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Hiring an Administrative Assistant? I Have a Few Tips for You

IMG_0801Growth happens. It’s painful (just like those growth spurts in your teens), but it’s worth it (oh, look, muscles!).

It doesn’t matter if you’re running a startup, an arts organization, or a department; at some point in time, you’ll find yourself wondering if hiring an administrative assistant would improve your workload. I had my first admin job when I was 10 or 12: I filed work orders at the family dealership in the summer. All told, I’ve worked as an administrator in some capacity for over 10 years, and in both sectors I write for (arts and tech).

If you’re considering hiring an administrative assistant, I’ve got a few tips for you that should help you find the suitable candidate.

Pay & Job Expectations

Let’s start here. You’ll find a difference between someone applying for a minimum wage position and a $50k/year position. Be clear on your budget and understand what you’ll get for it.

For example, if you’re expecting an assistant who can answer the phones, create simple relational databases, manage your social media accounts, create marketing campaigns, keep accurate books, and still have a smile on her face by the end of the day, you won’t find that for $12/hour.

An Administrator’s Workload

Be mindful of how much you’re asking the assistant to do: she’s human, not a magician. Basically, when a new hire starts, expect things to take longer, even if she has 20 years’ experience. An administrator has to mesh her work habits and experience with your requirements and work culture, and that can take time. But if you don’t notice an increase in speed, then observe her more closely. She may be trying to think out new procedures that will help her with the expectations you’ve placed on her, but she may also be trying to artificially keep her work load down.


The biggest asset your administrative assistant can contribute to your company is the right amount of initiative. Does she actively seek out solutions to her problems? Does she find ways to make her own processes more efficient so she can take on more work? Does she ask for continuing education for her own fulfillment and to better her performance?


Good administrative assistants come with a variety of skills. It’s a shame that this role is paid so little still, to be honest, because a good admin really does make the company run better. The role requires a high level of organization, an ability to constantly re-prioritize the day, quick adaptation to change, and a high level of problem solving.

One practical skill I believe any administrative assistant should have, though, is a solid understanding of Word. Word can be a time waster or timesaver, depending on the user’s experience level.

Applicants claiming advanced knowledge of Word should be able to navigate styles, use merge documents to create paper and virtual mail-outs, use the compare tool to compare documents instead of reading them individually, and fix most invisible formatting errors that crop up. A $25k/year administrative assistant likely won’t have that knowledge, but a $45k/year one should.

Work Environment

Will your administrative assistant be constantly interrupted or working mostly alone? Will many people be requesting help or just a few? What hours are expected? How much overtime and when? Administrators aren’t created equal, and for good reason: different environments require different personalities. Make sure you describe your work environment accurately, and then hire someone who fits it.

Legal Stuff

Make sure you know the basics of employment law in your state or province. In Ontario, for example, administrators are protected by various laws that control their work hours. In addition, Ontario looks at the job description, not the title. So if you have a manager who does a lot of administrative tasks, she might be covered.

Professional Development

Give your administrator ample time for professional development, whether it be webinars, workshops, presentations…whatever both of you feel will help her become a better person and employee. I like the rule my current employer has: managers are required to give their staff the same number of hours per year for PD that the staff member works in a week.

A Word About Managers

Ensure your administrative assistant has only one manager. It’s fine if she’s to receive tasks from several managers or a larger team of employees, but she should only report directly to one manager.

Reporting directly to several managers causes a lot of confusion and stress, because each one, theoretically, has equal pull on her time. If each manager comes to her with something “urgent,” which is she to prioritize? She’ll then waste her precious time negotiating her schedule and defending each manager to the others. This gets worse if each manager has different standards on top of it all.

You’ll have high turnover in a situation like this.

Let one manager be her direct boss, and if there are conflicts, she only has to speak to that one person, whose job it then is to talk to the others and sort things out.

Job Description and Evaluations

Be clear from the start what your expectations are. I’m a fan of job evaluations: they let me know my manager has acknowledged my efforts, document my performance in case my manager changes, and come in handy in future job applications.

If the job grows to include new skills, acknowledge the learning and offer a raise once the new skills have been somewhat mastered. If the job is going to drastically change, though, offer the raise upfront. For example, inserting 30 minutes/week of website maintenance shouldn’t be cause for an immediate raise; adding several hours a week of digital marketing should, though.


If you have a good administrator, an appropriate raise is the best way to acknowledge her value to your company. If your board or upper management frowns upon increased administrative costs, have updated job descriptions and performance evaluations on hand to prove your case. A good administrator is the hub of your organization’s wheel; a bad one causes the spokes to fall out.

In the end, you want someone who’s going to be an active member of your team, who will problem-solve with and for you, who will learn the systems she has to operate within, and who is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the company and her own work processes. But also be prepared to pay appropriately for that position. Not everyone can do it, and not everyone can fit your company. But the right person who’s the right fit will make their value evident to you within a few weeks.

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