Over the last few years I’ve changed employers a number of times and so have had to face quite a few interview questions and answers for PAs, EAs and Administrators. After finishing university in 2003 I was lucky because there were plenty of jobs available in London. I went for one interview at a global accountancy firm and had a full-time permanent role as a team administrator straight away. However, this just isn’t the case anymore. I decided to leave my previous employer in June 2010 but was job hunting for 6 months and when I did get the role I am in currently I had to complete a detailed application form, attend three interviews and sit two psychometric tests (for language and numerical skills).
These days employers are inundated with job applications therefore you have to be prepared to sell yourself and stand out from the crowd. So what happens when you do land that all important first interview?
I’ve always found the best way to prepare for an interview is to think about the subjects you will cover. Let’s face it, there are always going to be a set of standard questions you will be asked, so you should prepare the answer before you go into the interview. I don’t think you should come across as false, but I do think you should rehearse.
I will look at some of the common questions interviewers ask and the answers I would give if I had an interview, the examples are personal to me but hopefully will help you think about how you structure your answers.
Tell me about yourself?
When this question comes up, which it always does, I keep the answer specific to my career and very succinct (if you don’t know your career history know one will!)
“After leaving University in 2003 I accepted my first full-time role at Deloitte and spent a year and a half there as a team administrator. During this time, I came to realise that I loved working with the support staff team and moved from there to my next role as Personal Assistant and Administrator at the ICAEW. I worked at the ICAEW for 3 and a half years and in that time was promoted to an Account Manager where I looked after 12 Committees and supervised one administrator. Unfortunately, I was made redundant but successfully moved on to my next role as a PA to the Business Assurance Director at Lloyd’s Register. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this role and learnt a great deal, but was fortunate to be targeted for my next role at BMS where I am currently Executive Assistant to the COO, CFO and Company Secretary”
Why do you want to leave your current job?
Unless you have been made redundant, which is a common answer these days, unfortunately, this question can result in quite a negative answer. There is the temptation to have a bit of a moan about your current /previous employer, but I really recommend you try to find a positive answer to this. Having conducted interviews in the past, there is nothing worse than hearing someone complain about their last job, it just sounds unprofessional.
“For a long time I really enjoyed working for my current employee and I have felt that I learnt a lot from the role and also from my manager. However, the job is limited and doesn’t provide me with much room to grow (you can expand this for whatever reason fits your circumstances). I feel that this position will give me the opportunity to expand my skill set and also move forward in my career.”
What are your strengths?
You should refer back to your core PA/ EA skills for this one. Also think about the environment you will be working in, if it is a fast paced commercial company mention that you are not easily flustered, if it is a traditional company with methodical and precise working methods state that you are organised and have a real eye for detail. During my most recent interview for an Insurance company, I said:
“I’m very organised, I don’t get stressed out easily and can deal with most situations. I’m also very intuitive and can juggle lots of different tasks”.
What are your weaknesses?
This is a tricky question because you should try to sell yourself in an interview not dwell on your bad points. I always try to turn this question from a negative answer into a positive, note that you have a flaw, but tell the interviewers what you have done to overcome it.
“In my previous role I had to work with a lot of strong-minded and opinionated consultants and found that I lacked the ability to be assertive with them and sometimes I felt they were able to get me to do work that I was uncomfortable with. After discussing this with my Manager I attended an assertiveness course and gain the training I needed to deal with them. I find it hard to say no. It is a work in progress, but I am getting there”.
What are the most satisfying and the most frustrating aspects of your present job?
Again, try to remain diplomatic with this question. For the “satisfying” part of the question refers back to aspects of your role that will benefit your potential employee and for the “frustrating” part think about the new role and how it will improve your career and working environment. Don’t make the frustrating aspect personal to anyone, make it about the company environment.
“The most satisfying aspect of my role is being able to help the executives make informed decisions that affect the rest of the Company. I enjoy working with and supporting successful people at the top-level of their career. The most frustrating aspect is the slow pace in the office and it can be difficult to get things done on occasions.”
Have you had questions like this come up before in interviews, if so, how did you answer them? In my next blog, I will look at a few more standard questions and share my thoughts on answering them.
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There is a great deal more you can read to help you prepare for your PA interview but the questions above will give you a good place to start. Once you’ve worked through this blog here are a few additional articles to help you prepare for your interview.
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