2 min read
The Best Personal Assistant Interview Questions
Having a superb personal assistant can make all the difference between reaching and maintaining success in your...
From why to hire a PA and how much a PA costs to what PAs are looking for in an ideal employer.
As a team, we have nearly thirty years' experience recruiting Personal Assistants across the UK and overseas. Businesses and individuals alike have found that hiring a Personal Assistant can have a number of benefits, however, finding a Personal Assistant to be an extension of you, fit into your business seamlessly and start adding value from day one isn't always plain sailing. Below we share all of our expertise when it comes to hiring a Personal Assistant.
Hiring a Personal Assistant can have a multitude of benefits for you and your wider business. Personal Assistants are a fantastic way of getting the most out of your day, ensuring that you utilise your time as effectively as possible and can focus on growing your business, whilst they adeptly manage the everyday demands of seamlessly running an office.
We know that as a busy executive or overworked entrepreneur, with a seemingly never-ending "to-do" list, your time is precious. In fact, we'd argue that time is your most valuable asset. We constantly hear business owners say that there aren't enough hours in the day or that they wish they had another pair of hands. Hiring a Personal Assistant is the perfect solution to this problem; the right PA hire will be indispensable to you and your wider company, maximising your time and productivity, and ensuring that you prioritise the tasks that motivate you and enhance your business.
Every moment that you can free up to focus on the growth and development of your business counts. A successful PA is a true extension of you and, over time, will be able to anticipate your needs and have everything in place, without you having to think about the minutiae.
"If you don't have an assistant, you are an assistant."
Jeff Hoffman, Founder of Priceline.com
The biggest benefits of hiring a PA include:
To add strategic input and help to grow your business
To build relationships
To give you time back in your day
To keep you organised
To solve business problems
To act as a decision-maker
To strengthen your culture and brand
To boost your productivity
To enable you to have work/life balance
Traditionally, the role of the Personal Assistant encompasses purely administrative, transactional support. The role of a PA is to alleviate the administrative burden from the individual(s) they support, so that their principal's time can be dedicated to other areas which will further the business's success. However, the role differs hugely between organisations and there are many PAs, particularly Senior PAs, who perform strategic duties that are more commonly associated with the Executive Assistant role; indeed, in many organisations there is considerable cross-over between the PA and EA roles.
The role of the PA has often been likened to the oil in the cogs of the working machine – making things run more smoothly and alleviating precise time pressure on executives and senior business leaders.
Whilst it can be difficult or challenging to quantify the value that a PA adds to the bottom line, one way to view it is as a percentage of the time, and therefore the salary, of the executive or executive team that they support. Senior PAs can give executives up to 80% of their time back to focus on other imperatives to enhance the business – how much do those initiatives add to the bottom line, too?
In that sense, you could view the PA role not as a gatekeeper of people, but of time. The right PA hire can give you back your time and maximise your return on investment to the business. When you consider that executives spend, on average, 58% of their time on emails, a simple email triage system implemented by even the most junior of PAs can reduce the time spent on emails to circa 12%. Instantly, an executive has 46% of their time back, to add value elsewhere.
Facilitating business growth is, of course, just one element of the role, when you add in the cost savings that a commercially-astute PA can bring in terms of travel, events and leveraging technology to enhance and streamline processes and procedures, the financial benefit for the business grows exponentially.
"The manager and the assistant do the same job, they have the same objectives, they simply carry out different tasks to achieve those objectives."
Heather Baker, Founder of Baker Thompson Associates
Typical PA duties tend to include, but certainly are not limited to:
Administration and business support
Travel planning and itineraries
Following up on action points
Acting as a first point of contact: dealing with correspondence and phone calls
Streamlining processes and implementing procedures
Managing databases and filing systems
Compiling and preparing reports, presentations and correspondence
Building and nurturing client relationships
Liaising with key internal and external stakeholders
Personal tasks and errands, such as collecting dry cleaning, purchasing gifts, booking tickets, etc.
