did I prepare too much for this interview — and turn off the employer?

A reader writes:

After submitting my resume and cover letter to the president and director of a major company for an executive assistant opportunity, I was contacted for a phone interview. I aced the phone interview and was invited for a face-to-face.

Since I really wanted this position, I made sure to study the company and position requirements, and brush up on my interview skills. One of the major requirements was being comfortable with PowerPoint. I am a part of a women’s development committee, where we teach woman life skills and provide information on certain areas of the workforce. Since I’ve been in administrative roles for the past 7 years, I teach a class every third Saturday. I introduce my Call Log Management Guide via PowerPoint to the group I work with. It’s a basic guide I developed that helped me deal with busy phone lines.

I printed out my presentation, and even went as far to craft a 30/60/90 day plan specific to the role and their overall needs. I arrived to the interview 20 minutes early and well dressed, ready to make a great impression. As the director escorted me to his office I immediately noticed the laid back atmosphere and attire of the employees and felt overdressed.

I interviewed with the president and director of the company. The interview went great and they continuously tell me that are extremely impressed with my background and my poise. I present them my presentation and explain that I am very comfortable with using Microsoft Office Suite. Once again, they talked about how impressed they were with me, but this time, the president expressed his concern by saying that he thought this role would be difficult to motivate someone as organized and proactive as me. He even said that he wanted to pass my resume along to another company for a paralegal role, which is something I have no interest in. I was really disappointed about this, but I tried my best to stress to him that I understood his concerns and assured him that I wouldn’t have applied to this position if I wasn’t willing to stay with the company for years to come.

After all of this, I was afraid to give my 30/60/90 day plan, as I thought it would be too much. I was getting the vibe that they thought I was overqualified for the position (a situation I’ve never been in). I reasoned that I hadn’t spent hours trying to create this two page document for nothing, so at the end of the interview, I handed them both a copy and asked that they read it when they had time. I noticed the shocked look the director snuck to the president, who was too busy with his mouth open reading the plan.

I left with a feeling that maybe I had done too much. It was only my intention to showcase my skills, and I feel as though it drove them away! They wanted someone who knew PowerPoint, and I bought them a presentation I created; they also wanted someone who’d be the “go to” person, and I exhibited that I could be that person. I guess in this case giving them what they wanted was a bad thing. Or was it too much preparation?

It might have been too much preparation for them and this company, but that doesn’t mean it was too much preparation in general. To the contrary, tons of employers out there would love this kind of thing.

What this tells you is that there’s a culture mismatch between you and them — and that’s hugely valuable information for you to have. Remember, you don’t want to go into an interview already convinced that you want the job; you want to use the interview to gather information that will help you decide whether you want the job or not. Because your goal here shouldn’t be just to get a job offer — it should be to get a job offer from an employer where you’ll be happy, feel like you belong, and excel at the work.

So rather than trying to second-guess who they might want you to be, the best thing you can do when job-searching is to be who you actually are. (Within reason, of course.) That way, you’ll screen out the places that aren’t the right fit for you — the places where you’ll never feel quite at home or where you’ll feel outright mismatched, and the places that will want you to be something different than what you are. And you’ll attract the places that do want what you’re offering.

It sounds like this one might not have. That’s not a failure on your part — that’s the interview process working the way it’s supposed to and identifying bad matches as well as good ones.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. Bryan*

    I agree that this is a scenario that shows how job hunting is not all about employers looking for employees but the employee needs to know the organization is a good match for them. Personally, if I was the hiring manager I would have loved for a candidate for that position to show up that prepared.

    When you say you arrived 20 min early I hope that you arrived and waited outside and not that you walked in 20 min early. As for feeling over dressed I think that happens often in interviews. I wore a suit to my interviews over the past 6 months and while everybody who interviewed was dressed professionally nobody was in a suit and tie.

  2. Esra*

    I think OP’s presentation sounds great. There are many companies out there that would very much appreciate a confident and well-prepared employee. I think though, when someone says a role could be difficult for someone so proactive, you should take that under consideration. You’re not going to get that information out of a job posting, and being bored or lacking challenges at work can be a big dealbreaker.

    Tiniest of nitpicks: twenty minutes early = way too early.

    1. Zahra*

      Uh. I thought 15 minutes early was the gold standard. What would you recommend? Getting there at the scheduled time? Or 5 minutes early?

      1. Colette*

        I’d say 5 – 10 minutes early.

        When I worked at a smaller company, we had a candidate show up 20 minutes early. The hiring manager was in a meeting, and there was no one in the reception area. Since I was the next closest desk, I answered the door, but it was an awkward position to be in, because I had other work to do but I didn’t feel right leaving him unattended in the lobby.

