Recruiting an executive PA? Here are four things to check

Ashley Kelly

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the vital role played by secretarial and support staff in the success of the business, and this is particularly true for executive PAs. It can be challenging to find a candidate who possesses the right skills to excel in this role, as there are few formal qualifications which can indicate a professional’s expertise in this area.

Ashley Kelly, Manager of Secretarial and Business Support at Robert Walters Ireland: “You can’t overestimate the importance of hiring the right executive PA. The role requires someone to work side-by-side with chief executives and leaders, playing a key role in supporting decisions.” 

Read the four top things Ashley considers important when recruiting for an executive PA.

1. Is the job description specific enough?

Executive PAs are often entrusted with a significant amount of responsibility and are expected to provide support to their team across a wide range of areas. In general, they will need to demonstrate a high level of attention to detail and the ability to organise various priorities effectively. But since the role is so connected to the needs of the team or individual they are supporting, the specific demands of the job can vary significantly.

Before you can hire your perfect executive PA, you need to first determine exactly what this hire will mean in relation to your business and how to get the hiring process right. Ashley: “Make sure to clearly define all the duties and responsibilities of the role. How will they help support you in making key business decisions? Will they take minutes at meetings? Will they present MI? Do you need someone who is available to help out more than one stakeholder in the business? Include all of this in the job description, in order to ensure that you get a close match in applicants.”

2. Do the candidates have the right business sense?

An effective executive PA should have a thorough understanding of the business culture and overall goals. As the business evolves and develops, they will need to understand how these shifts will impact their team and adapt their approach accordingly.

“This level of understanding will also come to play when recruiting new members of the team later on. A good executive PA can offer valuable insights when candidates are being assessed. They will be in a strong position to advise the hiring manager on whether a potential candidate will be a good fit for the team overall,” says Ashley.

“At the interview stage, candidates should reveal a good level of intuition by being able to look at the bigger picture when answering questions. They should demonstrate this by trying to identify the real objective behind questions. For example: ‘How would you manage multiple partners?’ This question is multi-faceted and, indirectly, could be asking about multi-tasking, varying personalities, stress, time management and prioritising, amongst others. By giving an answer that touches on each aspect rather than a single response, candidates will show their ability to handle a broad range of issues that may arise in any situation in the business.”

By asking these questions during the interview stage, hiring managers will need to identify whether the candidate has a similar train of thought inline with what the business requires from the executive PA.

3. How are their communication and stakeholder management skills?

As mentioned, an executive PA needs to have highly specialised knowledge and understanding of the team or individual they are supporting. To gain this insight, executive PAs need to be highly effective communicators, both in terms of providing information to their team and recognising how that team communicates back to them.

Ashley: ‘Previous experience working with a varied range of colleagues, or playing a role of liaison between different departments, can help ensure that they possess these skills.’

4. How is their track record?

Typically, an executive PA will build strong working and personal relationships with their team. Only once they have established these, they will thrive in their role. When looking to take on a role in a new organisation, they will have to reinvest in building personal relations and understanding of the business.

Ashley: “To be effective in their role, an executive PA needs to be able to gain the trust and confidence of their team. Getting an understanding of their previous roles and why they have left them, can help to ensure that this is the case.”

Candidates who can demonstrate relevant experience in a role which included key stakeholder management, the ability to plan as well as adapt to changing circumstances should be highly sought after.

If you'd like to find out more about hiring an executive PA, please contact Ashley Kelly:

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