Why I tricked you

I apologise for doing that to you and I hope you’re not angry, but it’s really important to me that you become a good VA.

The reason I set those tasks

I once sent an email to 70 people including 22 personal trainees. I gave them an offer but mentioned at the bottom of the email that the offer wasn’t open to the personal trainees.

But 9 of those 22 personal trainees emailed me back to apply…

THAT’S 40%!!!

I don’t tell you this to embarrass them, it’s just that I was surprised so many of them replied. These are all really smart, sharp, competent people and, although I expected a couple to accidentally respond, 40% is astonishing.

It was fine because it was me, but if I was a client I would not have been impressed.

I set about wondering why the response rate was so high and what I could do about it. Because if 40% of them mistakenly replied to my email then you probably would have too.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply – Stephen R. Covey

Why this test was important

  • Because it’s far better for you to make a mistake like this here with me than with a real client.
  • Because it’s vital for a VA to be able to locate information and see the bigger picture.
  • Because a client won’t capitalise or highlight instructions, they just write them in an email and expect you to read and follow them.
  • Because the ability to solve problems and pay close attention to detail is an essential requirement of being a VA.

A client may trick you on purpose

I was speaking to a freelance lawyer whilst on holiday in Gran Canaria. She told me that whenever she hired a VA she always gave them a one-hour paid tester task but that she didn’t provide all the information they would need to complete the task.

Why did she do this?

She said she wanted to know how they would handle the situation. Ideally, she wanted them to find out the information they needed to complete the task, but at the very least she wanted them to contact her for the missing information.

And the sooner they contacted her the higher they scored.

She (correctly) said that good admin skills are not hard to find, but being able to solve problems is a vital skill which had to be present in the person she would entrust her business with.

If you didn’t pass the test

Then you only lost an hour of your time instead of a client and now you’re more prepared for when you do work with one.

Why you got caught out

You’ve worked in offices for years and you’re used to taking instructions and jumping immediately into action to start a task – just as Stephen Covey said.

You’re probably in ‘cruise mode’ and have become blind to a lot of things you do. You know what you’re doing, what’s expected of you, what the task is and who it’s for and you may not be giving it your full attention.

We all make mistakes, but you have a buffer at work and are protected by your job. When you’re a freelancer any mistakes you make will reflect on your perceived competence, abilities and sense.

You need to look at things differently if you’re going to be a business owner because mistakes can cost you clients. 

It’s like The Great British Bake Off Technical Challenge – when a client gives you instructions, you need to read all the way down to the bottom of the page before you begin!

How to avoid messing up a task:

  1. If you’re not sure of the parameters of the task then clarify with the client.
  2. If you’re still not sure then ask them again.
  3. And if you’re STILL not sure then phone them.
  4. Do not be embarrassed to do this. It’s more embarrassing to balls up a task.

If you passed the test

Well done for spotting what I did but please still take the lesson from the exercise. It’s easy to do and you are not immune from making this mistake in the future.

PS: I won’t judge you if you completed the task and emailed me the doc. All emails sent to the Hotmail address I gave you are automatically deleted.

Still wanna be a Virtual Assistant?

If you want to set up your own business and just want someone to tell you what to do (and when), then sign up for my DIY VA training course today.

With lifetime access and an incredible trainee-only support group, I guide you through the entire process. You can even pay in instalments.



Lucy Nunn

When I was in secondary school in the 70s, this was a lesson a teacher taught us for when sitting exams, which showed the importance of reading through the paper before starting to answer the questions. A lesson learnt then and never forgotten!

Lela Said

We are always told to read the exam papers a few times and then some.

I worked in Civil Service and we had to go to a couple of courses on how to deal with emails, letters and etc etc.
Guess what the instructors told us to re read a couple of times and underline what’s necessary.

However in saying that, there are still plenty to learn.

Dustin Smith

I thank you in advance for taking the time to read, and possibly responding to my message. I am a newly graduated high school student, who has had an interest in virtual assistance for some time now. I have looked through many websites, posts, blogs, etc. In hopes of finding the true colors of this, in my opinion, dream job. I hope you do not mind answering a question (or two). First, I am wondering is this an unrealistic goal? Am I crazy to hope of becoming a VA right out of high school? Secondly, would you recommend this profession? These are just a few questions that I would like answered, before I really start trying to achieve this goal. Thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Joanne Munro

Hi Dustin, as with any profession, you need solid work experience in that area prior to charging people for your services. In the Virtual Assistant world, typically this would be a work history spanning several years and include administrative or personal assistant roles.

