What Do Employers Want?

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

It’s helpful to know what an employer expects of a “perfect administrative assistant” so that you can present yourself at your best during both the job interview and those critical first weeks on the job. Here are a few of the most important qualities:

  • Punctuality. An employer wants an administrative assistant who is consistently punctual and always on hand during office hours. An administrative assistant who continually arrives even a few minutes late or who is ill frequently can cause havoc in a busy office. The employer knows from experience that such an administrative assistant may not be truly interested in the work. This person will be passed over or terminated in favor of someone with greater respect for the job—an administrative assistant who is always punctual and always there when needed.
  • Dependability. An employer considers the applicant’s disposition and personality, trying to judge whether he or she is dependable. For example, would the candidate rush home at precisely five o’clock despite an office crisis, or would he or she take enough responsibility to volunteer to remain after hours if an emergency arises?
  • Ability to learn. An employer wants to know the extent of the applicant’s education—not only formal programs and degrees but also self-instruction and single courses. This information indicates the applicant’s willingness and capacity for learning. For example, an employer may hope that you know the specific computer software the company already uses but not be too concerned if you aren’t familiar with it if you show the potential to learn quickly.
  • Willingness to follow instructions. An employer wants a candidate who follows instructions carefully and willingly. Of course, a good administrative assistant will soon take initiative and perform certain tasks differently to save time or improve results. But the administrative assistant who always demands complete control may ultimately become unwilling to follow instructions, debating or questioning every one of the boss’s directives. Though intelligent input from an administrative assistant is prized, an employer usually prefers not to argue points that he or she has already decided. The employer is concerned with more important matters than explaining all the reasons for pursuing a particular policy. Therefore, the employer looks for an administrative assistant who will execute a decision no matter how many alternatives may seem obvious, or no matter what a former boss did in the same situation. In other words, the employer wants someone whose personality will be an asset rather than a handicap.
  • Loyalty and confidentiality. Although these qualities are impossible to discover during an interview alone, every boss wants his or her administrative assistant to possess them. In an office, there is nothing more unwelcome than the “human sieve” who constantly chatters about every conversation heard, spreads idle rumors like wildfire, and must constantly be screened from confidential projects and information. No matter how efficient, how educated, and how experienced that administrative assistant is, his or her employment will be short-lived.
  • And something else. A keen employer wants more in a prospective administrative assistant than these general qualifications. During an extended interview, the employer will be looking for quick-wittedness, flexibility, commitment to work, a certain quality and level of conversation, and a sense of courtesy. This last attribute is essential in establishing cordial relations with clients and fellow employees.

© 2012 James Stroman, Kevin Wilson, Jennifer Wauson. Excerpted by permission of the publisher from Administrative Assistant’s and Secretary’s Handbook, fourth edition, published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.