The role of a secretary has evolved over the decades as technology and executive needs change, and it’s likely to continue evolving. If you’re applying for a secretary job, understand that there is fierce competition for these types of positions in the job market.
A secretary serves an important role in an organization. It’s a fast-paced environment that requires clear communication, problem-solving, multitasking, adaptability, people skills, and positivity, among many other necessary skills and attributes.
Juggling a multitude of important responsibilities and maintaining a cheerful demeanor is no easy feat, but if you’re up to the task and getting ready for a job interview as a secretary, preparing for common secretary interview questions will help to bolster your chances of landing your next job.
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Secretaries take on a wide range of administrative and clerical tasks to lighten the load for the executives they support. The day-to-day duties of a secretary are similar to those of administrative assistants and executive assistants.
A secretary is often responsible for answering phone calls, managing calendars, coordinating meetings, organizing and maintaining files and databases, communicating with visitors, scheduling appointments, and many other tasks that are important to keep the organization running smoothly.
Depending on the workplace, some secretaries also take on internal tasks such as organizing team-building activities, friendly competitions between sales teams, and rewards for meeting goals. In situations like these, having event-planning experience can be a major asset among the many other skills and qualities a secretary needs to have.
A great secretary is expected to have well-developed hard skills as well as soft skills. Computer and software knowledge is important for efficiency.
Because a secretary is often a spokesperson for an executive and serves as a primary point of communication for clients, partners, the media, other employees, and the general public, strong interpersonal and communication skills are an absolute must.
This need for versatility is reflected in the most common open-ended, processed-based questions that frequently come up in a secretary interview. Examples of these types of questions include:
How does your previous work experience prepare you for this job?
Why are you interested in being a secretary at this company?
What skills do you feel are most valuable for this position?
How do you typically prioritize your tasks when reporting to multiple supervisors?
How do you communicate with your managers to keep them updated on their work schedules?
What types of inquiries did you typically respond to at your previous position?
What software tools and other technical skills are you familiar and comfortable with for daily use?
How would you rate your typing and computer skills?
What kinds of documents or other types of correspondence have you prepared?
Describe in detail what steps you would take to plan a meeting for ten people.
Think of a complex project you worked on with a group. What was the goal? Describe how you worked with others to accomplish that goal.
What expense reporting or cash-handling experience do you have? Describe the process you used to record expenses.
What steps would you take to safeguard confidential information, especially if the position requires you to have a security clearance?
Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a challenging external or internal customer. What was the most effective way to deal with this person?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What motivates you to do a good job?
When answering open-ended questions, it’s important to express your enthusiasm and qualifications for the job, but also to find ways to reference your past work experiences. Here are some sample answers to give you an idea of how to formulate your responses:
In your previous work as a secretary, describe how you used scheduling software to manage calendars for multiple people.
“As a secretary of five years, I’ve stayed up to date with the latest technology to manage multiple calendars. I was responsible for managing schedules for up to ten people at once, and I was able to set up appointments, meetings, and business trips with minimal errors or scheduling conflicts.”
How would you rate your verbal and written communication skills in a professional setting?
“I have developed my communication skills throughout my schooling and career. I’m meticulous about proofreading emails and reports. In all my work interactions, I strive to maintain a calm and professional demeanor.”
Describe your experience organizing and filing large amounts of paperwork.
“I pride myself on my organizational skills, and I have extensive experience managing heavy paperwork loads in a file room as well as a digital archive. Using an alpha-numeric filing system is something that comes naturally to me. I’m used to doing a lot of filing each day.”
Do you have experience using a multi-line phone system, and if so, how do you manage calls when it’s busy?
“I used a multi-line phone system at my previous job where I was responsible for taking and transferring calls that ranged from telemarketers to the CEO. I gathered basic preliminary information from each caller and determined which calls should be prioritized, which could wait longer on hold, and which should be sent straight to voicemail or request a callback.”
In your personal opinion, what is the most rewarding part of being a secretary?
“There are many aspects of the job that I enjoy. I like keeping everything neat and organized, and I also enjoy speaking with people on the phone. But since I’m an extroverted person by nature, I think my favorite part is the face-to-face interactions daily. I love meeting new people.”
