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Administrative Assistant Interview Questions

POSITION SUMMARY

An administrative assistant’s primary job responsibility involves managing and distributing information in an office. This includes tasks like answering/making phone calls to relay information, maintaining files, taking memos/meeting notes, sending and receiving messages to other employers or clients, and managing schedules. As an administrative assistant, you may also have to help in the preparation of presentation materials and make travel arrangements for your manager. An administrative assistant may also be required to greet customers and clients.

Administrative assistant positions can vary widely from company to company so potential candidates should be skilled in administrative day-to-day tasks and have excellent customer service. As an administrative assistant, you will need to have a finger on the pulse of the company, perform your own duties, and fill in the gaps as needed.

RESPONSIBILITIES

Administrative assistant responsibilities may include: 

  • Coordinating information and services
  • Welcoming customers and clients
  • Maintaining a database including research needed and data entry
  • Providing support as needed for events and office functions
  • Proofreading/editing office correspondence
  • Taking inventory of office supplies
  • Generating reports
  • Acting as a runner within and between departments

 

SKILLS

Administrative assistants are expected to keep track of what is going on in the office at all times and provide this information to the parties concerned. To be able to effectively organize and deliver information, a skilled administrative assistant will:

  • Be able to offer professional support to all faculty
  • Maintain a friendly demeanor to facilitate goodwill between departments
  • Provide excellent customer service skills
  • Have superior organizational skills to stay on top of all of their work
  • Have excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Have an eye for detail as it pertains to editing and proofreading

 

QUALIFICATIONS

Depending on the position, the qualifications for an administrative assistant may vary. For an entry level position, you will need to have at least a high school diploma as well as experience with computer-based programs such as Microsoft Office Suite, email interfaces, etc.


However, for higher level positions, you may be required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, extensive knowledge of programs within Microsoft Office Suite such as Excel, and a minimum of three years of experience in a similar position.

 

SALARY

Salaries for administrative assistants range between $33K and $52K with the median being $42K.

Factors impacting the salary you receive as an administrative assistant include:

  • Degrees (associate's, bachelor's)
  • Year of experience
  • Location
  • Reporting structure (seniority of the executive you report to; number of direct reports)
  • Level of performance - exceeding expectations 
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ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Question: What is your opinion about how an administrative assistant can contribute to the success of our company?

Explanation: The interviewer probably already knows the answer to this question, but they ask this because they want to find out how you define the role of an administrative ssistant and, more importantly, how you feel you can contribute to the organization’s business objectives. You should be aware of their objectives based on your pre-interview research. Answer the question with 2-3 key points about how you can help the company achieve its goals by supporting their business processes.

Example: “The key role of an administrative assistant is to manage the routine and mundane tasks that the executive they are supporting needs accomplished but shouldn’t do themselves. The administrative assistant should also be able to respond to issues that occur outside of the executive's normal activities but still need to be addressed. They should be able to accomplish this with little-to-no supervision. This frees up the executive to focus their attention on more important tasks and issues which are strategic in nature and can help the organization achieve its objectives.”


Question: Can you describe a typical day in your most recent position?

Explanation: This question is operational. The interviewer is seeking to confirm that you are experienced in the tasks and duties required of an administrative assistant and have a logical flow to your daily activities. You should be able to easily answer this based on your experience. However, the question also provides you the opportunity to demonstrate how you go above and beyond your assigned duties by taking the initiative and accomplishing tasks that contribute to the organization’s success.

Example: “As you probably know, no two days are identical for an administrative assistant. However, a typical day would start with a review of my emails to determine what needs to be accomplished and a brief meeting with the executive(s) to see if they have any additional tasks they’d like me to focus on. I then prioritize my work, focusing on the most important jobs first. These may include reviewing reports, responding to correspondence, or arranging travel for my manager and team. Between these big jobs, I try to fit in small tasks that take less time and need to be completed but aren’t urgent or critical. The balance of the day consists of being available to support the executive with whatever they need. This may include scheduling meetings and taking notes of the discussion, obtaining the information and materials they need to complete an assignment, or any other tasks which will allow them to focus on more strategic issues. I usually end the day by reviewing the tasks scheduled for the following day and preparing the resources I will need to accomplish them.”


Question: How do you prioritize your work when you are assigned several tasks with similar deadlines?

Explanation: This is another operational question that will help the interviewer learn about your time management and organizational skills. This is important for an administrative assistant since they are typically assigned more work than they can complete in a given period. You also need to allow for unanticipated or unscheduled activities that will occur during the day.

Example: “I am often tasked with completing multiple items with similar deadlines. I have learned to balance my time between accomplishing the most important tasks first and sandwiching in less important and less time-consuming projects when my schedule allows. An example of this would be to work on a report the executive needs by the end of the day but taking time to reply to customer correspondence while either taking a break from the big project or when waiting for information or resources I need to complete the report. If I become overwhelmed with the amount of work I am assigned, I discuss it with my manager to get their input on what I should focus on and what tasks can be postponed, delegated, or reassigned.”


Question: What is your first step when given a large project to manage? How would you organize it?

Explanation: This is a technical question that addresses your skills as an administrative assistant. Again, the interviewer is looking to understand your organizational skills. A good way to answer this is to provide a step-by-step process you use. This type of answer will demonstrate you are organized, experienced, and process-oriented.

Example: “I have found that the key to completing large projects effectively and efficiently is having using a systematic process to organize the required tasks. My approach is first to review the project so I completely understand the desired outcome and deliverables. I then break the project down into individual steps or tasks. I assign a priority to each task, estimate the time it will take to complete each one, list any resources required and/or any dependencies on other tasks or outside personnel. The final step is to assemble this information into a project plan which I can refer to as I work to complete the project.”