A Personal Assistant is an investment in yourself and your business; every successful entrepreneur needs one. Used effectively the benefits will outweigh the cost of an extra wage tenfold - just think about how much more time you will have to apply yourself to the growth, marketing and development of your business by delegating your workload. Imagine the amount you could achieve when your day isn’t being consumed by other, more admin-heavy tasks, allowing you to focus your time where it should be: on your business.
Below, we have outlined some of the other, perhaps less obvious, benefits of hiring a PA:
Acting as a timekeeper to ensure that you're never late again (within reason)!
It is so easy to get caught up in your inbox and lose track of time. One second, you’re arriving at the office and the next it's 11:50 and you're supposed to be at a meeting in ten minutes at a location that is fifteen minutes away. A Personal Assistant is a fantastic way to ensure that this doesn’t happen. PAs are experts at time management, not only for themselves, but for those that they support. Building a strong relationship with your PA will enable them to politely usher you out of the door and make sure that you stay on schedule. Moreover, by efficiently managing your diary, a PA will have built-in buffer time so that, should a meeting overrun, it doesn't throw off your entire day.
PAs are great at subtly popping their heads into your line of vision to give you a 10 or five-minute warning that the allotted time for the meeting you're in is almost up! If the unforeseen happens, and a meeting does overrun or you get stuck in traffic or caught on the phone to a client, your PA will liaise with key stakeholders on your behalf, to apologise, reshuffle timings or make alternate arrangements, if need be.
Helping you maintain a work-life balance
A work-life balance is so important to maintain a healthy way of life. Hiring a Personal Assistant is the first step towards a one-way ticket to this. Your PA's main priority is to make your life easier and keep things running smoothly. They understand that you are constantly rushed off your feet and being pulled in different directions, so the last thing you want is to bring all your work home with you, when you could be spending your precious time and energy with your family and friends. Having a PA will reduce your workload and ensure that things are kept on track, allowing you to focus on your downtime, rather than the office.
Giving you the time to do what you’re good at
When running a business, it’s inevitable that you are going to come across hurdles. But, when these obstacles become insurmountable and restrict you from focussing your attention on achieving your objectives, it can be really damaging for your business. Having a Personal Assistant gives you the ability to delegate these tasks to somebody that you trust, safe in the knowledge that they will solve the problem. This allows you to focus on the business and making your visions a reality.
Being able to get up and go
Senior leaders are invariably travelling here, there and everywhere to attend meetings and events - whether this is elsewhere in the country or internationally. It’s no secret that organising attendees, scheduling achievable timings, and securing travel plans and accommodation takes time, or that it can, in many circumstances, become a bit of a headache. Part of a PA's role is to handle the logistics of travel and meeting preparation, so that you are set up to succeed and ready to go. From ensuring that you are fully briefed in advance of key meetings to checking you in for your flight and ensuring that a taxi is waiting for you when you touch down on the other side, a Personal Assistant will handle all of the logistics and ensure that you have everything at your fingertips so that you do not have to worry about a thing.
Knowing you better than you know yourself
From knowing how you have your coffee in the morning to your favourite restaurants for business meetings, your lunch order to where you prefer to sit on a flight, a Personal Assistant will take the time to understand exactly how you like things done and ensure that this happens without you having to give it a second thought. A PA will be able to act as an extension of you whether that's replying to emails on your behalf or representing you within the organisation.
We asked Amanda Merrick, Principal of family law firm, Merrick, how having a Personal Assistant has benefited her business and what her advice is to other business owners thinking about hiring a PA.
We also interviewed international PA trainer and author of The Exceptional PA, Heather Baker, about how the PA role has changed. In this video, she shares her advice to anyone looking to hire a PA for their business.
Once you've come to the decision that you are going to hire a Personal Assistant, it is important that you undertake research in order to establish what most support professionals are looking for with regards to a role. Having a better insight into what PAs want will set you apart from other companies within the market and help you to ensure that the role and the package you are offering are both competitive and attractive to the top talent out there.
