31 Personal Assistant Interview Questions & Answers

31 Personal Assistant Interview Questions & Answers

Once you’ve received job applications from prospective PA candidates, you’ll be one step closer to filling the post. The job interview process is crucial for determining whether a candidate is the right fit for the role, so asking the right PA questions is key. While asking questions about experience, education, and career aspirations is important, competency-based questions will help you glean whether a candidate has what it takes to thrive in the role.

Here are some personal assistant interview questions we highly recommend you ask all candidates interviewing for a PA role, plus ideal sample answers.

Typical PA Interview Questions

Questions To Establish Experience & Background

1. Why do you think you’d be a valuable PA for our company?

Each candidate's answer will be unique. However, you should look for them to share which skills they have that will provide value to you, the company, and the role. This should tie back to the job description and the main requirements important to the role.

Ideal candidate response: A PA needs to be able to multitask well in order to manage a busy workload effectively. In my last role, I had to manage the inbox, calls and calendar of the company’s CEO effectively. I will apply the same multi-tasking skills to my next PA role.

2. What motivates you most about being a PA?

Here, we’re looking for the candidate to refer back to the job description and what excites them the most about the position. We’re looking for a sense of what makes them tick and why this role would fit with their motivations. Other factors to look for in their answer could include workplace culture and strong working relationships, for example.

Ideal candidate response: I am motivated by being in a role where each day is different because I like being challenged. I’m also a very detail-oriented individual, so I’m happiest when working on a task that requires me to be focused, such as when compiling a report.

3. What have you done to strengthen your skills and further your experience as a PA?

Here, you are looking for evidence of any additional training a candidate has undertaken to improve their skills. Good examples for candidates to share here include training courses they’ve taken both in their own time as well as opportunities provided by a former employer. Initiative is a key skill to look out for in an outstanding PA, so candidates who have taken the initiative to enhance their skill set are likely to be very successful in the role. For new PAs with little experience, look for evidence of transferable skills or examples of drive and tenacity.

Ideal candidate response: While I’ve not yet had the opportunity to undertake any formal PA training, I have previously shadowed and assisted a PA to an HR director in my last role. This was a great opportunity to learn transferable skills. And by the end, I was delegated responsibility for compiling the weekly sales report and lunch rota.

4. Why are you wanting to leave your current role?

This is always a good idea to ask any candidate to understand the context of why they are looking for another role. Perhaps they are looking for an opportunity to grow or a new challenge. Especially if redundancy has occurred, this question can be a tricky one for candidates to answer honestly. However, you should look for candidates to remain professional in their response, explaining their reasoning positively. Complaints about previous employers should raise a red flag about whether this candidate can remain professional.

Ideal candidate response: I really enjoyed my time working for_____. However, after two years in the role, I felt that I was no longer being challenged and wanted more opportunities to grow. With this role providing training and the chance to collaborate with various teams, it makes me feel confident that I’d be fulfilled and challenged at your company.

5. Please describe your previous experience working as a personal assistant.

With this question, you are looking to understand the breadth and depth of the candidate’s hands-on experience in previous PA roles, including the types of tasks they have managed and the environments they have worked in.

Ideal candidate response: My background as a personal assistant spans over several years supporting executives in high-paced environments. In my last role, I was responsible for scheduling, managing communications, and organising events, which often required meticulous attention to detail and proactive problem-solving. I successfully coordinated international travel arrangements, managed complex calendars, and was entrusted with confidential information. My approach involves a mix of traditional tools like diaries for immediate access and advanced digital tools such as Microsoft Outlook for emails, Google Calendar for scheduling, and Asana for project tracking.

6. What motivates you to excel and perform at a high level as a personal assistant?

With this question, you have the opportunity to gauge the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators that drive a candidate so you can assess whether this candidate will be competitive for the role available.

Ideal candidate response: What motivates me most is the ability to make a tangible impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of my executive's day. It is highly rewarding to know that my support can free up their time for strategic thinking and decision-making. Additionally, I am really motivated by the dynamic nature of the role. Each day presents new challenges and learning opportunities, which keeps my job exciting and fulfilling. I thrive on feedback, and constructive criticism helps me improve continuously.

