Hire the best applicants possible

Your organization has narrowed the field to two candidates for an administrative position. Both are experienced, both personable.

How to choose?

Nancy Brown has devised a way to make the right choice. Brown, an administration team leader and executive assistant at Manulife Financial in Kitchener, Ont., uses a system for interviewing that helps her discern which candidate will ultimately be the best fit.

“It’s been very successful,” she says. “Everyone has been happy with the candidates I’ve presented them.”

Here’s how she does it:

Revise out-of-date job descriptions to reflect the job today. If your department has a new executive or has been reorganized, the odds are that job descriptions have changed.

“The admin role is always changing,” Brown says.

She fine-tunes general requirements, such as “Must use Excel.” Everyone uses Excel, she says. Brown pinpoints the extent of use by writing, for example: “Must use Excel to forecast and budget.”

Create a checklist of duties and desired skills, based on the job description. Brown uses her checklist to guide her candidate interviews.

Rate candidates on each skill. Brown’s checklist features columns numbered “1” to “5,” which she uses to quantify applicants’ skills in each area.

“That way, I’m not just using my gut to size up the candidate,” Brown says. “A person is qualified not because they answered questions well, but because they have the experience.”


Check résumés for a business or secretarial degree.


“I want to hire a career-minded person, as opposed to someone who wants to get a foot in the door of a large company,” Brown says. “If they belong to IAAP, all the better.”

Screen for particular attributes you need on your team by asking behavior-based questions (“Tell me about a time when you …”).

Example: Brown asks candidates to tell her about a time they used initiative to either learn something new or to do their job better, or to help others around them do their jobs better.

No doubt, Brown’s own initiative is one of the top qualities that earned her the OfficeTeam Administrative Excellence Award.

Congratulations, Nancy!