Clients buy a VA’s time because a VA has the relevant experience. The training I provide relates to how to run a business and how to manage clients but doesn’t teach you administration as a job in itself. You will need to have gained that experience already.

Being a Virtual Assistant is incredibly rewarding, but running a business is also a lot of hard work. I strongly advise you to gain relevant work experience (if you don’t have it already). If you have skills and experience in specific areas – such as video editing or graphic design, for example, you could always consider niching right down and only offering these services though. You could set up an account on Fiverr to do this.

As a VA, however, I would say you need have gained admin experience before you go it alone. This post on FAQs about being a VA should help you with other questions you may have. x


You know, as I was reading those instructions I thought to myself, “Wow. She wants every random person that tries this to email her their work? She reads all that? Really? How?” Just seemed kind of fishy. Then I got to the bottom and it made sense.

Farah Maqsood

Hey thanks alot for the guidance. I will remember the tricks in future.. i want to start as VA is there anybody who can mentor me please??

Jeannette Morgan

You nearly got me, but then I decided to read all the way through so I could see how long it was likely to take me so I could set some time aside. A lesson I won’t forget!


Almost got me lol – I work for a client at the moment who has very complicated tasks but very well written instructions for them so I have learnt to read everything, slowly, more than once, which saved me today lol – fantastic way to point out this very important skill Joanne 🙂

Siti Kanniah

I passed the test. I did a similar test when I was a kindergarden teacher. The instruction was not to do anything until you finnish reading

John Vila

I feel guilty now but I realized a big thing when working at different companies. I worked with the intent to impress my superiors rather than understand what im doing and why Im doing it. Thank you for this lesson. It means so much

Joanne Munro

Hey John, don’t feel guilty because that’s exactly what you’re taught to do in employment. They don’t always want you to understand what why you’re doing the tasks they give you; they just want you to do the job, not think too much and to stay in the box they hired you to go in. You need to cultivate a business-owner mindset when you work for yourself; this does not come naturally because you’ve been institutionalised, but it does come with time.


Ha! Nearly got me, I read everything twice before completing, I thought hang on a minute lol??


Yay! I passed. I always read all the information first as I have learnt (from past mistakes!) that people do not necessarily give their instructions in a logical order.


I failed. Not because I didn’t see the instruction at the bottom but because I thought surely that was an error! What a mistake I made!

Joanne Munro

No, you didn’t fail Kathie – you learned. It is far better to make a mistake now rather than with a client and actually, you are much less likely to make the same mistake with a client simple BECAUSE you made the mistake here. You will now look out for things like this. Clients can be erratic and also give conflicting messages but you are now well prepared for them.

Lisa McArdle

I passed because I tend to scan read, digest then action.
Maybe I am ready to become a VA.

Stefan van der Merwe

Good trick…lol i dont like reading to much so i scrolled down right to the bottom just to look for comments before i start the tasks thats when i saw this was a trick…but seriously how do i start becoming a VA?

Mandy Millis

Ha Ha you nearly got me…. well I did two then became pedantic about the publishers…. does Jo mean the actual book version if the kindle version is more popular etc?, so I decided to take a look at the comments and that’s when i saw it. Good call!


I passed the test however I’m still gonna give it a go at the tasks to see how long it would take me to complete them.
I always read emails that require something from me at least couple of times and if I’m not sure I go back to read again and again if needed. I tend to pay attention to small details and see more than others sometimes (part of my ADHD brain ?).

I’m still doing lots of research and learning a lot every day. I’ve been off work for over 2years now (maternity and being single mum with no family stopped me going back) so I have a lot to catch up with but I know I won’t become a VA overnight.
My goal is to start in September when my little one will go to nursery (for now only 15hrs). I’m giving myself time to prepare even tho I would love to start straight away as I’m actually missing work.
I have years of experience in admin, warehousing, transport & logistics, and 360 recruitment and some marketing so I know I definitely have some useful skills that I could offer but I need to learn more as I’m a bit OCD when it comes to work (I want to know everything and make sure all is in the right order).

