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Best Tips for Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Hi everyone! My name is Ryan Johnson and I'm the Categories Director for the Admin Support category at Elance-oDesk. I'm starting this thread to provide our community with tips on how to hire amazing virtual assistants. There's amazing VA talent on our platform and I want to help more people find and hire this talent! I'm interested in having experienced clients and freelancers provide their insider tips on how they find and hire top VAs on oDesk and/or what you think are the most important qualities and skills to look for in a VA, and how to interview and screen for them. Thank you for participating in this discussion!

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I believe if someone wants to find a good VA the first step is being extemely clear on what you are looking for. 


Do you need someone full time?

Do you need someone part time?

Do you want someone once in awhile?


What tasks are important to you that they have skills in?


Consider personality into it. If you hire a VA you are going to have to trust them and work with them on a regular basis. Look at personality traits. Do you want someone detail oriented, are you nit picky about something in particular. Ask those things when you interview.


Do you need someone with expert skills or is it something you can take time out to teach or show them how to do. Remember even if they know how to do something you as a client always have your own way of doing things. Don't expect in one day that the VA is going to know how you want things done.


Consider if you are hiring local or overseas cultural differences and differences in time zones. 


If you require then to use a specific program make sure they have it or can obtain it or be willing to furnish it.


Always conduct a phone (skype) interview and ask the questions you feel are important.


On hiring here or elsewhere check their skills and tests they have taken. Check their feedback. I am sure I can think of a dozen more things but will leave more for the discussion. 

BTW great topic to bring up.

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Thanks for the endorsement R J and good points Suzanne.  As a VA myself, I wish more people would realize all that we offer and how we can make the client money by freeing up his/her time.


I also think that there may be some misconception about what a VA is and does.  I see many jobs decriptions for web developers, programmers, etc., but they are asking for a VA.  Just because a person is in a support position, does not automatically make them a VA.  Sometimes a client would be better off with a graphic designer or another service provider.


Virtual assistants are more in an administrative roll, but also do specialize in a field and an industry.  The roll is still more towards administrative in scope.  


Again, thanks for bringing focus to our industry.

I think many inexperienced clients are unsure how much they can really delegate to a VA. When I talk to our seasoned clients they tell me about how their VA's contribution grows over time. Starting with email prioritization, management and scheduling meetings, to full-blown project management, graphic design and video editing work. It's awesome to hear how critical and valuable their VAs are to their lives and businesses.

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Thank you for contributing to this discussion Suzanne and Leisa! Great advice!

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I am surprized more have not posted in this thread as it is something I see elsewhere many times wanting to know how to hire a good VA.


Leisa, there are many hats a VA wears. It is not a general office postion. I don't think you can lump a VA into one category as many do have website skills as well as programming skills. I do agree if they need a programmer they need to pay for one.


Before I started doing work on Odesk, I had to go through and figure out all the skills I did have, and then decide which I wanted to focus on. But there are many skills some don't know they even have.


Things like updating websites and other skills are many of the skills I have seen in other VA's. So I don't think a VA can be lumped into one category. I do think that clients need to be realistic on what they want. One person can't always do everything, but many can be taught as they work with a client.


I just don't think you can label one category for a VA as many of the VA's I know have many different skills.


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"I am surprized more have not posted in this thread as it is something I see elsewhere many times wanting to know how to hire a good VA."


the reason could be because not everyone knows they're already doing VA work! Woman Wink


your comment tells a great way to describe/explain what a VA does and can do. indeed, VA work isn't a general office job. as a VA you get to be the right-hand, the clone. some VAs do act as an "extension" of the client when he happens to be a programmer, and is compelled to program as well. i guess the keyword here is "assistant".

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain." - Maya Angelou
Try harder, or care less.
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I believe many VA's sell themselves short. As I stated before and you states "Assistant" is the key word here. A VA wears many hats and generally has many talents and can adjust to the many demands required of them. I think many sell themselves short by limiting what they "Can" do.


