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. 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 could not 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 gained 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, refer back to aspects of your role that will benefit your potential employee. For the “frustrating” part, think about the new role and how it will improve your career and working environment. Please don’t make the frustrating aspect personal to anyone; make it about the company environment.
“The most satisfying aspect of my role is helping 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.”
What do you think you can contribute to this Company?
This is the question that allows you to sell yourself. Look through the job description and pick out the key attributes required for the role; this should form your answer.
“I’m incredibly hard-working, focussed and organised so that I can get through a lot of work quickly. I also have advanced IT skills to support senior members of staff with their work while also managing a range of other tasks. I am proactive, so I am good at finding ways of delivering better services and anticipating any problems that might come up. I can be very flexible, so happy to help others in my team. I’m also quite friendly and like to organise nights out and other team building activities.”
Why should we employ you rather than one of the other candidates?
Use this question to sell yourself. You do want the interviewer to pick you, so really emphasise your strong points, your unique attributes, and why you would be a brilliant person to employ. Remember to link your answer back to the job description and add other skills you have that the other candidates might not.
“I do think that I would be a great asset to the Company as I have the skill set that I know you are looking for in the right candidate. I am also a brilliant event organiser. I can write marketing material and can help with other creative projects. I know that I will support you in your work and ensure that you can concentrate on high-level projects while I take care of the day to day tasks. I’m not sure that the other candidates will have my full set of skills and my unique experience.”
Have you done anything or taken any courses to further your experience?
If you have completed any courses at a previous employer, then here is your time to shine. Let the employer know what you have achieved, and do take pride in what you have done. It will make you look like you really care about your career and take it seriously. If you are new to the profession or haven’t had the chance, emphasise the skills you already have by saying:
“I am constantly looking to improve my skills. My IT skills have improved greatly and are now very strong, and over the years, my interpersonal skills have grown as I work with different people at all levels of the Company. I haven’t had the opportunity to complete any formal training. Still, I keep up to date with the industry by reading many articles on LinkedIn and other publications for assistants. I am very open to additional training and would love the opportunity to develop myself further.”
How do you work under pressure?
When this question comes up, try to inject a bit of humour and show that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
“I’ve had jobs in the past that have been highly pressurised, and I’ve found that I cope well with that and don’t mind working to tight deadlines because at least I know what has to be done each day! I always find that chocolate and a nice glass of red wine helps to alleviate any pressure at the end of a long day!”
What motivates you at work?
Think about the aspects of the job that excited you when you first read the job description. These are the tasks you should reference in this question and talk about how you like to use these tasks to motivate yourself and the actual working environment.
“I like to have a mixture of tasks that allow me to use my varied skill set. For example, I like to be creative, but also I am quite detailed driven, so I can happily work away on a PowerPoint presentation or an excel report. I like to know that I am contributing to a team and that my work makes a difference, which is one reason I enjoy being a PA because I know I am supporting people who make the big company-wide decisions. I also like to have fun at work and enjoy the time I spend there, so I like to be involved socially and know my colleagues personally. I find that it also helps to keep me motivated.”
How do you work with two or more Executives?
If you are applying for a role that requires you to work with two or more Executives, you will need to demonstrate that you can do this without a hitch. Use specific examples of how you have juggled both workloads and that you are happy to continue this. If this is the first time you have worked with more than one Executive, stress that you are a good organiser and can prioritise your work well.
“I like the challenge that working for two directors can bring, and it does help keep me motivated as the work can be quite varied. To work effectively for both Executives, I ensure that my work is well organised, aware of any deadlines and understand each of their priorities. I also stress to the Executives that I need to stay in touch with them throughout the day if their work becomes more urgent than the others, and I also make sure we have regular catch-ups so that I am fully informed of their schedule. It can be a juggling act, but one that I enjoy.”
How do you handle a demanding Executive?
It is undoubtedly the case that the demands on Executives are higher than they have ever been, which means that they can become pretty demanding and put a lot of pressure on their Assistant to shoulder some of the burdens. That is part of our role. This question is becoming more common in interviews, and it is worth asking yourself, firstly, if you want to work for a demanding Executive? There are other options and other roles. If you feel that you can handle the demands, here is a great answer to showcase your skills.
