C-Suiters, Ease Your Workload by Looking for This Critical Skill When Interviewing Your Next Executive Assistant

The role of the executive assistant has dramatically transformed during my 30 years as a recruiter for Atlanta companies and healthcare practices. No longer do they just field phone calls and draft communication pieces. Today’s typical c-suite executive assistant now resembles more of a junior executive.

Both my corporate and healthcare clients rely heavily on their executive assistants. These professional multi-taskers keep them organized, but they also serve as a critical sounding board who likely knows more about the strategic direction of the organization than many on the management team.

So, believe me when I say that finding an executive assistant who is a perfect match for a senior leader is a project. And over the years, I’ve learned that there’s one skill that when present doesn’t guarantee success—but when absent—inevitably leads to failure. What is it? Resilience.

Resilience isn’t a character trait. It’s a cultivated skill.

The best organizations weave resilience into the fabric of the culture. They make room for their people to practice it by taking risks, making mistakes and learning from failures. Some of the best leadership books have been written by CEOs whose companies faced great adversities, and didn’t just survive, but grew stronger. Starbucks and Pixar are two well-known companies whose leaders insisted on overcoming setbacks, unforeseen events and obstacles.

Smaller, less well-known companies face adversity as well. The sudden loss of a founder, a merger gone awry or cut-throat competition all require leaders and staff to be resilient. But why is it critical that a c-suite executive assistant master a high degree of resilience?

Aside from the obvious cultural disruption when you have someone on staff who doesn’t handle adversity well, there is also risk of a significant financial toll. A study released by meQuilibrium, a stress management firm, reported that up to one million employees miss work each day because of stress. This comes with a price tag of an estimated average of $602 per employee per year.

How do you know if you’re hiring someone who will rise when adversity strikes?

Look for the three C’s in your next executive assistant: Calm. Cool. Collected.

Before resilience can be cultivated, self-awareness must be present. We have all met people who seem uncomfortable in their own skin. Whether it comes across as a nervous fidget or defensiveness, it’s an unattractive reality to encounter people who haven’t yet learned to accept their own flaws, maintain a sense of optimism or truly see challenges as opportunities to grow. While no interview can tell you everything you need to know about your next potential executive assistant—only on-the-job experience does that—there are some best-practice interview questions you can ask to identify just how much grit this person possesses. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Tell me about a time you faced a significant setback or made a mistake. How did resolve it?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked with someone you didn’t agree with or didn’t get along well with.
  • How do you express and maintain a sense of calm optimism when others are struggling with crisis or expressing dissatisfaction with a decision coming from your boss?
  • Everyone needs to refresh themselves when working in a demanding environment. How do you manage stress so that you stay on top of deadlines?
  • Tell me about a time when you wish you had asked for help sooner.
  • How do you cope with the pressures of perfection?
  • What is the best way for you to receive negative feedback about your performance?

Being responsible for the viability of an organization and the vitality of your staff is rarely a job as glamorous as some might think. I’ve actually had clients tell me that finding that perfect “right-hand” man or woman who understands the strategic direction of their organization has saved their sanity. In a world where we’re all being asked to do more with less, finding the right executive assistant to support you deserves more attention than placing a cookie-cutter ad on a job board.

Reach out to an independent recruiter who has an established network of senior executive assistants and can quickly arrange interviews with those who are experienced in your industry, are a match for your culture and are truly interested in a long-term role.

Need help finding qualified candidates?

Let’s talk. You can reach me at 404.822.9392 or email me at rosemary@rgstaffing.net. For 30 years, I’ve been dedicated to helping companies, medical practices, law firms and creative agencies in Atlanta thrive by staffing them with the very best talent. I fill a variety of positions including executive assistants, receptionists, medical front office billing staff, as well as legal staff just to name a few. I look forward to helping you reach your goal.