Interviewing is a daunting prospect, regardless if you are a seasoned temp PA who does it before every booking, or if you have been in a role and therefore out of the market for a long time. Different companies interview in different ways, and there is no set right or wrong process. The majority of recruitment agency registrations will be a blend of chronological and competency-based questions. At Oriel Partners this allows us to carefully assess each candidate and to advise on how best to answer these often tricky questions.
Most people shy away from competency-based interview questions, but as long as you are prepared there should be no reason you don’t stand out and use this form of questioning to your advantage. Being directly asked for examples is often easier than the broader question of ‘what do you do in your current role?’ where people forget to give detail or specific examples, or indeed waffle about more irrelevant parts of the role that are not necessary for the role you are interviewing for.
The interviewer will want detailed answers. In an administrative role, give examples of specific tasks, rather than saying you just do admin for the team. Break this down, how many in the team and what exactly. For PA roles, booking travel regularly is not enough, you need to say how many people, where to, if it's multi-stop, what level of detail your boss wants in their itinerary etc.
Preparation is key. Do your research on the company, the role and ensure you know your CV inside out - you would be surprised how many people don’t! So make sure you know your dates and have clear reasons for leaving each role. Using the travel example above, you may get asked about the travel you booked and any problems that arose. Talk about strikes, missed connections, forgotten passports, but you must also talk about what you did to remedy it – sourcing trains, boats or new flights, finding meeting rooms in airports, going to the airport with passports, flying out with unsigned documents etc.
Competency based interviewers often ask you difficult questions. You might get asked about a mistake you made – never answer you haven’t made a mistake, everyone has – the reason you are being asked is that a future employer wants to know how you handled it and what you learnt. Did you manage to rectify it, did you own up and all was forgiven, was it so bad you couldn’t work there any longer? And what did you learn and how would you apply this going forward.
These questions are aimed both at seeing your working style and your personality. Sometimes questions might throw you, but this shows you how you perform under pressure. When asked what your 'biggest achievement’ might be, if you don’t have a work example, do ensure the answer ties in. You might have a team tennis tournament, which you feel is a huge accomplishment. Then give the interviewer the reasons why it is relevant - being part of a team meant helping and encouraging others, while the individual matches meant you couldn’t hide behind others and had to believe in yourself. From this, you have learnt that while you work well in a team, you can also work well autonomously.
Another common question is the strengths and weaknesses questions. Again here, it’s about overcoming the weakness, or why a strength is relevant. We are often taught to pick a weakness that isn’t really one, but people can see through this, for example saying that being early or being a perfectionist is a weakness. Choose something that really is, but why it is no longer, or what you do to compensate or counteract it. Turn a negative into a positive and use it as an opportunity to show your strengths.
Always ask your recruitment agency if you want help before an interview. At Oriel Partners we want to give you as much support and guidance as we can. Being a boutique recruitment agency we have the time to assist, and your recruitment consultant will spend time getting to know you and guiding with areas you can improve on. We cover everything from the very junior Administrative roles, all the way through to experienced PA’s and Executive Assistants, and interviewing for all levels can be intimidating, but we can hopefully ease some of this. There is no shame or harm in being nervous, just ensure you are prepared!
Google is a very helpful resource for potential questions, but here are a few typically asked questions:
- Give an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace, and how you overcame it.
- What is your biggest achievement?
- How did you reach the decision that you wanted to change your job and work for us?
- Tell me about a time your communication skills improved a situation.
- Give an example of leading a team in past employment.
- Give me an example of something going wrong and what you did.