7. Why do you want to work for this organisation?

Here, you are looking to gauge the candidate’s enthusiasm for the company and their interest in the specific role. With this question, you will see if the candidate has taken the initiative to research and understand your company's values and culture.

Ideal candidate response: I am particularly attracted to ____ because of its commitment to __, which resonates with my own values. I admire how your company has led industry standards and the emphasis you place on _____ and __. These factors inspire me to contribute and grow professionally. I believe my background and skills align well with your company’s goals, and I am eager to bring my experience in project management and executive support to your team, helping to continue the tradition of excellence.

You might be interested in reading our article on Why You Should Hire a Personal Assistant.

Competency-Based Questions

8. Describe how you would approach building relationships with other staff and stakeholders to enhance collaboration and efficiency within the company.

This question helps you to determine how the candidate approaches internal and external networking and relationship building.

Ideal candidate response: I would initially invest time in understanding the roles, responsibilities, and priorities of the staff and key stakeholders I interact with by arranging informal meet-and-greet sessions to establish rapport and open lines of communication.

In daily interactions, I would communicate clearly and promptly, always respecting their time and contributions. I believe in being approachable and available, facilitating an environment where colleagues feel comfortable sharing information and asking for assistance. I also use shared tools and platforms, like Microsoft Teams or Slack, to keep everyone aligned on project statuses and updates, which promotes transparency and collective efficiency.

9. How do you effectively prioritise and manage multiple tasks and deadlines simultaneously?

This question gives you an insight into a candidate’s organisational skills and their ability to efficiently handle multiple priorities without compromising the quality of work.

Ideal candidate response: I start my day by reviewing all tasks and deadlines. I categorise them based on urgency and importance using the Eisenhower Box method. I rely heavily on digital tools like Trello for task segmentation and progress tracking, and I use Google Keep for quick notes and reminders. Regular updates and clear communication with my executive ensure that I tackle any urgent tasks promptly so that nothing falls through the cracks.

10. What methods and tools do you use to stay organised and keep track of important information?

With this question, you can gauge how well a candidate can maintain order and efficiency, especially under pressure, and what tools and methods they use to do so.

Ideal candidate response: I use a combination of digital and analogue tools to ensure efficiency and accuracy in my work. For daily and weekly task management, I use Asana to break down projects into manageable actions, set deadlines, and monitor progress. I complement this with a physical planner for immediate tasks and notes during meetings, which I later digitise using Evernote to keep all records synchronised and accessible. This hybrid approach allows me to maintain a clear overview of my responsibilities and ensures I can easily retrieve information whenever needed.

11. How do you handle confidential or sensitive information in your role to maintain discretion and privacy?

Asking this question will help you assess a candidate’s integrity and adherence to ethical standards in managing sensitive and confidential information.

Ideal candidate response: I adhere to company policies on information security and data protection. For example, I use encrypted digital tools for storing sensitive information, such as LastPass for password management and Adobe Document Cloud for secure file sharing. Additionally, I make sure that all physical documents are kept in locked files and only discuss confidential matters in secure environments. Regular training in data protection laws and staying updated with the latest security protocols are also part of my routine to safeguard privacy and maintain confidentiality effectively.

12. How do you adapt and remain flexible when dealing with schedule changes or unexpected events?

This question helps you to evaluate a candidate’s ability to stay composed and adapt quickly to changes to plans without significant disruption.

Ideal candidate response: I maintain a proactive and adaptable approach by keeping time slots open for unexpected tasks each day and using a dynamic scheduling tool like Google Calendar, which allows for quick adjustments and gives real-time updates to all involved parties. In one instance, an executive was delayed overseas due to a flight cancellation, causing a reshuffle of an entire week's schedule. I swiftly communicated with all stakeholders, rescheduled appointments efficiently, and helped the executive set up their work remotely to ensure continuity.

13. How do you manage stress and pressure effectively in a demanding PA role?

The purpose of this question is to understand how a candidate copes with high-pressure situations, ensuring they can maintain performance without burnout.

Ideal candidate response: I employ several strategies to handle pressure, such as prioritising tasks daily and breaking them into manageable parts to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I practise mindfulness and take short breaks throughout the day to clear my mind, which helps me maintain focus. Additionally, I communicate openly with my executive about workload and deadlines. This helps me set realistic expectations and receive the necessary support, ensuring that stress does not hold me back from achieving.