I’m still looking for some useful systems that I could use to help me as a VA. Have you got any recommendations for systems I could use to manage my database of clients (once i get them). Preferably free as I’m broke at the moment ?

I would really appreciate your response.
And thank you if you managed to read the whole comment.

Joanne Munro

Hi Izzy and well done for passing the test! It’s hard to write a complete answer to you here so it’s better to switch to my VA Handbookers Facebook group instead.

There are many systems you could choose to use and I have a post on the tools and platforms I use myself. It really depends on what services you offer and who your clients are. I’m not sure what you mean by “managing a database” but the Facebook group is the best place to find all the answers to questions such as these.

My main piece of advice is to stop waiting until things are “perfect” though because they never will be. Time goes quickly so just crack on and get going then adjust as you go along.

Salli Maddalo

Wahoo I didn’t get caught out! Feeling proud of myself haha. But the article is a great one and really interesting. Thank you x


My mind was getting ready to start with task 1 when I read the part about not doing the tasks. Needless to say that I felt a bit confused but decided to click the hyperlink before going back to the tasks. Fortunately, this clerified things better for me. ?

Thank you Jo!


Well played with this one. I didn’t do them and read all the way to the end, but this time, only because I checked my email from my phone.

Ali Wade

I was a PA for many years and glad to find that I am still too smart to be fooled by a trick! Also, I have spotted errors in your website. If you need a VA to help ‘YOU’, then get in touch. Ali x (I still have my Gmail email address, but that will be rectified soon.)

Vivienne Staniforth

“If you’re not sure of the perimeters of the task then clarify with the client.”

I don’t mean to be a smart-ass, I am new to this site and anxious to learn more about what it takes to be a successful VA; but the word is ‘parameters’. I look forward to reading and learning more. This was a useful first exercise and glad that I ‘got it’!

Joanne Munro

Well spotted! It just goes to show that even when you hire someone (a VA/proofreader) to do a job for you, they can still miss things – which is another good lesson to learn as a VA! x


What a great test and I passed because of reading all the way to the bottom of the instructions. You are a genius for putting all of this out there for aspiring VAs. Thank you Jo!


Hello Jo. I managed to do two out of three before noticing ;-). Glad I didn’t email the documents but also glad I could complete the tasks.
Many thanks!


I read all the way to the end and didn’t complete the task. I actually pride myself on high attention to detail 🙂
I hope it is okay, I am going to complete the task for my own practice (and not email it to you of course) ?


Oooh very close! I had just done task 2 when I glanced to the bottom of the article! I definitely see what you mean there!


I was already on the 3rd task then suddenly saw the “Don’t do any of the three tasks I’ve given you.”
Haha! it excites me!
Indeed a glimpse of freedom!
Freedom from always being the tail, HAHA

Thank you for your heart Jo, heart of wanting us all to become a good VA, ~shalom~!


Very nearly got caught out there. Good job I’m a bit obsessive with checking I’ve done it right and saw that we weren’t meant to do it in the first place 🙂 Great reminder to read all the instructions first.


Oh Jo! What a clever task! Thank you! I too completed the tasks, and the whole while wondering why on earth you would want so many of us emailing you! Thank you!


I did pass the test because I always read everything befor I start work. I like to know in advance what the big picture is, then I go back and start the tasks. Thank you for this reminder to think before acting and follow instructions.

When I was a teacher I gave a similar task to my students and I was surprised by how few followed instructions.

Les Stoddart

Phew, I passed!!!
I downloaded the excel file, and then read ALL of the instructions before beginning, as I always do.
When doing any work I always try to take in all of the information before starting to make sure I’m doing a job right (how they want it NOT how I see it).
Good test though, going to treat myself to a doughnut for passing!!!!!


Love it! I did do the tasks, but didn’t get to the email point. However the tasks were great to remind myself I’m not a complete flake and do know what I’m doing!


I got through the first two, then saw the not below #3. Really good lesson! You’re right that I am blind to a lot of things and just jump in complete what I need to do. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

Natalie Cooke

A great lesson. Just wish LinkedIn on my phone gave me the option to personalise a connection request…now learnt only to request connections on my laptop!

