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What to Look for in Your First EA

The Most Important Search of Your Career

It’s a new day at your young startup company. The energy is palpable as the cap table excitedly discusses the next hire—something that desperately needs to happen to keep with up with the breakneck speed at which you’re moving.

Biz dev wants a rockstar salesperson. Your COO wants a talented engineer, she’s already pushing her next ambitious product deadline after all. And both would be incredible assets for your young business.

But as the founder/CEO you’re beginning to realize that you’ll need to scale your own capabilities as fast as your company’s, and neither of those proposed hires will offer you much leverage. Without leverage, you know you’ll quickly burn out, and the focus and energy you need to take your company to the next level will fade along with the joy you once found in the work.

Itching at the back of your mind is the idea of a highly skilled and trustworthy executive assistant. Maybe you’re even dreaming of someone with the desire, skill, and ability to go beyond the traditional EA title to become a sounding board, even a strategic partner. We at Mindmaven call this an EM, or engagement manager, and they really do exist!

An EM is someone who can provide massive lift to the office of the CEO, potentially saving up to 10+ hours of week of time. Think: a combination EA and Chief of Staff.

A real rockstar EM will provide mental lift to the CEO while proactively managing communication, skillfully protecting—not just managing—your calendar, and helping you to invest into your most important asset, your relationships, to keep you top of mind with those people who can send you the best opportunities.

Often the EA role is seen as a luxury, something a young business can’t afford. But because of the power and increased velocity an EM can provide—for a relatively affordable price—this is a position you can’t afford to leave open.

I’m Convinced! How do I find an EM?

So where do you start once you decide to pull the trigger and look for this hire?

Mindmaven has worked with 100s of EAs, recruiting and training them to become highly successful EMs. Over the last decade, we’ve refined exactly what it takes to find the best people for the job.

If you’re looking to hire an EM (remember, we’re talking executive assistant+), this guide will help you with an overview of what we look for when recruiting and training superpowered EMs.

The Learned Qualities Your Executive Assistant+ Should Have

Experience and Skill

We have found that most of the skills required to make an exceptional EM are super trainable with the right desire and attitude. But there are a few things that help the process along.

It’s imperative that the candidate has at least 2 years of experience in a high-velocity company, and we look for someone who has around 2-4 years of direct EA experience. But even without direct EA experience, there are other roles that would provide some of the baseline skills you’ll want. We have found that teachers, for example, often already have these non-negotiable EM skills:

  • Working on a team and juggling a complex workload of shifting priorities.
    EMs are often required to be the voice of the CEO when communicating with other departments.
  • A refined ability to communicate using empathy and tact.
    An EM needs to be able to skillfully navigate complex situations sometimes involving competing egos and interests.
  • Competence with new technologies.
    They will likely have to learn several new software programs to be successful.

Beyond these, your EM candidate should have a certain level of “hard skills” as well. Qualified candidates need to be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of the following tools and skills.

Top 5 Hard Skills for an Executive Assistant

  1. Proficiency in some form of task management system
  2. Complex calendar management
  3. Working knowledge of email programs such as Outlook and Gmail
  4. Ability to type relatively quickly and accurately
  5. Demonstrated time management skills

The Inherent Qualities Your Executive Assistant+ Should Have

Attitude and Mindset

Often more important (and more complex) than the “hard skills” are the inherent qualities that can’t just be taught. For an executive assistant to have the potential to grow into the role of an EM and provide you with as much leverage as possible, they need to have a set of inherent and intangible qualities.

Possibly the most important is the ability to adapt. This sounds simple, but it requires an open mind, a love of learning, and humility that not everyone has.

Beyond adaptability, the following traits are also necessary to become a superpowered EM:

  • Genuine desire to help: A genuine love of the work and of helping others. They should be the type of person who smiles in delight when handed a new challenge to be solved for the benefit of others. This is also a strong indicator of empathy and the ability to put oneself in other shoes, which is imperative in this role.
  • Attention to detail: An EM needs to be the type of person who enjoys managing the micro. And has the natural inclination to nitpick and follow-up on even the most mundane seeming details.
  • Love of learning: A great EA is going to be required to learn a variety of new skills and modalities of operating. Someone who is set in their ways or does not have the inherent love of growing is not going to be able to thrive in a role like this, especially in a startup environment where the boundaries and limitations of the role are going to be flexible and often changing.
  • Grit and resilience: Anyone looking to grow into that role of an EM must have the grit and determination it takes to tackle new challenges while accepting and incorporating lots of feedback and calibration. It’s a process, not an overnight transformation, and you want someone who will stick it out for the long haul.

