Your Leadership Office: Your Assistant Plays a Vital Role
by Dr. Karen Otazo
Excerpted from “The Truth About
Being A Leader... and Nothing but
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
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
• Is well connected in the company or can make connections
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.
Aren't all good assistants the same? No! Different people
need different assistants!
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.