Top 20 Skills to Look for When Hiring Administrative Assistants

by | July 28, 2020


Finding the right assistant for your growing company can be difficult. Especially when you hire a virtual assistant, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for in order to find a professional who can help you in everyday tasks and office management.

That means taking the time you need to review and interview potential candidates. It also means knowing exactly what you’re looking for as you make the decision to add extra helping hands to your organization.

Their duties can range widely, depending on your needs. Still, any administrative you hire should show at least some evidence of these 20 skills vital to survive and thrive in the industry. Check them out below, categorized by soft skills, technical skills, and the tools your next assistant should be able to master.


Let’s start with the soft skills. These can be difficult to quantify, but you’ll learn much about them in the course of the interview. Where possible, ask for examples in the candidate’s work history that showcases their knowledge and expertise in these areas.


Maybe the most basic skill among administrative assistants also tends to be the most important. Effective and successful communication is key in a number of areas:

  • Phone calling skills, including the ability to hold a conversation and get crucial information over the phone.
  • Written communication, whether it be in the form of casual chats and comments, emails, formal letters, or anything in-between.
  • Nonverbal communication, including not just body language but also intonation and other nuances that convey meaning.
  • In many situations, your administrative assistant will be the face of your company and your personal representative. You need to be able to trust them to do it right.


When you give your assistant a task, they should be able to complete it in a timely manner. But it also gets more complex than that. What if you give them three tasks, with various prioritization levels and deadlines?

The right administrative assistant is able to manage their time well. They complete tasks and projects by the deadline, and know well ahead of time when that deadline might need to be moved. Consider asking about their time management strategies to learn more about their process and expertise in this area.


Back to those multiple projects: are they able to stay organized enough to not drop one of them entirely? Organizational skills come into play in a number of ways for any administrative assistant:

  • Email inbox management
  • File management
  • Database management
  • Task management
  • Calendar management
  • And much more.

It’s almost impossible to do the job without at least some level of multitasking. Their organizational skills will determine how adept they can be and can become in situations that require it.


At its most basic level, the ability to do research is to complete what we’ll call “advanced googling”. But in reality, this skill should go far beyond. An effective assistant knows how to scope out competitors and potential clients, finding the right sources and effectively compiling the information into an overview document.

There’s an argument to be made for research being a more technical skill. In reality, it’s both. Research almost always requires intuition and internal organization. It’s a vital soft skill for any administrative assistant.


Professionals with a high degree of emotional intelligence tend to perform better in interpersonal situations. The concept refers to understanding emotions in both ourselves and others, which leads to:

  • More pleasant interactions with others
  • A better ‘read’ on people, like potential clients or stakeholders
  • A high degree of conflict resolution skills
  • Lower stress levels in otherwise stressful situations.

All of these components make emotional intelligence a good skill to seek. It can be difficult to identify, but these EQ interview questions can help you get to the heart of it.


The most straightforward answer is not always the right one. Is the candidate you’re considering able to adjust on the fly? Can they take the project in unexpected directions, or pull in information from elsewhere to solve the problem?

In both startups and established organizations, the environment can change rapidly. Look no further than the current pandemic for a recent example. An administrative assistant who is able to adjust with it, adapting to the new situation and finding new solutions to unexpected problems, can be an invaluable asset.


It’s easy to let a small error fly. But the right assistant should always be on the hunt for them. That means looking out for potential typos, missing commas in an accounting spreadsheet, or even spelling names right in the address line.

Your administrative help will represent your business and is often the last line before communication goes out or reports get filed. Their attention to detail can protect you from both major mistakes and minor annoyances.


While soft skills tend to be difficult to nail down, technical skills are much more straightforward. Most candidates will even list them on their resume. Still, it’s crucial to look for a few consistent top administrative assistant skills in the technical department.


Yes, your assistant should be able to easily manage tools like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. But word processing skills also go further. Top candidates should be able to:

  • Lay out both simple and complex documents
  • Password and edit-protect confidential information
  • Leverage spell check not just for simple errors, but general readability
  • Use the right formatting to stay consistent with company guidelines and maximize readability
  • Inserting images, graphics, and hyperlinks where appropriate

Not every candidate may be able to do all the above immediately. At the same time, a good understanding of word processing basics is a great baseline to learn more tools.


Data entry is among the top technical administrative assistant skills employers look for today. Candidates should be able to efficiently and accurately enter information from client data to financial and accounting numbers.

Of course, that’s only the beginning. Top candidates are able to leverage the database more fully, pulling reports and other names as needed. From data entry to extraction, database management is a vital part of the job in many cases.


Can your future assistant work within a file hierarchy established within the company? If it doesn’t exist yet, they should be able to establish that hierarchy, complete with tags and naming convention.

File management, of course, is both digital and analog. In most virtual scenarios, digital files will comprise the bulk (if not all) of the work. A successful candidate will be able to take a bunch of seemingly disconnected files, organize them, and put them into an easy-to-navigate information architecture that others can intuitively use.


An administrative assistant should be able to effectively manage the busy calendar of an executive or business owner. That includes a variety of related tasks:

  • Scheduling appointments with potential clients, partners, and other stakeholders
  • Working closely with the calendar owner to work around non-meeting times
  • Offering reminders other helpful information ahead of crucial meetings
  • Learning and mastering calendar software such as Outlook or Gmail

Together, these tasks make up the comprehensive skill set of calendar management. A professional who excels in this part of the job can save their supervisor significant time and resources throughout the average work day.


