When looking to recruit the best assistants for their practices, advisors should first take the time to develop a detailed job description in order to identify and define some of the skills and competencies they need to help them grow their business.

“Having a job description when hiring new assistants is absolutely essential,” says Simon Reilly, a business coach and founder of Leading Advisor Inc., based in Parksville, B.C. “It will provide the roadmap for advisors to identify the right kind of person they need for their business.”

Advisors should see job descriptions as accountability documents that are critical towards building an organized practice. For example, a well-written job description should spell out an organization’s structure – such as who reports to whom. It should resemble a contract between the advisor and the assistant that specifies individual responsibilities and duties.

All too often, advisors do not spend enough time outlining the specific qualities they need in new assistants, experts say.

“The biggest mistake advisors make is that they aren’t clear on the values and behaviours that are required for a certain position,” says Reilly. “Instead they just assume the person can do the job.”

Not properly defining the tasks and role you want your assistant to play in your practice is akin to blindly throwing a dart and hoping you hit a bull’s-eye, says Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist* in Montreal.

Instead of “hiring blind”, she recommends that advisors take a broad look at their practice to understand its overall strengths and weaknesses. This means asking such questions as “what am I looking for in an assistant and what do I need?” and “what is the skill set I am missing to help me bring my business to the next level?”

Answering these questions will help advisors zero in on the specific skills that are currently lacking in their team but that are needed to grow the business, Gilbert says.

“You want to bring in somebody who complements the skills of each team member,” says Gilbert. “At the same time, you want to hire assistants who have specialized skills that are lacking in your team.”

Instead of addressing this shortfall, advisors often – knowingly or not – tend to hire assistants who have skills overwhelmingly similar to their own.

“It’s a common hiring bias,” says David Zweig, a professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “It is really important to be objective and not let your biases cloud your judgment when you are assessing candidates for a position.”

A well-defined job description, Zweig says, is an important tool that an advisor can use to make proper evidence-based and informed decisions.

The stakes are high when hiring an assistant. Failing to find a good fit can have significant long-term ramifications for one’s practice.

“A hiring mistake can take months to undo,” says Reilly, adding that the wasted time and money spent training and recruiting candidates often could have been avoided if a proper job description had been in place.

So, how does an advisor begin the all-important task of crafting a job description for assistants?

“I would recommend that an advisor write down everything they do in a week, then take a highlighter and highlight the things that are valuable in green and the other stuff in red,” says Reilly. “Then you have a draft of the tasks you would like to delegate.”

Once this task has been completed, Gilbert suggests advisors take stock of the overarching skills, aptitudes and competencies that are required to complete these tasks. For example, an assistant who manages social media platforms will require proficiency in very different skill sets than one who handles clerical and administrative tasks.

“That is why it is so important to be specific and understand what you are looking for,” says Gilbert.

For examples of skills that are required in different roles, Zweig recommends that advisors consult the National Occupational Classification System, which is a database that summarizes the basic knowledge, skills and abilities required to undertake a number of occupations in Canada. Consulting this database, he says, will help advisors get a bigger picture of the skills that they should target when writing their job description.

This will save time, since it will likely narrow down the pool of qualified candidates.

“You won’t have to waste time sifting through resumes that say generic things like how good someone is at communicating or multi-tasking,” says Gilbert. “The job description is a tool to help you target the person who can step in and make a difference right away to your business and complement your team.”

This is the first article in a three-part series on hiring the right assistant.

On Tuesday: Finding the right personality.