“I always say that I work with my Executive, so if they are demanding, I like to find out why. If they are under a lot of pressure, I can help to reduce that pressure by working with them calmly and professionally and getting through the work and meeting deadlines. If it is in their nature to think everything is urgent and needs to be done straight away, I make sure I communicate so that I am not on the backfoot. I find that once I am working well with my Executive, we both understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we frequently communicate the difficult aspects of their character to become less abrasive.”
What are you looking for in your career development?
This question is always tricky for assistants to answer because firstly, you don’t want to respond in a way that suggests you are using the job as a stepping stone to something better and secondly that you lack ambition. Your answer wants to land somewhere in the middle of ‘just an assistant’ territory and world domination.
“I want to progressively earn more responsibility and participate in more projects and activities over time. I want to manage a team at some point and lead projects. I want my career development to reflect the new challenges I am setting myself. So ideally, I’d like to attend courses or have some time for self-study so that I can learn new skills which will progress my career and benefit the organisation as a whole.”
What has been your biggest professional disappointment?
Oh, this is a horrible question! It is, however, fairly common, so don’t let this question get the better of you. Don’t whatever you do, give an example of something that was entirely your fault and caused many problems – like that time you forgot to organise your Manager’s Visa to Russia and they ended up in prison. Yes, it is a funny story but not one to share with your new employer! Instead, describe something that was not in your control, which impacted you personally, how you got over it, and what positive outcomes you have taken from the experience.
Do you consider yourself to be successful?
Yes, it should be the only answer to this question, but a little humour will help you answer without sounding like an egomaniac. Think of an example that shows you have achieved more than your role required, such as that great event you managed or the incredibly complex trip you organised for your Executive. With any example that you use to demonstrate that you set yourself objectives and goals, you worked hard to achieve and are proud of your successes. If you are applying for your first assistant role, refer back to your studies, this would be my example:
“During University, I worked part-time while completing my course. I had to balance my studies with a part-time role that ultimately paid for my education. I learned very quickly how to manage my time not to neglect my job or my studies. I am proud that I managed to achieve my results while gaining work experiences to help me in my chosen career. I feel like my time at university has given me the confidence to be successful in the future.”
Give me an example of a goal that you set yourself and how you went about achieving it?
The example could be something personal like completing your first marathon, or it could be work-related – either way, make sure you pick something that gives you a chance to shine. If you decide to use an example from your career, make sure you mention the impact on your career development and what you have learnt as a result.
“After a few years working as a Personal Assistant, I wanted to take the next step and move up to an Executive Assistant working with board-level directors. I felt this was the best way to move forward in my career, so I set myself a challenge to achieve the promotion within two years. Firstly, I made sure that I was getting all of the basic functions of my role right and that I could complete every fundamental task easily and quickly. Once I had procedures to deal with my administrative tasks, I started to ask for more challenging tasks. My Manager knew that I could take on more work, so they asked me to help out on various business-wide projects. I worked hard to ensure that on each of these projects, people knew who I was, what I was capable of and that I was willing to work hard. Just after a year and a half, I was headhunted by a board-level Director to work as their Executive Assistant. I was pleased with my success. Setting that goal not only meant I received a promotion, but I picked up many new skills along the way.”
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 complicated answer, and you don’t have to pick examples that make you sound amazing. You have to provide 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.
“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 I started to print out his email attachments and anything that he might need for an upcoming meeting in the first few months of working together. 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 to have everything he needed for the following morning. He loved the idea and became more reliant on my help. It was a 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, you will be asked about your 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, do show that you dealt with the situation yourself (rather than referring it to HR). If you have had a horrendous experience, either tone it down or use another example. 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 item, make your answer as positive as possible, and inject 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 thought 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 acted 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 excellent 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 question several times throughout the interview. Remember, your answer doesn’t have to be related to your experiences as an assistant; it could be a job you had at a University or a volunteer role you have outside of work.
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 makes you stand out from the crowd. Assistants have to deal with complex tasks all the time, so use something related to the role you are applying for. For example:
“I once organised a trip for a boss that 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. They were 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 and made sure everything was running smoothly.”
Can you give me an example of how you have handled multiple priorities?
This is another common question asked at interviews for assistant roles, particularly if the role assists 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 to demonstrate these abilities because they will certainly come up in an interview for an assistant position.