How to prepare for a senior PA / EA interview

How to prepare for a Senior PA / EA interview - top tips from Hiring Managers

Published on 17th July 2019

There has been a real shift over the past couple of years when it comes to preparing for an interview. Relying on your skillset and experience to speak for themselves just isn’t enough for Hiring Managers anymore, particularly when it comes to senior-level PA and EA interviews.

Not only is the market at this level incredibly competitive, but the senior stakeholders these roles support have very high expectations. Therefore, you will need to be extremely prepared for your interview and able to articulate and highlight what sets you apart from the other candidates that will be going through the same interview process.

To find out what gives certain candidates ‘the edge’ in an interview, I recently spoke to some of the top PA and Secretarial Services Managers in my network who are responsible for hiring senior-level PAs and EAs. 

There were some common denominators in what they are looking for and what they want to see when it comes to Senior PA / EA interviews, which I have listed below.

Nailing your elevator pitch

Your ‘elevator pitch’ or opening statement should be something you live and breathe during your professional career and especially when you are actively interviewing.

As the saying goes; “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.”  When meeting someone new, be that at a party or in an interview, they will form an initial impression of you within the first 60 seconds of meeting you.

So, when the inevitable question of “Tell me about yourself” comes up, your elevator pitch should come into full effect – this is your time to shine and not to be modest!

Your opening statement should be a summary of your career to date and of the path that led you to where you are now. Depending on whether you have been at the same firm for many years and progressed in that organisation or held several positions over the course of your career, your interviewer wants to be able to clearly understand why you took the path you did. This could comprise of why you decided to enter the sector you did at the start of your career, how your role developed and what you did to progress.  An insight into where you feel your career is now versus your aspirations and any major achievements or awards is always good at this point too.

This statement should be something you really think about nailing and what you want it to say about you. Don’t underestimate the power of practicing this at home in front of the mirror or with your family and friends! Coming into an interview with a strong opening statement will build your confidence in the interviews from the offset, set the tone for the interview and break the ice. Remember to shine - you have one opportunity to do this so go for it!

Research and preparation are the key to a successful interview

At the Senior PA / EA level, if you have not fully researched the firm and the people you will be meeting and/or working for, I’m afraid you might as well not bother showing up to the interview in the first place. This is such a crucial part of the interview as it tells the interviewer a lot about the way you work, how you approach tasks as well as how interested you are in the opportunity.

Don’t just recite what is on the front page of the website, your research needs to go deeper than that.  Find out what recent awards the firm has won, their core values and the backgrounds of the people you are meeting.  Check LinkedIn and run a Google search to see what the media is saying about the firm and the work they are doing.  Look at the profiles of the firms’ clients.  This research will really show your interviewer more about you and can really make the difference between a good candidate and an outstanding candidate.

Prepare for competency-based questions

Example based questions are key for the interviewer to really understand how you work so preparing for these questions prior to the interview is crucial.

Coming up with examples is one thing but they need to be good examples and at this level, you want to show how you go above and beyond and add real value to the senior stakeholders you support. This does not mean working late when needed – it means what you proactively do to make their lives easier, what you do to build relationships with clients and what you can bring to the table that other people can’t. 

Answering these questions with enough detail, without waffling and losing not only your thread but also the attention of the interviewers, can be a challenge. To help with this, remember the STAR technique as this gives a real structure to your answers. Make sure you are using this technique throughout, it may feel a little old school but trust me it still works!

S = Situation: Set the scene – give the headline of what the situation was. Don’t waffle, go into just enough detail to give your interviewers context

T = Task: Describe the purpose – what needed to happen, what were you working towards?

A = Action: What did YOU do in this situation (you and only you, it doesn’t really matter what Sarah in DP did to help, they want to know about how YOU perform) 

R = Result: Share the outcome and end result – did you get positive feedback after the event? Did you learn anything to take forward in the future?

In simple terms, you need to give a beginning, middle and end in the way you answer these types of questions.

Getting personal

This is a key part of any interview, but especially for Senior PAs and EAs, as getting the right personality fit for the senior stakeholders is key, particularly in a one on one or small allocation role. Therefore, it’s important to allow your interviewers to get to know you and be prepared to talk about yourself personally. 

Some people prepare fantastically for the professional side of things but really struggle on where to start if asked anything personal which is completely understandable. Think about examples you can share about any hobbies or passions you have. Don’t overshare and keep things professional but be prepared for this type of question. 

The Hiring Managers I have spoken with, gain real insight from these answers at the interview, as they feel it allows them to assess how well you’ll fit into a team. Generally, it is assumed that more introverted characters like singular activities, more extroverted characters like social pastimes. Be honest and don’t try to be someone you’re not, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question and you’ll be far happier in a company that accepts you for who you really are anyway.

In summary

Interviews can be nerve-wracking for most people. In my experience, the most common reasons why candidates aren’t successful is because they simply haven’t done enough preparation and don’t have clear career goals or objectives (after all, if you don’t know why you want this job, how will your interviewers?!).

If you don’t feel passionate or excited about the firm you are meeting, this will come across. If you’ve had a cursory glance at the website on the train on the way to your interview, your interviewer will know and will be frustrated that you are wasting their time, and your own!

Being overly modest is a challenge many candidates struggle with. Think about all the great things you do on a daily basis, think about the feedback you’ve had from colleagues and Partners and ask yourself what it is that makes you unique? Keep a diary or notes in your phone so every time you do something great at work, or you get good feedback, jot it down. This really helps when preparing for competency-based questions.

When it comes to interviews, it’s important to take the process seriously but to also relax and enjoy it as much as you can. At the end of the day, your interview is simply a chance for the Hiring Manager to find out more about you and there is no one better equipped to answer these questions than you – you are your own specialist subject after all!  Good luck!