Question: Can you describe a challenging project you were assigned in the past and how you approached it?

Explanation: This is a follow-up question to the previous one which asked how you organize a project. The interviewer wants to confirm that you applied the methodology you described in the last question. You should answer this question by choosing a project the employer is likely to have. This will enable you to both discuss your expertise in this area and demonstrate that you are proficient in the type of work they are interviewing you for.

Example: “I was recently assigned to create a report summarizing the company’s sales for the previous quarter and highlighting the product lines which experienced an increase or decrease in sales which exceeded 10%. After reviewing the project objectives, I made a list of the information I would need, determined how to best present the data, and confirmed the format for the report with my manager. I then went about collecting the data, analyzing it using an Excel spreadsheet, and creating a bar chart to summarize the performance of each product line. I reviewed the results with my manager and made a few changes they requested. I then created a PowerPoint presentation and compiled both electronic and hard copy reports my manager could use at the quarterly review meeting.”


Question: Are there any software, tools, or procedures you would change at your most recent job? If so, why?

Explanation: This is both a technical and a behavioral question. The interviewer is looking to understand your expertise with typical tools administrative assistants use daily and determine your ability to assess and make recommendations for process upgrades. While it is okay to make recommendations for changes in response to this type of question, be careful not to do this after you’ve been hired until you have been in the position for a reasonable amount of time. This will provide you the opportunity to learn the organization’s processes and gain enough credibility to be in a position to make these types of recommendations.

Example: “In my most recent position, we used typical office productivity tools and equipment. However, the organization was reluctant to update these due to budgetary concerns and the belief that ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.’ However, I felt we could be more productive if some of the applications we used were brought up to date with current versions. I researched this and discovered that by purchasing an update to our current Microsoft Office licenses and subscribing to an enterprise level, web-based plan, we could save money over the life of the subscription and be working with the most recent version of the software. The benefit of using the current version was that it had additional features, performed better, and was compatible with the software our partners and customers used. Management agreed with my analysis and approved the update. We immediately saw the benefits of this change.”


Question: What special skills do you possess that will help you do well at our company?

Explanation: This is a general question which will likely be asked early in the interview. The hiring manager is seeking to understand why you feel you are qualified for the position and what you can contribute to their company. This provides an opportunity to state your key skills and talents and describe how you will contribute to the company’s business objectives which is why they are interviewing you. You should be prepared for this, just like you have prepared and practiced your "elevator speech" to respond to the "tell me about yourself’ question."

Example: “Having worked as an administrative assistant for the last several years, I feel I have many skills I can contribute to the role for which you are interviewing me. I have a keen understanding of the business processes a company like yours uses and will be able to hit the ground running and able to contribute immediately. I am adept at responding to executive requests and intuitively know what needs to be done, sometimes even before the executive does. I’m also good at developing relationships throughout the organization which provides me with access to all the resources I will need to do this job well. Finally, my expertise in the software applications and office equipment the company uses not only helps me do my job but also enables me to train other people new to the organization to do theirs.”


Question: How would you describe your competency with Microsoft Office Suite?

Explanation: This is a straightforward technical question that is intended to discover your technical capabilities with this software application. Like most of the other interview questions, it also provides the interviewer with an example of your communication skills. As with any technical question, you should answer it directly and succinctly, providing only the information the interviewer is requesting. They will ask follow-up questions if they need additional information.

Example: “I have used Microsoft Office during my entire career, and I am very comfortable with each module of the application, especially Word and Excel. I’m currently using Office 365 and like how it integrates across all my devices. I have taken several online training courses to increase my competency with Office, and I know how to find the help I need if I encounter an issue with which I’m not familiar.”


Question: Can you give me an example of how you’ve used Microsoft Excel in your most recent position and describe an advanced function with which you are familiar?

Explanation: This is an example of the follow-up question mentioned in the previous question. The interviewer will ask this type of question if they need more information about a specific topic or want to explore the topic in more depth. This indicates that the skill they are asking about is important to them, and they want to be sure of your skills in this area.  You should be encouraged by this and respond enthusiastically.

Example: “As I mentioned before, I use Excel quite a bit in my most recent role, especially to track and analyze the organization’s travel-related expenses. Excel allows me to summarize the expenses by type, employee, dates, and other variables we include in the data we track. One advanced feature I’ve learned is creating graphic charts and diagrams within the spreadsheet to illustrate the summarized data and help identify opportunities for cost reduction.”


Question: What would you consider your greatest professional accomplishment to date? Your biggest professional failure?

Explanation: This is an example of a behavioral question which explores your ability to be introspective in analyzing your strengths and weaknesses. An effective way to respond to this type of question is to describe a strength the hiring organization will find valuable while addressing a weakness that isn’t related to the role for which they are interviewing you.

Example: “This is an interesting question. I believe my greatest strength is developing relationships and forging win-win partnerships. This has helped me be more effective in my job by enabling me to collaborate with individuals outside of my immediate organization to accomplish a task or resolve an issue. Conversely, my greatest weakness is public speaking. Fortunately, I’m not called upon to speak in front of a group that often in my role as an administrator. However, I recently joined Toastmasters which is helping me overcome this weakness, and I’m becoming more comfortable with speaking in public as a result of practicing and using the techniques I’m learning at the weekly meetings.”


ADDITIONAL ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  • What kind of computer experience do you have? What programs have you used in the past?

  • Tell me about a time you had to prioritize multiple tasks and manage them through completion.

  • You have multiple project deadlines due in the next three days. They are all from different supervisors. How would you handle this?

  • How would you feel if you worked on a task for a week only to complete it and be told by your manager that it needs to be redone in a different format?

  • If you were hiring an administrative assistant, in general, what would you be looking for in a candidate?

  • What have you done in the past to foster communication within the office or between departments?

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