I first came across the idea of virtual assistants while reading Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek (affiliate link). As part of his program to make his life as efficient as possible, he hired a virtual assistant in India to help him with a variety of tasks in his life. After reading about this in Tim’s book, I read an Esquire article (looking back, it’s from 2007! How time flies!!!) about a magazine editor who hired a virtual assistant to do all sorts of tasks for them. My favorite part was when he tried to get his virtual assistant to argue with his wife for him, but his assistant was too nice.
John Hires a Virtual Assistant
I kept intending to give virtual assistants a try, but didn’t have any projects that seemed appropriate. In early 2013 I was job hunting for a university faculty position, and suspected that there were postings that would be relevant at universities in Canada, where I’m from, that I wasn’t finding out about. I had found an expired position at the University of Prince Edward Island, which wasn’t listed on any of the major job boards which gave me this idea. Initially I was going to compile a list of all the URLs of faculty openings at appropriate departments across Canada and check them regularly, then I thought this would be a great task for a virtual assistant! Very clearly defined, limited scope and nothing that could cause problems for me if it didn’t work out.
I was hopeful that it WOULD work out, as I was managing a very extensive job hunt and would have liked to expand the help into preparing applications and whatnot.
In the end, I hired Brickwork India, the company mentioned in the Esquire article. I pre-paid $134 USD for 10 hours. It wasn’t initially made clear to me, but these 10 hours were supposed to be used within a month.
The Job Starts
The assistant assigned to me seemed nice and was very polite, but started by just sending me random links to Canadian academic jobs. I re-iterated what I was looking for, sending multiple detailed messages. I could do random web searches myself, but what I was really hoping for was that she would systematically check every university across Canada. I recommended an approach to her, where she first get a list of all universities, then check if they have an appropriate department, then check if they have a webpage for job listings and any appropriate positions for me.
In spite of repeated back-and-forth and clarifications, all I was able to get from her were random web search results that were useless to me. For my last 1.5 hours, I just had her look for positive predictions for the next year for my then girlfriend – who thought she had bad luck coming up for herself. This was really just to burn the time since I wasn’t getting anything useful from her.
Retrospective On The Experience
In the end, I didn’t think it was worth hiring a virtual assistant – a conclusion that was well worth the $134 I paid. Anything simpler than what I asked her to do could be fully automated, less expensively, as a computer program. The amount of explanation and hand-holding I had to do defeated the purpose of the project – I could have just done it myself in the time I spent trying to get the virtual assistant to complete the task – which was never properly finished. This rules out complicated tasks. There might be some sweet spot of tasks between these two where virtual assistants could be helpful, but I haven’t come across any work like that.
I haven’t heard as much about virtual assistants in recent years, so perhaps others have come to the same conclusion I have.
Have you ever hired a virtual assistant? What sort of job(s) was it? Were you happy with the price and results?
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