Providing robust administrative support is one of the many ways an executive assistant helps keep things running smoothly in a company. For example, there’s usually a consummately professional executive assistant behind every C-suite member helping to orchestrate things behind the scenes.
Because of this, they’re often referred to as the unsung heroes of the corporate world. That’s why, when it comes to hiring a new executive assistant, you should do everything in your power to find the best possible candidate.
Skills an executive assistant should have
With an executive assistant, you’ll probably want someone who can take on more responsibilities than just answering the phone and writing down messages. For starters, consider which technical skills you need in the role. This could be things like familiarity with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project, SharePoint, and other programs in the Microsoft Office suite.
However, an executive assistant typically is expected to support not only you but other team members too. This means they might have to deal with a wide range of personalities and priorities. To help ensure role compatibility, think about whether you want this person to be easygoing or someone who has a more take-charge personality type.
Unfortunately, you might not know the candidate’s work style until they’re actually on the job. However, it’s still a good idea to ask about things like how they take direction, their communication style, how they like to structure their day, and whether they’re able to multitask.
The difference between an executive and administrative assistant
While some people use the terms interchangeably, an executive and administrative assistant are two totally different things.
The difference between an administrative and an executive assistant is in the degree of responsibilities they handle and the professionals they work alongside. While they might execute some of the same duties, their roles, training, and education typically differ.
An executive assistant is a higher-level position that provides not only essential administrative support but also supports C-level team members, including CEOs, directors, and other senior managers.
Both types of assistants keep track of company information, project tasks, and critical business appointments. Responsibilities like these require keen attention to detail so that all projects are executed correctly.
Also, executive and administrative assistants need highly-developed critical thinking skills to make managerial decisions on behalf of the enterprise. Both roles require candidates to have excellent organizational and communication skills. However, executive assistants usually need more expertise with these proficiencies because of their higher-level duties.
Executive and administrative assistants carry out routine office tasks such as answering phones, editing documents, and creating schedules.
However, executive assistants have additional responsibilities and may even supervise other employees. Members of the C-suite who oversee them often rely on them for creative ideas, innovative solutions, or insightful advice.
Upper echelon executives look to executive assistants to help them make mission-critical decisions to avoid potential crises. At times, executive assistants might even act as the face and voice of top-level executives.
Interview for soft skills too
While technical skills (such as proficiency with office software) should be essential components of an executive assistant’s toolbox, they also should have soft skills.
One such soft skill is effectively communicating with supervisors, staff, clients, customers, and members of the general public. Soft skills also include the ability to fit into your enterprise’s work environment. Try to clearly convey what your company culture is like and whether the candidate thinks they would fit in.
You might want your new executive assistant to have some proficiency at networking. That’s because often, an executive assistant is the team member who reaches out to existing clients to uncover new leads. In some organizations, executive assistants leverage their networks to find promising investment opportunities, new markets for the company’s products, and new operational processes.
8 questions to ask an executive assistant candidate
Like hiring any other candidate, choosing an exceptional executive assistant requires knowing which skills, experience level, and personality characteristics an applicant needs to succeed in the role. One way to do that is by asking the right interview questions.
Here are 8 you might want to ask:
1. What strategies do you use to coordinate meetings with stakeholders who all have varying scheduling needs?
Meetings are integral to the smooth functioning of an enterprise, and one of the critical duties of an executive assistant is booking them. However, they can be inherently complicated because there are often a lot of participants. That’s why it’s wise to ask a question that gauges a candidate’s ability to manage them.
2. What best practices do you use when coordinating travel arrangements?
Executive assistants might be asked to make travel arrangements for their bosses from time to time. Lots of go into booking a trip. That’s particularly true if unexpected problems raise their ugly head.
They need to be able to create a travel schedule that fits their supervisor’s and the enterprise’s needs while being able to smooth over any hiccups that arise.
For example, if a preferred flight is unavailable, or a chosen hotel doesn’t have a vacancy on the day of the trip. Another example is booking a flight without too many layovers. The company is paying for the executive’s time, even if they sit in an airport for hours waiting for the next flight.
3. Can you share what qualities you feel are the most valuable as an executive assistant?
This question will help ensure that the skills and attributes your prospective executive assistant values align with your own. This might be professional competencies such as excellent communication skills, whether by phone, email, or face-to-face.
It might also include the ability to relay information effectively and accurately, organizational and project management proficiency, strategic multitasking, and attention to detail. Last but not least, consummate professionalism that shines forth in everything they do.
4. If the CEO gave you confidential information, what would you do if another top-level executive asked you about it?
Executive assistants will likely be privy to sensitive information. Because of that, they must be able to navigate complicated office politics without betraying confidence, engaging in gossip, or making thoughtless comments.
By asking this question, you’ll be able to assess a candidate’s ability to be discreet and how they approach a potentially dicey work situation.
5. How would you deal with an angry person demanding to speak with an unavailable executive?
Executive assistants often act as gatekeepers for the C-level team members they support. This means sometimes they’re forced to take calls from outraged individuals demanding to talk to top management.
They should be pleasantly professional, even when dealing with angry individuals.
See if you can find out if the applicant knows how to diffuse such a situation quickly and effectively. This means remaining calm and professional while de-escalating the conflict and perhaps providing a solution that’s acceptable to the aggrieved party. It’s always good to give the customer the option of talking to someone else who might be available.
6. What strategies do you use for time management when you simultaneously have multiple assignments to complete?
Executive assistants typically need to juggle more than one task at a time without letting pressure overwhelm them. Ask what strategies they use to handle on-the-job stress. You’ll probably want them to know how to remain calm, cool, and collected when they have more than one high-priority task to carry out.
Ask candidates how proficient they are at multitasking and dealing with deadlines. See if they can offer at least one viable strategy for managing multiple projects at the same time. Ideally, applicants will provide examples of how they dealt with situations where they had to quickly adapt to changing priorities.
7. Can you give me an example in your previous position where you had to make a critical judgment call?
As was already mentioned, executive assistants do so much more than basic administrative tasks. That’s why having exceptional decision-making skills is so important.
They might be asked to help develop creative solutions to pressing problems, make last-minute decisions, or be responsible for developing methods for completing projects.
8. How would you describe your computer skills? What software programs have you used in the past?
You might need your executive assistant to create presentations, prepare expense reports, or carry out other computer-related tasks. Therefore, an applicant should be proficient in using various computer programs, including Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Skype, Zoom, and calendar and project management software.
See if they can provide examples of past computer proficiency, such as using PowerPoint to create a presentation for their previous employer.
Find Your Executive Assistant with Hunt Club
When it comes to finding top-tier talent, asking the right questions enables your team to make informed hiring decisions. Partner with world-class recruiters at Hunt Club to find high-caliber candidates.
At Hunt Club, we can make your executive job searches easier.