Two-thirds of the PAs we surveyed in our 2020/21 Salary & Market Insights Survey would seriously consider leaving their current role if they were to be offered a 5% pay rise elsewhere. 54.3% of PAs stated that an annual discretionary bonus would make them stay in a role for longer, with 32.4% saying it may well influence their decision. Competitive benefits continue to remain a hot topic when it comes to attracting high calibre candidates, with professionals continuing to receive more perks in the last 12 months and the majority of respondents preferring to receive benefits over a cash equivalent. To attract the best talent, it's imperative that the salary you are offering is competitive and not below market rate; consider offering an annual discretionary bonus, as well as an annual or bi-annual salary review, where possible.
PAs are increasingly looking to work for companies that offer flexible and/or remote working opportunities. Offering flexible and remote working opportunities results in healthier and more productive working habits, as well as reducing staff turnover within the workforce, so this is something to bear in mind when looking to hire a Personal Assistant.
The key to attracting and retaining talent is to foster an open and dynamic culture. Company culture is another important factor that PAs consider when weighing up a potential job offer, with 58% of the employees we surveyed stating that they have left a job or would consider leaving a job if they felt the culture and social environment were permeated by negative office politics. A positive culture can result in clearer thinking, higher productivity, a bigger picture mindset, innovation and empathy, which can, in turn, all contribute to pushing the company forward. What's more, an inclusive culture is more likely to make its employees feel heard, supported and empowered to do their best work, share ideas, and fulfil their potential. It is important to highlight your company culture in job specifications, on your company website and across your social media platforms in order to attract the right Personal Assistant for you and your business.
Over half of the support professionals we surveyed felt that their employer did not offer enough training or the ability to upskill within their role. This is a key point to consider when hiring new employees as, if your company does not offer PAs the chance to upskill, you are more likely to lose out on top talent to competitors within the market. Make sure that any potential opportunities for extra training and upskilling are detailed within the job description or outlined to the agency that you are working with, as this will be extremely appealing to a lot of candidates within the market and may set you apart from other companies who are hiring.
Once you have decided to hire a Personal Assistant and have taken into consideration what PAs within the market are looking for, you can start to begin the search for your perfect PA. The next steps to consider are how to sell the position available and what salary the role you are offering will warrant. An informative and well-written job description is key when trying to entice the top talent, however, ensuring the salary you are offering is in line with market rates is also an important factor to consider when looking to attract the right calibre of candidate.
The key to attracting the best and most suited talent is to ensure that you have an appealing and informative job description. A good job description should be comprised of the following sections:
A short introduction
Start off by including a concise and informative introduction to the role and who it will be supporting. This will help whoever is reading the job description to ascertain whether the role is appropriate for them or not and aims to entice potential candidates to keep reading.
In this section of the job description, you should list the key day-to-day duties that the successful candidate will be undertaking, in order to make clear what is expected, should the applicant be offered the role.
In this section, list the essential and desired skills, qualifications and attributes that you are looking for the successful applicant to have. For instance, if you require a PA to have a minimum of three years’ experience supporting at board level, a qualification in Project Management and the ability to work in a team, then you should make this clear. Setting out your expectations and clarifying whether these are prerequisites or preferences will mean that you will attract candidates who meet these requirements and receive fewer applications from candidates who do not have the relevant experience.
Remuneration and benefits
Here, you should list the salary, or salary bracket, that will be available to the successful applicant. In addition to this, you should use this section to highlight any benefits, rewards or extra training available. Think of this section of the job description as a means to showcase what you are offering that other companies may not be.
At the end of the job specification, it is important to give some insight into what your company does, what the company culture is like and what sets you apart from competitors. This section doesn’t have to go into a great amount of detail, as most applicants who are interested in the job specification will then go away and do their own independent research on your company before applying to the role. However, this section should not be overlooked as it is a great way for you to showcase what your company has to offer and what differentiates your business from any other businesses that applicants may be considering working for.
Where salary is concerned, this can differ depending on location, industry and the level of support required. If you are looking to ensure that the salary you are offering is competitive and in line with market rates, please download a copy of our latest Salary & Market Insights Survey.
Having put together a job description and package that takes into consideration what support professionals are looking for, you are now nearly ready to begin the interview process. However, before you start looking at CVs and shortlisting candidates to interview, take a moment to think about the following:
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment was at an all-time low and job vacancies were at an all-time high, with support professionals being in high demand. This resulted in many companies competing against each other for the talent available on the market. In short, the market was job heavy and candidate short. However, as a result of COVID-19, unfortunately many support professionals, including Personal Assistants, have been made redundant, leading to a candidate heavy market.
