How to Write a Want Ad That Attracts the Perfect Assistant

You thought …

It sure would be great to have someone help me with my art business. Any old warm body will be better than nothing.

Boy! I am going to have all of this extra time to work on my art and I won’t have to do anything else. (Scene setup: I think you were smoking somethin’.)

So you hired an assistant to work in your studio or office. Either would be fine with you.

Elisha Dasenbrock portrait of eyes
©2009, Elisha Dasenbrock, Back Of A Taxi, Thailand. Watercolor on paper, 20 x 27 inches.

Hooray! Your first hire.

Fast forward to the inevitable:

Yikes! What was I thinking? This person can’t do anything right and I’m spending too much time teaching him.

Wait just one minute.

It’s not the employee’s fault if he’s not a good fit. It’s your fault because you didn’t hire correctly in the first place.

Assistants can’t do a good job if they don’t know what’s expected of them.

The onus is on you, the employer, to get super clear on the person you want and need to help your art career grow.

You won’t get the right person until you’re certain what you want from them.

So stop deluding yourself that any warm body will do. The any-warm-body mentality usually results in wasted time and money.

Use this outline to write an ad that helps you attract the perfect assistant.

Position Description & Duties

What, exactly, will this person be responsible for?

Some of the tasks you might hand over to an assistant might be:

  • Running errands
  • Writing correspondence
  • Updating a website
  • Posting to social media
  • Designing graphics
  • Tracking metrics
  • Bookkeeping
  • Managing your schedule
  • Packing or shipping
  • Prepping material

Very few people will have everything you need, so hire and base your final job description on the candidate’s strengths.

For example, you might need social media help and admin help. You need a social person for the former and a detail person for the latter. It’s a lot to ask that one person fit both roles perfectly.

Hire to a person’s strengths, and then your new assistant can add responsibilities after learning the ropes.

Time Obligation

What does a weekly assistant’s schedule look like?

Your posting should include:

  • Hours (or range) per week
  • Days required to work or flexibility on those
Deb Kirkeeide oil painting
©Deb Kirkeeide, Sweet Violet. Oil and cradled hardboard, 8 x 8 inches.

Required Skills

What must your new assistant know/have/do?

This is where you want to be very specific, and to know what is reasonable for one person to already know and what you are willing to train for.

You might require any of these:

  • Grasp of specific technology (software, computer system, online apps)
  • Competency in speaking and writing
  • Attention to detail
  • Adaptability to schedule changes and stressful situations
  • Sensitivity to clients

Bonus Skills

Applicants don’t have to possess the bonus skills, but … dang! … it would be great if they did.

I find that these bonus skills usually involve technology, such as:

  • Knowledge of a certain software
  • Experience with specific apps, such as WordPress
  • Basic grasp of HTML
  • Social media experience

My assistant didn’t have much experience with these things, but I was willing to train and she was willing to search to find answers for herself. I hired right because she picked them up quickly.

I love it that she now knows more about much about our technology than I do. #sighofrelief

Required Experience

This is where you lay out the minimum required credentials and experience.

Define what candidates need by way of:

  • Education degrees
  • Credentials
  • Work experience
Adebanji Alade oil painting
©Adebanji Alade, The Beauty of Silence. Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches.


Chances are slim that you’ll be offering healthcare or retirement accounts to an assistant, but you can still offer benefits.

Consider benefits in terms of:

  • Work environment
  • Flexible hours
  • Training
  • Paid holidays
  • Paid or unpaid vacation
  • Opportunity for growth, bonuses, and/or raises

You’d be surprised by how many people would rather have time off than extra pay.

How to Apply

Tell people exactly how to apply for the job. What do they need to include in the application? When is the deadline to apply?

In my experience, many people apply for positions without reading the requirements and instructions. This is a deal-breaker for me because it shows lack of regard for detail and for my needs.

I ask applicants to use a specific subject line when they apply. It’s a little test. If the subject line varies from my instructions, they aren’t paying attention to detail and miss the cut.

