Get ready to answer the top Administrative Assistant interview questions

Administrative Assistants play a key role in the day-to-day operations of a business, handling everything from document preparation to event planning, schedule management, and more. To land one of these positions, it's important to demonstrate your skills, experience, and ability to add value to the employer's team. To do that, you'll need to know how to answer the most common Administrative Assistant interview questions.

In this article, we'll explore 

  • The top nine Administrative Assistant interview questions

  • Give you some sample answers

  • Provide relevant questions you can ask the interviewer

  • Offer guidance you can use to prepare for the interview.

Types of Administrative Assistant interview questions

The most common types of Administrative Assistant interview questions you'll encounter are competency-based, situational, and behavioral.

Competency-based questions

Competency-based questions are designed to assess your knowledge of the Administrative Assistant role to see whether you have the skills necessary to be able to succeed in the position. Below are some sample competency-based questions and answers for an administrative assistant:

1. Why should we hire you as an Admin Assistant? 

What to avoid: Generic answers, overpromising, or making jokes. A hiring manager would expect you to have good communication skills, excellent telephone manners, and top-notch time management – that's why you're here! But don't be tempted to over-promise by saying you'll do whatever it takes or work overtime. And don't say, “Because I make great coffee!” They've heard that one before. 

What to do instead: Use concrete examples of how you've managed tight deadlines, prioritized effectively, or delivered a positive outcome for your employer. Did you turn around an event in record time or juggle competing deadlines to keep multiple departments happy? Paint a picture of the type of value you can deliver! 

You could answer this Administrative Assistant interview question like this:

“I have a proven track record of success in client care, time management, and proactivity, thanks to my ability to anticipate problems and find practical solutions.”

Still stuck? Go back to the original job ad and use that for inspiration.

2.  What strategies or methods do you use to stay organized?

What to avoid: The person interviewing you will already be familiar with the software or tools that you're describing. You don't need to create an exhaustive list, either. Instead, highlight two tools or methods (this can include post-it notes and other non-tech options!) that are especially useful to you and explain how they help. Organization is a key part of being an Administrative Assistant, and the hiring manager will expect confidence and ease around this topic.

What to do instead: This is one instance where it's okay to prepare an answer ahead of time. Practice a few different responses to this Administrative Assistant interview question so that the interviewer's phrasing won't throw you off. Here's an example:

“I use Asana to break down larger projects into smaller tasks. I have a color-code system that my team is aware of so that nothing slips through the cracks and each person knows which project each task relates to. I'm a big fan of G-Suite because it allows me to synchronize my calendar alerts with my email so that if my phone is off or on silent, I can stay up to date.

3. How comfortable are you with software systems and technology?

What to avoid: Do not exaggerate or lie about your experience level.

What to do instead:  Nobody expects every candidate to be familiar with a full range of programs. It's far more important that you show your enthusiasm and aptitude for learning. Start with the program or app you're most confident with and talk about how you learned to use it. For example:

At my previous job, we switched from using Microsoft Office Suite to G-Suite for just about everything. I got comfortable with the new programs by using Google's free training videos and learning a few shortcuts and tricks. I successfully created standard templates in Google Slides for our sales team to use, which easily cut the turnaround time for client presentations in half.”

Situational Questions

Situational questions allow you to demonstrate your approach to a hypothetical scenario. When you're presented with a situational question, make sure that you've understood what the hiring manager or interviewer has asked. Normally, there are clues to what they are looking for in the question. Below are some popular situational Administrative Assistant interview questions:

4. You know that your supervisor has made a mistake, but they don't seem to recognize the error. What do you do?

What to avoid: You're being asked to show initiative and positive communication skills here, so passing the buck to someone else is not going to work in this scenario.

What to do instead: This question offers an opportunity for you to share the strength of your communication skills and explain how you manage potentially touchy or awkward situations. For example:

“First, I would assess the situation more thoroughly to ensure that my judgment was correct. Then, I would find a way to help to correct the mistake that would have a positive result. Finally, I would approach my boss and calmly explain the error I spotted, how it could be corrected, and what I could do to help.”

5. How would you approach a situation where you were unsure of something that was asked of you and didn't know who to ask?

What to avoid: Don't reply with a closed, general answer, like “I would find a way to resolve it” or “I would ask my supervisor for help.”

What to do instead: This is another opportunity to display both your practical skills and soft skills. The hiring manager is looking for resourcefulness, good communication, and consideration of other people's time. Consider the following example:

“If I were unsure how to proceed, I would reach out to a peer who was also in the initial project meeting. If they weren't available, I might look up similar briefs or projects. Having said that, I am aware that a short meeting with a supervisor could save time down the line, so I would book in time in their calendar for a quick catch-up. To ensure I'm making the best use of my time and theirs, I'd prepare some clarification questions prior to that meeting.”

6.  If you were given two competing tasks with similar deadlines, how would you prioritize them?

What to avoid: Avoid answers like “I'd work as late as possible until everything was done,” which is overly general and doesn't give the interviewer any insight into your skills, attitude, or approach.

What to do instead: This is likely to pop up as an Administrative Assistant interview question, because a huge part of the job is juggling multiple projects and tasks at the same time. You have a chance here to walk the hiring manager through your organizational and problem-solving techniques and to illustrate how you might use the resources available to you to get both jobs done.

If I had two competing tasks with similar deadlines, I would start by breaking down each item into smaller tasks. By identifying the most challenging or time-consuming jobs first, I can then determine which tasks can be delegated to junior team members. I would also make my manager aware of my plans early in the day so that I can manage their expectations.”

