Note from the editor: We’re excited to be featuring a post from our friends over at InboxDone. We’ve had FBVA graduates apply for (and land!) work with IBD and if email management is your jam, you should definitely check them out.
Hello fellow virtual assistants! My name is Alex Mogavero, and I’ve worked as an Inbox Manager for InboxDone.com (we provide email management assistants) since it was founded back in 2017.
I’ve also worked as the Hiring Manager for the company since 2019, and have helped expand our global team from the United States and Canada to each of the inhabited continents (if you happen to know anyone in Antarctica, send them our way!).
In my tenure as Hiring Manager, I’ve received thousands of applications, and learned how to identify promising candidates within seconds. There are clear signs that indicate when I’ve found what us hiring professionals call a “unicorn,” as well as red flags, which tell me when I haven’t.
In what follows, I’m going to attempt to give you as clear a picture as I can of what makes a stellar virtual assistant. If you can adopt and adhere to the following principles, you’ll be in the running for a job not just with InboxDone, but with virtual assistant agencies worldwide.
Exemplify Excellence (The Tiny Details Matter!)
Our job search begins with the understanding that perfect candidates don’t exist. After all, we’re humans, not machines, and inevitably we’re going to make a mistake.
With that said, our margins for error are tight in this line of work, and one of the biggest things I’m looking for in a written application is excellence.
More than two misspelled words, for example, or consistent instances of incorrect punctuation will disqualify an otherwise good applicant. Attention to detail is crucial for a virtual assistant since it helps establish trust with clients, so if it’s not present out the gate, I can’t guarantee it will develop down the road.
An application should be indicative of your very best work, because it’s usually the only chance you’ll have to make an impression on a hiring manager. Not capitalizing the letter “I,” or leaving apostrophes out of contractions makes me feel like you’re not taking the opportunity seriously, or are rushing through the process.
If you’re an overthinker, you may have an advantage here (as I’m guessing you read every sentence you write at least twice). Just be careful not to let your analytical tendencies paralyze you! Eventually, we all have to hit the “Send” button, and trust we’ve done our best.
Express Emotional Intelligence (Don’t Be A Robot)
While impeccable grammar should be the first skill you seek to demonstrate in your application, emotional intelligence is a close second.
Without the ability to understand and respond to the subtle emotional cues and undercurrents in human interactions, you run the risk of sounding insensitive, condescending, or robotic.
There are a few hallmarks of an emotionally intelligent email response — it acknowledges what the customer or client has said, and expresses empathy. It makes the person on the other end feel like they’re seen and cared about, instead of just a business transaction.
Closely linked to this skill is the ability to establish rapport, something successful teachers, counsellors, and people in other helping professions often do unconsciously.
I like to define rapport, essentially, as trust — creating a safe, welcoming space for whoever needs it. It’s what we refer to when we say we’ve “clicked” with another person, or have the impression that someone really “gets” us, or is on the same page.
This applies to the relationship with your client as much as your client’s customers. You’ll most likely be communicating with your clients on a near-daily basis, so learning how to build rapport fast is the key to cultivating long-term client relationships.
What I’m always looking for in applications is a blend of warmth and competence — an assurance that you’ll stay on top of whatever has been delegated to you, as well as connect with each virtual recipient and put their mind at ease when it’s been a stressful day.
Rapport often looks like a conversation that flows without much effort, or a smile on your face when an interaction ends. Although it might seem like magic, the next time this happens to you, pay attention and take notes! It can absolutely be learned.
Practice Active Listening (Especially For Interviews!)
When your superior writing skills and warm personality land you an interview with a virtual assistant agency, the next thing you should aim to showcase is your active listening skills.
Much like emotional intelligence, active listening has become a bit of a buzzword lately. However, the concept behind it is fairly simple — instead of just waiting to respond, active listening means paying careful attention to what’s being said and unsaid.
For example, the word “sure” is often used to communicate assent, but if it’s said in a tone that’s not very convincing, it might actually mean the opposite. If you’re not paying attention to the tone that accompanies this word, valuable information can be lost. Active listening involves identifying the information transmitted through nonverbal cues, and integrating it into your responses.
If you have a trusted friend or family member, a great way to cultivate active listening is to take turns giving and receiving attention. The person who’s receiving attention can choose to speak, or sit in silence — it really doesn’t matter what they do. The job of the person giving attention, on the other hand, is to attend to the receiver as much as possible, and take in what they’re expressing (without interrupting or interfering).