Although there has been a change in the recruitment landscape following the pandemic, it is important for companies to use this to their advantage. Firstly, this is a bonus insofar as companies are more likely to have a great deal of talent to choose from when looking to hire. Furthermore, with many candidates in the market being immediately available, this allows companies to consider starting a successful candidate on a temporary to permanent basis. This will enable companies to ensure that the candidate is the perfect fit before bringing them onboard permanently basis.
Think "outside the box"
A competitive candidate market in H2 2020 resulted in companies seeking more professionals with specific industry experience, with demand for degree-educated candidates also increasing. Whilst it is easy to see why specific industry experience could be appealing in a more remote-based environment, it is worth remembering that cultural fit and work ethic remain top of hiring managers’ priorities when it comes to recruiting PAs and other business support and secretarial staff. We would always strongly advise our clients to be open to considering experience from a range of industries, as well as varying levels of education, to promote a diverse workforce and ensure the best talent for their business.
In recent years, we've witnessed more and more companies are thinking "outside the box" and making hiring decisions based on personality and transferable skills rather than industry-specific experience. A good Personal Assistant will be able to adapt to a new industry quickly and pick up the terminology as they go along. It is easier to train a PA on industry-specific information than it is to train an individual to behave and operate in a certain way. As Simon Sinek says:
“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills”.
In addition, due to the change in the business landscape as a result of COVID-19, many companies have had to change the way that they work and operate, with many companies now considering remote Personal Assistants, or Virtual Assistants, where they previously would have hired office-based staff. This shift will further increase the talent available, as the removal of geographical boundaries will mean that a candidate's location will no longer dictate their suitability for a position.
The only thing standing in your way of hiring your perfect Personal Assistant now is a successful interview process. Ideally, after conducting interviews, you should come away feeling confident that you have gained an honest insight into the candidates, their personalities, their skill sets and whether they are the right fit for your company culture. In order to ensure that you finish the interview process with the right candidate for the job, we recommend that you take the below approach to interviews.
We appreciate that due to COVID-19, face-to-face interviews will be unlikely for some time, however, the following process can be applied to both video and face-to-face interviews.
Implement a CV-based discussion
When you initially read through the candidate’s CV, were there are specific questions you wanted to ask? If so, make a list or annotate the CV to prompt you when interviewing. These questions can be anything, as such:
Who were you supporting in this role?
How big was the company/team?
What was your biggest achievement within this role?
Why did you leave that role?
What transferable skills do you feel you gained during your most recent role?
Asking questions surrounding a candidate’s current and previous roles will allow you to dig a little deeper, whilst also enabling the candidate to clarify any queries you may have surrounding their CV and/or experience. Furthermore, starting the interview off with a CV based discussion will hopefully ease the candidate into the interview, as they will have prepared and feel confident discussing their current and previous positions. It will also hopefully allow for any interview nerves to drop off, so that you see the candidate’s personality shine through.
Ask questions relating to cultural fit and personality
Cultural and personality fit are some of, if not the most important aspects to consider when bringing a new member of staff into your team and company. It is key to ask candidates questions which will highlight their personality and their preferred ways of working, to ensure that you are bringing the right person on board.
For example, you wouldn’t want to bring someone into your company who thrives in a tight-knit team, if they are going to be the only person in the office, or if they like a vibrant and buzzy office but you are a small and quiet workplace. In order to gain more of an insight into the candidate's personality and how they like to work, think of asking questions such as:
How would you describe your ideal way of working?
How would your manager describe you?
Can you talk me through your favourite role to date and why?
What has been your least favourite role to date and why?
What are the most satisfying and most frustrating aspects of your present job?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Questions like these will shed more light on the interviewee’s personality and what they have enjoyed, or not enjoyed, in their current and previous roles, which will enable you to decide whether or not they are going to be the right fit for you and your wider business.