Equipment here is a broad term that can mean anything from a printer or copy machine to computers and other electronics. In large organizations, IT is responsible for its maintenance; still, the day-to-day operations tend to fall to administrative assistants.

Of course, the extent of this skill can vary widely based on the nature of the job. A virtual administrative assistant may rely more on software, with hardware playing a minor (if any) role. Your company’s needs will define how important that skill becomes when hiring an assistant.


Large companies sometimes employ an office manager, who is responsible for tasks such as organizing company events, ordering office supplies, or booking travel accommodations. For most organizations, though, these common office management tasks tend to fall to the administrative assistant.

Knowing whether your candidates can perform them effectively is thus a crucial part of the hiring process. And they could change: as offices begin to build their return to work plans after the height of the pandemic, assistants have often been tasked with creating office schedules that can accommodate social distancing on company premises.


When you hire a great administrative assistant, you can trust them to read over a letter and make sure it looks perfect before it goes out. That’s because they’ve mastered the related tasks of editing and proofreading:

  • Editing means looking at the greater context of the document, considering elements like sentence structure, readability, and fact checks of important information where appropriate.
  • Proofreading means looking for the minute details, such as typos and punctuation, that can be the difference between a professional letter and a credibility-reducing mistake.


Beyond general technical skills, it’s also important for your future assistant to be in the know on the tools you will need them to use. The more they know to start, the less training they will need. That includes, but may not be limited to:


Still the top productivity suite in the world, Microsoft Office includes crucial applications like Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. Any assistant you’re looking to hire should have extensive experience with each of these tools.

If your company uses an alternative like Google G-Suite, you may want to look for specialized expertise in that tool. However, the apps are relatively similar, so the transition from one to the other tends to be relatively straightforward.


Can your future assistant work complex phone systems? That might include, but is not limited to, features like:

  • Call forwarding
  • Conference calling
  • Voicemail setup and management
  • And more.

In the age of COVID-19, videoconferencing has also taken the center stage. If your company frequently uses tools like Zoom or Google Meet, your assistant should be able to schedule and manage calls, handle security settings, and more.


Even if you employ or contract with external accountants, chances are that your assistant will handle at least some tasks related to money and budget. Their ability to learn and use common budgeting software like SAP can go a long way towards making sure that you can trust them with those budget figures.


Especially for smaller companies without a dedicated marketing staff, many social media-related tasks fall to the administrative assistant. That’s only possible if they’re familiar on the management end of common platforms, including:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • And more.

If your company runs (or wants to run) paid ads to promote its business, the required skill set may extend beyond the general platform to tools like Facebook Ads Manager or LinkedIn Campaign Manager.


It’s only a must-have skill if you employ a task management system. But if you do, your administrative assistant needs to be comfortable in navigating around, setting up projects, and both completing and assigning tasks. Common task management systems include:

  • Basecamp
  • Asana
  • Monday
  • Trello
  • And more.

Even if your company doesn’t employ a task or project management systems, the organizational skills needed to operate it can still reflect positive on the candidate you look to hire. In other words, it’s never a bad idea to look for task management software experience in the resumes of your potential candidates.


Will the assistant be able to pull reports that can help you make better and more informed decisions? The process requires both research and organizational/database skills, but it’s also important to have at least a base-level knowledge of the right tools.

What reporting software your assistant should be familiar with depends at least in part on the tools you use for the company as a whole. Examples might include:

  • Tableau, which is a great visualization software to build more effective, action-oriented reports.
  • Google Analytics, a crucial part of measuring website performance.
  • Reporting solutions attached to your budget or accounting software.

In addition, many of the tools mentioned above, from social media to task management system, have their own integrated reporting solutions. While your future assistant will likely not be familiar with all of them, they’re all structured similarly. A basic understanding of even a few can go a long way towards easily learning the others.


Ultimately, the top skills needed for any administrative assistant come down to the task and duties that professional will need to accomplish for you. That means, beyond a general understanding of what skills matter, it’s crucial to get a good list of responsibilities that the job will require before you begin to interview potential candidates.

Across the board, and as you might imagine, these tasks, responsibilities, and duties tend to vary widely. It all depends on your company, your industry, and you individual situation. But they will likely include:

  • Direct interactions with internal and external stakeholders, both written and verbal.
  • Budgeting and potential accounting tasks on a regular basis.
  • Email inbox and calendar management designed to keep the system organized for higher-level decision-making.
  • Editing and proofreading of crucial communication written and created by the supervisor.
  • Booking travel and other expenses, such as office supplies, on behalf of the company.
  • Data entry and database management of both financial and customer information.
  • Event planning, both for the company as a whole and for individual stakeholder events and meetings.
  • Both basic and advanced research into a wide range of topics related to your company and industry.
  • Potential marketing tasks, such as content marketing, social media, and website updates.
  • Fast response times to timely tasks, especially when those tasks have high priority levels attached.

Again, your list may differ based on your individual needs. Building a list first, though, ensures that you can hire the right professional, with the right skill set, for your specific situation. That, in turn, confirms that the professional you hire will play a major role in your business growth and success for years to come.