Job Interview Tips Office and Admin

Ace the Interview: Secretary/Administrative Assistant

Ace the Interview: Secretary/Administrative Assistant
Written by Miranda Pennington

If you’re new to the professional arena, chances are you may be new to interviewing as well. These tips from can help you practice your answers and prepare to face your interview with poise, wit, and composure.

First off,  review your resume and cover letter and have anecdotes from your work background—even if you’re making a career change or only have informal internship experience—ready to go when prompted. Be able to talk specifically about what you did in your last position and how that prepares you to meet the challenges of this prospective job.

Here are some common questions you might face on interview day.

“What made you apply for this job?”

The answer to this one should not be “Because I need money,” even if that’s the honest truth! Identify some aspects of the job’s responsibilities or the company itself that make you most excited to join their team. Do you see it as part of your long-term goals? Do you pride yourself on providing excellent customer service? Have you always wanted to work for a major media outlet?

“What motivates you?”

Again, the right answer here is not “$$$$”! Be wary of potentially prejudicial responses—employers are legally not allowed to ask about age, marital status, or whether you’re a parent, but many people reveal this information too casually in questions like these. It’s sexist and nonsensical, sure, but to be on the safe side, come up with an answer about your drive, or your enthusiasm for the industry, or a mentor/role model who inspires you.

“What qualities do you consider most important in a secretary or administrative professional?”

Refer directly to your resume if you need examples for this one! You can also memorize some of the requirements from the job posting and rattle those off to show you understand the company culture and are ready to rise to their expectations.

“What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?”

This is a time for “medium honesty.” Be confident about your strengths, for sure—particularly if you know you have references who will agree that you’re a dynamic go-getter with poise and a professional attitude. Then, perform that age-old “weaknesses spin” where you highlight your perfectionism or the fact that you’re so eager to do well that sometimes you need help with prioritizing tasks.

What did you enjoy the most, and the least, about your last job?

Your answer to this question should reveal something about your attitude towards work in general, but shouldn’t devolve into complaints about your last job. After all, if you’ll complain about your previous employer, there’s nothing to suggest you won’t complain equally freely about your next one.

The absence of challenges, support, or adequate benefits is a pretty safe one, or if there were no long-term opportunities for you there.

An employer wants to hear that you have real-world experience, that you’re an effective employee, and that you can think creatively about different job contexts. For example, my first job out of college, my main work experience was as a Teaching Assistant and as an employee of Build-a-Bear Workshop. I was able to demonstrate that hosting a birthday party for ten sugared-up 9-year-olds was pretty similar to shepherding a dynamic list of titles to publication, to the amusement of the editors who were interviewing me. Hey, I got the job!

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.