By Claire Gilbertsen
Almost everyone who lives in New York could benefit from having a Personal Assistant. It’s the perfect solution to the ongoing battle to acquire New York’s hottest commodity: Time. Not a single person I know complains of having too much free time—similarly, no one I know would object to having some additional income.
Personal Assistants can be part time or full time, face-to-face or virtual, but bottom line is that they are there to make your life significantly easier. Here are some tried and true ways to get the most out of having a Personal Assistant—from before you even hire someone to maintaining a long-lasting and loyal working relationship.
- Be specific in your job description. Take a week and jot down things you wish you could have someone take off your plate—whether it’s tracking down lost shirts at the dry cleaner’s or making elaborate travel plans. Be sure to include your expectations about availability up front so as to avoid any potential resentment down the road. For example, if you want someone who will respond to your e-mail or text within five minutes of sending it, no matter the time of day, make that clear up front. As long as you’re clear about what you expect, that will make finding the perfect fit easier.
- Look for potential more than experience. Being a Personal Assistant isn’t rocket science, and while it’s great to hire someone who has some experience, it’s not mandatory. If the candidate has a professional demeanor, you feel you can communicate well with this person, and you believe they have the capacity to grow—hire him or her over someone with extensive experience. Chances are someone who is new, hungry for approval, and eager to please will give you the 110% you are looking for, rather than someone who has been doing the same work for 10+ years and has seen it all before.
- Personality above all. Remember that you will probably be interacting with this person a lot, so when looking through candidates, be sure to look for a solid personality match. This will pay dividends down the line.
- Anticipate a learning curve. A great assistant will eventually learn how to anticipate your needs; at the beginning, however, there will be some mistakes. View these as learning opportunities, and if corrected gently, giving someone a second chance can lead to an excellent long-term relationship. Having someone around who knows your particular taste is invaluable.
- Be respectful of their job. A Personal Assistant is typically not also a nanny, chauffeur, chef, accountant, handyman, technology consultant, and cleaning person, unless of course that is something you have specified in your job description and those are responsibilities they are aware of (see tip number 1!). However, should you find yourself in need of those things, a Personal Assistant can definitely help you find the best of the best in any area in which you need more help. Keeping your requests within your assistant’s wheelhouse makes everything more efficient and leaves less room for error.
- Be specific in your requests. Don’t be afraid to reveal that you like your things done just so. After all, that’s what they’re there to do, and what you’re paying them for. If you have a specific format for calendar appointments, or prefer things to be filed a certain way, any good assistant will be able to follow the protocol (or, if they’re excellent, maybe even suggest a way to improve or streamline things). Also, giving someone structure to follow helps free up your time so that you don’t have to micromanage your assistant.
- Praise-to-criticism ratio. Harvard Business Review posted an interesting piece back in 2013 about the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio in order to maximize effectiveness in the workplace, and there’s no reason this can’t work in your home as well. Studies show that employees were most effective when they received six compliments or positive notes for every negative comment. While it’s unrealistic to expect to keep close track of this, it’s something to aim for when providing feedback to your Personal Assistant.
- Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you. To begin with, make sure your Personal Assistant feels adequately compensated. Make sure they have health insurance, and if they don’t, or you are unable to offer it, offer to split the cost of an individual plan. Include generous year-end bonuses, a la the world of finance. Let them take a car service for errands when it makes sense—in particularly inclement weather or if they’re carrying lots of stuff or something precious/heavy.
- Occasional perks. I have to say I have had the most generous employers, and it makes a huge difference. Are you getting rid of all of last season’s clothes? Let them have first dibs. Do you have tickets to a show that you can’t go to last minute? See if your assistant wants to go! Do you have a beach house or upstate home you rarely use? Offer it to them for a day or two. Or offer incentives beyond their payroll—i.e., if you can get this done within this amount of time, you can have dinner anywhere in the city, on me. This also keeps the work exciting for your assistant and will help keep them motivated and loyal.\
- Make them feel welcome at your home/dinner parties/events. In this situation, the gesture really means everything. If you expect your assistant to be there to help by checking in guests or managing the caterers, also make sure they’re enjoying themselves and eating some of the food, and that they’ve made themselves comfortable. Chances are your assistant is the one who has been e-mailing most of your contacts, and it’s always nice to be able to put a face with a name.