What Is a Virtual Assistant?


What is a virtual assistant? In brief, virtual assistants operate as remote administrative contractors. They typically help with office management duties but can also chip in with a variety of content, social, design, marketing and other media-related business responsibilities. In this article, we explain in more detail what a virtual assistant is, what they do and how you can become one.

What does a virtual assistant do?

A virtual assistant completes administrative tasks from a remote location. The specific duties of a virtual assistant can vary from administrative to technical, depending on the person’s skill set. Virtual assistants can work as independent contractors or with staffing agencies. Some assistants work with one company while others contract with different employers simultaneously. Common tasks performed by a virtual assistant include:

  • Taking calls and managing schedules

  • Bookkeeping

  • Handling customer support

  • Building and updating databases

  • Conducting research

  • Creating social media profiles

  • Developing marketing material using graphic design skills

  • Performing basic proofreading and editing on internal and external documents

Read more: Browse Virtual Assistant Jobs

Average salary

A virtual assistant’s salary depends upon a variety of factors, including education and experience level. Virtual assistants who are independent contractors may have a higher salary than those who work for an agency. Duties performed could also affect wages. Additionally, some virtual assistants work full-time hours while others only work a few hours per day.

  • Some salaries range from $7.25 to $37.10 per hour.

Virtual assistant requirements

Virtual assistants require a combination of education, training and skills to perform their jobs. While there may be common expectations, the precise nature of these requirements can depend on the type of work each virtual assistant performs.

  • Education

  • Training

  • Certifications

  • Skills


Many virtual assistants can find work with a high school diploma, though some employers prefer a bachelor’s or associate degree, especially if the assistant performs specialized tasks. Depending on the type of work, a virtual assistant could get a degree in a variety of fields, including marketing, business administration or communication.


There are many training courses available online for virtual assistants. You can take courses in word processing, spreadsheets, databases, business and management. Training is also available in social media management, graphic design and basic website building. There are also virtual assistant training courses available that teach basic administrative skills and how to perform them remotely.

Training courses could be available at local community colleges or online. Courses could last a few days to several weeks depending on the topic. Virtual assistants can take a variety of different training courses to make them more attractive candidates.


While there are no requirements for virtual assistants, certification can demonstrate dedication and specialized knowledge in different areas. You can become certified as a virtual assistant or gain certification in particular areas. These certifications include:

Certified Virtual Assistant

This course from VA Certified is for people who have at least one year of experience as an virtual assistant. The VA Certified review board questions applicants with regard to their education, virtual assistant experience and accomplishments before awarding certification.

Microsoft Office Specialist

Many virtual assistant positions require basic office software skills. This certification is offered on three levels: Specialist, Expert and Master. Assistants can also earn this certification the different versions of Microsoft Office, from 2007 to 2016. To earn any of the MOS certifications, virtual assistants need to complete a training course and pass an exam.

Google Ads Certification

Google’s certification is one way to demonstrate that you are skilled in online advertising. Google offers training in the various areas covered by the certification before you take the tests.

Language Certification

Fluency in a foreign language is a valuable skill for virtual assistants. There are certification programs available in the U.S. through the American Translators Association and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.


A quality virtual assistant has several basic soft and hard skills, including:

  • Computer skills: You should be proficient in word processing, email and using the internet, particularly for research. Proficiency with virtual conferencing and video chatting is also a highly desirable skill.

  • Communication: If you are answering calls, you should be able to speak clearly, listen well and present information. For most work, you should have good writing skills, especially if you update websites or handle business correspondence.

  • Organization: For the virtual assistant, being organized is an important function in completing tasks on time. If your work requires you to maintain calendars and manage administrative work, good organization skills are essential.

  • Multitasking: A virtual assistant may be required to perform several different tasks, sometimes for different clients. If you are good at multitasking, you may find it easier to complete different duties concurrently to stay on schedule.

  • Time management: Virtual assistants need to not only manage their own time but also their clients’ schedules as well. Many virtual assistants manage several calendars, including setting, rescheduling and canceling appointments and meetings.

  • Interpersonal skills: Though virtual assistants are remote employees, they often work with managers, employers, coworkers and customers. You should have a friendly and professional manner in emails, over the phone, via video calls and through message systems to excel as a virtual assistant.

Virtual assistant work environment

Virtual assistants can work in several different industries depending on their skills, including:

  • Healthcare

  • Real estate

  • Law firms

  • Marketing agencies

  • Engineering firms

Many work from home, though some may work in an office with other virtual assistants or anywhere with a high-speed internet connection. They usually work as contractors for clients as opposed to being salaried employees, though quality virtual assistants may work for the same client for a long time. Depending on the contract, they could work full- or part-time. Some are required to work certain hours of the day while others complete a list of duties by a specified deadline.

A lot of the virtual assistant’s work is done on a computer, communicating with clients and conducting research online. They may work from a desktop or laptop and typically need a machine with a microphone and camera for meetings and calls. Since they’re usually contract employees, they should be able to use their own hardware and software, though an employer may provide specialized equipment if it’s necessary for the job.

How to become a virtual assistant

If you are interested in becoming a virtual assistant, here are some steps you can take:

1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent

This should provide you with the basic skills in reading, writing, mathematics and computers you need. You can typically find work performing basic administrative tasks with a high school diploma or equivalent.

2. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

You don’t need a degree to be a virtual assistant but you may need one for some specialized areas. For example, you might need a business degree to be an executive assistant or a communications or marketing degree to work with a marketing agency.

3. Take certification courses

Certification is not required but can be helpful to secure a job, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience. Consider taking courses in basic fields, such as Microsoft Office, and then focus on specialized areas to make you a more appealing candidate for jobs. You can also earn a virtual assistant certification to show your dedication to the role.

4. Join a virtual assistant organization

The International Virtual Assistants Association and VANetworking are two organizations that can provide networking opportunities and expand your job search.

5. Prepare a resume and apply for jobs

Your resume should reflect your experience as a virtual assistant and any specialized areas you possess. Make sure to list your skills and certifications so employers know what duties you can perform. You typically won’t meet employers in person, so they may require you to complete an online assessment to test your abilities.

Virtual assistant job description example

OfficeCorp is looking for a virtual assistant to provide administrative support to our sales team. You will be helping four managers with routine administrative duties, including responding to emails, answering calls and maintaining calendars. We will also need you to maintain our customer database and create presentations and simple spreadsheet reports.

We are looking for someone with at least a high school diploma and one year of experience providing office support in either a virtual or non-virtual setting. You must have competence using Microsoft Office, particularly Excel, Access and PowerPoint. You must also have excellent communication and organizational skills. Preference will be given to candidates with relevant certifications.

Related careers

If you want to pursue a career as a virtual assistant, you may also be interested in one of the following related careers:

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