      2. Cat*

        I vote for 5-10 minutes early. I’ve never penalized a candidate for being earlier, nor would I (barring something extreme), but I prefer not to leave people sitting in reception, so I usually end up seeing them early if I can, and it kind of throws off my groove. Granted, I could just leave them sitting there and would if it were a serious problem, but it’s simpler all around if it doesn’t come up.

          1. Anonymously Anonymous*

            my last interview for DSS I got there 20 min early and hoped to sit in the parking lot for 10 min more minutes. Well the security guard waiting in the parking lot, seemed like he was waiting for me. (He was–I forgot this is how they operate once you enter the employee parking area–last time I entered the wrong parking lot (different agency– DCF) and was wondering why security, who I could see walking the employee parking lot, greeted me almost promptly after I finally exited my car in my interview gear ) Anyway I tried to fiddle around in my car to kill time. Finally I got out and I see a woman going in just before me. The security officer then escorts me to the receptionist area and as I sign in I noticed the name of the person who signed in before me was one of my interviewers. And my second interviewer arrived after me. I was in the conference room across from the receptionist area so I could hear and see. So now I back to arriving 10 min early on the premises. They seemed ok but they both explained during the interview that this office wasn’t their local office.

      3. Mrs Addams*

        go with 10 minutes early. What I actually do (and I’ve been doing this a lot recently – 4 interviews this week, fingers crossed one of them comes through!) is plan to arrive about half an hour early, to give some contingency for public transport being a pain in the backside. 9 times out of 10, I get there half an hour or more early, but I use the time to wander around the nearby streets, maybe go for a coffee, I’ll change my shoes from trainers to high heels and enter the building about 5-10mins before my scheduled time.

        Saying that, my interview this morning I arrived 20 mins early. It was raining, my umbrella was less than useless with the wind, and there was no convenient place for shelter. After standing for 10 minutes in a partially covered bus shelter I decided to cut my losses and head in to the building early, if nothing else to give me time to dry off a little and compose myself. I think I was justified in those circumstances, but still felt pretty awkward sat waiting for 15 minutes.

        1. Felicia*

          I generally arrive 30 minutes early and do the same sort of thing. Generally i find a coffee shop or fast food place where I can go pee, since I have to pee when i’m nervous and interviews make me nervous:) And I have a weird thing about hating asking the receptionist at a place if I could use their bathroom. I actually go in 7 minutes early, because 10 felt like too early and 5 felt like not early enough and i’m weird enough that i always do that exactly. That’s how my interview went this morning:)

        2. Marie*

          When I interviewed at my last job there was a major storm that wasn’t announced so I didn’t have an umbrella. When I went in I was wet from head to toe. The receptionnist tried to help me dry myself, which was nice. I was so cold during the interview (air conditioning)… one of the interviewer ended up giving me a ride back to the metro station.

          On my second interview at my curent job I was early (bus only runs every 30 min and i didn’t want to be late), I planned on walking for 20 min or so but it was really cold (-30C) so I ended up coming in wayyyyyyyy too early.

          I still got both positions but it was not an optimal timing

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        5 minutes early (although 10 is fine). You should actually arrive earlier, of course, so you have a buffer, but you shouldn’t go in until 5 minutes beforehand, because otherwise you force people to attend to you who may not be ready for you yet.

        1. Courtney*

          We don’t really have a lobby or a reception area so when people arrive more than 5 or 10 minutes early it ends up being very awkward.

        2. Susan*

          If I arrive more than 10 minutes early, I sit in my car and play Eye of the Tiger to pump myself up. Ridiculous but it makes me feel awesome walking in :)

          1. Chinook*

            Eye of the Tiger isn’t ridiculous to pump yourself up. Personally, I use “(This is my)Walk on the Moon” by Great Big Sea. It has that same feeling of I can do anything if I just try (plus it can be belt out with ease)!

        3. Amber*

          Whenever I’ve had interviews, I’ve generally shown up like 5 – 10 minutes early and then gone to like customer service or whatever (I’ve been applying to retail/fast food jobs). And then they tell me where to wait, or where to go, and blah blah blah. Actually I have a friend whose mom is a manager at a grocery store near my house; she recommended me for an interview, so I went and I got hired basically on the spot! :D Idk if she’s still going to check my references but I already got tax forms and stuff lol.

