The interview process can be intense, grueling, overwhelming and downright exhaustive. You have to tweak your resume to each job, prep your best customer service voice and basically sell yourself and hope you fit the mold.
It may seem that you are at the mercy of an employer/interviewer but I promise you that is not the case. As an EA/PA you hold the power to choose who you take on as you truly are the saving grace for any company/Entrepreneur. We keep the trains running on time so why should we not have a say in who hires us as well?
Prior to your interview do the following to give you the upper hand:
Research the Company Make sure you know their mission, their team, their latest projects (if possible). It shows them you have an interest in all aspects of who they are and took initiative but it also gives you an insight to the types of projects you may be involved with. If it is not something you have a lot of interest in or is something you need to brush up your skills for then it is better to know ahead of time.
Research your Executive Google them, search them on LinkedIn, find their Podcast or guest appearances, Facebook or any other place you can think of. See how they post or interact in a professional and casual setting. This gives you great insight into how they hold themselves in certain situations ex) are they relaxed and jovial when giving advice on a podcast or very stoic and serious?
Research the Team If you will be working with a high level executive then chances are that you will have a big team coming to you for a lot, so getting to know who they are ahead of time will help you later down the road. This will even help during your part in the interview where you get to ask questions.
Prep Yourself Grab a friend or a mirror and practice interrogating yourself. Go over the good the bad and the ugly no matter how strange it may seem, you never want to go into an interview blind. Remember that they have the same access to you as you do to them so don’t assume they have looked you up. Practice the tough questions and get your answers clear and polished. A lot of these questions are asked less for the answer and more for your reaction, they want to see you react under pressure and be able to come out on top.
Trust Your Skills Do not overload yourself with research and forget to be excited about the process! This is not a test, you should be excited for the opportunity to show off your skills and talk about yourself. Hype yourself up, be ready to talk about that badass system implementation project you worked on that boosted company efficiency by 47%. Talk about a time you saved an Executive from a huge error by catching him double booking himself on a meeting. Trust in your skills and experience and be confident in what you know.
After researching and prepping for your interview it is now time to come up with more deep dive questions and put them in the hot seat. Remember, this is as much an interview for you as it is for them.
Below is a list of questions to ask your Executive/Interviewer to get the inside scoop on exactly who you will be working for, giving you the upper hand in your own career path.
Have you ever had an EA or PA before? If so, how was the experience for you? This is a HUGE question to ask. This will immediately give you the inside scoop on who you will be dealing with. An Executive will either 1) be new to the game, giving you the perfect opportunity to mold them and build your ideal work relationship and establish boundaries right out of the gate; 2) they will have history of longevity with their prior assistants and have nothing but great things to share giving you a really great professional foundation, though enforcing your personal boundaries and finding what works for you both will take time; 3) they will hum and hah and immediately give some statement along the lines of: "it just didn’t work out for either of us." This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker but be aware that this generally means they struggle with knowing exactly how to utilize their EA/PA or communicate with them which causes a lot of tension and resentment on both sides. Don’t judge them too harshly, delegation is hard for some and it could have genuinely been a personality clash, but be aware of this red flag as the interview continues. Regardless it takes a strong person to be an EA/PA and if you have chosen this life you have the strength to handle it already.
Why do you need an EA/PA? I love asking this question after they have given their prepared speech about tasks they need help with because the answers I get are very informative. As crazy as it sounds some Execs have no real idea why they need an EA/PA, they just know that they are overwhelmed with their current work life situation and need help ASAP! This question really gets them thinking on the spot about what exactly they are struggling with outside of email, calendaring and the standard tasks. What most don’t realize is that they are actually struggling with their own professional boundaries, delegation, staying on track, and overall execution because of their email overflowing and calendar being a disaster. As EAs/PAs we are essentially Executive Coaches here to lay the framework for our Executive’s success and the emails, minutes and calendars are just ancillary tasks.
What are your biggest stressors or complaints about your current day to day? Though it seems similar to question two, it is asking a completely different question regarding their day as a whole as opposed to singular exact tasks. I like to use it as a follow up as it offers even more insight into other obstacles your Exec deals with such as constant interruption, unnecessary emails, phone lines ringing off the hook, or lack of breaks throughout their day. Most Executives don’t even realize that these small interruptions throughout the day add up to hours of wasted time and are tasks that you can easily take over. I always like to think of myself as a literal brick wall between the outside world and my Executive, no one gets by without my express permission. You then become a filter on behalf of your Exec and keep tedious tasks off their radar which gives them time to focus on their personal needs along with business needs. This also allows you to establish professional boundaries not only for your Exec but for yourself for employees, vendors and the outside world.
What do you expect from me as an EA/PA on day to day tasks, special projects, time commitment? I always want to be honest about time commitment for anything work/project related right out of the gate. If you are interviewing for a part time position, your Executive should not expect you to work 40 hours a week or be on call after hours/over the weekend unless it is expressly discussed and agreed upon in advance and not a regular occurrence. This becomes an easy way for you to be taken advantage of without needing to pay your overtime or perks like benefits. Just because you support them does not mean you should feel bad for enforcing your professional and personal boundaries no matter how many hours you are hired to work. If they mention anything regarding time, deadlines or work life balance that alarms you, be honest with them. You don’t want to agree just to get a job then find yourself miserable several months and have to have uncomfortable conversations about needing to change your hours. On the other hand I also encourage you to really dig into your Exec about time and tell them your boundaries right off the bat. Their reaction will be all the answer you need; either on board, understanding and happy to work with it or they will try to politely (and a little awkwardly) say that does not work with their actual idea about what they want in an EA/PA. Some Executives really do have unrealistic expectations and absurd requirements for their EAs/PAs simply to get as much out of them as humanly possible without having to pay extra or offer benefits.
What is your work style? Messy, organized, scatterbrained, jumpy, micromanager, laid back etc. I am extremely organized, hyper focused, and very methodical in all of my execution so I do not shy away from Executives who are messy scatterbrained and creative butterflies. I actually prefer working with Executives who are like this, they tend to appreciate the organization more and adopt this structure over your time together. Now, my biggest struggles are with other hyper organized Executives simply because they prefer their style and I prefer mine. Asking these questions will not only give you insight into who your potential employer is but also get you prepared for when you are hired. As opposed to being left in shock at the state of things when you arrive you will be able to come up with potential systems and immediate action items to get things on track. This not only helps you out during the onboarding phase but makes you look like even more of a Rockstar to your Exec.
As I said above, enjoy this process. The world puts enough pressure on us as it is, you do not need to beat yourself trying to be perfect just for a job. The right company will see you and your skills for who you are and do everything they can to get your on their team.
As much as any Executive or company would rather not admit, they desperately need us. Use this to your advantage, never settle, never sacrifice your time, never sacrifice your energy and never sacrifice your worth for anything.
The right company wouldn’t let you anyways.