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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Truth 3. Staffing Your Leadership Office: Your Assistant Plays a Vital Role

Many of the people you'll deal with as a leader start forming their opinions of you long before you meet them—when they first call or visit your office and encounter your assistant. This person serves as an advertisement for who you are in your organization. If he or she is kind and gracious yet sets good boundaries, others will see professionalism.

Therefore, hiring the right assistant should be a top priority as you enter your leadership role, and the process needs your personal attention. It's a big mistake to leave the selection of such a key person to your office manager or someone in human resources. Others can help screen and process candidates, but it's your job to get your requirements straight and to conduct the final interviews.

Why is it worth taking the time to do this? Aren't all good assistants the same? No! Different people need different assistants!

Think about what you'd like—and we're not talking looks, age, or other vital statistics. Brainstorm a list of requirements, and put them in writing. Include the few characteristics that are required, the many that you would like to have, and the ones that you know will not work. Do you want someone who instantly responds to any request from senior executives, or do you need someone who talks with you each day and thinks through your requirements so that a senior executive request may get a bit of postponement? These are both valid approaches, yet are different ways of working.

Some common requirements may include hiring someone who

  • Knows when to contact you when you are on the road.
  • Screens your calls.
  • Knows how to take into account your work pace and preferences when scheduling your diary.
  • Shows loyalty by speaking well of you and keeping a professional distance with other colleagues and staff members.
  • Thinks ahead to anticipate what you need.
  • Checks for unforeseen problems that can result from everyday decisions.
  • Is well connected in the company or can make connections quickly.

Once you've established your requirements, send your wish list to the HR team. Then choose the most qualified of the candidates they choose for interviews. And don't forget internal candidates so that you are fair and can compare.

Now think through your interview approach. How will you confirm candidates' abilities and make sure that their mindsets match what you require for the job? The interview process may be dictated by the norms in your company, but it's your responsibility to get what you think you need.

The following techniques are all proven ways of drawing out a candidate's abilities. Use them individually, or combine them for really incisive interviews.

  1. Ask candidates to talk about what they did in every job they have had since school or at least in the last two to four positions. What did they enjoy most, and which areas were not so enjoyable? What were they good at?

    What they enjoyed is a key to where their strengths lie. This helps you determine whether they have had experiences that will be useful in working with you.

  2. As candidates talk about the positions they've held, ask what they thought of previous bosses' strengths and weaknesses (one or two of each will do). You're not asking them to be disloyal but to look at each boss objectively, since everyone has strengths and weaknesses. You're looking for what may apply to you. If you want someone who can think for himself, it should sound alarm bells if he says his former boss's strength was that she told him exactly what to do. If someone tells you that her boss gave her a lot of praise, do you want to do that consistently?
  3. Ask about hypothetical situations based on your wish-list requirements. Is there something special about the job you need done regularly? If so, compose a test situation. If you want to find out if someone can handle ambiguous scheduling requirements, pose a hypothetical situation: "What would you do if I were out of town and someone insisted on making an appointment for when I got back?"
  4. Acknowledging expectations. Tell the candidates your expectations, and ask them to give you theirs. These expectations are good clues as to what they want in a job and whether they match your requirements.

Getting the right person to represent you to the world and to be a partner in your day-to-day work life can make or break your success in your leadership role. Taking the time to identify, check out, and hire that person is worth every hour and day you devote to the task. You will reap the benefits.

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