          Anyway… yeah. In the future, if I arrive early, I will just sit in my car and kill time! If it’s a big parking lot, maybe you should also park at the other end of the lot so that you have time to walk across and calm yourself down? Or if you’re not the greatest parker, then no one will see! :D

        4. Jessa*

          Exactly, you want to be early, in case of traffic, etc., but you also want to not show up directly for the interview more than 5-10 mins. Closer to 5 if you can.

      5. Esra*

        Like Alison said, being there is fine, but don’t go into the office until 5-10 minutes before. Preferably five.

        Otherwise it is awkward town for everyone: you, the receptionist, the poor schmuck who sits at the desk close to the seating area… And the person doing the interview is forced to decide between keeping you waiting or starting early.

        1. some1*

          When I was a receptionist, the place I worked would schedule several interviews back-to-back because they had a big hiring committee. So inevitably the first or second interview would run long so everyone who arrived more than 15 minutes early had to wait that much longer.

      6. The Other Dawn*

        I’d go with 5 minutes. If you’re more than 5 minutes early, take a walk around the block, wait in your car, etc.

        We once had someone show up more than 45 minutes early. It was very awkward and he didn’t want to go downstairs to the deli or across the street to the library.

        1. Marie*

          I sometimes have agency people showing up more than 2hours in advance… I tell them to come back later (there is not much around our office within 10 min walk but if you have 2 hours to kill you can still go get a coffee)

    2. Calla*

      Definitely no more than 10 minutes, like everyone else says. When I was the receptionist at my last job, we had someone show up more than thirty minutes early. When I told them we had a food court downstairs where they could get coffee, bagels, etc., they declined. And sat in the reception area for 30+ minutes. Awkward.

      1. CathVWXYNot?*

        When I came in for my final interview at my current job (about 10 minutes early), someone arrived at the same time as me to be interviewed for a different position. First of all he didn’t know the name of the person he was meeting, and second of all he was 1 hour and 10 minutes early… and said he was fine to sit in the lobby while he waited… with a perfectly good coffee shop right outside, too! I could see how strange the receptionists thought this behaviour was, but appreciated how good it made me look by comparison :)

    3. Audiophile*

      I’ve gone as early as 15 minutes, and that was because it was in the city, and there was no Starbucks, Dunkins or anywhere else to wait. No loitering outside buildings in the city. And I’ve learned even when you’re early, sometimes security or the receptionist doesn’t call right away, which can be good or bad.

    4. Ava*

      I agree that the OP’s preparation and presentation sounds spot on. However sometimes confident candidates can seem to intimidate interviewers – and this has happened to me. If this is the case the company is not a good match for you.

  3. Anony*

    I agree with what AAM says here for the most part, but also wanted to flag that developing a 30/60/90 day plan based on a job announcement and publicly available information about the job/company is very likely to come off as presumptuous and egotistical. It would be virtually impossible to create an appropriate plan for an organization/role until you’ve spent some time there and learn more about them and how they work. As a hiring manager I’d love to see a candidate who developed and brought a presentation to demonstrate their abilities, but I would be turned off by someone who developed a plan without having first been integrated into the company. That said, mentioning that you have experience creating this type of plan in past roles and that you would be interested to do so in this job once you see the company/team/etc in action would be a good thing.

    1. Anonymous*

      It does come off as arrogant to create one for the job when they didn’t ask for it. However, it would be awesome for her to bring a copy of one that she created for something else.

    2. Jubilance*

      I worked at a company where at least internal candidates were expected to come in with 30/60/90 day plans. Often they contain a lot of general stuff – onboarding activities, meeting relevant team members/clients, training, assessing current projects & processes, etc. And of course it shouldn’t be taken as an “end-all be-all” but simply a starting point & showing that the interviewee does have a plan/process in mind on how to acclimate to the new job & get started.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I could see this for internal candidates as they already have some idea of business processes for that particular company. But for an outside candidate, I do think this seems arrogant and extreme. You have no idea what this business is like and what they need at that point. I’d say bringing such a plan for somewhere else you’ve worked and demonstrating that you can do one is fine, but to do it for a business you’re interviewing with would seem odd to me.

        1. Ms Enthusiasm*

          I created a 30/60/90 day plan for an internal role I interviewed for and they loved it. They said later it was definitely one of the things that made them offer me the job. But I agree, I think it only worked so well because it was an internal move and I was aware of how the transition would work and already familiar with the new job. It would be harder for an outside candidate to create a specific plan.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I tend to agree with that. I wouldn’t hold it against the candidate, but I’d be thinking, “I hope she knows that this isn’t actually the plan she’ll be using, since she created this without knowing anything about us.” I’d like the preparation and the thought, though, and wouldn’t find it arrogant, unless the person seemed to really think it wouldn’t require substantial revision were they to get the job.

