Secretary job interview secrets?
October 1, 2012 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I would like some help preparing for job interview. Are there any secretaries here that can please help me out?

Tomorrow, I have an interview at a local university (in Tennessee) for the position of secretary at one of the department offices.

This is what I know about this interview:

1. I will be interviewed by the Office Coordinator and her boss (I didn't think to ask at the time, but I don't know who this boss is... could it be the department chair?).

2. The Office Coordinator told me that the interview could last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour (!?).

Relevant information about me can be found in this previous AskMe.

My questions about this interview are:

1. What kind of questions would be asked if the interview could be as long as 1 hour? Would they ask me to demonstrate my familiarity with certain important software (like Excel)?

2. Since I have never been interviewed by more than one person before, is there any particular etiquette I should be aware of when addressing two people in an interview?

3. Will the interview questions deal with how I would handle particular hypothetical situations, or assessing how my previous job experience makes up for not having secretarial experience? Or a mixture of both?

4. If you were interviewing a prospective secretary, what would you ask?

5. Keep or shave the goatee? I always had it while teaching, but I don't know if it would be considered professional for a secretary for a visual reference, it looks like this, but trimmed more neatly and dark brown like the hair on my head (well... what's left of the hair on my head).
posted by Groundhog Week to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1. A 30 minute interview is actually really short. If you have any sort of a conversation/discussion there is a good chance it is going to be close to an hour.

2. Make eye contact with both, address both as much as possible. Don't focus on the "senior" person or anything, just treat them like equals, as you don't know who will really be making the decisions.

5. If you are willing to shave it, it couldn't hurt, at least until you find out what their facial hair policies are.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:50 PM on October 1, 2012

1. Every interview I've been a part of has clocked in at about an hour, especially if there is not an expectation that there will be a second round. I've never asked anyone to sit down at a computer and demonstrate their ability with a piece of software, though I have asked about it.

2. No real 2-person etiquette -- just treat it as a conversation. Because it is.

3. It could be either hypos or assessing your ability -- that's more an issue of personal preference by the interviewer than anything else. Be prepared for both.

4. I would ask (and have asked) questions about your working style, and questions about whether you can meet the basic qualifications (deal with MS office, etc.). Most of the interview is about whether I would want to spend 2-3 hours on a plane with you and looking for other red flags. If I've brought you in for an interview I already think that on paper, you can probably handle the day-to-day tasks (taking phone calls, managing schedules, not letting all of my typos get through in a letter to the client).

5. Shaving it won't hurt.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:02 PM on October 1, 2012

I work in higher education administration, and I interview and hire office assistants. In my interviews I ask such questions as "Can you tell me about a time when you had multiple tasks that needed to be done and how you prioritized them?" or "Can you tell me about a time when you needed to get something done and weren't sure how to go about it and what strategies you used to get this thing done?" I also ask "On a scale from 1-10 with 1 being a micromanager and 10 being an absentee supervisor, what type of supervision do you do best with?" With all of these questions, I ask follow-up relevant follow-up questions. I try to keep it conversational.

I also ask them to tell me about their experience with Word, Excel, Outlook and if they have web experience. I might follow-up and ask them, for example, if they know how to export contacts in Outlook or something.

I also ask them if they have anything to ask me. A good question to ask an interviewer is "what is a typical day like in this job?"

Good luck with your interview!
posted by Pineapplicious at 1:05 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been a departmental secretary in an academic department at a major university. It was over 15 years ago but I think the non-technology stuff has not changed. If I were doing this, I would focus on the following things:
* Ability to multi-task and context switch between tasks
* How do you get organized and stay organized
* Ability to stay cool in a crisis
* Ability to work effectively with strong personalities (professors!)
* Communication skills in general
* How to get things done effectively in a situation with limited financial resources
* Research skills (finding stuff in a library or on the internet)

If you haven't worked in academia before, what kinds of things in your previous job might be transferable, e.g., working with a lot of intelligent but disorganized people who feel themselves to be "on a mission".
posted by matildaben at 1:07 PM on October 1, 2012

I doubt they will ask you to demonstrate software proficiency. They only time I've had to do that is when I've been going through a recruiter or employment agency. They will probably ask you questions about your proficiency, however, and your experience with the more complex functions of Word and Excel.