Ask questions relating to cultural fit and personality
During an interview, asking scenario-based questions can provide an excellent insight into how a candidate thinks on their feet and can really help you to uncover who will be most suited to the job at hand. It is important to think of real-life scenario questions that the PA may have faced in previous roles or may go on to face in the role that they are interviewing for, such as:
Can you give me an example of a time when you have worked with a difficult individual and how you dealt with the situation?
How do you manage a demanding executive?
Can you give me an example of how you rectified a difficult situation?
Can you give me an example of when you have successfully juggled conflicting priorities and how you managed this?
Asking questions like this will give you a better understanding of the candidate’s thought process, as well as their problem solving, time management and communication skills. It should also give the interviewee the opportunity to highlight their professional experience, abilities and personal strengths in order to overcome challenges and attain goals in their career.
If you have undertaken an interview and have a couple of potential PA candidates to choose between, it may help to undertake some sort of testing with the remaining candidates in order to help you reach a final decision. Testing potential recruits at interview stage can help you to gain a better understanding of the candidates and add an element of objectivity.
The three main tests that tend to be administered during interviews for PAs are psychometric testing, software testing and prioritisation testing. All three of these tests can be administered remotely, if you are conducting interviews virtually, or in a face-to-face setting.
Psychometric testing can be extremely useful in providing you with a deeper understanding of a candidate’s personality and where their strengths and weaknesses lie as a result of their personality type. This can assist in demonstrating how well they would work alongside you and the wider team. At Lily Shippen, we always use psychometric testing when hiring new members of staff and find it extremely useful and insightful.
Another test worth considering is a software test. For example, you could ask candidates to put together a PowerPoint presentation on a given topic. This will allow you to see how strong their PowerPoint skills are and how efficient and accurate they are when compiling a PowerPoint presentation in a set amount of time. The same process applies for other software such as Outlook, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.
Finally, a very simple test that you can implement is a prioritising exercise. This can be as easy as compiling a list of example tasks that you would need completing by the successful candidate on a daily or weekly basis and asking the candidates to prioritise them in order priority.
Hopefully, including a test in the interview process will help you to finalise your selection and ensure that you hire the perfect PA for you and your business!
Personal Assistant salaries can range depending on location, responsibilities and the level of experience that you are looking for. In London, PA salaries range from £35,000 to £45,000, on average, for permanent roles, with contract rates of £17 - £22 per hour. Whereas, in Manchester, permanent PA roles typically attract salaries of circa £28,000 - £32,000, with contract rates coming in at £14 - £16 per hour. This is a similar story across the UK, with permanent PA positions in the regions averaging at £27,000 - £32,000, or £14 - £16 per hour for temporary contracts.
Our 2020/21 Salary and Market Insights Survey explores PA salaries and benchmarking in more detail, as well as investigating the impact that COVID-19 has had on the sector and what the future of the profession holds. Key takeaways from the report are outlined below.
Interestingly, PA salaries did vary considerably throughout the survey, suggesting that job holders are taking on more responsibility and performing duties more aligned to the Executive Assistant role, without the corresponding title, albeit this, of course, differs across industries.
54.3% of those surveyed said that an annual discretionary bonus would make them stay in their current role for longer, with 32.4% saying it may well influence their decision.
Outside of the capital, technology and private equity businesses continued to lead the way with attractive salaries for junior positions. Conversely, as in previous years, we witnessed many larger companies, most notably law firms, struggling to attract top talent across the regions, due to budgetary constraints. Once again, companies had to pay more for top talent due to a lack of talent in local regions, particularly in areas which do not benefit from good public transport links, resulting in more competitive salaries in areas like Leeds, compared with Manchester. Looking forward, companies in those regions which have adapted to the current climate by embracing technology and a more agile way of working, now have the opportunity to attract better talent from areas outside of the usual commuter belts.
21.4% of Personal Assistants cited an increase in salary and/or benefits as their main motive for seeking new employment in 2021, with company culture and greater job security also cited as popular motives.
Demand for more hybrid support roles continued to increase across all areas of the country, such as PA/Office Manager positions and as well as opportunities for more senior, strategic PAs. Traditional one-to-one roles are continuing to become even rarer, with most of our respondents supporting two or three people. Within industries such as financial services, assistants can expect to support a number of principals, ranging in terms of seniority.