Secretarial jobs are one of the fastest shrinking professions in the United States, but they can also be quite lucrative, especially in the medical field where a medical secretary is ranked number one on the list of high-paying jobs with little schooling.
Before your interview, whether it’s by phone, video chat, or in person, you should do some additional prep work to ensure you are fully prepared to make the best impression possible. Here are some extra tips:
Research the company. Before you meet with the hiring manager, you should already have a good idea of the company’s history, successes, culture, and values.
Utilize this knowledge in your answers to show that you aren’t just applying to every open listing that catches your eye; you’ve done your research and decided that this company is where you want to be.
Polish your resume. Consider what tasks you will be expected to do and make sure your resume has been updated to highlight the most important strengths you have to offer. Identify your best administrative skills and tailor your resume specifically to this position. A combination resume may serve you well.
With all that being said, don’t lie on your resume. Being caught in a lie on your first day on the job is not the kind of first impression you want to make.
Also, proofread, proofread, proofread! This is good advice no matter what job you’re applying for, but great secretaries are prized for being detail-oriented, methodical, and precise, so having typos or layout errors on your resume is going to be a giant red flag and will likely result in a hard pass.
Get feedback from friends and family. You might even consider investing in a resume review service.
Review common interview questions. While you do want to be prepared for secretary-specific questions, you don’t want to be caught off guard with a simple, generic interview question like “What is your greatest weakness?”
Knowing how to answer the most common interview questions in addition to open-ended behavioral and hypothetical inquiries will help to prevent a curveball from tripping you up. If you have properly prepared and studied frequent questions and responses, you should be able to walk into your interview feeling confident.
Know your rights. Secretary positions have stereotypically been fulfilled by women for many decades, and even though gender equality initiatives have caused changes in the workforce, there still may be some bias in these types of roles.
Be sure you are knowledgeable about what constitutes an illegal interview question and know how you will respond if such a question comes up. Example of illegal questions includes discriminatory topics such as:
Marital or family status
Brainstorm relevant past experiences. Nothing is worse than an interviewer asking you to provide an example of how you tackled a solution in your previous position -- and then your mind goes completely blank. Jot some quick notes down before the interview. They don’t have to be detailed -- just enough to jog your memory in a pinch.
You should also take notes during the interview. Accurate note-taking is a valuable skill in a secretary, and what better way to show that you’re a great note-taker than demonstrating it during the interview?
If possible, utilize your interview notes when responding to questions or making inquiries of your own to show that you’ve been listening.
Take assessments. This isn’t a requirement, but it may help you showcase your skills. At the very least, you will likely be asked about your typing speed, so you should know how many words you can type in a minute.
There may be other assessments and certifications that are relevant and would prove that you know your stuff. This extra step can also go a long way toward showing that you are driven and dedicated to self-improvement, which is a coveted trait to many employers.
Dress to impress. When interview day comes, you’ll want to look your best. Many secretary positions require business attire but make sure you’re familiar enough with the company to know what sort of dress code they expect. If in doubt, it’s better to overdress for the interview than underdress.
Get impactful references and testimonies. If you know someone who works at the company you’re applying to, see if you can get a personal recommendation.
If not, you can still get strong references outside the company, but you’ll want to make sure you choose your references wisely. Reach out to candidates who are credible and in a good position to talk up your strengths.
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A hiring manager interviewing candidates for a secretary position is looking for several key traits: excellent communication skills, meticulous attention to detail, superb multitasking and prioritization, strong administrative, clerical, and technical skills, and a positive attitude.
Yes, that’s a tall order, but with secretary jobs declining in the job market, there’s a lot of competition for these limited positions, which means you have the difficult task of outshining your competitors.
Preparedness is going to be your best strategy. Remember that part of the job description is keeping cool under pressure, so you mustn’t panic during the interview. No pressure, right? If you’re nervous, consider doing mock interviews beforehand to practice.
The job of a secretary isn’t easy, and the hard work starts in the interview phase before you even start your first day on the job. But if you put in the extra effort for the interview, your hard work is much more likely to pay off.