As an old adage goes: behind every highly-successful CEO stands an exceptional executive assistant. Unlike lower-level administrative roles, executive assistants are often expected to have strong business acumen skills (and often — relevant executive education). They must also have extraordinary interpersonal skills and superwoman-like organizational skills.
That said, a long list of job requirements also comes with solid compensation. Many executive assistant roles assume six-figure compensation and open a path to managerial roles.
Yet, to land those prestigious jobs, you need to do well in a job interview. This post offers a bit list of interview questions for executive assistant roles you should practice answering.
What Does a CEO Look for in an Executive Assistant?
A CEO looks for an ally in form of an executive assistant. They want a person they can trust to follow through with their promises and get the job done with minimal supervision. The best (and highest-paid) executive assistants are autonomous and self-reliant. They can effectively switch between working independently and collaborating with others on joint tasks. They respect the supported executive communication preferences, time schedules, and confidentiality at all times.
A group of c-suite members, interviewed by Forbes, say they are looking for these qualities in executive assistants.
“Someone who will give you what you asked for, but also come up with new ways to look at things that you may not be initially thinking about.“
“I’m looking for people who have a desire to do their jobs well, regardless of what they may be asked to do, or someone who will be able to perform to the best of their abilities in a time-sensitive environment”.
“Someone who has this will to communicate effectively with you, other executives, clients, and employees.”
7 Popular Interview Questions for an Executive Assistant Role with Sample Answers
No matter how long you’ve been in a profession, preparing for a job interview can be stressful. You want to put your best foot forward (of course!) and toot your own horn as much as you can. But you also don’t appear too self-absorbed, bubbly, or indiscrete.
To help you make the right first impression, here’s a list of common interview questions for executive assistants with detailed sample answers.
1. What is Your Greatest Strength as an Executive Assistant?
By asking this interview question, the person wants to get a quick snapshot of who you are as a person. Don’t recite your executive assistant resume — they already read it. Instead, pick one core strength and contextualize it with some examples.
“I’m a strong negotiator – both in-person and online. In my past role, I was responsible for collecting new equipment requests on behalf of the team – and negotiating on desired facility perks with the HR suite. Then I’ve also finalized negotiations of procurement deals on behalf of the COO with the suppliers. On occasion, I’ve managed to secure a 15% office furniture discount from a manufacturer and also proposed the team a more affordable wellness package they liked in place of an originally requested extra healthcare coverage we couldn’t afford.”
2. In Your Opinion, What Are the Five Most Important Job Competencies Successful Executive Assistants Have?
This interview question often comes up among the first ones. Why? Because the interviewer wants to understand how you personally interpret the role and the value you are delivering for the business.
There’s no right or wrong way to answer this. A good strategy is to highlight a combination of a soft and hard skills you deem essential for succeeding at this particular company.
For example, if you are interviewing as an executive assistant to a tech startup CEO, you might say something like:
“I believe that the top-5 competencies for a great executive assistant would be:
- High digital literacy and passion for technology
- Personal adaptability and mental resilience
- Strong project management skills
- Confidentiality and high online data security skills
- Active listening skills, paired with strong writing skills”
3. What Do You Believe an Executive Assistant Brings to a Company?
This question is designed to gauge your understanding of the role. It’s more frequent for entry-level executive assistants. Though more experienced folks can also get it as a “check” for cultural fit.
To answer it successfully, you must do some pre-interview company research. Then tailor your answer to reflect the company’s industry, values, and business goals.
An executive assistant to a CMO at an automotive company might say something like this:
“I believe an executive assistant brings clarity to chaos. My goal is to set your marketing chief for success by de-blocking them from routine operational work and keeping their schedule manageable. I know that marketers often have conflicting priorities, so my main goal is to keep them both inspired and on track to accomplishing the set goals and strategic vision.”
4. What Are Your Go-To Strategies For Time Management?
Strong organizational skills are a must for executive assistant positions. Not only you’ll be in expected to use your time wisely, but you’ll also act as a “keeper” of your executive’s time.
