Oh yes, I've always been passionate about faxing...
February 5, 2009 9:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I "express interest" in an administrative position without sounding like an idiot/liar (eg, I love faxing) or like I have aspirations above the position (which I do)?

I'm applying for whatever-I'm-qualified-for positions in non-profits, preferably ones with an international-relations slant. I'm a few years out of college, no field-related internship or work experience, so I'm basically limited to administrative-oriented jobs, which I have experience in.

How do I express interest for a position that is essentially entry-level? Sometimes I understand from a job description that everyone knows that this position is a stepping-stone, and they ask candidates to demonstrate interest in whatever the mission of the organization is (which I can do). But sometimes they don't ask for this, and I worry that overstating my IR interests will over-qualify me for the position or make it obvious that I won't be in this job for the long haul.

I don't plan on leaving the job after six months, but I also would hope to have an option for promotion or transfer to something more in line with my interests. I might also might go back for my Masters sometime in the future. These really don't seem appropriate for a cover letter, especially one for a job that seems to display no interest in my interests. On the other hand, I feel silly pretending that my ultimate aspiration in life is to be a secretary, and can't really go into how much I look forward to filing and proofreading (or can I?).

What is the middle ground here?
posted by thebazilist to Work & Money (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you, I would emphasize your commitment to the mission of the organization (as you said), your excitement about being part of such a great organization, AND your enthusiasm about the job's functions, but in general terms. For example, "I'm passionate about organization and derive a great deal of satisfaction from ensuring that an office runs smoothly and efficiently."

I think it's also important to signal that you're aware of what the job entails, but you don't have to lie and say you love faxing -- just say something like, "I'm proficient with office equipment, type XX words per minute, and am experienced at filing." That way HR knows that you're aware this is an entry-level job, but you're not insulting their intelligence by lying.
posted by miriam at 9:18 AM on February 5, 2009

I hire for a nonprofit and would say this:
Figure out the mission statement and mention it briefly, saying that you believe in supporting blah blah blah whatever.
Mention how much you like working with people and problem solving and finding ways to be more efficient and organized (all of which expresses a desire for more responsibility without being pushy).
That's it. Cover letters should be pretty short.

I wouldn't worry about being overqualified if you've got no experience. It's a huge boon to find an administrative person with an informed interest in what the rest of us are doing.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:19 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Note your understanding that no-one starts off making policy decisions off the bat, and that you want to put in the basic commitment before moving up.

Also, express your interest in how the administrative work will hone your accuracy and precision, skills that are translatable to any facet of work.

Best of luck in a difficult hiring climate
posted by stratastar at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

In every organization that I've worked in, it's a bonus that the aa/secretary wants to move up and/or takes an interest in the larger organization. The worst secretary I had was one who had no interest in learning anything other than the tasks in her job description.

Be honest. Express your appreciation for the mission of the organization or the work environment and if you cannot muster either of those things, focus on what skills you bring to them based on your past aa experience, which is the bottom line anyway. (No one expects that your end goal is the job you're applying for).

But don't be too honest: do not mention transferring or Master's program plans. TMI for a cover letter. Or even an interview.
posted by *s at 11:05 AM on February 5, 2009

I've had good luck saying essentially "I'm great at keeping information organized, taking care of office-wide calendars and travel plans, and communicating with executives about their administrative needs" instead of "I love copying and filing, I have a passion for making airline reservations, and there is a deep longing in my soul to take lunch orders." Being confident in and vocal about your basic skills won't be perceived as arrogance, and it doesn't sound as goofy as expressing enthusiasm for sending other people's faxes.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2009

The 3 questions every interviewer asks themselves:

1. Can they do the job? Have they done something similar?

2. Will they do the job? How passionate are they - too passionate? not passionate enough?

3. Will they be a good cultural fit.

You should convey:

1. Relevant past experience.

2. Passion for the cause.

3. A good personality.
posted by Muffy at 2:33 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I once explained in an interview that I wanted to work for an organization with a mission that I believed in and that I needed to work for a place that didn't make me feel like I was selling my soul. I got the job. Knowing that I had some of the same values as organization sealed the deal.
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:22 PM on February 5, 2009

I think you're reading the situation exactly right. Many places will want someone with knowledge of their program side, while others are more wary and want a person who will stay in that particular position for a while. (Of the two nonprofit organizations I have watched hire admin staff, both wanted people who would stay in the position itself and one specifically decided to reject anyone who was obviously better qualified for higher positions in the organization.)

I feel silly pretending that my ultimate aspiration in life is to be a secretary

The admin staff at our office have exceedingly aspirational side gigs -- art, novellas, grad school. They say "I want a day job that pays the bills while I do this thing on the side. I want my day job to be here because I believe in the mission."

I do think you could express a desire to do the job, particularly since it's more than just filing and faxing. I was just thinking today how much skill and organization it takes to keep a whole system running smoothly (be it the hundreds of requests on our ED's time, or be it the many office systems needed to keep things running for a dozen staff members), particularly since the disruptions are all people-related and require an interesting balance of assertiveness and diplomacy. I could see a person really wanting to excel at this, particularly if it meant that the organization succeeded at a mission they cared about.
posted by salvia at 11:13 PM on February 5, 2009

Um, I love faxing. And I'm not an admin. I get a small but real feeling of a communications accomplishment. And I like making loose papers into neat, clipped stacks of paper. It's not all that implausible to like that kind of work.
Anyway, best of luck. It sounds like you'll do well.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:13 AM on February 6, 2009

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