interview advice for permanent Secretarial & Office Support jobs

Before you head of for the interview for your prospective perm secretarial job, It’s essential that you read through all the interview preparation information available to you, and ensure that you’re fully prepared. In the current marketplace, employers can afford to be increasingly particular about who they employ, so preparation is as important as a cultural fit or skill set.

We have split our interview advice into 6 sections:
1. General advice relevant for all roles.
2. Competency questions for Reception/Front of House positions
3. Competency questions relevant for Office Support/Administrator positions
4. Competency questions for Secretarial/PA/Exec Assistant roles
5. General competency questions for all positions
6. Questions you can ask the interviewer

1. General advice for any interview:

• Have you looked at the website of the company with whom you’re interviewing? It’s very important that you do so. There may be many questions that you’re asked during the interview where you can refer back to information that you have read, e.g. recent awards they may have won, their values and mission statement, their global reach. Referring back to information about the company will impress your interviewer and show that you’re keen to work for their organisation.
• Never be negative about past employers. If you want to leave your present job for negative reasons, be careful in how you express this to an interviewer. Perhaps mention that you’re looking for a new challenge or more responsibility instead.
• It’s advisable not to speak of remuneration or salary in connection with your desire for a new job.
• Make sure that you know your CV inside out. If you have stated that you can use a particular programme or system, you may be questioned about it during your interview (similarly with any previous responsibilities stated in your CV). Make sure you know all of your education and previous employment dates off by heart.
• Maintain a positive attitude throughout the interview. Ensure that your facial expressions and body language appear enthusiastic and interested. Smile throughout.
• Make sure that you dress conservatively – smart attire, groomed hair and minimal jewellery.
• Before your interview, make a list of positive comments about yourself. Use the examples you’ve thought of as your strengths. Most interview questions are open ones, and each one is an opportunity to sell yourself.

2. Competency questions you may be asked when interviewing for Reception/Front of House positions

• What do you feel is the most important responsibility for a receptionist?
• Describe a situation on your team which you had to deal with quickly in order to stop the problem escalating.
• Tell me about a time when you really had to pay attention to what someone else was saying, in order to be able to understand their message and react upon it accordingly.
• What do you least like about dealing with customers that come into reception? What do you enjoy most?
• A person walks into the building and asks to speak to one of the managers that he knows is in the office (either from phoning previously or perhaps he can see him/her through a window). The manager has informed them that he/she is unable to speak with anyone today. What do you tell the visitor? What if they argue? What if they won’t take no for an answer?
• What are you trying to accomplish when answering the phone?
• One of your managers is not picking up the phone, but a client needs to speak to them urgently. What do you do?
• A person comes into reception with a complaint to make and is attempting to do so very loudly in front of other visitors. What do you do?
• How many phone lines are you comfortable handling?
• When was the last time that you had to take on extra work at short notice?
• Tell us about your reception experience.
• In your current position, what are your duties other than the general reception responsibilities?
• Tell me about a situation in which you had to deal with a call from an upset colleague.
3. Competency questions you may be asked when interviewing for Office Support/Administrator positions:
• Give an example of where you’ve highlighted a problem, investigated, and consequently resolved it.
• When you take on a project do you prefer to attack it as part of a group or individually?
• Describe a situation where you’ve had to work with a colleague/supplier who was difficult, how did you handle it?
• Tell me about a time when you’ve relied on another person to help you with a work-related task or problem.
• When was the last time that you had to take on extra work at short notice?
• Do you speak any other languages? (Remember what you stated on your CV)
• What office packages are you able to use?
• How do you handle stressful situations, or demanding colleagues/suppliers?
• Do you have experience of making national and international travel arrangements?
• Have you ever had to deal with underachieving suppliers? If so, how did you handle that?
• Do you consider yourself a fast worker or one who is slower paced yet persistent and consistent?
• Do you have experience with the organising small events?
• Describe an occasion when you had to make use of your multi-tasking skills.
• Talk me through your current duties and what your employer expects from you?

4. Competency questions you may be asked when interviewing for Secretarial/PA/Exec Assistant roles:

• Describe a business trip that you’ve organised in a previous role that included multiple destinations, detailed itineraries, transfers etc.
• How do you prioritise your workload when supporting more than one person, when they have the same deadlines?
• What types of situations put you under pressure, and how do you deal with this pressure?
• Give an example of a difficult problem you solved and the process you used to do so.
• Describe the type of manager/director you prefer to support.
• Describe a situation where you’ve had to work with a very difficult and demanding person, how did you handle it?
• Describe a situation where you’ve been given an almost impossible task. What did you do?
• Tell me how you managed your day the last time your manager was not around to help, advise or delegate work.
• Do you have experience arranging events or conferences, either nationally or internationally?
• Your boss has asked you to make an arrangement (e.g. a particular seat on a flight, a room at a hotel) but there is no availability. Your boss is adamant. What do you do? 

5. General competency questions for all positions:

• What are your strengths and weaknesses? (Remember, counterbalance any negative response with a positive comment.)
• Of the hobbies and interests listed on your CV, what is your favourite and why?
• Where do you see your career taking you over the next few years?
• What aspects of your experience will be suitable for this position?
• Why are you interested in working at this company? What is it about the position that interests you most?
• Tell us about yourself. (This is the perfect opportunity to sell yourself)
• What would a current or previous manager say would be the area in which you could most improve?
• How would you ensure that you are able to meet strict deadlines?
• Tell us about a situation when you were asked to perform a task, and took that extra step when delivering a result.
• Why should we hire you?
• Is there anything else that we should know about you? (Remember, only answer in relation to the role you’re applying for. Don’t talk about personal things).
• What do you know about this company and its client base?
• How would you describe your personality within the workplace?
• What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in the workplace? How did you rectify the situation?

6. Questions you can ask the interviewer:

Sometimes at the end of an interview, your prospective employer may ask you if you have any questions. Here are a few that might be appropriate:
• What opportunities are there to further my career within the company?
• What do you like most about working for this company?
• Who will I be reporting to?
• Do you have any particular reservations about my application for this position?
• Ask the interviewer what their background is. Remember, people love talking about themselves.

Make sure to ring your consultant as soon as possible to let them know how you found the interview, if you’re interested in the position and if you’d like to work at the company.  Your interviewer will often call your recruitment consultant after the interview to find out your feedback.  With your feedback, your consultant will be able to reinforce your interest in the position and keenness to start.  Your consultant will also be able to answer any queries that your interviewer might have that were possibly not addressed fully during the interview.

Try to tell your consultant your feedback as soon as possible – any delay might be looked upon negatively by your potential employer.

Good Luck!