A frequently asked question by people looking for a virtual assistant is, "how much experience do your virtual assistants have?"
It is the wrong question.
"Experience is overrated," said Stephen Covey. "Some people say they have twenty years' experience, when, in reality, they only have one year's experience, repeated twenty times."
Just because someone has been a virtual assistant, or an in-person executive assistant does not mean they have the right experience or skills for your business. Nor does it mean that they can adapt their skills and expertise to your context.
Virtual Assistant Training and Talent
What should you ask about when looking for a virtual assistant? Determine if they have the training and talent to support you and your executive teams.
Think about it. Does someone with 20 years of experience as an executive assistant know how to use HubSpot, Salesforce, or Monday? Have they been professionally trained or, as Covey said, have they been using software the same way for 20 years? If they are trained on a software platform, they should know how to make it work for you.
Then there is talent. For a virtual assistant to adapt to your business, they need to have the desire and the ability to learn new things and expand their skills. Even if someone has experience with the tools you use, those tools will change—the "shelf life" of skills is down to about two years. The shrinking lifespan of skills means that technology is obsolete after two years.
Beware of Odometer Claims
Virtual assistant services that say they will match you with people that have x years of experience are not necessarily doing you a favor by excluding less experienced individuals. Experience is terrific if relevant and applied to add value to your organization. Experience is not great if an assistant is inflexible and unresponsive to your context or if the experience is with outdated tools and systems.
Ask about assistants' training in your tools and technology, their interest in learning next-generation solutions, and how they have adapted platforms like HubSpot to new clients. Then you will know if they have the talent and training to jump in and quickly add value.
Assessing virtual assistants for training and talent is essential because most virtual assistant services match you with an assistant that they think is qualified. It is up to you to train and manage the performance of the assistants once they are on board. If the assistant doesn't measure up, you must start over.
The Managed Virtual Assistant Service Difference
Prialto offers a managed virtual assistant service that is quite different from other services. We hire, train, and manage our assistants. They are full-time employees of Prialto with competitive salaries and benefits. And our most important hiring criteria is talent, which we define as the desire and ability to learn and grow. We know we can train someone with that talent to be an excellent virtual assistant. They will be proactive, taking the initiative to figure out things they don't know and taking ownership of issues rather than waiting for others to solve them.
Prialto's Training Curriculum
All Prialto virtual assistants undergo a rigorous one-month training program to learn the hard and soft skills needed to support executives and executive teams. The hard skills we train include:
- Scheduling meetings.
- CRM management and data entry.
- Calendar management.
- Fielding telephone calls.
- Word processing.
- Prospecting and research.
- Expense management.
- Travel management.
- Creating spreadsheets and presentations.
- Formatting templated documents.
- Documenting executive preferences for all tasks.
- Training a backup assistant on all tasks.
The soft skills, or what we call Core Competencies, that we train are:
- Proactive: evaluating the implications of decisions, anticipating outcomes, and performing repetitive tasks without waiting to be asked.
- Adaptable: develop a "can do" mindset and willingness to adapt to changing assignments.
- Time management: how to use time effectively and productively.
- Attention to detail: how to recognize the components of a process or task and verify the accuracy of each part.
- Critical thinking: how to objectively analyze, evaluate, and understand a task and take the appropriate action.
- Teamwork: how to work toward a common goal with colleagues and employees.
- Emotional intelligence: maintaining an objective view when faced with stressful situations.
- Problem-solving: how to acknowledge problems, determine the cause of the problem, identify, prioritize, and select and implement a solution.
- Communication: listening, speaking, and writing clearly and concisely and asking questions when instructions are not clear.
- Punctuality-how to ensure they are on time and submit work on time.
After the training program, candidates are assessed. Those that pass start as backups to primary assistants, where they shadow more experienced assistants and fill in during absences. Starting as a backup allows our assistants to watch other assistants work with executives to get a more nuanced on-the-job training experience.
But we don't stop there. Every Prialto assistant joins a team that shares lessons learned and documents new workflows daily. The cohorts are constantly reskilling as they work with businesses that require new tools and processes.
Finally, every Prialto assistant receives a growth plan with a curated online learning curriculum. Prialto assistants log more than 8,000 hours per year of online courses.
Training or Experience for Virtual Assistant
With all assistants going through baseline training and assessment for hard and soft skills, we are confident that new employees can provide outstanding service. They know our best practices, have the support of backups and managers and are accountable to their teams. Will an experienced Prialto assistant perform better than a new hire? At first. But new hires have all the experience of their managers and teammates at their fingertips.
Assistants join Prialto because they want more meaningful work. Most come from call centers and customer service centers where their work is carefully scripted, and they never talk to the same customer twice. At Prialto, they build relationships with executives from innovative businesses, get support from managers and teammates, and learn marketable business skills. You get great assistants that love their work.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.