The Lies VAs Tell (And How NOT To Fall For Them)


Hiring is one of business' great challenges.

Companies who master the art of recruiting and keeping the best people become legendary.

Most companies never get better than just ok at it. Many go down in flames due to poor hiring & training practices that result in a dismal company culture.

So, how can you do it better? Well, one of the best steps is to spot the lies your applicants tell, and learn to avoid falling for them!

In this post, we'll focus on the lies you'll hear specifically from Real Estate Virtual Assistants.

Why Do VAs Lie?

As a generally trusting & optimistic person, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. However, I've learned my lesson on this topic when it comes to hiring.

One of the most obvious, but often forgotten reasons that people lie when trying to get a job is... to get the job!

And VAs aren't stupid about it either; even uneducated job applicants can expertly say just what (they think) you want to hear.

VAs will lie to make themselves seem more qualified or experienced. VAs will lie to try & mirror what they perceive as your values. VAs will lie to get you to like them.

Basically, VAs will say whatever they think will get them the job.

Armed with this knowledge, now you'll need to understand common lies & methods to trip up the liars and expose their ploys.

Types Of Lies VAs Tell

Lies About Experience

The most obvious & generally easy to disprove type of lying will be about previous work experience.

If you ask whether or not someone has done something in the past, it's probably because your ideal candidate has that experience... so of course the potentially dishonest VA will want to say they have it as well.

A good sign is someone who admits what they know, and what they don't know.

However, even for those who try to claim experience they might not actually have, you can defeat their attempts at deception with ease. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask specific questions about the experience. Try to find out exactly what they did, when they did it, who they did it for, how it went, and some specific examples of a challenge they needed to overcome.
  2. Ask for (and check) references. The easiest way to know for sure someone has done a type of work in the past is to talk to their previous bosses, co-workers, and customers.
  3. Ask for a demonstration. While some tasks might require access to an employer specific resource, many can be replicated or at least explained in detail via a demonstration. Telemarketing can be demo'd in a mock call, admin tasks can be replicated in a spreadsheet or doc, and design/dev work can be shared via portfolio.

Lies About Qualifications

Similar to lies about experience, lies about qualifications have to do more with potential capabilities (as opposed to past actions).

This makes them somewhat more insidious & difficult to root out, since they deal with events that haven't yet occurred.

Of course, you don't want to wait till your VA is screwing up & causing chaos to find out they weren't as qualified as they may have initially claimed. That's why you'll need to screen for potential lies about qualifications before you hand over the reigns to a new team member.

Assuming you aren't an expert at the qualifications for which you're hiring, the process becomes even more difficult... so let's examine the problem from that perspective.

Here are a few solutions we've found successful in our ongoing VA hiring efforts:

  1. Have a trusted expert help with the interview process. Sometimes when you're hiring for a task or role that is totally new to you, the only good option is to find someone who understands the role help out with the interview process. Even if you just hire a consultant on a short-term basis, their neutral 3rd party opinion could be well worth the added costs.
  2. Invest in a test. Not every task can be tested by you or your existing team personally. Especially for technical roles & tasks, there are a variety of tests you can use (as a monthly service, or pay-per-instance) which were developed by experts in the field to help you evaluate potential new hires.
  3. Ask technical questions (even if you don't understand them). Spend a bit on Google reading up on the task for which you're hiring, even if you're not an expert, and come up with a few questions about topics you read in an article. Even if you come off as brainless (and the VA tells you as much), this is a good sign that they know the material.

Lies About Values

If your company isn't already built around a set of core values that are genuinely shared by your teams, and around which you're willing to base hiring & firing decisions, I highly recommend you revisit the works of Jim Collins, Dave Logan, Tony Hsieh, and others.

However, let's assume for now your organization's core values are already aligned & defined, and you are looking to hire new employees who fit your already successful company culture.

So, how can you make sure your new VAs genuinely share your values (vs. parroting back what they think you want to hear)?

This is the most difficult type of lie to root out so far, simply due to the fact that it's much easier to say you hold a specific value than to actually live up to that in your actions. Plenty of people do hold core values that they themselves find it difficult to live up to, so the big question is how hard they are willing to try... day in, and day out.

There are a few good ideas, but there is no easy answer to this one. Here are instead some suggestions we've personally found to work:

  1. Be very clear about your own values. The more you understand your own & your company's core values, and the more you can readily articulate them and envision them in action, the easier you'll be able to recognize people who do (and do not) share them.
  2. Develop your gut instincts. One of the most powerful (and potentially difficult) ways to sniff out lies about someone's values is your gut instinct. While there has been a lot of fascinating articles on the topic[ref]Through Analysis, Gut Reaction Gains Credibility. Claudia Dreifus, New York Times 2007[/ref][ref]The Neuroscience of Trusting Your Gut. , Fast Company 2013[/ref][ref]Truth or lie - trust your instinct, says research. Helen Briggs, BBC News 2014[/ref], suffice it to say trusting your gut on these matters can be one of the strongest indicators (if you learn & cultivate the skill).
  3. Create tricky interview questions. This is one we've recently implemented internally, and it is really powerful. Since the VA is already trying to pinpoint your values and tell you what you want to hear, make it more difficult. Use interview questions that make it seem like you are indifferent when in fact you have a strong opinion, or even make it seem like you favor the opposite of your true value. This will not only help avoid people telling you only what you want to hear, it will also highlight the individuals who are willing to stay true to their own values in the face of being challenged.
  4. Be willing to hire (and fire) on your values. As Tony Hsieh often says: to most companies, core values are something you hear when you start working there, and a plaque on the wall in the lobby. If you want to weed out employees who truly don't share your company's core values, make a big show of letting people go when they are not a good fit, and make sure everyone knows that's the reason. Empower your HR directors to fire on core value breaches, and make sure your recruiters know you need not only a skill- but a culture-fit.

