5 Interview Questions for Administrative Assistants

Female seated at a table during an interview

Sometimes during the job application process a frustrating series of events will occur. Can you relate to the following scenario?


Over the last few weeks you've submitted your resume and cover letters to a number of employers in pursuit of an administrative assistant job. More often than not a hiring manager invites you in for a job interview because, as your resume indicates, you possess ample work experience and the type of skill set employers need in an administrative assistant. Your cover letters are professional in appearance and carefully crafted in a way that demonstrates your strong communication skills. And yet time and time again you are not invited back for a second interview, and you're left to restart the process all over again with a different employer.

When this scenario occurs frequently for a job seeker, the cycle is exhausting. Reading through that scenario, however, it's clear the job application process stalls out during the first interview. Something is just not right. Perhaps you show up 10 minutes late, or you dress yourself in jeans and a t-shirt, or you drop the F-bomb when it's time to say goodbye. Assuming you don't make any of those job-killer mistakes, let's instead consider the possibility your responses to the interview questions are not as good as the ones provided by candidates invited back for a second interview. Fair enough?

Below are five of the most common questions hiring managers ask during a job interview. Let's take a look at some important things to consider, as an administrative assistant job candidate, when you formulate your answers to these questions.

1.  What are your greatest strengths? This question presents an opportunity for you to toot your own horn, but you want to approach this answer with caution. Spending too much time on this question, by going on about how great you are or how many strengths you possess, is a strategy that will most likely backfire. Try to focus on no more than three specific strengths and select those strengths beforehand, so they're tailored to the needs and expectations of the employer. Also, back up your strengths with examples from previous clerical jobs. (Tip: you may be able to eliminate "good communication skills" from your list of three strengths if you demonstrate good communication skills throughout the interview.)

2.  What is your greatest weakness? Job candidates sometimes fall into a trap when responding to this question. The answer you want to avoid is something along the lines of, "my greatest weakness is that I can do everything that can be done in office but I just don't have enough time to do it." Hiring managers want you to provide an honest and modest answer so they can gauge your level of self-awareness. It's okay and encouraged for you to be upfront when answering this question. The truth is everybody possesses weaknesses, just be sure you choose a legitimate weakness and highlight what you have done to address the weakness. (Tip: if you possess a legitimate weakness that would be a deal breaker in any job interview when divulged, perhaps you're not applying for the right job.)

3.  What have you done in the last year to develop your knowledge for this profession? Your answer to this question can reveal a couple of things about you: you're committed to self-improvement and you stay current with the latest trends and technology. As an admin assistant it's important to remain dedicated to improving your efficiencies and understanding operational systems currently used in the business world. Maybe you acquired continuing education on laws and regulations related to privacy, for example. Be sure to highlight the things you've learned that relate most to the company or industry for which you are applying to work. Include workshops, conferences or online courses you've attended, or books you've read. (Tip: you may receive bonus points if you can mention something specific you will be doing in the near future to further develop yourself professionally.)

4.  Why did you leave your last job? The important thing to remember when responding to this question is to stay positive. Don't ever say anything negative about any of your previous employers. Instead, list one or two reasons related to your desire to learn and grow in your career. Perhaps you're looking for opportunities to contribute more than you have in the past, or you're looking for a greater challenge. Regardless of the actual reason, the person interviewing you will note that you elected to speak respectfully and professionally about past employers, which speaks volumes about your character and integrity as an employee. (Tip: if you happen to be passionate about the prospective company's products, services or industry, absolutely mentioned that in your response.)

5.  What are your career goals? This is one question to which you really ought to have a well thought-out answer, because it shows the interviewer you're goal oriented and you plan for the future, and this job you're applying for is a part of that plan. In your response, appeal to the needs and desires of the employer, which include commitment, stability and ambition. Employers will give you greater consideration if you can ensure them that their investment in you will be good for their business. Indicate your intention to stay with this company long-term and express your desire to excel as an administrative professional. (Tip: it's okay to ask questions about opportunities for future promotions, just be careful not to get more excited about future prospects than about the job for which you are applying.)

There is no such thing as a single, correctly scripted answer you should provide to any given interview question. Your specific skills and admin job experience make you unique so it's ultimately up to you to put your best foot forward while incorporating your knowledge of the company or industry into your answers. Furthermore, do everything you possibly can to demonstrate the skills of an administrative assistant. Actions do speak louder than words, so show up to your interview prepared and organized just as if you're arriving to a company meeting as their employee.

Okay, time for a quiz: what have you done in the last year to develop your knowledge for this profession?

Contributed to jobs.net by Kim Evans

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