What do clients seek in an Assistant?

As many of you already know SmartSteps often recruits bilingual assistants for our international clients. Over time candidate’s profiles have changed and I am hearing from candidates and clients that the job itself has evolved. So what is the situation today?


Most of our clients prefer at least a fluent (courant) level of English. Fluent and bilingual are two words which are quite abused. Not many candidates truly are bilingual most are fluent (which is generally sufficient). That is why it has become necessary to have English mother tongue consultants to test linguistic skills, both written and spoken. Whether you have a diploma in languages or not is irrelevant today, it’s what you can say and write during tests.  If there really is an extremely high content of English in the role and particularly technical vocabulary, most clients opt for an English mother tongue.

IT Skills

We find clients are more insistent on candidates with advanced IT skills than before. Perhaps this is because the younger generation are now doing their own typing and presentations. They rely on their assistants to format documents and proofread and to do this they need to have advanced knowledge of MS Office or equivalent. We test IT skills, but many of our clients also have their own in-house tests.

The majority of our clients require we test on English software, because most of our international clients have the software version imposed on them and it is often in English.


Legal assistant roles once involved lots of typing. Not today, technology means that people are working on the same documents again and again. There are libraries of standard documents which require document management skills. None of the above means that good typing speeds are not appreciated. Knowing your way around a key board increases significantly production of any type of document, be it a simple email. Voice recognition technology may take over in the longer term.


Team work

There has been a general decline in the number of Personal Assistant, 1 on 1 roles available. Few companies today allow managers to have an assistant all to themselves! More and more people are working for at least 2 people which means Assistants have to have advanced time management and organisation skills. When colleagues are absent, very often a designated in-house person will cover for the absence so holidays always have to be planned with that person in mind.


Apart from there only being three real points of interrogation before recruiting someone (Can you do the job? Will you stay a sufficient amount of time (there are recruitment and training costs involved)? Do I like you?), attitude counts! Most clients come back again and again with the same four requirements: 1) organised 2) proactive 3) rigour, and 4) service orientated.

Diary management

According to the sector of activity, there is more or less diary and travel management. Heavy diary management roles are often in the consultancy sector.

Professional stability

Since the crisis of 2007 the job market has evolved. Finding employment has become much harder for some, clients need to be very reassured you are the one for them! Having the skills can go a long way to helping you find work, clients do appreciate receiving IT scores along with written French and English tests and references. However, for permanent positions, the above is not always the only criteria. Professional stability counts and goes back to one of the three main questions: Will you stay long enough for my investment (time and money) to be profitable? In the HR department, past performance indicates future performance.

Lynda Petit is a British recruitment consultant working on the Paris job market for many years now.  She founded SmartSteps in 2008 and has never looked back!

SmartSteps always seeks international candidates with good linguistic skills to offer to our very eager clients.


  1. Interesting Article

    Hello ,

    I read with a certain interest the article above, most criteria were mentioned albeit one important one in France, the age.

    What is the position for a candidate over the age of 45, will he/she have the opportunity to find a job as an assistant or is it only reserved for the younger population 20-35 who are more knowledgeable of the new technology, cost less.

    If this is the case, I would like to know, what is the best course of action for a candidate over the age of 45 wishing to work in a company as a bilingual assistant.

    Many thanks for your comment,

  2. adminsmart

    Hello Marion, it is unfortunately true that as a general rule the over 40s find the job market more difficult (but so too do the total juniors). The main issues are related to salary and skills. It is important to recognise that no matter how much experience you have there are salary ceilings, your earnings won’t go up all your life with increased years of experience. Secondly, senior IT skills are often not as good as those of the new comers to the market. This is one point that any candidate can work on. In my experience, candidates no matter their age, with top class skills will find work. As i don’t know much about you it is difficult to give you more personal advice. If you like you can send us your CV explaining you are the person who commented, we may be able to give more personalised answer. Kindly, Lynda