People Processes Interviews: The Benefits and How-Tos of Hiring Filipino VAs with OnlineJobs.ph founder John Jonas
The idea of outsourcing work used to be a questionable practice, whether for ethical reasons (i.e. exploiting lower wages) or patriotic ones (i.e. stealing jobs from Americans). Today’s guest explains why these concerns are nothing more than misconceptions, and why hiring VAs, particularly from the Philippines, is becoming more popular with U.S. companies today than ever before.
While many small businesses now see the potential value in outsourcing, the process itself may seem daunting. What are the differences between the online and in-person hiring process? How can you make sure that your VA is using their time wisely? What should American employers keep in mind when communicating with Filipino employees?
Today’s guest answers those questions and more. We have interviewed John Jonas, the founder of OnlineJobs.ph, to discuss the step-by-step process for scouting for, interviewing, hiring, and managing Filipino VAs.
1) How has outsourcing changed in the last 11 years that you’ve been managing OnlineJobs.ph?
I hired my first virtual assistant in the Philippines in 2005, and she continues to work for me today. Some things have changed, but most things haven’t. The workforce in the Philippines hasn’t really changed. They’re still Westernized and speak good English. But the demand for the Filipino workforce has gone way up since then.
2) What would you say to U.S.-based small businesses that have reservations around outsourcing?
First of all, I don’t see very much of that anymore. We’re not taking away American jobs. Usually, when someone is hiring a virtual assistant in the Philippines, they didn’t have someone in the U.S. in the first place. It’s not like you’re taking a U.S. job and shipping it overseas, which is what we have typically, in the past, think about outsourcing.
Secondly, there are fewer communication issues between Americans and Filipinos as opposed to Americans and Indians, simply because Filipino culture is much closer to that of the U.S. than Indian culture is.
Also, the Philippines has this odd culture of loyalty. When you hire a Filipino, as long as you treat them well, they will never stop working for you, hence my first VA staying with me all these years. That’s such a big deal for a small business owner.
3) What is your advice for business owners who are about to launch or scale and are looking to recruit for their team?
My advice is to go to OnlineJobs.ph and just start looking through profiles. Go search for the skills you’re looking for and note the rates that people are putting up in exchange for their skills. 20 to 30 minutes of searching will give you a good idea of available skills and average rates.
The mistake I see many employers doing is that they start shortlisting candidates. On OnlineJobs.ph, there are more than a million profiles. If you start shortlisting people and they already have a job, there’s a higher chance that they won’t respond to your offer. This goes back to the loyalty thing. They’re very loyal to their current employer.
The next step is to contact those people whose profiles you viewed (say 20), or post a job and let people apply for it. I typically do both of these to raise the possibility of finding the best fit.
Also focus on hiring detail-oriented people, since remote working requires you to be more attentive. Simply adding an instruction to the listing, such as, “Include the word ‘pink Cadillac’ in your letter” can reveal a lot about your applicants.
4) In those job openings, is there particular information that you recommend which may be peculiar to hiring in the Philippines versus hiring on your standard Monster.com advertisement?
We have a tendency to look for a “superhero” when we outsource: people who can do everything from designing your website to making phone calls to writing your content, etc. Those people don’t exist. Culturally, Filipinos aim to please. They don’t want to disappoint. So if in your job post, you list 15 different responsibilities (they might even all be related to each other), you might get someone who sees one or two responsibilities that they can’t do, and may end up not applying altogether as a result. Post a job with two or three primary responsibilities and, as you interview, you can disclose more details. Understand as well that some skills can be taught down the line.
At the same time, don’t just list a single responsibility, because you might end up getting 200 applications and have a difficult time digging through that number to find the few that you want to interview.
5) Do you recommend more formal or informal language on your job listing?
I think that more formal language works in the Philippines. However, I’m very conversational, and I’ve never posted a formal job post. Be you so that applicants know what to expect from their employer, culturally speaking. In short, reflect your company culture on your listing.
6) How different should the interview process be for VAs compared to traditional in-person interviews?
With Filipinos in particular, I recommend that people start the interview via email. Skype interviews should happen later in the process. Ask lots of questions on a few emails over a couple of days. You’ll discover their command of English and their unique personality this way. The reason is, if you go for a video interview first, out of 10 applicants, five may disappear immediately. Of the other five who remain, three may not show up for the scheduled interview because it’s just too scary for them. There’s no guarantee that the last two candidates are the strongest among the original ten. The key to having a healthy professional relationship with a Filipino is to build trust, and conducting your interview via email first helps enormously with that.
7) What are the key steps to onboarding a VA?
If you want to use an employment contract, go for it. Different people are driven differently. By this point, you will have negotiated their working hours per week, and how you intend to pay them (hourly, contract, etc.). I have 26 people who I pay between $400 to $1700 for full-time work (40-hour workweek); but the thing is, they all get paid a salary. If you pay hourly, you stop caring if they run out of things to do. With salaried employees, you do care if they run out of things to do, and you force yourself to create processes that make your employee’s work worth the time and money.
When all that is settled and the first day of work comes, you give the new employee a task. You can establish trust by giving them training and feedback. I tell them, “I know you’re going to get stuck on this first task. When that happens, try to figure out a solution by yourself. When you’re stuck and you feel like you’re not making progress, I need you to come to me so that I can help you solve your problems.” The number one problem you’ll get from a Filipino VA is that they tend to disappear if they’re afraid that they’ll let you down. By giving them autonomy to solve their problems, but at the same time assure them that you’re there to help as well (without yelling at them), it becomes easy to avoid this problem.
8) How do you make sure that your VA is using their time wisely?
Firstly, keep the person busy. If you don’t feel like they’re busy, they’re going to go get another job. Secondly, remind yourself that different people have different personalities. I personally gauge productivity based on “feel”. I have the VA give me a daily report to help me keep track of things. Look for inconsistencies or drops in productivity from one week to the next. I don’t want to think and remember what they’re working on. I’m not responsible for the tasks that I assigned them. Assigning them a daily report gives you peace of mind.
Don’t be afraid to outsource. All it really takes is a paradigm shift and a willingness to learn new processes.
Treat your VA the same as you would an in-house employee. Even though the cost and risk may be lower, your investment in any of your employees and the processes around them pay the same dividend: a smart trusted team member who can do the jobs they are assigned and know how to make decisions without you there.
Measuring productivity works similarly with both in-house employees and VAs. In today’s world, you should know, pretty much daily, whether your employees are getting the job done and what challenges they may have. Larger companies use CRMs to track these things. Smaller businesses would benefit from a daily report, with which you can monitor performance and provide feedback on a one-on-one basis.
Homework: Now that you know the basic process for scouting for, interviewing, hiring, and managing Filipino VAs, take note of which tasks you can outsource. Once you know what you’re looking for, browse through 20 to 30 profiles on OnlineJobs.ph and open your mind to potentially hiring a VA or two to help you save more time and money, which will allow you to focus on more important considerations as a small business owner.