right now as we gear up for a federally-funded deployment of nationwide broadband. It has also applied to my process of hiring an EA. With tenacious patience, the right individual will come along.
This starts with putting effort into a detailed job description. A proper vetting process is only worth the time if we attract the right type of candidates, so start with a clear description of what the job will entail. One of the hurdles I faced in hiring an EA was never believing it would amount to a full-time job. Now, with only 80 percent of my EA's time, I realize how much more of it I could use, but at the time, we went into hiring with the idea the role would support two other executives. I wrote out the specific objectives we hoped the role would accomplish, itemizing how the EA would spend time with everyone and clarifying responsibilities. I then passed that description through a broader network of people within the company to review and edit into a final copy.
Once we had the right candidates, we put them through a round of screening interviews, followed by final interviews with me and my team. We had nearly reached the end of the process when someone on my staff recommended another individual. So, we went through the full screening and final interviews again. Then, I found an individual I thought was the right person for the job, and we held another round of interviews, but this time, my staff said no. Not until the third round did we find the right individual, but everyone agreed Kristina was the one — the system worked with enough time and tenacious patience to get through it.
Anyone can take advantage of the benefits
If we take a strategic and critical look into our work lives, we could all find areas where — when uncluttered with busy work — we could be more effective in our positions of supervision, management, and strategy. Thanks to technology, virtual executive assistants can offer lower-cost solutions to minimize some of that clutter and free up brain space for more productive leadership. Some leaders might think hiring an EA means having to give up their busy work, but with an EA to strategically manage my time, I have found they eliminate the busy work so no one has to do it. Instead, I get to do more of the work I love with less of the worry.