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The Essential Office Manager

I am often asked by clients for assistance finding key people for their business. A position where they seem to have concerns and struggles is in finding a great office manager/administrator. It’s been a privilege to see some of the very best office managers of ag businesses across the country do their wide variety of tasks as though they were sitting in a lawn chair, drinking iced tea.
These individuals are organized, efficient and great communicators.  They can talk to anyone in a tactful manner and yet still be in control of the conversation to glean the information they need.  They possess a keen ability to discern whether an employee or customer is just venting, or if they clearly have a problem that needs to come to the attention of management.
It is instinctive for them to read a caller’s tone and personality immediately and adjust their communication style appropriately.  “Gate-keeping” comes naturally to them.  They can talk about family, markets and today’s weather for the right amount of time before getting them connected with the person they need, and without missing their place on what they were doing before taking the call.
It seems they have this unique ability to quickly find any piece of information no matter how dated it might be.  They are rarely overwhelmed and build a staff that understands their duties and fit the desired culture of the business.
These managers are nearly impossible to inconvenience, regardless of the type of day the business is experiencing or their personal challenges—and the last person that you want to disappoint.
Their philosophy on confidentiality is consistent and appropriate for the situation.  They can easily determine the best interests of the Company in any circumstance and protecting the image of the company is one of their greatest priorities.  Being perceived as the “ultimate insider” of the business carries with it a responsibility that they understand and revere.
When hiring for this position, our recruiting, interviewing and selection process requires a broader scope and more focused effort.  In addition to their skill sets, we need to know about their management style, ability to work with different personalities, proof of loyalty and capacity for multitasking.
The best way to glean this type of information is by using “behavior based” interview questions that put the candidate in real-life situations common to the responsibilities of this position.  Here are a few examples:
  • What do you do if an employee comes to you with consistent complaints about one of their coworkers or one of the owners, and they always end their comments with, “But don’t tell the boss….”?
  • Explain a situation where you disagreed with ownership on how to manage a situation, how you came to an agreement, and the result of your approach.
  • How do you handle a situation where someone is asking for confidential information about the company?
  • Give me a brief overview of a new concept or program that you developed on your own, how you presented it to management, how you incorporated their input into the final plan, how you implemented the program, and the end results.
Behavior based questions tend to provide comments from candidates that reveal crucial insights into key competencies.  Though there are many acceptable answers to these questions, the unacceptable ones will be very apparent and help you quickly identify candidates that would be a bad fit for your needs.
What values, traits and skills have you found most beneficial for an office administrator?
Don Tyler
Tyler & Associates
These opinions and commentary are Don Tyler’s own. They are not necessarily those of ASAC or its members.
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