In recent years, more and more PA roles are coming through from legal firms, compared with the more traditional Legal Secretary roles, suggesting that the trend for more forward-thinking business support staff in this sector is likely to continue. Major firms are now pooling their administrative resource and utilising technological advancements, like BigHand, presenting an opportunity for PAs to add value across the business, rather than strictly within the administrative function.
Our 2020/21 study reveals that regular pay reviews are also imperative in retaining top talent. When you consider that 38.7% have not received a salary increase in the last two years, it is unsurprisingly that an increase in salary and/or benefits is a key motive for professionals looking to leave their current companies.
64.8% of respondents would seriously consider leaving their current role for a 5% pay increase elsewhere.
Whilst salary undoubtedly remains a priority for PAs, our 2020/21 Salary and Market Insights Survey reveals that a base salary in isolation is no longer sufficient to attract and retain top talent. Instead, offering a fuller, more-rounded benefits package is essential for companies to maintain a competitive edge, with the majority of respondents preferring to receive benefits over the cash equivalent.
Flexible benefits solutions are also becoming increasingly popular, allowing employees to choose which perks to take advantage of, or receive the cash equivalent. At the other end of the spectrum, 19.4% of those surveyed receive no benefits whatsoever, presenting a real opportunity for companies to stand out from the crowd.
Whilst more traditional benefits range from private healthcare to enhanced pensions schemes, gym memberships and childcare vouchers, it is encouraging to see more benefits focussing on staff wellbeing coming to the fore as a result of the pandemic, such as mindfulness workshops, working from home budgets and subscriptions to Headspace.
When it comes to holiday allowances, the majority of those surveyed are granted 25 days’ annual leave; more than a quarter of employers offer 26 days or more, with 36 days being the highest holiday allowance on offer. More than half of employees have the option to buy and sell holidays as part of their benefits package – an attractive perk for many job-seekers, and particularly those for whom work-life balance is a priority.
Recruitment trends suggest that PAs and EAs within the financial services industry will continue to support multiple principals, attracting higher salaries than their counterparts in other industries. However, our research has revealed that EAs supporting one principle, in a more comprehensive, 360-degree strategic support role are awarded a higher salary. This correlation would suggest that demand for the Executive Business Partner role will continue to grow throughout 2021, as the role of the more experienced EA continues to evolve.
When it comes to ensuring that you're utilising your Personal Assistant effectively to maximise productivity and return on investment, Lucy Brazier, CEO of Marcham Publishing, has some fantastic advice. After all, why wouldn't you want to gain up to 80% of your working day back?
Our annual salary survey repeatedly indicates that, for the majority of PAs on the market, the ability to progress or upskill is the most important thing that they look for in a role and company. Concurrently, this is the main reason candidates cite when they are looking to leave a role: there is no room for progression. Another key differentiator for businesses looking to attract top talent is investing in personal development, with 82.7% of secretarial and support staff having looked into this for themselves.
As a company, if you can offer your PA the option to take on more responsibility, attend training, or present opportunities for upskilling, this will go a long way towards retaining top talent within your business. Moreover, promoting clear career progression pathways will foster loyalty, resulting in lower attrition rates and higher levels of engagement. Progression makes employees feel as though they are growing with the company and provides them with a sense of purpose, whilst helping them feel supported in the workplace, which in turn increases engagement and productivity; research has proven that employees are happy to invest in companies that invest in them in return.
Encouraging progression within a Personal Assistant role allows PAs to become more confident in taking ownership of tasks and projects, and getting involved in other areas of the business. Whilst investing in a PA and challenging them to take on projects outside of their day to day duties enables them to become more strategic, which drives the business forward.
This is why we have launched an exclusive collaboration with PA training specialist, Your Excellency Limited. Our unique offering allows employers who hire through Lily Shippen to enrol their staff onto an accredited qualification programme with Your Excellency, the cost of which is included in our recruitment fee. We also hope that this will present opportunities for companies to consider more junior staff, who may previously have been overlooked due to less experience in a particular area than their more senior peers.
