How to Interview: Administrative Assistant
By: Dona DeZube
At many companies, the administrative assistant often wears more hats than a hat rack.
They’re experts in office software and online research; they track and organize your projects, handle your scheduling, and diplomatically represent you at all levels of the corporate hierarchy.
And maybe most importantly, they like you well enough to work shoulder-to-shoulder with you all day.
Try these interviewing tips to learn how to interview administrative assistant job seekers for both technical and interpersonal skills:
Hard-Skills Interviewing Tips
To generate a list of interview questions for an administrative assistant, ask your current administrative assistant to write down each task they do for a week or so.
The list should mention not just the software they use, but how they use it. Use those notes to make a list of the software, research, and project-management skills you seek.
Next, write interview questions for each of those hard skills, says Beth Herman, regional director of Manpower’s Atlanta Metro area.
Good administrative assistant interview questions delve into where and how the job seeker applied these hard skills, adds Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a Menlo Park, Calif., temporary staffing firm. For example:
- You list Microsoft Excel on your resume, what’s the latest version that you’ve used?
- Have you used Mac or PC systems?
- Give me examples of the things you’ve done with Excel. Have you started a spreadsheet from scratch and created formulas or entered data into an existing spreadsheet? How often did you export Excel into PowerPoint graphics?
When you interview administrative assistant candidates who will manage your travel, ask these questions:
- What is your proficiency with travel coordination?
- Have you coordinated domestic travel? International travel?
- What travel visa issues have you encountered, and how did you solve those problems?
- Were you responsible for processing expense reports? How were they completed?
Your interview questions about hard skills should also include one general question:
- Do you feel your experience as an administrative assistant has gone beyond the scope of pure administration? How?
That query will draw out information about other job skills that the applicant has, such as office management, team-building, bookkeeping and phone screening.
Conducting the Interviewing: Soft Skills
Answers to your technical interview questions will tell you whether the applicant is capable of performing the work.
To find out how they’ll perform those tasks, try these interview tips for soft skills from Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.
Start with a tongue-in-cheek interview question:
- How would your former bosses describe your ability to manage them?
Listen for an answer that highlights the candidate’s value-added abilities, such as a can-do attitude, organization abilities, time management and creating a positive impression for the manager, Taylor says.
Specific soft-skills questions should be just as tailored to the candidate as your hard-skills questions, says job interview coach Pamela Skillings, author of Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams.
If your administrative assistant will work for multiple people, focus on time management:
- How do you handle stress and deadlines?
- Tell me about a time when you had to prioritize a heavy workload; how did you approach it?
- When have you had to communicate with a client or senior manager on behalf of your boss?
- Who was the most challenging customer -- internal or external -- and how did you satisfy that person?
Be sure to ask administrative assistant interview questions like these if your new employee will do project management:
- Describe a complex organizational project that you managed recently (This question tells you what the job seeker thinks is “complex”).
- How have you used calendar management in past positions? How many calendars have you managed?
- What is the most interesting project you have worked on?
Your final questions can examine the job seeker’s relationship with previous bosses:
- Describe your relationship with your current or most recent manager (This question will reveal the applicant’s personality and ability to work with different people).
- What would have made you stay at your last job? (This tells you what makes them unhappy)
- What qualities do you consider most important in an administrative professional?
- How do you prefer to communicate? (If you hate texting, don’t hire a texter.)
Finish by asking questions about corporate culture:
- Describe for me the working environment you’re looking for?
- What type of office environment do you thrive in?
- What was the corporate culture at your last job?
The ideal candidate will want to work in an office setting similar to your own.
Someone who prefers working on a team will die of boredom in a small law firm with three attorneys who are out most of the day.
Someone who likes to work in a quiet office with the door closed will suffer in an open office with constant interruptions.
The Right Interview Questions to Ask Administrative Assistants
The best administrative assistants are analytical, efficient and a bit psychic. Not only do they know what you want done, they know how you want it done.
Knowing how to interview administrative assistant candidates will increase your ability to find the perfect assistant for yourself and your organization.
Begin by knowing yourself and the demands of the position; then ask questions that focus on the hard and soft skills needed to do the job. Doing so will help increase the odds of finding the perfect assistant for yourself and your organization.