Your Turn

There are many other steps in the hiring process, but this level of clarity will go a long way to getting you the right person, not just another warm body.

Have you ever made a bad hire? What went wrong?

What has worked for you in the hiring process?

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32 thoughts on “How to Write a Want Ad That Attracts the Perfect Assistant”

  1. Great post. I hired an assistant once. College student. Someone to just do prep work – no brainer stuff. I was so fixated on finally finding someone willing to drive out here for minimum wage, that I didn’t pay enough attention to getting someone I actually liked. She was nice enough, but not a great fit personality wise. She made some dumb mistakes and was sort of blamey with ME even though she’s the one who forgot to do what she was supposed to do [which was count the rotations.] Within a few weeks she had broken the only machine she needed to do the job. She was being impatient and she took her frustration out on the machine, forcing it instead of working with it. I sent her home and never called her back. Next time, I’d do an actual interview process and include a chat about dealing with the machine. I need someone to work WITH the machine, not to force the machine. I need someone more mature. Before I hire help again I have a lot of thinking to do.

    1. Robin: Whenever this happens with someone who works for me, I always backtrack and realize that it was because I didn’t train well enough. As the business owner, the buck stops with me.

  2. This is such a helpful post, Alyson. Thank you. Now and again your posts act as a virtual assistant to help get me kick-started or organized and this couldn’t be more timely. Many years back I hired an office assistant, which at first seemed wonderful. As lovely as she was, her ideas about running my office were very different from mine. This list will help me think about what it is I truly need to spend my money effectively.

  3. Thanks for the article Alyson. It is a good reminder that when I hire someone, I have to be the “boss”… and be responsible for their work. I’ve hired two people in the past, one marketing and one web programmer, that overstated their professional experience. They would nod their heads as if they understood what I was asking for, but they could not deliver. I finally figured out that they did’t know how to do the job I needed. I run into this a lot locally, living in a smaller town where people have less professional experience and tend to think they have skills enough to do a job when they’ve only taken a weekend workshop. I’ve learned to ask more detailed questions about training and work experience. Both of them were referred to me too, so I realized I need to be careful who I ask for referrals. Also, I’ve used volunteers for show installations and that can be either good or bad. I need people who are good listeners and can follow careful instructions on their own, not people who talk too much or demand my constant attention. I now think some of the best people to hire as assistants are artists themselves, because we have so many skills and know the drill well.

    1. I too have posted to hire using all the criteria mentioned in the article and have found that people overstate their experience and skills even if I ask detailed questions. I’m not the type to do this so I don’t feel I have the skills to discern if people are being truthful in this regard, so it’s been a bit of a disappointment. I’ve resorted to a probationary period where we test the waters to see if we’re a good fit and they really know what they’re doing (or said they could do).

  4. To back up the theme of your post, Alyson, there are lots of articles online about the cost of hiring the wrong employee. The estimates range from one-fifth to 2.5X that person’s salary.

    And then there’s the time, frustration, and negative impact on morale.

    The specific subject line trick is a huge time saver and will cull roughly two-thirds of the applicants.

    Another potential time saver that can identify a deal-breaker: Search their application for the word ‘don’t.’ It’s interesting how many of them say outright ‘I don’t have experience with_____’ or ‘I don’t know how to use _____.’

    P.S. Alyson wrote: “Scene setup: I think you were smoking somethin’.”

    Love it 🙂

  5. Alyson,
    I love this post and follow up comments. Hiring the right person is so important.

    Having just hired an assistant for this past summer was the right thing for me. I made up a job description, interviewed in my studio to show what exactly she would be doing, had her email her resume with job references and gave her a contract to sign.

    She worked 12 hours a week. This was an amazing help to me! Anything I asked her to do she did and with a great attitude. Finding the right fit takes a while but it’s worth it. She left to go back to her senior year at college. This two month stint put me ahead by 6 months in my studio!

