Hiring A Virtual Assistant – Status Update

A few days ago I blogged about searching for a virtual assistant on Using a Virtual Assistant to Offload Noise. I said at the end of that post that I would update my blog with the status of the search as things progressed.

Recap of The Six Steps to Hire a Virtual Assistant

In my previous post Using a Virtual Assistant to Offload Noise, I defined the 6 steps I planned to follow. The six steps were:

  1. Identify 5 items to task my new virtual assistant with
  2. Research current information on virtual assistants
  3. Define My Budget
  4. Short List Virtual Assistant Firms
  5. Hire and Task a Virtual Assistant
  6. Blog About It

Step 5 was Hire and Task a Virtual Assistant, and is the step I am currently addressing. To this end I place a job request on Elance, and waited.

Crunching the Numbers of a Virtual Assistant

Four days after posting my job, I have received 5 bids. Here is summary of the current bids,  sorted by proposed rate / hour.

Id County Rate Hrs/Wk Weeks Total
A India $3.50 / hour 5 8 $140
B India $5.00 / hour 5 12 $300
C United States $9.75 / hour 5 8 $375
D United States $17.50 / hour 5 4 $350
E United States $20.00 / hour 20 12 $4,800

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Before I go into more detail about the providers, this table allows me to immediately eliminate one provider from my decision making process. To paraphrase Bob Barker on The Price Is Right, “Contestant # 5, come on and exit!” I felt that this person did not effectively read my proposed job, in which I clearly stated that I wanted someone for 5 hours a week at $10 / hour or less and with an overall budget of less than $500. Provider # 4 is also out of band for my per hour budget, but constructed the overall proposal to meet my other constraints. The per hour cost will probably exclude them from the short list, their ability to read the basics of my job requirements allows them to make it to the next round.

Qualitative Analysis of a Proposed Virtual Assistant

{: .float_right } For the remaining providers, I am relying heavily on the review system in Elance. The review summary informs me of the overall feedback score, the number of reviews, how much the person has earned over the past six months, and the number of repeat customers. When you drill down deeper into the provider details, you can also compare the past six months versus lifetime statistics. This is helpful for identify near term trends of the provider. For example, if the feedback is declining than you can assume that their ability to deliver quality work is decreasing. However, I would strongly recommend reading the reviews to read the feedback. Especially since it allows for the provider to leave their response to the feedback.

While the feedback provides a course grained analysis of the provider, I think the numbers about repeat customers are more valuable. Providers that have more repeat customers indicates that they have the ability to consistently produce work that is in demand at the same quality levels. Elance even allows you to see how much of the earnings is provided by repeat customers. I find this very informative. Consider that a provider might only have 10% of their customer base being repeat customers, but 30% of their earnings are from repeat customers, and if their overall earnings are also increasing, you see that this provider is not only being rehired, but getting a raise!

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Finally, the last major way to passively assess your possible new hire is check their portfolio. This is where the provider can show you samples of their work. What better way to see the quality of the work of your potential new hire than to actually see their work.

Elance also provides a number of communications options to interact and interview your possible hire, but I will talk about that in future post when I cover interviewing.

So now that I have described how I can assess my potential virtual assistants, it is time to share how my current candidates rate. I will refer to them using the ID I assigned to them above.

Qualitative Rankings of my Candidates

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So now comes the question of how do my candidates currently stack up against each other. Here is my current order, reasons behind my order, and my current thinking on my short list.

First Place

Candidate A is the current front runner. They have very aggressive pricing, but more importantly, they have impressive reviews. They have 91% favorable reviews with a lot of details on the projects they have done, and what previous employers considered to be their strengths. They have 30% repeat customers, and over 50% of their revenue is from their repeat customers. My only concern that keeps me from awarding them the task at this time is that a small number of their reviews mention that their writing demonstrates non-native English skills. I checked their portfolio, but none of their entries demonstrates writing skills. I intend to test this, specifically that their writing skills will meet my needs, by requesting some sample work. I will cover this in more detail in the follow up post discussing the interview process.

Tentative Result: Proceed to Short List

Second Place

The slightly higher per hour rate and the smaller number of reviews, puts Candidate B in second place for now. They have 5 very positive reviews, and 13% repeat customers. However, that is not enough to compete with our first place choice so far.

NOTE: During the writing of this post, this provider was no longer accessible on Elance. As such, I have pulled them off my short list until they return, and I discover why they became inaccessible. If their information is made available again, I will update their status.

Tentative Result: Proceed to Short List Unknown

Third Place

Candidate C is in third place. They barely fit within the quantitative guidelines, but they did make it. This alone raises them above the bottom two candidates. However, they have no jobs to date, thus nothing for me to review. The only two quantitative qualities I have to use for guidance is their proposal statement, which was very well written, and that they are naturally English speaking. Natural English speakers is not a pre-requisite for my role, but English skills are a requirement. Given just this information, I do not have enough information to decide. If I must make a decision, I will be pessimistic and decide against them. However, I will request an interview and sample work before excluding them.

Tentative Result: Pending Interview and Sample Work

Fourth Place

Candidate D is currently in fourth place. Quantitatively, their per-hour rate is out of my budget guidelines. However, they did structure their overall proposal to fit with in my total budget. That implies that they did, at least, read my proposal. It is quantitatively that they truly show themselves to be quite impressive. They have nearly a perfect rating for the 99% of the projects that have been reviewed, which is around 65% of all their projects. In fact, they only had 1 neutral review, for which ‘up-front communications’ was cited as the cause of all problems. I am inclined to discount this single review given the overwhelmingly positive reviews they have had. More importantly, 10% of their customers are repeats, and nearly 30% of their revenue is from those repeat customers.

They also have a portfolio of nearly a dozen examples of their work. Nearly all of which is beyond the scope of the work I need, but it demonstrates a breadth of professional and business related experience. If they fit within my overall budget guidelines, I might be more inclined to consider them. I believe they may be a quality firm, just not the right fit for this project.

Tentative Result: Decline

Fifth Place

Candidate E solidly holds fifth place. This candidate demonstrated their inability to follow my instructions, and in the case of any virtual worker, written instructions are critical. The boundaries I define for my projects must be adhered to, or my expectations will not be met. This candidate has only been reviewed on one project, which they did receive a stellar grade, but that is the only review. They have only done two projects for a total of $75 in income. The out of budget quantitative analysis combined with the insufficient qualitative data convinces me that this person would not be a good fit for my work assignment.

Tentative Result: Decline

Next Steps

Over the next few days I will start decline those that did not make my short list. Those on the list will be interviewed using one of the methods that Elance provides. I should then have enough information to make my decision. I am not intending to let the job posting for the remaining 10 days, but plan to decide at around the mid-way point so long as one candidate meets my needs.

As a reminder, this post is the second in my series on hiring a virtual assistant that started with Using a Virtual Assistant to Offload Noise