In your answer, mention one of your go-to time management tricks. For example:
“I’m a fan of personal time tracking. Over the years, I’ve developed accurate estimates of how much time standard work tasks usually take, which allows me to give my supervisors an accurate estimate of deadlines. I also like batching similar, smaller tasks and doing them in one sitting, before moving on to more complex ones, requiring greater attention.”
5. Which Software Apps and Systems Your Are You Using In Your Day-To-Day Work?
The best executive assistants have strong digital literacy skills. Your employer wants to understand which office software you know how to use.
Provide your list. If the interviewer asks about a particular tool you don’t know, ask if it’s similar to a product you know how to use. For example, if the employer prefers Monday and you’ve only used Asana before, say that you should be quick to pick this up because both apps are similar.
“I’m well-proficient in all Microsoft 365 tools (Teams, Sharepoint, Office apps, etc) as that is what my current employer uses. On the project management side, I’ve used apps like Trello, Asana, and Basecamp. Also, I have a working knowledge of Salesforce CRM and am familiar with Adobe graphic design tools. Is there any particular software you’d need me to learn using?”
6. How Do You Deal With Difficult Personalities at Work?
Executive assistant act as a liaison between the c-suite member(s) and other people — lower-level management, business partners, board members, and other staff. That’s a lot of different personalities. So of course, your employer wants to be sure you can be tactfully protective of the execs time.
To best answer this interview question for an executive assistant, provide a short example of your interpersonal skills.
“At Acme Corps, I supported the Head of Sales. As it’s easy to imagine, she was involved in a lot of business meetings — and inevitably some schedule overruns happened. This one time, she got heavily delayed on the previous meeting, while the new business partners already arrived. I welcomed them into the conference room and provided refreshments, but they were growing frustrated with an almost hour-long delay. To defuse the situation, I’ve paged our manufacturing facility and asked for a senior supervisor to conduct a short visit for them. While on tour, I ordered catered lunch and helped the Head of Sales get fully set up for the demo. The partners returned to a welcoming atmosphere and the deal went through successfully.”
7. Why Should We Hire You as an Executive Assistant?
This interview question often pops up as a conclusion. The employer prompts you to share your final elevator pitch and persuade them with a short compelling argument. Don’t bring up the earlier skills and strengths discussed. Instead, paint a picture for them of what you’d do if offered the role.
“I know that Tata Tech will be at CES this year — as all the others. This is a stressful time for your teams — and management especially. I have experience with coordinating team travel to major conferences like CES (and scoring incredible accommodation deals). Additionally, I’m experienced in working with printers and shippers, which would make getting all the promo collateral done and bringing equipment on location a breeze.”
Read more about how to answer “why we should hire you” interview question.
Other Common Executive Assistant Interview Questions
To help you further prepare for your interview, here are some extra interview questions for the executive assistant to the CEO/CMO/COO roles you might want to practice:
- Can you describe how your previous work experiences prepared you for this role?
- Have you ever supported more than one executive at a time?
- What’s your approach to combating stressful situations?
- Have you ever faced any workplace conflicts? How do you handle tensions among stakeholders?
- What was the most challenging project you’ve worked on? What was the outcome and what did you learn?
- What’s your approach to maintaining confidentiality and ensuring the security of sensitive information?
- Do you have any experience with managing travel schedules and organizing business trips?
- Do you have any experience with managing/organizing internal events?
- Have you ever made any mistakes at work? How did you navigate the situation?
- How do you handle constructive criticism and process negative feedback?
- What’s your approach to dealing with an overwhelming situation such as last-moment schedule changes, cancellations, or force majeure events?
- What do you like the most and least about being an executive assistant?
- How do you respond to requests with an unreasonable deadline or impossible to meet conditions?
- What are your strongest soft skills? Why?
- What are your strongest hard skills? Why?
- Final Tip: How to Answer Interview Questions for an Executive Assistant Role?
Executive assistants much answer each interview question briefly and unambiguously. Get straight to the point and put the most important information up front, then elaborate if asked for details. Summarize and condense your work experiences as you would an executive market briefing. Be polite, friendly, and professional — use the same tone and pace of voice as you would in your everyday work!