Are You Sabotaging Your Search for a Virtual Assistant?

During my previous career there was a point in time when I was called upon to assist my employers in finding someone to replace me as I prepared to move on to another position.   I was asked to do several things, from sitting in on interviews to creating training materials to help with the transition.  One of the first things I was asked to help with was the help wanted ad that we placed online and in several local papers.

My supervisor drafted the advertisement and left it on my desk to proofread. An hour later he stood by my desk and asked me what I thought.   I was lucky enough to work in an environment where I knew that my honest opinion was appreciated so I blurted out, “If we place that ad, I’m going to be working in this position forever.”   It was true, he had written the ad completely from his perspective, completely focusing on what his needs were with nothing within the context that spoke to potential candidates.

I’m not saying he wouldn’t have gotten plenty of responses, but I could guarantee that none of the candidates would have possessed the skills and traits necessary to fill the position.  Even in the down economy we find ourselves in now, if you’re looking to fill high level, skilled positions, the most desirable candidates will never respond to the so-called ‘old-school’ help wanted ads.  You know the ones that pretty much say ‘..must know how to do this, that and the other, a jack of all trades and willing to put up with any bullshit that may come down the pike. ‘

Well, ok, maybe that’s not exactly how they are worded, but those of us with the type of experience needed are pretty good at reading between the lines.  And by the way, this applies to your search for a virtual assistant.

Many people advertise for a virtual assistant with that same ‘what can you do for me’ attitude.  And just like my supervisor, their chances of finding a good fit for them are probably pretty dismal.  As an example,below is an actual ad that I stumbled across online:

Virtual Assistant Needed Paid weekly

Looking for a good Virtual Assistant to start with, and looking for 10-20 hours per week, must have gtalk, and must complete tasks in a decent time frame, you will be paid weekly by paypal don’t as for escrow or pre payment because it won’t happen… (Budget: $30-250, Jobs: Data Entry, Virtual Assistant)

I believe my clients would describe me as a ‘good’ virtual assistant, and as such I definitely wouldn’t waste my time to respond to this ad.  Let me explain.

First, whoever wrote up the ad didn’t even take the time to proofread it so that it reads properly.  And although most ‘good’ virtual assistants may excuse poor grammar and misspellings to the fact that this business obviously needs someone to be the spelling/grammar police for them, in this case it’s just one glaring indication that the person writing this ad has no appreciation of either the position they are looking to fill or the individual they are looking for to fill it.

Next let’s talk about the line in this ad that just screams disrespect for virtual assistants.  If it didn’t jump out and bite you in the nose I’ll help you out.

you will be paid weekly by paypal don’t as(k) for escrow or pre payment because it won’t happen…

I certainly hope any self-respecting virtual assistant would see this statement as the red flag it is and pass this ‘opportunity’ by.  Newsflash: Good virtual assistants understand their value and usually will ask for escrow, retainers, deposits or some other pre-payment that covers at least a portion of their fee.  That’s usually because somewhere in their early days they were burnt numerous times after investing hours on a client project(s) only to either have to send constant reminders for payment or never get paid at all.  Smart business people (insert ‘good’ virtual assistants) recognize their value and realize that those businesses serious about working with a quality VA will expect to pay some up front and will also pay the remainder promptly.  And let’s face it, just the way this line of the ad is phrased is extremely condescending and shows a lack of respect for virtual assistants as a whole.

And then of course there’s the budget.  I’m not going to go into detail here because I covered virtual assistant rates in an earlier post.  Let’s just say that it’s insufficient and leave it at that.

The sad thing is that the businesses that advertise this way are the same ones that end up writing virtual assistant horror stories all over the web.  Working with a virtual assistant successfully starts with respecting what they do, their skills and their expertise. It means understanding that they are a business person, just like you, not an employee.

So how should you advertise in order to get a top notch virtual assistant to help you with your business?  The same way I told my former employer to rewrite his help wanted ad.  Don’t make it all about what you need.  Virtual assistants (and employees) with experience and expertise are aware of their value to your business and as such need to see your appreciation for that value in the way you communicate.  They want to know that the tasks you need them to do are important enough to your business that you’re taking the time to find the right candidate to get them done. And most of all they want to see that you’ll treat them with respect and fairness.


Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.


  1. JoCarole Carpenter on August 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Tina, thank you so much for sharing this. I also saw this ad the other day and noticed the part about the ‘escrow’. This jumped right off the page and it found it hard to believe that someone would actually be so arrogant as to post this type of ad and expect responses from anyone. I found it to be definitely over the top.

    I have turned down prospective clients just because of things like this, I have to admit they weren’t even as bad as this ad suggests. Even if everything else was in line I would not bid on an ad such as this. I simply don’t find these clients to be people I would enjoy working with.

    It just makes me think that some business owners still feel that Virtual Assistants are employees and not true business owners in every sense of the word. But as clearly shown here, this business owner still prefers working with VAs over employees but may have a ‘control issue’ as well.

    I can well imagine the problems that may ensue when a VA presents their contract for this client to sign. On the flip side I have to say I have never seen another ad with this amount of disregard for the VA industry. So hoping that sooner or later people like this will one day “get it!”

    JoCarole Carpenter, VA, VBA

  2. T.Marie Hilton on August 12, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Hi JoCarole, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    This is probably the fourth or fifth ad that has come to my attention that I would consider disrespectful, but this one was one of the most blatant examples. Unfortunately we are fighting against information shared in bestsellers like the 4-hour work week and it's going to take a concerted effort on the part of our industry to institute change.
    And another thing VA's need to think about when tempted to respond to ads such as this is that these businesses are looking to dictate how the job is done, which means you're not a subcontractor, you're an employee. The IRS really frowns upon businesses trying to use the subcontractor status to save on taxes.