Behavioral Questions

Hiring managers use your answers to behavioral questions as a means of predicting your future behavior in each situation, as well as understanding and assessing your character. There are a few sub-types of Administrative Assistant behavioral interview questions you may encounter, some of which are:

  • Teamwork – motivating others, working collaboratively, group problem-solving

  • Adaptability – crisis management, working under pressure, reacting to feedback, adjusting to change

  • Motivation – Administrative Assistant roles often involve repetitive tasks, so it's worth preparing to answer questions about what motivates you and keeps you going

  • Values/Ethics – When answering Administrative Assistant interview questions, you're likely to get seemingly random questions that indirectly reveal your values and ethical standards. Often, these are questions that involve professional discretion and confidentiality

Fortunately, there's a foolproof technique to help you answer behavioral questions, known as the STAR Method. STAR stands for:

  • Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details

  • Task: What was your role – or what was expected of you – in that situation?

  • Action: What steps did you take to complete the task?

  • Result: What outcomes did your actions achieve?

You can prepare for this type of question by researching the company or organization before your interview. Pay particular attention to the language they use to describe themselves and their brand. Is their tone conversational and fun, or is it authoritative and conservative? Understanding the company culture can help you develop the lens through which you want your stories to be viewed. Below are some examples of behavioral interview questions.

7. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker or supervisor

What to avoid: Do not provide unnecessary or inappropriate details, such as your opinion of the other person's faults or shortcomings, or information that could potentially be damaging to your prior employer.

What to do instead: Stick to the facts and the main people involved – and avoid any criticisms that might suggest a personality conflict or other contentious issue. For example:

“In my previous role, I supervised a small group of interns each summer. One intern had more experience than the others and had already done a stint at a firm like ours. She complained about the work she was given, which had a demoralizing effect on the other interns. I met with her one-to-one, to find out more about her previous experience – what she liked and what she didn't like – and how she saw her current position fitting into her wider goals.

When she expressed frustration at feeling excluded from the areas of her interest, I offered to connect her with the research department so that she could take on some tasks that were more aligned with her chosen field. She was much happier, and it worked out so well that I had similar meetings with the rest of the interns to ensure that they left feeling as though they had gained the experience they were looking for.”

8. Describe a situation in which discretion was needed as an Administrative Assistant and how you managed it

What to avoid: Be mindful of the fact that using too much detail is not discreet!

What to do instead: You can speak more generally here, while giving enough detail to make your point. Try telling the story a few times before the interview, because leaving out sensitive information can be difficult, particularly when trying to remember things on the spot. Make sure that you include in your answer the importance of confidentiality and any legal statutes or regulations around privacy and data collection. The following example can help illustrate this approach:

As an Administrative Assistant in a medical practice, I take patient confidentiality very seriously and have often been responsible for handling sensitive information. I recently took a four-week online course on Privacy Law and Data Protection, with a case study on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, and how it impacts patient safety.”

9. Tell me about a time you made a mistake. What did you learn and how did you resolve the situation?

What to avoid: Do not invent a mistake for the sake of a compelling story or say that you never make mistakes!

What to do instead: Resilience and adaptability are key traits that all hiring managers hope to find in a candidate. Be open and honest in your retelling, and show accountability for the mistake you made. Then explain what you learned from the experience, and any changes you've made to prevent a recurrence. For example:

In my previous position as an Administrative Assistant, I was responsible for managing travel itineraries for the executive team, as well as their individual calendars. One of the executives was in Palo Alto for the week, but she still needed to attend an important meeting with a client who was based in New York. I forgot to adjust the meeting time in accordance with the time zone she was in, and by the time I realized what had happened, it was too late for me to contact her directly.

I left my boss a text message, then called her hotel and requested that they wake her early to give her sufficient time to prepare for the meeting. Though she was unhappy with the change, she was grateful that I had found a solution that wouldn't inconvenience the client. To prevent this from happening again, I made sure to account for time zone differences on our shared calendar and included time differences in the notes section of each travel itinerary.”

Questions Administrative Assistants should ask during a job interview

You should always prepare to ask the interviewer or hiring manager questions, even if you're short on time.

Ideally, you'll touch on one or more of the following topics:

  • Questions about the workplace culture

  • Questions about the position

  • Questions about professional development

  • Questions about how your performance will be evaluated

Example questions you can ask

  • Can you describe the performance review process? How will my performance be evaluated?

  • What do you expect the person in this role to accomplish in their first 90 days, and how does that fit in with the wider goals of the department?

  • What skills are absent from your current team which you hope your new hire will possess?

  • Can you tell me about any office traditions or celebrations?

  • Does this position offer opportunities for training or advancement within the company?

  • Is this environment collaborative and team-oriented or do people tend to work more independently?

  • Can you talk me through the onboarding process?

Along with tailoring your resume and cover letter to their specific organization or company, asking a few key questions can help employers determine whether you're the best candidate for the job – and whether the job is right for you! The more research you do about the organization, its mission, and its brand, the more effective and impactful your interview will be.

Preparing for the most common Administrative Assistant interview questions is essential for success!

Administrative Assistant interview questions will typically fall into one of three categories: competency-based, situational, and behavioral. Though some questions will be given to you on the spot in the form of a hypothetical scenario, preparing your thoughts and examples ahead of time will build your confidence and help you make a strong impression on the hiring manager or interviewer.

Need more time and information to prepare? A session with one of our coaches at TopInterview could get you that ideal position as an Administrative Assistant much faster. Our expert coaches offer custom action plans based on feedback tailored just for you – refining your responses to questions and enabling you to stand out from the pack. 

This article was originally written by Allie Dickinson and has been updated by Ken Chase.

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