    4. Mike C.*

      See, I take a completely different tack here. I would assume that the candidate understands that they are operating from a limited perspective (and I certainly know that they are), and would treat the plans as “their best estimation given the limited data set”.

      It shows initiative, it shows that research was done and demonstrates their skills. I really don’t see any arrogance at all. Maybe I’m just used to plans always being incredibly fluid anyway that having to throw it out and significantly revise is just part of the process for me.

      1. Becky B*

        Based on job interview advice I’d picked up somewhere, I created a 30/60/90 day plan when I passed through to the second round of interviews for my current job. I tried to have a good mix of general stuff (“Schedule 1:1 meetings with boss) as well as more specific ideas based on what I’d learned of the job so far tied in with my past experience in the field.

        What was funny to me was during the interview with HR, she asked me, “Do you have a 30/60/90 day plan?” and I swear her eyes crossed a little when I whipped it out of my portfolio–I may have been a little overeager. But I was overjoyed that someone had asked for it.

        Mind you, I’m not saying much if any of it was ever followed, as Mike C. alluded.

  4. College Career Counselor*

    I will admit that in the past when I have interviewed candidates, I have been put off by being handed brochures, plans, etc. that they have created for their previous employers. I have limited time with the candidate, so it can feel that they want me to Read This Now (even if that’s not the case). I’m not going to read it in front of you so we can talk about it. So if you must bring [unrequested] visual aids to your interview, please make it abundantly clear that you are offering these as examples of the quality of your past work for me to review at a later time.

    1. Lisa*

      Its more of a portfolio though, examples of past work. Some jobs love this, especially ones that are technical or need writing samples. A big wig at a large travel company said to me that I wasn’t the right fit, but that if i take anything away from the interview was that I should always bring examples of work to the in-person interview and offer them at the end of the interview.

    2. Brett*

      I brought a portfolio of work for my interview with my current job… on CD.
      That way there was no possibility of them sitting down and reading it right then, but if something came up in the interview about my previous work products, I could reference them to the exact document to take a look at later.

      (CDs are a better option still than thumbdrives, because so many workplaces have a policy against outside thumbdrives. And you do have a risk of accidentally introducing a virus with a thumbdrive!)

          1. Elizabeth*

            Many notebook computers don’t. The MacBook Air, ChromeBook, and Lenovo ThinkPad are three examples off the top of my head. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “Who has a CD drive anymore?” but it’s far from universal at this point. I have coworkers and friends who now use a notebook as their primary computer.

          2. Anonymous*

            Our entire department got new computers that don’t have cd drives, and we are a very….ahem untechy department. If someone brings me a CD now (which they do because I can figure it out) I have to go and hunt down one of the only 3 machines left in the entire department, rip it, and email it to the person. We aren’t going to do that when you can also bring virii on cds.

      1. Interviewer*

        Brett & CoffeeLover, my company (13 offices) is entirely on virtual desktops. I have a terminal next to my monitor that is about the size and with of a paperback novel. It connects me with my “computer” several hundred miles away from my office. There is no CD drive in this terminal. If by chance someone sends us one, we have to go borrow a USB CD-drive from our IT guy and hook it up to our terminal. I can use flash drives at my work, but my preference would be for candidates to direct me to a website where I can view the portfolio.

        1. Brett*

          I used to do that, until I found out that most personal website hosting services are blocked by the employers I was looking at. The joys of CJIS.

        2. CoffeeLover*

          You guys are blowing my mind! I mean I can maybe see someone not having access to a CD drive, but an entire company/department!? I guess I work in a traditional brick-and-mortar industry where everyone has the classic PC thing going. (Personally I use a Macbook pro which also has a CD drive).

          This is the first sign I’m getting behind in the times (as a 21year old). Kids these days with their newfangled technology… ;)

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            +1- I’m with you CoffeeLover (as a 23yo). I guess there are plenty of offices without CD drives but I would have said “who doesn’t have one?” Too. Then again, I’m in healthcare where you’re more likely to find a computer without flash or java installed than without a CD drive. Helps that these are PCs from the early 00s in the underfunded part of healthcare.

  5. Joey*

    I agree that some people prefer a certain style and shouldnt be someone they arent but others are adaptable. If the op is one of those people its a lesson learned. Next time talk about how you have adapted to managers with different styles and have thrived. To me this is the holy grail- someone that can change gears and be happy working for just about every type of competent manager. Because while its great to match an anal assistant with an anal boss, what happens when that boss leaves?

    1. tcookson*

      Agreed . . . and I think it’s an important distinction for people to know about themselves; some people are pretty much hardwired to be the way they are, and some are very adaptable. Knowing which you are and having an awareness of where that will best fit can be so important to one’s job happiness.