I've been a secretary to CEOs for a long time. The main things that I think make me good at my job are that I am extremely organized and good at prioritization, I have next to no ego about certain tasks being "beneath me," I have (or convincingly fake) a calm and positive attitude, I'm a good writer, I'm loyal, and I keep my mouth shut when it comes to office gossip. None of those are things are specific skills I've learned in an office; I do have officey skills, of course, but those can be learned if you're reasonably bright. The important things about being a good secretary are (in my opinion) more inherent to the attitude of how you approach the job. So, I think skills you have learned and experiences you've had in previous positions will almost always apply, even if you have not done specific secretarial work. Talk about how you've had to balance a lot of projects at once, or dealt with some kind of sudden emergency, or soothed the upset feelings of a customer.

They will probably ask you (because everyone does) where you see yourself in the future, so think about what you actually want and try to mostly tell the truth, if you can. People aren't looking to hire an administrative person who wants to jump ship into management at the first opportunity, and I've always been pretty honest about how I like administrative work and am just looking for long-term stability in a position I enjoy.
posted by something something at 1:07 PM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I'm pretty sure they call it "Administrative Assistant" now.
posted by matildaben at 1:08 PM on October 1, 2012

I'm a department coordinator at a university. My job was really different when I interviewed, but doing what I would do, I would focus on things such as and expect questions to revolve around:

1. Ability to keep confidentiality -- especially with regards to student information. If you have sometime, read up on FERPA.

2. Ability to handle competing priorities.

3. Ability to work independently.

4. Decision-making capabilities

5. A time you had to make a difficult/unpopular decision.

6. What is your interest in that school -- in that department in particular?

A lot of information about the department is probably available on the website. I recommend reading on the department itself and its function within the university and to learn a bit how the university is structured.
posted by zizzle at 1:13 PM on October 1, 2012

Be friendly and polite, this is probably going to be fairly informal. This is the interview where they determine if you'll fit in with everyone.

They'll fire off some of the questions/scenarios that have been mentioned above, but what they're doing is seeing if you're someone they want to work with.

The Administrative skills are pretty much taken for granted, if you say you have them, they trust that you do, interviews are to see if you'll be an emotional mess, a creepster or if you smell bad.

Relax as much as possible. Don't be surprised if they spend more time telling you about the job than they do asking you about your credentials.

Smile, be friendly, laugh at the little jokes, comment on any pictures of cute kids or pictures made by cute kids. Admire something in the office, e.g., "I love your Van Gogh print, I have one at home."

Be confident, assured and relaxed and you'll do just fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:17 PM on October 1, 2012

I am in a different field (marketing) but one hour is appropriate for an interview. I've had a couple half-hour phone interviews, and that time flew by.
posted by radioamy at 4:06 PM on October 1, 2012

Hi. I was an admin assistant at a large college. Google the department if you can and find out who the department chair is -- that is probably the other person you will be interviewing with.

1. I had to take tests of various computer programs before I started my position. They usually give you a heads up if they're going to ask you to do that. A one hour interview is actually on the shorter end of interviews. It will go by fast.

2. When I was interviewed for my position, I interviewed with the entire department I was going to be working with. Make sure to make eye contact with both people while you're speaking. In all likelihood, even though the department coordinator is not the senior academic in the room, he/she will probably be making the decision of who to hire.

3. Seconding what Pineapplicious said. Stress that you are organized and a quick learner.

5. Shave the goatee. You can grow it back when you get the job.

One last pointer: I had a pretty negative experience working for a department coordinator. The skills that tend to make someone a good coordinator can sometimes make them a bad boss. You should think about asking him/her questions to gain a sense of what their management style is like.
posted by saltwater at 4:34 PM on October 1, 2012

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