One thing I did not mention and some may not agree with me, but go with your gut feeling on hiring someone. If you are comfortable with thier skills or that you feel you can teach them in a short amount of time what you need done, Go For It!


Don't shy away from the VA that doesn't have everything you are looking for because you may have passed up that gem you were searching for.




A good start would be for the client to write a detailed description. There's nothing worse than seeing an extremely vague job post. How do you expect to hire a quality freelancer if you're not clear about what you're looking for? (This closely relates to the points Suzanne was making). It turn, the freelancer would be able to write a tailor-made, relevant cover letter.


Also clients should take the time to be respectful. Writing an ad which sounds like your yelling at someone or shouting demands isn't a good look. And what's with writing in all caps?


An ad like that would definitely make me look elsewhere. If you speak in that manner it leads me to think that you would be a complete nightmare to work with.

I think Leisa's point is that you get what you pay for. Hiring a VA who can use Photoshop will not get you the same results as hiring a designer.

But Marcia it might. Perhaps the VA has designer skills... 


I use to do websites and graphic designs, and don't any longer and don't want to for work. But I do have skills for website and graphics. 


So I don't think that it is true you always would need to hire a designer or other to do a job. 


I believe the term Virtual Assistant can be just about anything. There is no specific description but an "Assistant" it does not mean always that someone "Only" does office work.

If you are hiring someone to do the work of a designer, you should pay a designer rate, not a VA rate. 



I left this alone for awhile cause I didn't want to sound like a smart you know what, but some VA's charge more then designers do. So perhaps they want to pay a designers rate not a VA's Rate. I know many VA's who charge upwards of $50.00 an hour. Perhaps not on Odesk but there are VA's out there who charge more then some designers. do.

You are right, some VAs are very highly paid. Assistants can command very  high rates. I've worked as a manager where assistants earned more than I did. The assistant  to the CEO of a multinational corporation will earn more than a designer who designs the website of a local plumber. On oDesk however, VA work is generally considered low value.  Of course it depends on the skills of the individual, and if you are a VA who can sell yourself as being worth a higher salary, that's fantastic. Unfortunately, many oDesk clients will see the job title "Virtual Assistant" as meaning "cheap labor".


Maybe pay people based on their skills, not on their job titles, is better advice.


Indeed I have learned a lot from your post. I am uplifted by it. Recently, I had an experience of candidacy on a personal assistance job, I'm not actually a VA. So here it goes, the employer and I skyped in. I didn't see his face. We talked from simple conversation to intense. At first, he was creating a positive welcome for me. But later I know he was wanting me to stir around like I could be perverted. He was asking like it is modest to be like them, not conservative. I was like so confused with what he asked. So I turned him down. And he was like he doesn't want me anyway. I am Renelene and I am new in odesk. I felt trespassed. But now, I'm okay. 🙂

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Hi Renelene, I'm sorry to hear that you had a negative experience with a prospective client. I hope that you've had many positive experiences since! Please let me know how things are going.

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I think one of the best things to consider would be the person's background.

Personalities are important as well. It is good to talk to people and see what they might bring to the table.

I know from personal experience that I may offer something in my VA skill set that someone else may not offer. 

I also know it is important to consider many types of applicants. I know I cannot always list my entire skill set in a cover letter and because of my past employment cannot always fit it in my resume either. 

Employers should consider these points as well.


Thanks Pamela! Of the skills that you have, what are a few unique ones that you feel clients value most?

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One of mine did take that into consideration. I started out doing one job for them and when they went through and figured out skills i had and some I forgot or didn't know I had I got more money and another position with them. 


I know I have a wide variety of skills I have picked up over the years doing a little of everything. So it is not always easy to put in my profile or a cover letter skills I do  have. Good points!

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Welcome to the forum. I suggest the best thing you can do is read all the information you can on how to work on Upwork and ask lots of questions if you are trying to figure out things.