14. How would you describe your computer skills?

Here, you are looking for a candidate to detail their technical and computing proficiency, including which tools they are familiar with.

Ideal candidate response: I am proficient in a wide range of computer software, including Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), Google Workspace, and various project management tools like Asana and Trello. I am comfortable with Windows and macOS operating systems and can quickly adapt to new software. My experience also extends to CRM systems for client management and Adobe Suite for basic graphic editing tasks.

15. Can you explain your approach to managing expenses?

With this question, you can explore how the candidate handles financial responsibility in relation to managing expenses. Look for details of specific reimbursement processes, how they track receipts and an understanding of the importance of accurate documentation for financial reporting purposes.

Ideal candidate response: My approach includes using digital tools such as Expensify to track and categorise expenses as they occur, which simplifies the reimbursement process. I ensure that all receipts are digitally scanned and organised by date and event, making them easily accessible for reports. For each transaction, I record detailed notes explaining the purpose and the stakeholders involved, aligning with company policy. At the end of each month, I review all expenses with the executive to ensure accuracy before submitting reports to the finance department.

16. Can you describe your experience in coordinating and managing travel arrangements?

From this question, you are looking to assess the candidate’s logistical capabilities and experience, including their experience in booking transport, hotels, ground transportation and creating detailed itineraries with minimal supervision.

Ideal candidate response: I have extensive experience managing domestic and international travel arrangements for executives. This involves choosing optimal flight options within the budget, securing accommodation that meets specific preferences, and arranging reliable ground transportation. I use travel management platforms like Concur to streamline bookings and maintain organisation. I create a comprehensive itinerary for each trip that includes all travel details, meeting schedules, and important contacts. I also prepare contingency plans to address potential travel disruptions, ensuring minimal impact on the executive's plans. I aim always to ensure that the executive’s travel is smooth and stress-free.

17. How do you tailor your communication style to fit different executives or teams?

This question allows the candidate to showcase their interpersonal skills and ability to flex and adapt their communication style depending on the stakeholders they are talking to and contextual appropriateness.

Ideal candidate response: I interact with many different personalities and professional styles in my role as a PA. I start by observing and learning the communication preferences of each executive or team member—whether they prefer detailed reports or brief summaries, formal emails or quick verbal updates. For more detailed-oriented executives, I provide comprehensive data and background information. For those with a broader focus, I highlight key points and actionable items. I use different tools based on their preferences, such as emails, instant messages, or face-to-face meetings. This personalised approach ensures that communication is efficient, transparent, and received positively by all parties.

18. Can you give an example of an initiative you took that improved processes or efficiency within your past roles?

Here, you want to understand a candidate’s initiative to make improvements when they see a process that isn’t working properly. You also want to see that they collaborate and effectively communicate any process changes.

Ideal candidate response: In my previous role, I noticed that the process of tracking and managing expense reports was consuming a significant amount of time and was prone to errors. I initiated a project to digitise and automate the expense management process using the software Expensify. I collaborated with the IT department to customise the tool according to our needs and conducted training sessions for all staff to ensure smooth adoption. This initiative reduced the time spent on managing expenses by 50% and significantly decreased errors in submissions. The new system has been well-received by the team and has greatly improved the efficiency and accuracy of our financial operations.

Situational Questions

19. Can you provide a specific example of a challenging situation you faced as a personal assistant and explain how you resolved it?

This question aims to understand a candidate’s problem-solving capabilities and how they manage challenging situations effectively while maintaining professionalism.

Ideal candidate response: In a previous role, I encountered a situation where an urgent board meeting was scheduled at the last minute, and several key participants were out of town. My task was to coordinate their participation remotely. I quickly secured a conference room equipped with high-quality video conferencing facilities. I then coordinated with IT to test all equipment an hour before the meeting, distributed digital materials to all participants, and arranged for backup solutions in case of a technological glitch. The meeting proceeded smoothly, and all executives appreciated my proactive measures.

20. Please share an instance when you anticipated the needs of the person you assisted before they expressed them.

This question assesses a candidate’s ability to intuitively and proactively address an executive's needs.

