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Hiring an executive assistant? Interview questions to find the ideal candidate

19 Feb 17:00 by Anastasia Kelly

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Are you hiring an EA and not sure what questions to ask? Do you feel confident in interviews for other staff but due to the personal nature of the EA/executive relationship, want to be very sure you get the questions right? You need the executive assistant interview questions to be strategic, insightful and stimulating. 

 

You want to create a comfortable atmosphere that encourages the candidate to open up and relax, so you can get to know them as much as possible. But what do you ask? When you are not an experienced interviewer, it can be a little daunting. 

 

Today, I’m sharing the best executive assistant interview questions, from my decades of experience as a specialist EA recruiter. 

 

But first, define your criteria

This is a common mistake. If you don’t consider the skills and qualities you truly need, the executive assistant interview questions won’t reflect your strategy. You ask the wrong questions, and you’ll struggle to choose the right candidate, or worse—appoint the wrong person to the role. 

 

Keep it simple by identifying your top three essential skills, and top three essential qualities. You can then consider bonus elements that are not essential but add value. You can also consider what level of industry experience you require. Below is an example of our executive assistant recruitment criteria, (in a simplified format). 

 

Top three essential skills

  • project management via Monday.com
  • event management, particular in medical industry
  • presentation strategy using PowerPoint

 

Top three essential qualities

  • organised
  • calm under pressure
  • confident dealing with multiple stakeholders

 

Your criteria then inform your executive assistant interview questions, so you aim your questions towards these key requirements for the position. 

 

Executive assistant interview questions to ask

We’ve listed 42 great questions here to consider. However, don’t bombard your candidate with all of these. Choose 10-12 from the suggestions below to create your ideal conversation starters. 

 

Previous experience questions

  • I see you worked at [XX]. What was the highlight of your time there? 
  • What do you like about working in the [XX] industry?
  • How does your experience in [XX] help you in your current career? 

Questions about diary management

  • What are your favourite diary management tools? 
  • What is your system for blocking out time for your executive’s top priorities? 
  • How do you keep up with the latest time management and productivity tools?

Time management questions 

  • How do you plan your time? Do you like online tools or pen-and-paper diaries?
  • How do you manage when you have several conflicting deadlines at once?
  • When you have many tasks to handle, how do you decide what to do first? 

Meeting management questions

  • How do you help people make decisions in meetings when leaders are at disagreements regarding the next steps? 
  • How do you help people stick to the agenda and time frame in meetings? 
  • How do you prepare when a presentation is needed for a last-minute meeting? 

What would you do if… 

These questions present a common scenario and invite the candidate to share how they would respond. 

  • What would you do if you were forced to reschedule a busy week of appointments due to unforeseen circumstances? 
  • If you had to act quickly but didn’t have a lot of information to decide, how would you proceed?
  • What would you do if the CEO asked you to share something private from your boss?

 

Situational questions 

These are questions where you ask the candidate to tell you about a time they had a particular experience. Common questions in this vein include: 

  • Tell me about a time you had conflict with your executive — how was it resolved?
  • Tell me about a time you were asked to do something far beyond your position description and responsibilities — how did you handle it? 
  • Describe a time when you made a mistake at work. What happened and how did you respond?

Interest in the company questions

  • What is it about the company that attracts you to the role?
  • What makes you want to work here? 
  • Our company values are X, Y and Z. What do they mean to you? 

Questions about work style 

  • Do you like to get clear instructions, or can you work from a vague brief?
  • How do you handle it when you are not sure on how your executive wants you to handle something? 
  • Do you feel confident making decisions on behalf of your executive? What decisions would you handle yourself, and what would you refer to your leader?
  • How do you turn around a day when you’re feeling unmotivated? 

Working with the executive questions

  • What do you do when you are not sure what your executive needs? 
  • How do you manage all the requests for your executive’s time and attention and keep your executive focused on important priorities?
  • How often would you ideally check in with your executive each day?
  • Our executive has a very XX style - how would you handle that? (XX could be blunt, micromanaging, demanding, etc) 

Questions about feedback

  • If you got feedback at work that you felt was unfair, how would you handle it? 
  • If you aren’t getting the information you need to perform, how would you resolve it with your executive? 
  • How do you manage your boss to help you deliver your responsibilities and get the information you need? 

Strategic EA questions 

If you are looking for a strategic, business partner EA, you can ask questions to determine the candidate’s capabilities in this area. 

  • What do you see as the core role of an executive assistant? 
  • How do you support your leader to make strategic decisions?
  • How involved do you like to get in the top-level direction of the organisation?

Stakeholder management questions

  • How would you secure a meeting with an executive who is difficult to reach and schedule?
  • How do you foster relationships with important stakeholders - what are your go-to tactics?
  • How do you manage difficult but important stakeholders to keep them on side? 

Values questions 

These questions will help inform the values of the executive assistant, which you can reference towards your own company values. 

  • What do you think a top executive assistant delivers for an executive?
  • What do you think are the most important qualities for a good EA/leader relationship?
  • What’s your biggest achievement in your career - what is it about that achievement that makes you proud?
  • Our company is all about [insert values] - what does that mean to you?

 

Trust your judgement 

Of course, asking the right questions is only the beginning of the recruitment process. You then need to make a decision about the candidates. Who will move onto more interviews? Who would be the best fit? This can be difficult to decide. If you are unsure, perhaps an additional casual chat will make the difference. Instead of a formal interview arrangement, a coffee (in person, or virtually) and a casual chat can help you get to know the candidate better. 

 

Leave it to the experts

Of course, if you’d rather stick to your skillset, then hiring a specialist executive assistant recruiter is the ideal solution. You’ll get the strategic guidance on the entire process, as well as access to the best possible talent pool of candidates. If you’d like to speak to us about hiring your next EA, contact Anastasia on 0421 16 55 96.

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