Interviewing Candidates for an Administrative Assistant Position

March 22nd, 2013

The role of an administrative assistant can be essential to the success of the executive he supports, and therefore can have a strong impact on the function and growth of the company as a whole. So an intelligent, efficient, dependable and likable assistant can help a busy executive stay organized and productive throughout a challenging day, and a weak hire can bring more serious consequences than managers may realize. To avoid hiring mistakes at this level, make sure your interview scripts are strong and your questions are well chosen. Consider these tips. 

1. Address aptitude first. Unlike attitude and behavioral questions, aptitude questions address clearly defined skill sets that candidates either have or lack. These include fluency with required software programs, experience with travel coordination, and additional tasks like invoice processing and expense report management.

2. Be direct when you ask about these skills. Use these questions as examples:

a.) Are you familiar with Excel? If so, which version have you been using?
b.) How often did you coordinate international travel during your last position? How about domestic travel?
c.) Have you ever encountered a problem with this process, like a reservation or visa mix up? How did you handle it?
d.) Describe your experience with invoices/expense reports/purchase orders/schedule management.
 
3. After gaining a sense of your candidates concrete skill sets, move on to the topic of behavior, attitude, and working style. Ask your candidate how he handles deadline pressure. Ask him about problems he’s had in the past while dealing with authority figures. How did he handle these problems? What’s the most interesting, complex, or challenging project he’s ever worked on?

4. Encourage the candidate to discuss previous episodes of struggle and failure. You don’t want a candidate who’s never failed or faced difficulty (that isn’t wise or realistic), but you do want a candidate who bounces back from failure and solves problems effectively.

5. Finally, after addressing both aptitude and attitude, ask your candidate for his thoughts on workplace culture. Feel free to simply describe your culture and see how the candidate reacts. But for a completely unbiased response, just ask him about the kind of company he’d like to work for. What would he consider an ideal workplace culture? Busy and chaotic? Quiet and focused? Fun, friendly, and innovative? Formal and reserved? Then determine how this vision lines up with the realities of your company. 

The right assistant can help a great manager thrive and an entire company reach its goals. So take every step of this process seriously, and don’t miss any red flags or clear signs of a perfect match. Reach out to the staffing experts at PSU for additional tips and guidance.

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