Employee turnover is never a good thing in a small business, especially when it involves replacing a competent administrative assistant.
(article continues below)
Although there is no shortage of applicants, the search for a new administrative assistant can feel like an impossible task. That's why it's critical to know what you are looking for before you start interviewing potential candidates.
The most obvious qualifications to look for in a new administrative assistant aren't always the most important ones. While prior experience, computer literacy, and a comprehensive administrative skillset are standard requirements for any new hire, don't overlook less obvious qualifications that can significantly affect productivity and morale in the office.
If the person you hire negative and critical, plan on regretting your hiring decision long before the individual's first annual performance review. It can be difficult to discern a negative attitude through a typical hiring process, so stay alert for small clues during the interview and be diligent about following up on references from previous employers. You may want to consider giving candidates an opportunity to trash their previous employer during the interview with a question like, "What was your former supervisor's biggest weakness?" If they answer graciously, they probably have a generally positive work attitude. However, if they take the bait and harshly critique their previous boss, it's only a matter of time before you become the focus of their negativity.
Another important feature of an effective administrative assistant is the ability to achieve stated goals and overcome obstacles. Rather than completing tasks independently, an administrative assistant that is easily bogged down by office processes will need no small amount of hand-holding to get the job done. Since hand-holding is the last thing you have time to do, make it a point to inquire about specific projects the candidate has completed in the past. As much as possible, try to push for details about the manner in which they approached the project as well as the obstacles they identified and overcame along the way.
In a small business environment, change is the only constant. Some people are capable of adapting to change easily – and some aren't. You need an administrative assistant that can keep up with the pace of change, so it's important that potential candidates demonstrate a high degree of flexibility. A flexible administrative assistant is capable of meeting the challenge of changing tasks and priorities. They are also able multi-taskers who are comfortable with ambiguity, particularly if the full details of a project aren't initially available.
Finally, a top-rate administrative assistant regularly takes the initiative, going above and beyond the minimum requirements of the job. Signs that your candidate is a self-starter may include a history of increasing responsibilities and independence. Although the ultimate test of initiative will only happen after you have assigned them their first task, most references are willing to discuss a candidate's aptitude for identifying tasks that need to be done if asked about it during the screening process.