Ideal candidate response: In one instance, knowing that my executive had a crucial and stressful negotiation coming up, I arranged for a review session with a legal advisor ahead of time. I prepared a summary of key contractual points and historical negotiation outcomes with similar partners. I also reserved a quiet conference room to ensure privacy and minimal interruptions. This proactive move made the executive feel well-prepared and supported, ultimately contributing to a successful negotiation.

21. How would you respond if a frustrated client is trying to reach your boss, but your boss isn’t available?

This question tests a candidate’s stakeholder management and communication skills and how they can maintain professional relationships during moments of crisis. You want to look for answers demonstrating tact and professionalism when dealing with frustrated people.

Ideal candidate response: If a client wished to speak with my boss, who wasn't available, I would calmly explain the situation and assure them that their concern is important to us. I would offer to take a detailed message and arrange a callback as soon as possible. Alternatively, if appropriate, I could suggest speaking with another qualified team member who could assist in the meantime. Throughout the interaction, I would maintain a courteous and empathetic demeanour to ensure the client feels heard and valued.

22. What would you do if your manager asked you to handle a situation in a way that you disagreed with?

This question evaluates a candidate’s decision-making skills, integrity, and ability to handle disagreements professionally and effectively.

Ideal candidate response: If I disagreed with my manager's approach, I would respectfully request a private moment to discuss the concerns. I'd present my viewpoint clearly and professionally, using factual information and constructive feedback. If the decision still stood, I would follow through with my manager's directive to the best of my ability, making sure that all outcomes are well-documented. My priority is to maintain professionalism and integrity, respecting the managerial hierarchy while also ensuring that all actions align with the company's standards and ethical guidelines.

23. Describe a time you had to handle a lot of pressure at work.

This question helps you understand how a candidate handles stressful situations and whether they can do so effectively.

Ideal candidate response: A particularly high-pressure situation occurred during an unexpected crisis when our company faced a major product recall. I had to manage the executive's schedule to accommodate emergency meetings, media responses and stakeholder communications while maintaining my regular duties. I prioritised critical tasks, delegated where appropriate, and maintained open lines of communication with all departments. This approach helped manage the immediate crisis and ensured that routine operations continued smoothly. My ability to stay calm and organised under pressure was key to navigating this challenging period effectively.

24. How would you handle being a personal assistant to more than one executive at a time?

With this question, you want to understand how a candidate will handle the competing demands and priorities of being a personal assistant to multiple executives. You’re looking specifically for excellent time management and prioritisation, plus their ability to manage expectations and relationships.

Ideal candidate response: I create a comprehensive schedule that synchronises the commitments of all executives I support to avoid conflicts. Collaborative tools like Microsoft Outlook for calendar management and Slack for communication help ensure that all parties are updated about schedule changes and priorities in real time. I also set clear expectations with each executive about communication and response times. This structured approach helps me manage my duties efficiently and ensures that each executive receives the necessary support.

25. How would you plan and implement strategies to bring order and organisation if presented with a disorganised project?

Asking a candidate this question helps you understand how they approach projects that require a significant overhaul to make them organised and efficient. You want to understand how they approach imposing structure.

Ideal candidate response: When faced with a disorganised project, my first step is to comprehensively assess all aspects of the project to understand the current status and identify the critical gaps. I would start by consolidating all existing resources and documentation to establish a single source of truth. I use project management tools like Asana or Microsoft Project to map out all tasks, assign responsibilities, set deadlines, and track progress. I would then schedule regular review meetings to make sure everyone is on track and to adjust plans as necessary. This systematic approach will help transform chaos into structure, ensuring the project progresses efficiently towards its goals.

26. Tell me about a time when you had to coordinate a complex meeting involving multiple internal and external stakeholders. How did you ensure a smooth and productive meeting?

This question should help you understand the candidate’s capabilities in handling complex logistical challenges, managing multiple stakeholder needs, and ensuring productive outcomes.

Ideal candidate response: I was responsible for coordinating an annual strategy meeting involving key stakeholders from different locations, including board members, external consultants, and internal department heads. To ensure a smooth process, I started by securing a meeting date that fit all critical schedules, confirmed through a Doodle poll. I prepared and distributed an agenda well in advance and arranged for technological support, such as video conferencing for remote participants. During the meeting, I facilitated discussions by managing time allocations for each speaker and handling real-time document sharing and note-taking. Post-meeting, I distributed minutes promptly and set up follow-up tasks in Asana to monitor the implementation of decisions.

