Beyond the basic routines of answering phones and scheduling, assistants can be a crucial part of your business environment, juggling multiple projects, keeping everyone on task, and promoting your company culture among team members. They are the glue that often binds together all the many moving parts of an organization to keep things running smoothly.
Whether you are small business owner or an executive at a major corporation here are twelve interview questions to get you on the right track to identifying your next right hand man (or woman):
Has your ability to maintain confidentiality ever been called into question?
No matter the level of responsibility, it’s likely that a person in an administrative role will come into contact with confidential information, whether it’s high-level business matters you discuss in front of them or personal information on forms they handle daily. Make sure the person you identify knows how to keep a tight seal on confidential matters.
Name an instance when you had little to no help with a task. How did you accomplish it and what was outcome?
Administrative professionals have to be able to think on their feet and figure out where to get the information they need often with little to no direction or help. Get a good understanding of their problem solving skills in the interview so you know how they can integrate into your business.
You will be supporting a very demanding company officer, how will you communicate with him/her without wasting their time?
This is a loaded question. Can the person you’re hiring develop systems that work with the way you operate your business to maximize your time? Are they adept in figuring things out on their own so they don’t have to stop you every five minutes with questions? Even entry-level admins should be sensitive to your time and be adaptable to maneuver their interruptions around your schedule.
How do you check for errors in your work?
Many assistants could take a cue from Santa Claus in making a list and checking it twice. Attention to detail and not letting things fall through the cracks are important qualities in this position. Find out if they already have their own systems for maintaining high standards in their work, and, if they don’t, can they think on their feet to develop them as they learn the landscape of the new role.
Describe a complicated problem you recently had to deal with in your job. How did you go about sorting it out?
If they can think on their feet, can they also outline their work into smaller manageable tasks for efficiency? Understanding how a person breaks down a process can give you insights into the way they problem solve. Do they require someone else to tell them the steps to a task? Ask yourself what sort of management the applicant will require and if this fits in line with what you are willing to provide to the work dynamic.
Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond your assigned duties.
We all want people who give 110%, and an assistant position is no exception. In fact, it’s probably a requirement. You’re looking for a candidate who can make your job easier, who looks for better ways to do things, or takes notice to how they can affect change in the office, even if it’s only in raising moral every day with a friendly hello.
How do you make sure you have clearly and accurately understood an inquiry or request made of you?
Hiring a “yes” man (or woman) can be tricky. Everyone wants employees who will say yes to taking on tasks, but the trick is to hire the employee who says yes and knows what to do after the fact. Make sure you select someone on your team who is not afraid to speak up to get the job done right the first time.
How do you organize your daily schedule and prioritize your activities?
Organization can be key to success in any administrative role. With that said, methods of organization come in all shapes and sizes–some people have the pile system (which can look like disorganized stacks of papers–but they can amazingly pull out that requested legal brief at a moment’s notice), while others are software task-list junkies. Whatever their system or methods, make sure it works for them and it can work for you.
Tell me about a situation where you had to re-prioritize quickly to meet changing demands.
Is the candidate flexible? Are they amenable to change? Administrative assistants have to be able to shift gears quickly with many new tasks coming at them at a moment’s notice. Even if you’re hiring a person to accomplish repetitive tasks in the office, business needs change, and so can your expectations of their role–make sure you are not only filling your needs for the role today but looking ahead, when you make your hire.
Give me an example of how you had to multitask to meet your deadlines.
Changing schedules, answering phones, and prioritizing clients can all have a dramatic effect on the work day. A good admin knows (or can quickly learn) what’s most important to your business. They will know what deadlines can be pushed (or will ask) and can adjust their tasks accordingly to get the most out of each day. (And, yes, this probably also means learning when to push back on occasion and saying no, when appropriate.)
Tell me about a specific contribution you made to improve team performance.
Assistants are often the face of your company both externally and internally. Even if assigned to a particular person or group, do they facilitate and promote a positive team dynamic? Whether they’re a gatekeeper, a manager of data and filing systems, or in an office manager role, a great assistant knows that their role doesn’t just support one person or one project but has a larger impact on the office as a whole.
Describe a project you worked on that involved a large amount of detail, how did you manage it?
Details, details, details! It can’t be stressed enough how important having a handle on organization and details is to this type of role. Even in what may seem to be the simplest or rote of tasks, or the most complicated, make sure you are identifying in the interview process that the applicant applies the same focus to each of their tasks and understands the importance of accuracy, efficiency, and quality.
There is no perfect candidate for an administrative assistant role. No admin position is identical from company to company, as much of the success of the role has to do with the team dynamic, who they’re supporting, and the base level of skills required for the tasks you wish them to accomplish on a day to day basis. But if they’ve got the required proficiencies for the role, these twelve interview questions will help you identify if they can integrate well into your particular business environment to help you achieve your goals.
Robin L. Rayburn is the Editor & General Manager of Interviewing.com. Robin was introduced to the recruitment industry in 2007 and her passion for people has never let her stray far from it since. In her spare time she manages her blog, RestlessPillow.com, tweets from @interviewingcom and @chitowntexan, and is always striving to help those around her who have a vision for success. You can also find Robin on LinkedIn and Google+.