  6. Barbara in Swampeast*

    The roll of executive assistant requires someone who can do what the executive needs done. Some days the executive can seem to be totally stream of consciousness and asking you to do a ton of stuff you have never done before and they need it yesterday. I’m not sure what kind of 30/60/90 day plan a person can make for being a E.A. when you haven’t worked for that executive before. I don’t doubt that they were surprised to get your plan. If I was the exec I would be wondering how I was supposed to tailor my needs to your “plan.”

    Next time, you should just prepare by listing out their requirements and what experience you had that showed you could handle their requirements. You should also show how adaptive you are. This maybe where you really lost them. You had everything so neatly organized YOUR way that they didn’t see how you could cope with the reality of THEIR office.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      “I’m not sure what kind of 30/60/90 day plan a person can make for being a E.A. when you haven’t worked for that executive before.”

      I think she was trying to demonstrate that she knows HOW to do this type of plan, not that she expects the executive to use this exact same plan.

    2. tcookson*

      If I was the exec I would be wondering how I was supposed to tailor my needs to your “plan.”

      Re-reading the OP’s post in light of this comment, I wonder if the reason the exec mentioned referring her to a paralegal position is that he thought she would be a better fit for a role that is traditionally more regimented, and he was looking for someone less so.

    3. Frances*

      I’d say this definitely depends on the particular position – yes an EA will always have to be good at reacting, but they might also serve as the office manager, event planner, recruiting coordinator, etc depending on the position, all roles that require good planning. The job description might have indicated that.

  7. Mena*

    I agree with Alison about the interview process working correctly here and avoiding a cultural mis-match. I would add that you should have gone with your gut – you thought maybe the 30/60/90 plan was too much, and it likely was. Just because you elected to invest hours in developing this plan isn’t reason enough to present it in light of the vibe you picked up on once face-to-face.

    And I wouldn’t worry about being over-dressed. Interviewees are expected to come in formally. Our office is a lot of jeans and an interviewee arriving in a suit doesn’t turn heads at all. New hires quickly catch on to the relaxed dress code here.

    Good luck – you’ll find the fit if you look carefully. It is worth finding.

  8. Jazzy Red*

    This is just one more example of executives being accustomed to assistants without highly developed skills (I really want to say “inferior skills”). They think they want someone who can do everything (as they advertised), but they don’t even know what that looks like. When they see someone who really can do everything, they’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.

    OP, this is not the company for you. You would never be happy in a job where you can’t do the kind of top-quality work that is “normal” for you. When you do find the right fit, you’ll know it.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      This is such an interesting phenomenon. In a previous job the staff all but begged our boss to hire a professional assistant (that is, someone who has a career as an assistant) rather than the entry-level folks who wanted the role as a first step into our field. I’m sure cost was an issue, but it also seemed as though she didn’t know what to do with someone who really knew how to do the job.

      1. AP*

        What I would do to work in a place where reception and exec assistant jobs were filled by a professional, instead of a “entry level future something else!”

        Don’t get me wrong, that’s how I got my “in,” and I love having a pipeline of talented people that I can easily try out and promote, but having a college degree and a dream is not enough to make you a great assistant.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          The EA position is much more likely to have a professional in it. The receptionist is typically an entry-level person, because someone with that type of experience and training will be seeking a better-paying, executive or departmental admin position. You don’t get ISAM-certified professionals for $7.50 an hour.

  9. Wilton Businessman*

    Yeah, sounds like you were a little overwhelming for them. I think some employers might react well to that kind of preparation, some obviously won’t.

  10. CatB (in RO)*

    You had everything so neatly organized YOUR way that they didn’t see how you could cope with the reality of THEIR office

    +1 to this. OP might be one of the best, most flexible EA out there (which they seem to be, from their description), but if the execs at the company felt they were too “this is MY way” – type of person, it became reality for the company. Thus the reaction.

    (BWT, this gender-neutral “they” for the singular feels weird for me as an ESL. Is it a sin if I remain to the old-fashioned s/he?)

    1. Cat*

      It’s not a sin, but singular “they” dates back at least to the King James Bible, so while there’s no need to use it, characterizing it in opposition to something that’s “old-fashioned” is a bit off.

      1. CatB (in RO)*

        Thank you for the context. I didn’t know the singular “they” was that old (that’s school time English as a foreign language for you, I guess…)

    2. Viv*

      Totally agree here. I just had an interview where I realized I might be coming on as TOO capable and maybe organized to the point of inflexible for their small laid back not-for-profit. Rather than give them examples of my work, I sent them links in the thank you after the first interview. I got a second interview and thought I overcame their concerns about culture clash by asking good questions when given the chance, but I wasn’t offered the job.

