What a Virtual Assistant Job Is

Debunking the Use and Misuse of the Term

virtual assistant
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It’s not easy to pin down exactly what a virtual assistant does, but most often, it's a term that's applied to a person who functions like a personal assistant but does it online or remotely. However, this title gets misused often.

The Role of a Virtual Assistant

Generally, virtual assistants are self-employed individuals who have cultivated a clientele in need of their services. Most often, their clients include other business owners, like real estate agents.

Services may include administrative tasks like managing email, creative or technical skills like updating website content, or support services for business and personal needs. Sometimes, business owners may even hire an assistant to take care of social media management needs. Ultimately, virtual assistants can be asked to handle anything from acting as an off-site personal secretary to being a remote project manager for a business.

Virtual Assistant Work

Owning a virtual-assistant home business is not the same as having a virtual assistant job. There are several legitimate companies offering virtual assistant jobs that are similar to what a self-employed virtual assistant does, but many of the jobs advertised have different job requirements.

Someone who has a work-from-home business can be a team of one or have a team of personal assistants (PA's) like the traditional ones who have previously worked in an office. These business owners either perform the work themselves or hire PA's and train them as virtual assistants (VA's) where they perform similar tasks, except virtually or out of the office. VA's may serve several businesses or just be assigned to one specific client or company. Running a virtual assistant business is very different from just being a virtual assistant in that you're usually managing several people, clients, and general business overhead, in comparison to just having one specific role where you perform virtual assistant tasks only. Typically, the difference lies between being a business owner and being an employee or a contractor.

What VA's Do

Most often, virtual assistants are people who perform short tasks on sites like MTurk or UpWork, where people earn small monetary amounts for performing tiny tasks online. This type of digital work is similar to micro jobs and freelance projects. Many irtual assistants can be grouped into a larger category of people who work online. Truly, any virtual position is open to interpretation. Some positions that you may find advertised online as virtual assistant jobs may include:

Small Projects

While many virtual assistants can find remote work online, there are task sites that require in-person work. However, many companies like TaskRabbitGigwalk, or other micro job sites typically offer small tasks and projects for people who want to work remotely. There are many additional home business “opportunities” for virtual assistants on general job sites like Indeed and Monster.


It's possible to run into some scams, so it's recommended to carefully examine them to ensure they're legitimate. Signs of a work-at-home scam include asking for your social security number, asking to accept or send money right away, or providing a generic or too-good-to-be-true job listing. For example, the job opportunity site listing may not even have a website or a phone number with someone you can talk to.

Similarly, it's important to be wary of classes that will certify you as “virtual professionals." Legitimate virtual assistant home businesses were built by the hard work of their owners, so a class won't lead you to the right role.