After a predetermined amount of time has passed (say, three minutes), both participants share their experience. The receiver of attention will talk about what it felt like to be noticed, while the giver will attempt to state everything they perceived. The result of this exercise, for the receiver, is to experience being seen, while the goal for the giver is to see.
For an added bit of perspective, you can also add in a third person here, who observes the entire process and shares what they noticed at the end!
Evaluate Your Mindset (Be A Life-Long Learner)
The last thing I’d like to touch on is the mindset of a virtual assistant.
To start, is the applicant more internally or externally focused? Questions like “Why do you want to join our company?” are gauging this balance to determine if you’re only in it for the money, or if you also find value in helping a client through administrative work.
While it’s natural to want both fulfillment and a steady paycheck, I do find that the best virtual assistants have a deep sense of altruism in all that they do. Maybe you feel satisfaction when you’re able to take something off your client’s plate so they can finally spend time with their family. Or maybe you love helping a distressed customer find the answer they need.
Put simply, the assistants I hire on a regular basis are motivated by something more than a paycheck, otherwise the role may not bring a lasting sense of long-term fulfillment.
Another aspect of a virtual assistant’s mindset I like to ascertain is whether they’re a problem or solution finder. In my experience, this is really put to the test in uncomfortable situations (like an interview!), where you are faced with questions you may not have the answer to.
Problem-finders are excellent at finding issues, but not so great at fixing them. They often have a hard time troubleshooting things on their own, and end up outsourcing tasks that appear too difficult. What would seem to underlie this is a core belief that they don’t have (or won’t find) the answer.
Solution-finders, on the other hand, take unpleasant or challenging situations in stride. They have an unflappable quality, a deep sense of calm, and a confidence that they can resolve the issue independently by locating the necessary information. In their minds, it’s unlikely they’ll come across something that’s never been solved before, so the answer to their problem must already be out there.
This distinction can be clearly identified in the way assistants ask questions. Take a look at the following two examples of questions sent to a client:
- “What would you like me to do about [X]?”
- “This is what’s going on: [X]. These are some different solutions I can implement based on what I know: (outline options A, B, C). Which option would you prefer?”
In the first example, the assistant has identified the problem, but they haven’t done any preliminary research to identify a potential solution. The ball is now back in the client’s court.
Compare this to the second example. A solution-finder will always include a proposed solution with every question, which makes the client’s life (or the customer’s experience) that much more seamless.
For some virtual assistants, the confidence to propose solutions doesn’t come naturally — after all, a certain amount of self-doubt makes us double-check our responses, and reduce our mistakes and errors. That’s not a bad thing (unless it’s crippling!).
The issue lies in putting work on other people’s plates, when the goal is always to alleviate overwhelm. Thankfully, confidence is something that can be cultivated over time, especially with the support of a secondary virtual assistant, and a mentor or training manager.
How Do You Respond To Feedback?
Another aspect of mindset is how a virtual assistant responds to feedback.
Interaction with feedback is so important that we ask InboxDone applicants this question upfront, and their response has the power to determine the fate of their entire application.
There are better answers to this question, and worse answers. The best ones come from candidates who don’t take feedback as a personal attack, but as simply a way to improve.
The worst ones don’t take the question seriously, or say something along the lines of “I usually don’t need feedback because of my prior experience” or “I’m my own boss for a reason, I know what to do.”
Leaving some room for growth is at the heart of this question — the ability and willingness to learn something new, or try something a different way.
At InboxDone, there is one concept that underlies everything we do: assume the best of all possible intentions. In a completely virtual environment, we lose all the cues that allow us to read a person (like eye contact, body language and tone of voice). So it’s vitally important to remember that if a client sends a seemingly terse message (or offers constructive feedback), they are most likely just busy, not upset.
At the end of the day, as VAs, we are in supporting roles, and the business we support is run by our client. That client may have a very different way of doing things than we do, but it’s imperative to honor their preferences (assuming their business has an ethical code of conduct, centered in respect!).
Realistically, many individuals struggle with constructive feedback, but refraining from getting defensive (or shutting down completely) is a must, as is having the mindset of a lifetime learner. In this role, the less personally we take things, the lighter our mental load will be.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, I truly believe these criteria will help in your job search.
There are so many times I’ve wished I could share these guidelines with virtual assistants — besides knowing the difference between they’re, their, and there, or its versus it’s!
While it’s never been easier to find an open position as a virtual email assistant, it’s also never been harder to make yourself stand out.
So with that in mind, go forth now and wow the hiring managers of the world with your newly improved (or acquired) skills!