Desire van Aswegen

Well I am still completely new, or not even as far as new yet but I was so excited to do the task and you definitely got me. I first did task one, then read task two and did it and then even task three and to top it off I was on my way of sending you the spreadsheet.
Well done in teaching me a very valuable lesson! 🙂


I am still considering if VA is my thing. But deep inside I know that I like the idea of being a VA! :))) and I really want to get there!!! I haven’t got any clients yet. Still researching and slowly setting up by doing piece by piece. All your website tips and emails are very motivating! But I probably have to take your DIY course – so it would be easier and faster!
I was so excited to see all of your 3 tasks. I checked them all and even decided that 1st and 2nd was for me – I would enjoy doing them. But I doubt on the 3th..(I could do it but I wasn’t happy about it).
Anyway I am so glad I read your test till the end plus checked the link..and didn’t do any further actions.. :)) As I wanted to make sure I understanding and doing everything correctly!
Also it’s a great lesson for my future VA career.
Thank you Jo!


Hi Kristina,
I am at this point also. Is it for me, where do I start extra.
Did you finally do it?

Debbie Haberfield

Yay – I passed the test which means that I am definitely in the room. This is just what I needed to stop doubting my abilities and progress confidently with my VA business. Thank you, Jo.


Thank you for the exercise of what VAs may experience, and the lesson of completely reading everything in advance.


This is something I learned at school. We were told to read through every test and exam
paper to the end. It may seem time consuming at the outset but saves so much time in the end! Such simple advice but so very effective. So, I feel I am armed with all the advice and business know-how I accumulated during my working life and now – well, now I just need to actually pluck up the courage to launch my VA career!


I can’t get over your site. It’s just amazed me and given me so much inspiration. I have had the thought of being a VA for sometime now but reading your site I am now 100% convinced this is what I want to do with the rest of my life and career. The only reason I passed was because I am reading on a tablet so knew the excel spreadsheet wouldn’t open. The 2nd task, I thought was easy so would come back to and then I did the 3rd task mentally. Couldn’t believe it when I then read on to NOT do any of them. Totally bowled over by this. I will be booking onto your course ASAP!! Would u suggest this be the best place for me to start?

Joanne Munro

Hi Louise, I’m delighted you are considering becoming a freelancer – you will LOVE it! It’s hard work and you have to put a lot of effort in, but it’s worth it. I would say the DIY VA course is the course you should do as it covers everything. Look out for a massive sale on it on Thursday & Friday as it’s my business birthday. If you’re on my mailing list (see the sign up in the sidebar) then you’ll receive an email telling you all about it on Thursday morning. x


I almost started doing the first task the moment I read it, but then gave myself a slap on the wrist real hard! I have had clients send me a list of tasks to do, but not in any order. When reading through their requests I noticed some tasks were more urgent than others. Since then I try to read my mails all the way to the end before starting any work. Some tasks take so much time that the deadline for other requests further down the mail has passed before you had time to complete the points higher up in the mail.

Joanne Munro

Good work Helene! yes, they can often contradict themselves in their instructions or you get a suspicion that you need to clarify something. It’s not great when you have to micromanage a client, but sometimes you need to save them from themselves! x

Tammy Khoo

I am not sure I pass or not but it sure got me realising that I am on Auto Pilot.
I read about the Task and know it was a task to be done in my head and started doing it one task at a time. When continue reading it and click on the link I start to read on. I realised what I had done. Instead of thoroughly reading the task given, I action on it to get it going to not waste time doing it ( I hope you know what I mean).
I am not sure if I pass the test or not but for me I did not cause it did the task and I realise my mistake. Next time I need to tell myself to breath read and note it down before I start any work.
If you have any comments or guide please do let me know.
Thank you so much and my apologies on my blabber.

Joanne Munro

Hi Tammy – you didn’t pass the test because you did the tasks before reading down to the bottom, but you did pass the test because you didn’t email them to me! More importantly, you learned from the test and you now understand the point of the exercise. This means you may make the mistake here on my site, but you won’t with a client. x


I meant to say i am impressed and my confidence is up about being able to be a VA. Thanks!


i did not know it was a test. Just curious to see what the task were and if i could complete it.

Sidel Stewart

Bloody brilliant test; chuffed I passed it! Thanks for keeping us on our toes Jo and for the helpful advice, as always.

Sofia Deus

Nice one Jo! I was about to offer you my help when I saw the “small writing” lol… I guess I have passed 🙂

Sara Randle

You nearly had me reeled in too on this task, but I did read all the way to the bottom thank goodness. Have signed up to go to Office 2016 in May fingers crossed I will get to meet you.