  11. Jubilance*

    I agree with Allison – there’s just a cultural mismatch. I’ve worked at companies that expect this level of preparation, especially the 30/60/90 day plan. While this may have been too much for this particular company, I wouldn’t stop doing this level of prep. It will make you a better candidate and you’ll end up somewhere that’s a better fit.

  12. thenoiseinspace*

    Unless I misread this, it doesn’t sound like OP actually got a rejection. Is it possible that they were not just surprised, but also impressed? I know we’re all supposed to just interview, send one follow-up and then assume we didn’t get it and move on, but in this case, we don’t actually know what the employers think yet. All we’ve got to go on is that they were very surprised.

    I’m not saying that they will hire OP, I’m just pointing out that technically, there could be another possibility. Just food for thought.

    1. thenoiseinspace*

      I should point out that I say this because I had a similar experience: from my point of view, my last interview was an absolute disaster. They didn’t talk about my work experience at all, didn’t bother looking at the portfolio I had brought in, and forgot to tell me that the writing test was 30 minutes (I had previously interviewed for a different part of the company, and their test was 1 hour), so I didn’t come close to finishing. It was a total train wreck and an awful experience. Imagine my surprise when, less than a week later, I got the job – it turns out they had already decided I was the best candidate based on my resume, and considered the interview more of a formality than anything else.

  13. Ruffingit*

    I’d run away from this employer for various reasons, but this stuck out to me – He even said that he wanted to pass my resume along to another company for a paralegal role, which is something I have no interest in.

    You’re applying for an executive assistant position and he wants to pass along your resume for a paralegal position?? Those are two entirely different jobs and require entirely different skill sets. It’s bizarre that due to your fantastic Power Point, he now believes you could be a great paralegal. WTF??

    1. Cat*

      I don’t know that it’s necessarily bizarre. There are career paralegals, but there are also places that higher entry-level candidates for paralegal positions (often but not always recent college grads who are considering law school) and trains them in what that firm needs specifically.

      Of course, it not being necessarily bizarre in no way means the OP should be interested or anything like that.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I guess this is just my personal experience talking. Was an attorney in a former life and our paralegals were always certified paralegals. We needed people who knew what a petition was, how to file it, how to answer discovery, etc. We didn’t just choose people with an interest in law and train them. But I can see how this might work in some places, it just depends on what is needed.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, we hire mostly recent grads; we mostly use them for cite checking and various docket monitoring activities, and our (brilliant) librarian can train them on that in a couple of months. And it’s good background for them if they do decide to go to law school. We’re a regulatory practice, so we don’t have a lot of boilerplate motions and the like that need to be filed with courts.

  14. Anon*

    This all seems wayyyyyyyyy over the top for an EA position at my company. I could see being super turned off by a power point and 30/60/90 day plan. It would seem like someone completely missing what the role does.

    EAs here need to be good talkers. They don’t get to plan – they react. They react the the executive’s needs. The react to other executives. They react to events. But they never plan (except for executive schedules) – the executive does the planning. If they do start to plan – it’s a few months down the road once they have a handle on what the executive wants them to plan.

    By the way 20 minutes is a tad too early to show up. I used to work as a receptionist and 10 minutes is the sweet spot for when to show up – anything more is awkward. People are still in meetings or busy and might feel obligated to come get you. If they don’t, the receptionist has to entertain you for 20 minutes. Less than 5 signals that you squeeze out every minute.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree 20 minutes is too early, but I can’t agree that less than five signals something bad. If our appointment is at 3:00, that means I expect you to be there by 3:00 — not that I’m testing you to see if you read that as 2:50.

    2. Mike C.*

      What’s wrong with “squeeze[ing] out every minute”? If you’re always sitting around for ten minutes where ever you go, aren’t you wasting a whole lot of time?

    3. Anon*

      I suppose what I see makes it an issue is this:

      Suppose you walk in for a 1:00 pm interview at 12:55. The receptionist’s phone is ringing off the hook and there’s another guest waiting in the lobby. He doesn’t get to you until 12:59. You tell him you’re there for the interview and she calls the hiring manager at 1:02 to say you’re there for the interview. Suddenly you’ve gone from being 5 minutes early to 2 minutes late. I think giving a bit more buffer time to all occasions is a wise idea.

      1. Anon*

        Whoops sure did get my pronouns turned around in that comment. And also, I’m not saying it’s horrible to show up at 5 before. I just feel like 7-10 before is the sweat spot.