  6. I have had both good and bad experiences with art assistants.

    I come from Philadelphia and had very good, hardworking art students that made my life so much easier.

    I recently had an art student in the small town here in Colorado where I now live, he seemed great but was unreliable. I did a lot of what Alyson had suggested in this article.
    He was highly recommended and a very nice person. bit full of himself, though.
    I have been an artist for over 30 yrs and have a lot to teach, but he wanted a lot more money and wanted to do the work only on his own time.

    It is frustrating. I am doing it all right now. I can not afford to pay a lot, but am a very good mentor, can also teach a lot of art marketing skills and in general, how to survive as an artist
    as I have been successfully doing this for years.
    I thought a good art student would want this.
    Really, one does not know until one hires.
    I will look again, but right now am doing it all.

  7. Here In New York City there are many art schools, so the range of particularly young people available for either full-time or part-time positions is very good. The first thing I do when I need assistance with my own work or with a special project is to always post notices for help with these college level schools before I seek help anywhere else.

    I’ve had excellent results by contacting these schools when the need for help arose, and have found students who are remarkably well equipped with skills in how to mount, frame and handle art work, art installations and many other technical things that an average person might not know about.

    If, however you are seeking someone in assisting you with potential client/customer relations, be sure that your applicant has the necessary social skills and the skills in dealing with the public that are necessary to your own business; and can conform to the image you want to put forth about you not only as an artist, but as a business person.

  8. Many years ago, when I was married, we had a business doing restoration of antique and vintage works of art on paper. That business gave us both experience in hiring and firing. Nonetheless, when I reach the point in my own art career where I am able to hire anyone to help I shall most certainly be looking to reread this post!

    Thank you Alyson!

  9. I hired an office assistant four years ago, I was very specific in the tasks I needed done-computer work, bookkeeping, web updates and some packing and shipping. She was a semi-retired office manager with no skills in art 🙂 Her schedule is flexible and she’s a huge asset to my work. My videographer is also a good fit, knows what he can do and what isn’t part of his skill set. I’d be lost without them both!
    I followed Alyson’s criteria and process and found the best people for the jobs I needed. Be really sure what you need for an assistant and take the time to sift through the applications, ask questions and talk to them thoroughly!
    I’m now in the process of hiring a designer to work remotely, I found this person through Upwork and I think it’ll be a very good fit. I’m also considering a social media assistant but I’ll need them to be local and while I need the help, I’m not sure how much control I want to give over to someone for those tasks….

  10. Although I cannot at this point in my career even dream of hiring an assistant, the thought had occurred to me that it maybe possible to take on an apprentice. You someone to help with the drudgery work like mopping the floor etc. In return they would get a private education in my artform. It maybe an antiquated arrangement but could be very affordable for many artist instead of hiring

    1. Kevin: Just treat people how you would like to be treated.

      And I’d say it’s especially important to have clarity when you’re asking for someone to do something without pay.

  11. Great post! I’ve been working as a virtual assistant for three years now and my role has morphed over those years, and now I’m exclusively doing assistant whatnot for the art business. I love it! One thing I would encourage artists to do is make sure whoever they hire understands what it’s like to work with an artist. I love all you creatives, but you can be a bit hard to grasp sometimes. It’s a lot of back and forth – good communication is essential! My artist and I are very ying/yang and it’s a great working relationship!

  12. Great. something to work towards. May I share an insight from friends, accept in advance the possibility, ,even probability, of trying several people…this could help refine your job description!

  13. I knew I’d been lucky, but now, after reading your article and the comments, I realize it more. I have called the local colleges for two of the assistants, and the staff or teacher knew who was competent and responsible. Another one was someone who moved in across the street from me and had just graduated with a degree in ceramics. I learned from the people who worked for me! On the other hand, I’ve done a couple of sympathy hires of high school students…. their brains were just not in gear yet.

    Thanks, Alyson. You’re a huge inspiration.

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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