If you can find someone with the unique combination of skills and inherent traits above, we’d say make them your EM. With the proper training and systems, they will become an indispensable member of your team and one of the best hires you could ever make.

The Long Search for the Perfect EM (And the Myths that Can Derail You)

In our decade-long journey working with EAs and EMs all over the world, we’ve become intimately familiar with the pitfalls and questions that haunt CEOs and founders looking to hire one.

If you’ve decided to take on this search for yourself, we’ll help you avoid the sometimes surprising mistakes that execs make when they go searching in the dark for their first EA/EM. There are four major myths that cause most of those mistakes, and four simple solutions to help ensure your hire is the right one.

The Myth of the “Queen Bee”

Often when looking for their first EA, an exec looks for someone who has been a career EA and already has set ways of doing things. Unfortunately for them, especially in a startup, these candidates are often less willing to learn new skills and adapt to new ways of doing things. They can also be extremely expensive, making them a hard sell for those early stages of funding.

We find that those who have similar high-volume experiences, but potentially in other roles (teachers, for example), are far more open to adopting new ways of working and are better able to keep up with the speed at which things change in a young startup company. Plus you can get someone amazing in a reasonable $50-65K range.

The Myth of the Black Hole

It is common for people embarking on this search for the first time to feel as though the search is just too difficult. It can feel like a black hole of time and energy—like it’s just not worth it.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. For one, finding the right EA/EM will always be worth it. This person will provide the mental lift and support you need to operate at the level your growing company demands. Secondly, there are several ways to make the search easier. Not least of which is using an experienced service to help you make your hire (more on this below).

The Myth of the Unicorn

This myth tells you there is going to be one individual out there who already has the perfect combination of hard skills and inherent qualities and will be able to “do it all.” The fact is that no matter who you hire there is going to be a learning curve and some calibration/work required for them to grow into the role. An EA’s position is one based in absolute trust with their exec, and that takes time and patience to build. The reality is that there are probably a lot of people who could get to this point, you just must be willing to work with them and understand that no one person is going to have everything you desire.

The Myth of Location

Many execs we’ve worked with began under the assumption that to find a great EA they need to find someone who can work in-person, in their office, daily. Not only does this limit the talent pool you can pull from, but it increases the likelihood that someone—with so many remote options in our modern world—might not stay around as long. If you’re willing to cast a wider net, you’ll open yourself up to a ton of great talent and likely land a better candidate.

Mindmaven has been completely remote from its inception more than a decade ago, and the last few years have proven what’s possible to get done in a remote work environment. We at Mindmaven also know how to find someone fantastic anywhere in the nation, which brings us to the search, and how to best find your perfect match.

Helping Us, Helping You

Mindmaven has been known for the last decade as a coaching organization that helps execs, founders, and CEOs reach their fullest potential by fundamentally changing the way they work with an EA. With a focus on relationships, productivity, and becoming the best version of yourself, we have had the honor of working with many of Silicon Valley’s top tech unicorns as well as major companies in a variety of industries all over the country and even the world.

Now, we have opened ourselves up to solving one of the most common problems that afflict our clients: How to find an assistant to help them along their journey.

Our new recruiting arm provides a highly vetted and qualified talent pool of candidates around the country who are dedicated to growing beyond the traditional EA role to become amazing EMs.

In fact, we test and vet our candidates so heavily one client joked that it’s harder to get into our talent pool than to get into Harvard. That is, of around 500 candidates, only 5 will make it fully vetted to get an introduction to one of our clients.

If you want to take the leap and start on your journey to reaching your fullest potential as a founder or CEO, then submit your info below for some more information on our recruiting services. Let us help you find an EM who will bring you massive leverage and the mental lift you need to become the leader your company deserves.

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