  15. Sarah*

    I think the OP made a mistake here. Once you got the feedback about the presentation and their concern that you were overly ambitious, you should have NOT given them the 30/60/90 day plan. Take a cue from them.

    I also agree with previous comments that you don’t know what is right for them at this point. You discover a lot when you start a job – many things that may be better, worse, or different than what you thought/your previous experience.

  16. tango*

    I think the OP planned just fine. The problem as I see it is she did not read the interview style & company culture and give them what THEY wanted. She gave them a PP presentation to prove she knows MS Office even though they did not question her abilities or experience using that software. She gave them a 30/60/90 plan even though they didn’t ask for one or express any concern that she could not do one if needed. To me those types of handouts are great for when you need to prove you have specific experience or emphasize some sort of past accomplishment in response to an interviewers question or concern or request.

  17. Sabrina*

    I was an AA for 10+ years, and it’s my experience that the only people really impressed by administrative skills (and able to adequately judge them) are other AAs or people who have been AAs. Which is why, IMO, you should have an AA in on the interviewing when you need a new or additional one. In any other role you would not expect someone who doesn’t really understand the skills involved to judge whether or not someone is capable to do the job. You don’t have accountants interview veterinarians or data entry people interview programmers. So maybe this was too much for them because they think that the Power Point Fairy shows up and puts in the slide transitions and makes sure that you can read the text at the back of a large room during a presentation. Right or wrong, they have no real appreciation for your job and will likely end up with someone who needs to call the help desk to find out how to save and print.

      1. Chinook*

        Me too. Other AAs can see in an interviewee whether or not this a person who will need a lot of hand holding or if they will know how to jump in and swim while asking directions. Those who have never done the job usually have a clue at what skills you need as an AA or an EA (or that they are not interchangeable) nor do they realize that the most important skills are soft ones like flexibility, problem solving and the ability to think on your feet.

        There is one exception to this, though. There seems to be a subset of executives (or atleast I have only experienced executives like this) who understand exactly what their AA/EA does for them and know exactly what to look for because they have not only been blessed with working with good ones but also suffered through working with bad ones. These also seem to be the people who have no problem delegating and have no problem admitting they don’t know something. These people do not need an AA to sit in the interview with them because they understand exactly what they are looking for.

        1. Jessica (the celt)*

          This is an important point, because I think those who have no issues delegating or understanding where the strengths of their AA/EA lie in relation to the exec’s strengths often do “get” what their assistant is doing and probably do have a good idea of what they both need and want in an AA/EA.

      1. Sabrina*

        You’re welcome! For most of that time I worked at a company that did have other AAs interview candidates, I found it to be very helpful.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That is a FANTASTIC idea. I agree–I don’t think many higher-level execs have any idea what their admins do on a day-to-day basis. They don’t want to know HOW something works; they’re only interested in results.

  18. Anon*

    I think I would be so shocked that someone actually prepared for an interview that I wouldn’t know what to do. Could it have seemed a bit overzealous? Possibly. But like some have said, it was probably just this company and wouldn’t have been a good fit for you in the first place. So, maybe dial it back a bit but not something to stress over.

  19. Nina*

    Thank you Alison for posting and answeing my question. I appreciate all the feedback from all of you commentors as well. In regards to the 30/60/90 day plan: I crafted this plan AFTER speaking with the Director for almost an hour an taking notes regarding what the position entailed. After reading so many websites that encourages interviewees to “wow” the interviewers, I felt that this plan would set me apart and have a positive impact. Obviously I thought wrong. I don’t believe that they were truly looking for an EA. This was definitely a learning experience for me.

    1. Michelle*

      Nina, thank you for asking this question. I’m glad Alison posted with her response. I, too, have just gone through almost the exact situation a couple of days ago and have been trying to reason with myself about the reaction I received during the interview. Being reminded that interviews are to identify a match, I feel a lot better about the situation. Thank you again :)

    2. fposte*

      Nina, as Alison notes, none of this means that you were wrong or that they’re not looking for an EA–it just means that your approach isn’t a good match for this place. I think you sound absolutely awesome, and you really want to work at a place that thinks that, so don’t hide your organizational light under a bushel.

      1. LMW*

        I agree with this. If we were hiring for an EA now, we’d be thrilled to have some one so proactive and ready to hit the ground running.

      2. BellaLuna*

        Agree 1000%. There are so many company’s that would thrilled to have someone so organized, proactive and talented.

    3. Sydney*

      It sounds like you prepared well and if you don’t end up with this position, it is just a culture mis-match. I’d love to hire an assistant like you.