Avoiding The Lies & Hiring Top Notch VAs

At the end of the day, each type of lie has its own detection methods as seen above. This leads to a separate learning curve for each of the above pitfalls (some steeper than others), which can also result in a lot of costly lessons. Implementing every one of the steps mentioned in this article to avoid VA lies is a lot easier said than done, and some of them can only be learned via direct experience (eg: checking references or trusting your gut).

Even with that direct experience (at today's rates, we are hiring ~100 new VAs per year)... even with all our established recruiting, hiring, and onboarding processes, I still make mistakes!

Indeed: I have to fire a third to half of everyone we hire. Look at it by the numbers.

For each new hire who sticks with us, we...

  • look at ~40 - 60 CVs,
  • listen to voice samples from ~5 - 10,
  • speak to 3 - 4,
  • hire 2 - 3,
  • and fire 1 or 2 within the first month.

What this has taught me are two very important lessons about avoiding the lies VAs tell:

1.) The process is never perfect, and needs to improve continuously.

By trial & error we've arrived at a very kaizen / Six Sigma approach to recruiting VAs. We have everything broken down into checklists, track as many stats as we can think of, encourage all involved team members to innovate & improve processes, and never stop looking for ways to make it better.

2.) It will always be a numbers game.

Nobody can "bat a thousand" when it comes to hiring. We all make mistakes despite our best efforts & systems. By taking a numbers approach from the outset, you can focus on results and the costs of getting them, without getting too emotionally invested or distracted by hurdles along the way.

Where To Get Started

This is one of the most common questions I get whenever discussing any topics related to VAs, outsourcing, hiring, or company culture.

The answer is always the same:

Pick one simple task that you believe will have the highest immediate impact, and get going. Obviously, this will be highly dependent on your own situation, because everybody will be starting from a different baseline. For example, maybe you already have a great interview process... but you're lacking a technical screening process. Or maybe you are great at spotting a skill-match... but haven't put thought into a culture-fit in your recruitment process.

Well, you're going to have to do some honest self assessment to figure this out. What I will do is share my top 10 ideas as to potential first steps, but you'll have to determine which one is right for you.

  1. Articulate your core values better. One of the most powerful tools for finding the right people is, before anything else, being willing (and able) to hire and fire on your company's core values. To do so, you obviously need to be able to define them clearly & spot them in others.
  2. Prepare better interview questions. Looking back through this article, you should find a lot of ideas. If you need more, email me.
  3. Post better jobs ads. Unfortunately, for now the best way to find applicants is to post jobs ads. In these, you'll need to be specific, clear, and concise, but you also want to cast a wide enough net. Test different ads against each other for the same position, keep the better one, and repeat.
  4. Post your jobs ads more places. If you want to be fancy, you can customize your post for the audience at each location, but some places to consider would be: Monster, Indeed, Craigslist, Elance, oDesk, etc. The list goes on & on, but due to the network effect the biggest sites tend to be much bigger than their next closest alternatives, so you'll get the best mileage working deeper within big sites than broader on a bunch of little ones.
  5. Streamline your interview process. Use templates, gather important details about your potential hires, do group interviews, and collect multimedia (video, audio), all before you ever invest time in one-to-one interaction.
  6. Practice your interview technique. In the same way you might do a mock call for a telemarketing campaign, you can learn a lot about what you're doing right (and wrong) by role playing the interview process with existing employees & colleagues. Get them to play difficult roles, like a VA who will say anything to get the job, or one who is especially introverted. Study the motives of the common lies.
  7. Invest more personal effort in training. One of the worst parts about hiring new VAs is getting them properly trained. The reason it's so painful is that you have to do it, even for the VAs who you later must fire. That's why it's important to invest into training early, and often. Being too busy to train is like being too hungry to eat.[ref]Ben Horowitz on Why Startups Should Train Their People[/ref]
  8. Improve your training systems. Since you know it's going to take a lot of time & energy, why not put some of that effort into systematization? Create manuals, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), checklists, audios, videos, retreats, group chats, webinars, and more... anything to multiply your efforts and streamline the training process.
  9. Notes:

    1. Through Analysis, Gut Reaction Gains Credibility. Claudia Dreifus, New York Times 2007 ↩
    2. The Neuroscience of Trusting Your Gut. , Fast Company 2013 ↩
    3. Truth or lie – trust your instinct, says research. Helen Briggs, BBC News 2014 ↩
    4. Ben Horowitz on Why Startups Should Train Their People

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