27. Can you provide an example of a time when you effectively handled calendar management for a busy executive?

Here, you can assess the candidate’s organisational skills, attention to detail and ability to schedule meetings, resolve conflicting calendars and manage meeting invites and reminders.

Ideal candidate response: Effective calendar management was crucial in my previous role, where I supported a CEO with engagements across various time zones. I meticulously managed her calendar using Outlook integrated with Salesforce to track and schedule all meetings. I incorporated time buffers between appointments to allow for adequate preparation and travel time. When conflicts arose, I evaluated the priorities based on the nature and participants of the meetings. For resolution, I communicated proactively with all parties involved to reschedule as necessary and updated the calendar in real time. I sent out regular reminders to the executive and organised prep materials before each meeting. This approach allowed the executive to focus on her responsibilities, knowing that her calendar was fully taken care of.

28. What would you do if you noticed a significant error in a document that had already been finalised and distributed to stakeholders?

Here, you are looking to understand how the candidate handles crises, particularly their problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, and stakeholder management.

Ideal candidate response: Upon discovering a significant error in a distributed document, my immediate action would be to assess the impact of the error and identify all affected parties. I would notify my executive of the issue as soon as possible and discuss potential corrections. With approval, I would prepare a corrected version of the document along with a concise explanation or erratum note addressing the error. I would then redistribute the corrected document to all stakeholders with a clear indication of the changes made. Throughout the process, I maintain transparency and prompt communication to manage the situation responsibly and maintain trust with all involved parties.

29. How would you approach managing a high-stakes project on behalf of an executive?

This question allows a candidate to showcase their project management skills and their ability to act appropriately and effectively as an executive's representative. You are looking for excellent project management and communication skills and alignment with the executive's wishes.

Ideal candidate response: My approach to managing a high-stakes project centres on thorough planning, proactive communication, and meticulous execution. Initially, I define the project scope and objectives in collaboration with the executive and relevant stakeholders. I develop a detailed project plan that outlines key milestones and deadlines and assign roles and responsibilities using a tool like Microsoft Project. Throughout the project, I maintain regular communication with all team members and stakeholders through weekly status meetings and real-time updates via Slack or email. I also prepare contingency plans to address potential risks or delays. I focus on ensuring transparency, alignment, and commitment from all parties to successfully complete the project while upholding the executive's standards.

30. How do you handle situations where an executive is overwhelmed, and you need to step in to alleviate their workload?

This particular question probes a candidate’s ability to perceive stress in others and take proactive measures to address it, which is crucial in a supportive role. Their approach should be solution-oriented and help to create clarity and clear prioritisation for the executive.

Ideal candidate response: When I notice an executive becoming overwhelmed, I first evaluate their current workload and identify tasks that can be delegated or postponed. I propose a revised prioritisation of tasks, focusing on critical deadlines and rescheduling less urgent matters. For immediate relief, I take on additional responsibilities myself, such as handling correspondence, managing more minor projects, or preparing presentations. I also suggest implementing regular check-ins to reassess priorities and workload distribution. This approach helps to significantly reduce stress levels and ensures the executive can focus on high-priority issues with a clearer mind.

31. Describe how you handle receiving constructive criticism from your superiors and incorporate feedback into your work.

With this question, you want to understand how well the candidate receives feedback and how they have used this feedback in the past to improve their performance.

Ideal candidate response: I view constructive criticism as a valuable opportunity for personal and professional development. When I receive feedback, I actively listen and seek clarification to fully understand the perspective offered. I reflect on this feedback to identify actionable changes I can implement to improve my performance. For instance, after receiving a suggestion to improve my project reporting skills, I enrolled in a data visualisation course and started using more comprehensive tools like Tableau for my reports. The outcome was that my reports improved, and I also gained a new skill with analytics tools. I make it a point to follow up with my superiors to discuss the impact of the changes so they know that I have addressed their feedback.

We Have Many Great PA Candidates On Our Books Ready For Interview

We would be delighted to assist you in finding the perfect PA candidate for your role. Please get in touch to discuss how we can help you today.

Posted in Careers & Interviews, PA & Admin on May 06, 2024


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