  20. Nina*

    Hi Michell :-) I wanted to get this issue out there and gain some insigh from another prospective. I now realize the importance of me being able to identify a match on my side too; this interview was a learning curve for me. The director emailed me this morning and told me they’d be making final decisions within the next two weeks. If I am offered the position, I believe I am going to politely turn this offer down. After much thought, it’s pretty clear we’re not the right match for one another.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I’m wondering why you would turn the job down? If someone surprised me during an interview with additional materials I can imagine that I would look surprised, but I don’t think that would stop me from offering the job or from having a good working relationship with the person. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to have another conversation with them in the event that they offer you the job so that you can have more information as you make your decision?

      1. Lacey*

        I think it probably isn’t just that they were surprised by the PowerPoint, there were a number of other signs that it wasn’t the sort of place she was expecting/looking for – she felt overdressed, they actually said that they thought the job might not be enough for her, they suggested handing her CV to another employer…all these things are very valid reasons for thinking this might not be a great match.

  21. Beth*

    As someone who was told things along the same lines (“not sure if we’d have enough work for you after a few years,” etc.) and accepted the job, keep looking. In my case it has more than resulted in a cultural mismatch and this is just simply not the environment you want to be in, given how thoroughly you work.

  22. Nina*

    @fposte, thank you the encouraging words! Im not going to stop this level of preparation. I just need to gauge if any materials that I’ve prepared are necessary and will be beneficial in my next inrerview. I trul enjoy being an EA, and it’s only my intention to show them the value I can bring to any company- not to run them off. But again, this comes with me reading the interviewer/s better and having a clear understanding of what they expect in an EA.

  23. Kou*

    I think these folks did a really good thing for the OP here, and that is let her know that her drive might be too grand for the role that they have open. If they were impressed enough to want to pass your info along to others who might have an opening more suited to you, I’d consider this a nice success.

  24. Tara T.*

    I agree with Jazzy Red. I went to a temp job once where they said they wanted Excel, but they did not even have anything in their computer that was on Excel and no one needed me to do anything on Excel the whole 2 months I was there. Also, most places would be very impressed by that Executive Assistant going to the trouble to prepare her PowerPoint presentation and show it as an example of her skill at PowerPoint. She went over and above, and the extra mile – most places would be saying she would be great on the job. Most places would say, “Wow, she really wants this job.”

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Maybe they just put that in because everybody has that in. I was constantly being tested on my typing speed for potential jobs, or asked for the number–it wasn’t until I found my current job that I had to do any typing at ALL. And it’s not even traditional, secretary-like typing.

  25. Erika*

    I had an interview arrive over an hour early once. This was in a retail store, I was busy and couldn’t meet with her (because, uh, I was planning to see her much later), and there was literally NOWHERE for her to wait. She just stood around like a lump and all I could think was that she was completely unself-aware. It really affected her candidacy because it was so outside of social norms.

    1. Erika*

      I forgot to add: she knew she was early, too. It wasn’t like she got the time wrong, which would be understandable if worrisome.

      1. Lucky For Her*

        Social norms?

        You would not complain if she turned up an hour early for work!

        Why did you not help out and send her off to coffee? Found somewhere for her to wait?

        Instead you are viperish calling her names.

        Sounds to me like she was lucky she was not hired by you.

      2. Jamie*

        That is really harsh and there’s no reason to get personal.

        Erika is right – if you show up that early it puts the interviewer on the spot and shows she doesn’t understand how meetings and scheduling works.

        And unless Erika’s employees are exempt (and it’s doubtful if it’s a retail position) I’m sure she wouldn’t be happy if she showed up an hour early unasked…because they have to account for OT.

        Getting to the area early is fine, if you’re worried about traffic or whatever it’s a good idea. But you have to find something to do with yourself until interview time – not just show up where your interviewer is now very aware of you waiting when they had things to do before you got there.

  26. holly*

    i agree that it was not too much preparation. the idea is to impress. recently i interviewed someone for an internship position, and her response to a question was to tell me her 10-year plan. awesome! this is a little unexpected to get from an internship candidate. i totally hired her.

  27. Too Much*

    To me it was too much.

    You don’t need to prepare a PowerPoint presentation to demonstrate you can use PowerPoint. It is was a critical issue they’d give you a test.

    If you were to be my executive assistance I would be expecting to give you direction and input. Not tell me what to do.

    You presented as a fait accompli which might be a warning flag for them about your ability to work as directed.

  28. Barbara*

    This reminds me of the time I was not offered a job because they felt I was “too focused.” Oh well!

Comments are closed.