Both Lily Shippen and Your Excellency Limited are passionate about creating a community of high-calibre Personal Assistants who can deliver exceptional performance for their executives, the companies they work for, and themselves. It is key that PAs keep their skills relevant, especially in a world where remote working and the use of technology has become the norm. We believe that this partnership will be very appealing to companies who are looking to get the most out of the new hires they bring onboard. Not only that, but investing in employees’ personal development from the offset will result in companies retaining that top talent within their businesses in the long-term.
We asked Lindsay Taylor, Co-Founder and Director of Your Excellency Limited Virtual Academy, for her expert opinion on the importance of training and development within the PA profession.
As we enter 2021, employers looking to hire new business and executive support talent are faced with a highly competitive recruitment market. With more professionals chasing the same roles, an applicant’s ability to showcase their skills and experience becomes vital, whilst company culture and the opportunity for professional development and career progression are imperative for companies hoping to secure the best talent.
With more and more employers seeking multi-skilled, highly-qualified business and executive support staff, Your Excellency Limited are delighted to have teamed up with the team at Lily Shippen to create a unique offering for employers looking to attract high calibre candidates.
By investing in employees’ development from day one, companies will undoubtedly be more attractive to potential hires - particularly in the current climate where job security is more important than ever - whilst cultivating loyalty and retaining that top talent in the long-term.
What does it take to be one of the best Personal Assistants? How do you get there, and what happens along the way? Lily Shippen interviews some of the top PAs, EAs and VAs across the world in this brand new series.
When an employee hands in their notice, has to take time off for a holiday, maternity leave, illness or simply retires, it can be a stressful and challenging time for a business or individual. Finding suitable temporary or permanent staff can be a daunting and time-consuming task and, unfortunately, due to some hiring managers or companies being ‘burnt’ by turning to recruiters in the past, there can be a reluctance to use recruitment agencies full stop.
However, partnering with the right recruitment agency, that truly understands your company, needs and culture, will save you valuable time, effort and money, whilst ensuring that you find the candidate to suit your requirements.
As a team, Lily Shippen has partnered with a range of clients, spanning many different industries, across the UK and internationally, who will always turn to us should they have any secretarial recruitment needs - be it for the odd day or week's holiday cover, or to recruit permanent members of staff to join their team.
We know that searching for the best PA recruitment agency can be overwhelming and confusing, which is why we've collated our key things to look for when searching for the best PA recruitment agency to partner with to fulfil your employment needs.
When recruiting for a specific type of role, it is always worth researching whether there are agencies that specialise in that particular field. Working with an agency that specialises in recruiting Personal Assistants, instead of a general agency, has a number of advantages, such as the fact that they will have a better understanding of the role and the type of skill set required for the position that you are recruiting for. It's no secret that the PA role differs greatly between companies and is very much tailored to the company and individual(s) that the PA will be supporting. By working with an agency that is an authority on the Personal Assistant market, you are ensuring that your requirements are fully met and that you secure the best talent for your business.
Specialist agencies are also more likely to have a wide database of suitable, high-calibre candidates already at their fingertips and typically secure higher quality CVs than those you may receive through direct job applications or general agencies. This is due to the fact that specialist agencies have a thorough vetting system in place to properly screen their candidates and take the time to learn about their skills and their previous and current roles, as well as their motivations for seeking a new role and expectations from a new position and company. Working with a specialist PA agency will take the leg work out of your recruitment search and considerably speed up the hiring process.
When researching a suitable PA recruitment agency to work with, we'd highly recommend that employers pay particular attention to their reviews, both from PAs and clients, and testimonials or case studies from other businesses that they have previously partnered with. This helps to shed light on the company's reputation and credibility, the type of services that are available and the calibre of clients that they are used to working alongside. If an agency has glowing reviews from candidates and clients alike, this is usually a sign that you are on to a winner!
Another key aspect to research when looking to partner with a PA recruitment agency is whether their company values are listed on their website. This can really help you to understand the agency’s mission statement, their commitment, their ethics, how they operate and what their key objectives are when working with candidates and clients alike. If a company does display its values on its website, read through them and see how they align with your own personal and company values.
