Over the last few years, we have written a series of popular blog posts for Assistants who are preparing for an upcoming interview. The questions and answers are specifically for PAs, EAs and Administrative Assistants. Today, I thought I would write another five competency based questions and answers for PAs, EAs and Administrators. But, before we get started here are the links to the other blog posts in the series:

Interview Q&A for Personal Assistants Part 1

Interview Q&A for Personal Assistants Part 2

Interview Q&A for Personal Assistants Part 3

Interview Q&A for Personal Assistants Part 4

Career Development Interview Q&A for Personal Assistants

These questions can be a little scary but I actually think they are easier to answer than standard interview questions. When asking a competency question the interviewer will ask you to give an example from your past experiences rather than answer in general terms. The key to competency-based questions is to be prepared with a few examples that you can use for a variety of questions.

It is also worth remembering the interviewer will ask you about competencies that are important in this role. Here are a few common competencies based questions and the answers I have used in the past.

Can you give me an example of a positive change that you have made in an organisation?

The thing to remember with scenario based questions is that you don’t have to give a really complicated answer and you don’t have to pick examples that make you sound amazing.

Obviously, you have to give an example that shows you in the best light but don’t spend half an hour describing the scenario. Keep your answers short, and more importantly, structured. Here is a good example.

“I was working with a Director that was not the most organised person when it came to paperwork. He would often turn up to meetings without the correct supporting papers or they would have doodles all over them, which didn’t help his reputation. He was very self-reliant, so he didn’t want me to touch his unique filing system. I knew that I could help him so in the first few months of working together I started to print out his email attachments and anything that he might need for an upcoming meeting.

Before I went home every evening I would print out his calendar and attach the correct paperwork for his meetings the next day. I would pop the file on his desk so that he had everything he needed for the following morning. He loved the idea and became more reliant on my help. It was a really positive change, and his colleagues were pleased he was arriving at meetings with the right paperwork.” 

Can you give me an example of a time you have worked with a difficult person and how you dealt with the situation?

During every competency based interview, I have been asked about my people management skills.

It is always worth having a story or two in the back of your mind as this is such a common question. In your answer show that you dealt with the situation yourself (rather than referring it to HR). If you have had a horrendous experience, think about whether it is worth using this example. Will you get emotional talking about it? If so, a different example is probably a better fit for this situation.

Again don’t spend too long answering questions that provoke negative answers, you want to move on to questions that allow you to shine. Do remember, with any negative questions make your answers as positive as possible and inject some humour to show that this person has not affected your self-esteem.

“I did work with a manager a few years ago that I struggled to get on with. I think at the time his position in the company was under threat and to compensate he would try to exert power over me by giving me very menial tasks, for example, he would ask me to fill his stapler with staples, which could be quite disrespectful. I put up with his behaviour for a while because I wanted to understand why he was acting in that way. I did have to push back and in the end, I think he respected me because I stuck up for myself.” 

Can you give me an example of great customer service?

This question could come in a few different forms but it ultimately relates to you doing something above and beyond your usual duties.

Have a few examples ready because you will probably be asked this type of question a number of times throughout the interview. Remember your answer doesn’t have to be related to your experiences as an assistant. I worked in customer service while at University so I have tons of answers relating to customer service from that role.

Can you give me an example of a complex task you have worked on and how you ensured its success?

This is a great question and deserves an answer that really makes you stand out from the crowd.

Assistants have to deal with complex tasks all the time, so use something that will relate to the role that you are applying for. When answering questions about complex tasks I often refer to organising difficult travel plans because you are more than likely going to be doing this in the new job. For example:

“I once organised a trip for a boss who was touring our offices in Asia and Australasia. It was difficult to organise because of the time difference and distances between each location. There was also the issue that my manager had not been to a few of the destinations and was worried they wouldn’t be able to navigate public transport as they would usually do in say New York or other locations they had been to numerous times before.

I initially worked on the travel plans myself but ultimately decided to contact a fellow PA in each office and ask for their help. I needed to have local knowledge and they were able to put me in touch with the best hotels and car hire companies. Another issue was the different temperatures in each country. Australia was still experiencing warm weather but it had started to turn cold in Japan so I made sure my manager was aware of what to pack. During her trip, I kept in touch with her every day, despite the time difference to make sure everything was running smoothly.

Can you give me an example of how you have handled multiple priorities?

This is another common question asked in interviews for assistant roles, particularly if the role is assisting more than one Executive.

The answer to this question should include the competencies required to handle multiple priorities such as flexibility, dealing with tight deadlines, working with multiple personalities, time management and coping with pressure. Again, it is well worth having one or two examples that you use to demonstrate these abilities because they will undoubtedly come up in an interview for an assistant position.

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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 an excellent place to start.

Once you’ve worked through this blog post, I would highly recommend you check out our eBook ‘Preparing for the perfect PA job‘ which is perfect for anyone looking for their next Personal Assistant role.

Also check out these articles which include loads more interview questions and answers for PAs, EAs and Administrators.

Competency based questions and answers for PAs, EAs and Administrators

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