Joanne Munro

Well done Sara! I hope to get to meet you at Office on the 12th. I’ll keep the blog post updated so you’ll know where I’ll be and when. x


Phew! I passed and read all the way to the bottom – something I’ve been teaching my daughter to do when following instructions for her homework! However, having not used Excel for quite a few years, I went back and did that exercise anyway and now I know how to sort and find duplicates. Double win – LOL!


As I started reading down the page, I was honestly a bit confused. So I stopped mid ways and started from the top again. I read through the third task and tried working it mentally to get a feel for it. But I continued reading til the end. I’m glad I did not jump to start the tasks. Im attempting to begin a new career as a VA and this exercise has helped me to open my eyes!!!


Yeeh I passed… But could have easily failed knowing my overspeedy self and past experiences. Also good advice: don’t forget to read all attachments (even when they look familiar) before asking questions which are answered in there!


That was easy task and I almost send you email. Thank God I did not do that/


Phew…I did the tasks but didn’t email you! I have gone back through my emails from you and wonder whether I was one of the trainees who replied??? I don’t think I was….!

Mandii Kelly

Wow. For some reason I read all the way to the bottom. As soon as I saw the first link, I almost clicked it without even reading any further. But curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to see if any of the other tasks seemed more fun. (LOL oh the truth sometimes makes me seem a little lazy!)

I’m glad I read to the end. I swear I almost did the tasks even after reading the end. Why? Because I thought that it couldn’t possibly be correct that you would list those only to have me not do them. This was such a good lesson.

I’m a great VA but because of this post, I feel I will be so much better at avoiding mistakes!
Thanks so much!


Excellent Assignment.. And Easy, since I read through it completely, BEFORE proceeding?

I just LOVE your Style!

Thank You?


Excellent task, Jo!
Thankfully, I read it all….not sure if that’s pure laziness (procrastination mode is enabled on a Saturday evening) or professionalism kicking in….
Choosing the latter, cos I’m planning on being awesome sometime soon.

Said awesomeness is pencilled in for midmorning, Tuesday, next week…..


Hi, thankfully I read the instructions first and didn’t complete. Thank you for getting me out of robot mode.


Hello! I remember being given a similar test at school in year 8. We had almost completed the tasks when someone spotted the “don’t do any of these tasks” sentence at the end. I laughed when I saw this and read it to the end first time. This has really made my day and I am more determined to make a success of my new VA venture.

Joanne Munro

Hi Christy, I am SO glad to have made your day and I’m chuffed to bits you passed the test. You should thank your year 8 teacher now! x

Maddie Davies

I am new to your site and was interested to see what the three tasks were. I too read to the bottom first as I always need to ensure that I read everything to ensure there is nothing extra added. I am glad that I passed


That lesson was brilliant. Although my initial urge was to open the file and get right to work, I’m glad that my mindset to read the instructions to the end was stronger. So it didn’t get me but I can see how it could, great lesson to learn.


You’re very smart to do that. When I first read that you’re asking me to do the task you gave I got question on my mind saying “what for” because I knew that you’re just giving a lesson so I finish the letter first before I do the task because I’m expecting you’ll answer my question, why you’re asking me to do the task. I’m glad I finish your email haha.


I didn’t get caught out and the only reason for that is I have to read everything thoroughly twice to ensure I process everything.


We were given this exercise somewhere around 3rd grade. The top of the directions said “Read through all the way to the bottom before starting.” Then it said circle this, put a square around that, multiply 3×3 and put the answer in the top left corner of the paper…etc. I did all of those things and then got to the bottom of the paper and felt so stupid. I swore it would never happen to me again. Hooray for passing the test 30 years later!



I agree with Jan, this was so clever! I didn’t personally do the task instead read till the end, but I guess it’s time for me to get on with them as they’re actually a great exercise. ?


Also great for you that there is so much interest in your courses even for those who have already received training from you and want to learn more. Yet another successful income stream!

Jan Baber

And this is why I love your course Jo. What a clever exercise. I did complete the tasks but didn’t quite get as far as emailing you thankfully. But what a great lesson. I did, however, actually enjoy doing the tasks just to prove to myself that I could 🙂


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