Actively keeping in touch with their network by posting regular updates across their social media channels is a sign that an agency goes the extra mile. This can be by offering advice and support to the Personal Assistant community, or generally celebrating and being passionate about the PA profession. Look for an agency that goes above and beyond for their clients and candidates, such as offering workshops for their candidates or extra features or guarantees for their clients, like psychometric testing or a free replacement should a candidate they place leave within six months. If a recruitment agency is adding value to the PA community and its virtual connections through engaging content, it's a great indication that they will go above and beyond to secure the perfect PA for you and your business.
When looking for a suitable agency to partner with, it can be as simple as asking around your network of peers. There is a high possibility that hiring managers within your network have heard about the agency you are looking into partnering with, or they may have even worked with them previously on a PA hire and, as such, they can give you an honest insight into what they have heard or experienced. Recruiters and agencies often have a strong social presence, be it on LinkedIn or other social platforms, so asking around can give you a huge amount of information into the agency’s reputation and whether or not other companies would recommend them or use their services again in the future.
At Lily Shippen, we are fortunate to have received a great deal of work through referrals from companies or individuals that have worked with us previously. In fact, 83% of our business comes from client referrals, which just goes to show that reputation is key when looking to partner with an agency to recruit a new PA for your business.
Finally, why not ask the agency to pitch their services to you either by inviting them into the office or scheduling a virtual meeting? This will allow the agency to showcase what value they can bring, as well as providing more information about what they can offer you in terms of knowledge, the calibre of candidates available, the current market, or any extra measures that could be of interest. A strong performance shows that they have done their homework and that they are committed to providing you with the most suitable and talented PA candidates for the job at hand!
We firmly believe that meeting our clients face-to-face, wherever possible, is imperative for us to understand their requirements and their expectations of the Personal Assistant that joins their team, as well as providing an invaluable insight into their culture which then informs our search for a PA that will fit seamlessly into the organisation from day one.
Recruiting high-calibre Personal Assistants can be costly to businesses. In this short video, our Managing Director, Lily, shares her top tips for saving money when recruiting.
She explains that businesses can save money by agreeing to exclusivity with a recruitment agency for a specific period of time, as this will enable most agencies to be in a position to offer more flexibility on fees. She also adds that you should avoid working to fixed, low fees with recruitment agencies, as this often leads to a poorer search by the recruitment agency and, essentially, having to hire and pay the same fee, six - 12 months down the line.
Another option to save money when recruiting is to condense the support roles within your business. This could be done by combining a PA role with reception duties or considering whether a Personal Assistant could support more than one individual within your business. This can be more challenging for the individual as well as giving them more earning potential, and will also save money on hiring costs, as you won't need to recruit an additional member of staff.
Since launching in 2016, we have carved out a reputation as the go-to specialist for connecting start-ups, high net worth individuals and blue-chip companies with exceptional executive and business and support professionals – both in the UK and internationally. We are proud to offer a range of tailored recruitment solutions to suit your company’s needs and offer training and qualifications to upskill the talent that you employ.
Founded with the vision of building meaningful, long-term relationships with both clients and candidates alike, we take a proactive, personal approach to connecting high-calibre professionals with high-calibre employers.
We're experts at recruiting top business support talent. Across our team, we have nearly thirty years of experience recruiting PAs, EAs, Virtual Assistants, Chiefs of Staff, Receptionists, Executive Business Partners, Office Managers, private and household staff and everything in between. We offer bespoke recruitment solutions from one-day temporary covers to maternity covers and permanent contracts.
Committed to delivering the highest level of service for our clients and candidates, our award-winning approach to recruitment enables exceptional support staff to fulfil their true potential and achieve optimum value for employers.
Our service is driven by knowledge. As a boutique, specialist executive and business support agency, our team have an unrivalled understanding of what excellence looks like across all levels of the profession – from front of house day covers to permanent Chiefs of Staff.
Thoroughly vetting and getting to know every candidate that we represent helps us to tailor our recruitment service and set everyone up to succeed, ensuring that you secure the best talent for your business.
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